Flee School: Get Out Into the Real World

Design: Gianni Botsford Photography: Christian Richters

Design: Gianni Botsford
Photography: Christian Richters

What if you could do what you love for a living without having to go to school and going into a ton of debt after earning a degree?

Okay, so the average college graduate earns more than someone without a bachelor’s degree…in general. But I find it incredibly interesting that many of the biggest innovators and multimillionaires in the world were either high school or college dropouts. Some of those: Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Johnny Depp, Bill Gates and Quinten Tarantino.

Everything I have learned in regards to my career I learned away from school. 

Full disclosure:  I have several degrees.  I am not going to tell you to not go for those. I’m just pointing out that the playing field has changed a lot since I have been out of college (15 years now), and if I had the resources back then that I have now, I would have done things different.

School is not for everyone, and you should not feel horrible if it is not a good fit in your life.  This doesn’t mean that you cannot educate yourself, or even find ways online to “fill in the gaps” in your knowledge in order to advance with your passions.

I’m a college instructor (I know…I will try my best to not sound like a hypocrite here) amongst other things, and I am always very taken by students who attend college simply to take whatever classes interest them as opposed to following a sequence. I often think taking classes that one finds interesting should be a greater focus in college than fulfilling course requirements.  Think about it: Steve Jobs took calligraphy in college simply because it interested him.  In his famous Stanford commencement speech he said:

“If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”

Here are a few career opportunities that don’t require a college degree:

  • Pro-blogger
  • Author
  • Life coach
  • Actor
  • Musician
  • Software developer
  • Sales
  • Entrepreneur
  • Chef
  • Social media consultant
  • Public speaker
  • DJ
  • Professional photographer

Using the internet, the library, and other books, you can teach yourself anything.  You can study most of these career paths in a formal setting as well, but I believe it is not necessary.  You can also create a hybrid approach as well if there are part time qualifications for your field.

The amount of free information and self education resources is truly incredible, and expanding constantly. Places like Wikipediaand Personal MBA are helping us to learn on our own. Not only that, but it’s becoming easier to establish yourself as an expert and build your network than ever before. Blogging can allow us to demonstrate our expertise without having to trudge through the “corporate ladder”.  Twitter, Facebook and Linked have launched us into a new world in this regard, too.

I’m not saying that this is an easy road to take. I’m also not saying that the traditional path doesn’t have any value.

There are benefits and disadvantages to each approach to education.  Please keep in mind the following about my own life:

  • I am a professional musician.  I learned how to play my instrument through private lessons.  I earned a Bachelor and Masters in Performance, but school did not teach me how to be an entrepreneur and the business side of the music world.  However, the degrees allowed me to teach at the K-12 and college level.  I still could have taken cheap online courses and private lessons on the side and saved tens of thousands of dollars instead.
  • I taught myself how to blog.  No degree necessary!
  • Everything I learned about teaching kids in a school setting I learned “in the trenches”.  I did not have an education degree; even if I did it would not have helped.  PLEASE NOTE:  That’s just me.  Others need formal schooling for sure.
  • I am the leader of many institutions.  I never went to business school, although sometimes I wish I did…especially when it comes to fundraising and such.  Again, I have read a ton of books and sought answers online for this, and I am doing fine.

Some pros and cons of a college education vs. doing it yourself:

College degree pros:

  • Curriculum is laid out before you. You follow the sequence and there you go.
  • Your college classmates and teachers are your future network.
  • A good degree has a lot of credibility in the world.

College degree cons:

  • You need to take classes that do not interest you.  You are also following the same curriculum as thousands of others.  How are you going to stand out from everyone else?
  • You are paying out the nose.

Self educated pros:

  • You learn about what interests you. One thing will lead to another, and you will build a strong skill set of varied talents.
  • It may take far less time than a traditional route.
  • Way less expensive.

Self education cons:

  • Not easy if you’re not disciplined.
  • You need to do more legwork to build your network.
  • You have to establish credibility. But who cares, because what you’ve actually accomplished is always the best way to show yourself off.
  • Some fields require a degree. Again, there are other ways to go about getting the degrees (online, etc.)

Here are some resources for DIYers:

  • Google Scholar – Provides a search of scholarly literature across many disciplines and sources, including theses, books, abstracts and articles.
  • Wikipedia – Information and background on nearly every subject.
  • Personal MBA – Follows the philosophy that you can teach yourself everything you need to know about running a successful business.
  • City and Guilds — They enable people and organizations to develop their skills for personal and economic growth.

Obviously, if you are looking to become a chemist, anthropologist, a doctor or a lawyer, the self-educated path is probably not the best choice for you. If you’re looking for a career in technology, social media, writing or starting your own business, self teaching is probably your best bet. It all depends on what you want out of life. You can obviously have a hybrid of both, too.

Remember, real world experience is something no library, classroom or teacher can offer.

Speak Your Mind