It was December 2012 and I was home for winter break. The days were short and cold and I was in the midst of one of the darkest periods of my life. My girlfriend of over 2 years had dumped me in August and I was still reeling from that, and even though I had quit Air Force ROTC and switched my major to History the previous semester, I didn’t really feel like I was actually gaining anything of value. I mean, my classes were interesting, but I didn’t have the desire to start a career in historical research or commit myself to being a teacher. I felt paralyzed, unfulfilled, and to be honest, I felt like I was a huge failure.
I had joked around and floated the idea of dropping out to my parents but the idea never grew beyond speculation. It was never seriously an option, right? What would I do without a degree?
Sitting at our family kitchen table, depressed and numb, crumpled in half with the imaginary weight of expectation, I was asked a question that changed my life.
“What do you want, Eric?”
I’ll never forget that moment. I realized that I had never seriously considered that question. What did I want?
All in an instant I realized that I had been living my life on a train track when I wanted to be living on a road. Since the minute I stepped into high school I was being driven by what everyone else was doing and what everyone else wanted — leaving school was a decision that made me, and me alone, the driver in the vehicle of my life.
The decision was made easier by the accomplishments I had made the previous year, and gave me the confidence to believe that I could make it work. After going through a summer of Student Painters, I had learned 1000x more about life than I had in 3 full years of school, and best of all, I was getting paid to learn.
I’m not saying that I’ll never go back — I think over-leveraging on an idea, decision, or attitude isn’t smart because you have no idea how that opinion or your understanding of the world will change as you age. Who knows — I may at 30 decide that I want to spend the rest of my life being a pediatrician, in which case I would have to go to school. I’m not saying that every person who decided to go to college is wrong. If it’s been your dream to be a doctor, lawyer, or engineer since the time you were 5, fucking go to school and kick it’s ass. Then go to graduate school or residency and kick it’s ass too! Be the best doctor or lawyer or engineer you can be. Specialize and educate yourself.
But if you are 19 years old, paying for your own school, and really interested in business and entrepreneurship, I’m telling you right now that you need to seriously consider foregoing formal higher education. At the very least you need to take a gap year.
There’s no question that the college system is broken in most cases. It’s far too expensive and the benefits that the average attendee receives are only valuable from a social perspective (you do meet some cool people and develop good relationships). It’s my opinion that there is a widespread lack of understanding about the difference between school and education. Not all who attend school are educated and not all who don’t are uneducated. The internet has democratized the flow and dissemination of information, making it widely available to most of the developed world. Employers have thrown away the resumes and missed out on the talents of hundreds of thousands of students who have taken dynamic risks and experienced real life outside of college, to hire a worker bred and trained from Kindergarten to follow a syllabus, and do exactly what they’re told.
I’m not judging those who did go to school — I’m just saying that it shouldn’t be the default. Kids coming out of high school are criminally undereducated on their options, and the problem isn’t going to get smaller.
If you are worried about your life, not sure where to go or if you’re on the right path, or struggling with a sense of meaning or purpose, ask the question that I was asked.
If you have a kid who seems like they lack direction and motivation, don’t push them to college if it’s not what they want. Ask the question that I was asked.
What do you want?
Think about it and you’ll find out things about yourself you didn’t know before.
Happy Wednesday y’all.