Last year, I told my grandma that I didn’t have a job in over a year. She was horrified and immediately asked if I was doing okay.
Today, I was working on a client’s website. She suggested I go back to school. I don’t think she was trying to point out my incompetence. I’ve built many websites for myself and others and happen to think I’m good at it, though I don’t keep up with the latest trends and technology. In her eyes, maybe it would have increased my credibility though.
I find that when you’re living an unconventional life, the people looking in can scarcely comprehend it. They would be terrified walking in your shoes and have no concept of how you’re making it.
I think many people look at school as a catch-all solution. If you can’t find a job in your field, go back to school. If you want to earn more money, go back to school. If you’re thinking about a career change, go back to school.
Through the years, there have been several people who’ve suggested I go back to school. But it’s kind of like telling athletes to bring a tennis ball to a soccer match. When you’re already living an unconventional life and you’re seeing things from a different perspective, the common advice people give seems ridiculous, outlandish and a little funny.
But for those who are curious as to what I think about school and whether I think it’s a good idea, here are my thoughts. I’m not saying you should think the way I think or that my answers would be the same as yours. But there should be some food for thought for anyone thinking about going back to school here.
For the purposes of this article, I’m going to begin each section with a question followed by my answer.
Because I Want to Pay a Lot of Money to Receive a Higher Education? No.
Over the years, I’ve found far more value in self-education than traditional education.
I once applied for a new media course at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Unfortunately, I applied a little late and there weren’t enough seats. One of the topics to be covered in the course was podcasting.
As of this writing, I’ve been podcasting for nine years. I’ve built a decent following. Guests have commented positively on my interviewing skills. I’ve had the opportunity to talk to most of my heroes. I think I’m doing okay.
A higher education is only a higher education by name. The most important life skills often aren’t taught or learned in schools, which is one of the greatest tragedies and failings of traditional education. But when you consider its history and beginnings, it’s hardly surprising.
I’ve learned far more from articles, books, audio courses, podcasts, videos, conferences and events than I ever did in school because I was more driven to learn on a subject I cared about.
Because I Want to Pay a Lot of Money for the College Experience? No.
I’ve never been much of a partier and not sure I ever will be. I’m not saying that this is what college is all about, but every year many young adults enroll in college only to engage in sophomoric experimentation for the ensuing four years.
Don’t get me wrong — I love social gatherings and parties, especially potlucks, BBQs, jams and house gatherings. But I don’t feel at home in bars, pubs or clubs. I spend enough time in these places as a musician, and that’s usually the only time I derive any pleasure from them.
CollegeData has the cost of tuition at $34,740 per year at private colleges, $9,970 for state residents at public colleges and $25,620 for out-of-state residents attending public universities.
Look, there are some things about the college experience that do appeal to me. I got to experience it a bit as a theater tech at Mount Royal University in Calgary, AB. But even $10,000 per year is a high price tag to pay for that. There would have to be a damn good reason for me to spend that amount of money on education instead of on my business.
Because I Want to Make More Money? No.
Now, I’m not saying I don’t want to make more money. That would be a lie. I’m in the process of building more revenue streams now.
But I’m already self-employed. I can get up when I want. I can take days off. I can finish my work when I feel at my best. My website generates leads on autopilot. Overall, I’m doing well and enjoying myself, so why would I give that up and change careers?
Considering that, you can only imagine the absurdity of the questions I’m asking myself, such as:
· I’m going to become more qualified in my industry, so I can… continue to work for myself? Something doesn’t add up there. In my business, I don’t get paid more unless I choose to pay myself more. I’m happily and gainfully self-employed, so the only thing to aspire to is to build out my team to handle the work I’m not good at or don’t enjoy.
· I can charge more because I’m more educated? In some cases, yes. But I don’t see a correlation between the two. Selling mostly comes down to communicating the value of the product. Price is a triviality if you nail the messaging.
Because I Need a Fancy Piece of Paper to Prove Myself & Feel Validated? No.
I hope there are some honorary degrees in my future. Come to think of it, there is one university considering my latest mini-book for their curriculum right now.
But not having a degree isn’t going to keep me up at night and if my work is never recognized on a broader scale, I probably wouldn’t see it as the end of the world.
Part of being an entrepreneur is surrounding yourself with people who are smarter than you. Though I want to be a lifelong learner and continue to expand my skillset, I don’t want to know it all. I want someone else handling things like administration, legal and HR thank you very much.
Plus, there is no greater reward or validation than helping people on their chosen path. We all have our own definitions of success. And, frankly I don’t care if I end up helping someone make an extra $1,000 per year or an extra $10,000 per year. If I can help them reach their goals, greater fulfillment can scarcely be found.
I don’t need a fancy piece of paper to prove my worth.
Because I Want to Fill Gaps in My Knowledge & Increase My Performance? Yes.
So far, I’ve listed off several reasons why I don’t think I would go back to school. But this isn’t to say there aren’t any valid reasons for going back.
Whether it’s music, marketing, business or writing, there are gaps in my knowledge and I’m aware of this fact.
I’m very good at what I do, but it’s not like I first built a foundation and then built a house on top of it. There have been some oversights along the way, so there are some parts of the house that have been left unfinished.
I continue to supplement my knowledge with self-education, but it’s surprising how few books and courses go from A to Z. Oftentimes, you’re learning about Q, R and S. There’s nothing wrong with that, but no doubt your understanding of Q, R and S would improve if you first understood A through P.
So, if I felt it important enough to fill the gaps in my knowledge, going back to school might be an option worth considering.
Because I Want to Network with People in My Industry? Yes.
Many people leave school with valuable contacts. It’s not surprising when you consider the ups and downs you share with others, and the comradery that can be built through sharing time in a classroom, dorm room, fraternity or sorority, court, field or otherwise.
If I had gone to school and left with industry contacts, I may have led a very different life. I’ve had to work hard for the various contacts I’ve established in the music and entertainment industries, and even then, it’s not like I’m talking to them daily.
There’s nothing saying I can’t go back and network with more people now. I’ve affirmed and reaffirmed the fact that it’s not just what you know but who you know. Who you know can make a huge difference in your career.
Simultaneously, I’m quite happy with where I am now. I have supportive friends who are also entrepreneurs. I have an investor who has yet to ask for anything in return (though I plan to reward him handsomely). I have people I can turn to when I’m feeling down and need a little lift.
But to me, meeting more people seems like a good reason to go back to school.
Do I Believe in Education?
It might seem like I’m coming down hard on education.
But the reality is that I believe teachers have some of the most important jobs of any. They should be among the highest paid people in the world, though they are not.
Schools have their place and they are more than mere meat markets and outlets for sophomoric experimentation. There are plenty of people who look back on their college years fondly and for good reason.
But believe it or not adult life can be amazing too. In all honesty, for me, it’s been much more enjoyable than my childhood or youthhood.
Unfortunately, self-education is difficult and uncommon. And, because many people don’t explore possibilities, ideas, philosophies and concepts outside of school, they become cookie-cutter drones as opposed to independent thinkers. They work the 40/40 plan (40 hours per week for 40 years) expecting to achieve different results from their peers.
Do I believe some people are made for that life? Yes. Do I respect them? Immensely. But I couldn’t do it. I’ve tried.
Education is more important than words can express. Unfortunately, it has been reduced to serve the lowest common denominator. It fails to equip people with some of the most important life skills there could possibly be — leadership, people skills, financial literacy and the like. It fails at recognizing and fostering creativity, innate talent and skills.
Fortunately, because the education system continues to fail, it gives people like me a deeper purpose in this world.