By now you probably know that I didn’t go to college. The older I get the more I realize that that may not be such a bad thing. And here’s why…
If I were to ask you to think of a friend or family member who went to college, started and finished with the same major, and subsequently got a job in their precise field of study, you’d probably find it difficult to pinpoint more than a handful. The truth is the majority of people who go to college have no idea what they want to do in life when deciding on a college and area of study.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life at 17 years old (well, I actually wanted to be a rock-star). And I bet my money that most people don’t at that age. But in our society we require kids to make a decision in high school of what they want to do with the rest of their lives and then live with the consequences. Sadly, what ends up happening is many people change their major several times as they feel their way through the dark cloud of the unknown, and waste time and money earning a degree that will most likely have nothing to do with the job they end up with.
Now before I continue I find it necessary to make one caveat.
For people who know what they want to do with their lives, and desire a career that can only be achieved by continuing their education, college is a great benefit. My wife wanted to be a teacher from the time that she was 8 years old, so she went to college and got a degree in Elementary Education and became a teacher. I am amazed by her commitment and the hard work she did to pursue her dream and make it a reality.
But let’s be honest, how many of us are in jobs right now that can only be performed by someone who has a college degree? Read that question again. I’m not asking whether they require you to have one, I’m asking whether you think you would be capable of performing your assigned tasks if you didn’t have one. Most of us, if we think hard, have a job that, in order to be performed well, should require no higher level of education than a high school diploma. And that is being generous.
It used to be that having a college degree was prestigious and made you stand out among the crowd. But because of the subsidizing of the educational system in this country, and the peer and parental pressure to continue our education, the workforce is now saturated with people who hold degrees, which only serves to dilute the prestige and potency of having that degree in the first place.
I might be wrong but it seems to me that it is now more difficult than ever for college graduates to find work in their field of study. And given the emphasis on providing college education as a right to all Americans in this last election cycle, it is only going to exacerbate the problem.
Because when everyone is special, then no one will be. – Syndrome, from The Incredibles
In my opinion, it’s an endless cycle geared to keep people in classrooms in order to continue to cash in on their hopes to achieve the American Dream. As a society we have created a monster. We have preached the value of a good education first and foremost, so much so that parents are shelling out tens of thousands of dollars a year to put their children in the best position to succeed. However there is a level of entitlement that starts to creep in when you advance through the system of continuing education for no other reason than to keep up with the Joneses and do not develop the work ethic that is necessary to succeed in the real world.
We tell kids that they’ll never succeed without a good education. The trouble is that a “good” education is subjective. And if you can’t succeed without one, then by the same token, having a good education = automatic success. Now I know that this is a sweeping generalization. But I have talked to many people who are now disillusioned and filled with regret over the amount of time and money they wasted on college because they were essentially forced into making the decision, and aren’t any better off than they would have been without their particular degree.
We are buying the lie that it is our right to receive a “good education,” which leads many people to believe that they are entitled to the life they want once they graduate. And as a result we have been overrun by the “Entitlement Generation.” People once prided themselves on earning a living and being no man’s debtor. Now we live in a world that blames other people for our failures and wants everyone else to foot the bill for our dream life. An entire generation of parents who withheld nothing from their children in order to give them the life they never had have essentially eradicated the workmanlike determination that this country was built on. Parents, you are doing your children no favors if you constantly bail your kids out of trouble or blame others for your child’s mistakes. No, the teacher isn’t out to get your son, maybe your son is just an imbecile who needs to fail in order to learn a valuable lesson about life.
As someone with nothing more than a high school diploma, I’ve experienced the “blue collar” discrimination firsthand. While I worked my way up from entry-level employee in both the banking and pharmaceutical industries, I was constantly being told that I needed to go back to school if I ever wanted to “get ahead.” Was it because I could only learn the skills necessary to perform the job in a college classroom or lecture hall? No! I already had the skills necessary and had proven myself at every level thus far. So why then? It was simply because someone arbitrarily deemed that it ought to be a requirement that the applicant hold a degree in a “a related field.” It’s sort of like a way of establishing corporate bragging rights to be able to list how many MBAs you have on the payroll. So I would work my butt off and learn new processes and regulations quicker than anyone else only to watch as recent college graduates were hired at a higher wage and many times ahead of me.
What was even more frustrating was that these recent graduates appeared to have absolutely no comprehension skills or work ethic, having never had a full-time job before this. (Again, this is not all college graduates but it has been my experience many times). This led to me being given more and more responsibility and workload to “train” the newbies, even though I was not “qualified” to advance in the department due to my lack of academic credentials. By this time, I had been working full-time since I’d graduated from high school, nearly 13 years earlier. Are you telling me that in 13 years of working full-time, supporting myself and a family, and proving myself every step of the way, that there is still something I lack when compared to someone who has spent the last four years partying in the college/university bubble and has absolutely no work or real life experience whatsoever?
This is something that I, along with countless others, have faced for years, which ultimately can result in a feeling of hopelessness and depression. To wake up every morning and know before your feet even hit the floor that it doesn’t matter whether you excel, it doesn’t matter whether you demonstrate the qualities necessary to perform your job, you will never advance because what matters in the eyes of Corporate America is whether you had a piece of paper as proof that you continued your adolescence into your adult years on your parent’s, or the government’s, dime.
Something had to change. I was now 30 years old and I knew that I had a lot to offer but I was afraid that my talents were being wasted in a world that values formal education over actual emotional intelligence and practical experience. So I committed to educating myself. I became a sponge for as much information as my brain could hold. There is certainly something to be said for applying yourself to increasing your knowledge, not just because you want a degree or some credentials, but because your very livelihood depends on it. And what I learned in the process I immediately began to implement in a real world setting, which proved to be an invaluable experience.
You could take out loans and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, not to mention 4-6 years of life, on a glamorous education, or you could literally spend only hundreds of dollars and learn the same information while not living in a protective bubble. People will argue that you learn certain skills in college that you can’t learn anywhere else. I would beg to differ.
Many of who we would consider to be the most successful people in the world did not finish college. And I’m pretty sure if you asked them what they got out of school which then helped them in their entrepreneurial journey they’d answer “not much.” In fact, many of them left school because it was holding them back from doing what they were created to do. In other words, it was not fostering their creativity but stifling it.
If you ask me, our education system has not done a good enough job of stimulating a curiosity for learning or creating. Instead it has taught our children how to memorize something just long enough to pass the test. It teaches you how to give the answer that people are looking for instead of the solution to a problem that people have not even recognized is a problem. In school we learn to be a good employee and follow the rules and many times we are left to fend for ourselves when it comes to the most practical of truths necessary to succeed in life. Believe me, I’ve worked alongside many a college graduate and their ignorance was astounding.
Now we could spend way too much time talking about Common Core and all of the other failed attempts at revamping our education system, but that is not the purpose of this essay. But I believe that until we are willing to stop relying on the government to teach us what it wants us to know and recognize that educating ourselves is the most vital piece of the puzzle, we will continue to fail.
You may be fuming right now. You may have a million reasons why I’m wrong and that’s fair. I know that much of what I am writing is from my own perspective and is no doubt skewed by my personal experience. But I think everyone can agree that we live in the Entitlement Generation. And what I am proposing is that one of the biggest problems we face today is people who believe that a piece of paper from a highly ranked institution entitles them to the job they want and the life they want before they even put their boots on the ground. But until you’ve had to live in the real world, hold down a job and support yourself and a family, then you don’t know jack.
The smartest people in the world are the ones that are willing to admit they still have a lot to learn.