Although the politically correct (PC) stance is to have hashtag no regrets, being PC is the last thing I care to exude. Being PC would mean to deny my authenticity, and that’s one thing this blog is not about. Typically at my age you’d think that most of us don’t have any regrets because the idea is that each of our experiences helped shape the people we’ve become. Which is still true actually. Regardless, there is one distinct experience that I and others like myself could have lived without: Attending college.
What do you want to be when you grow up? That is the question I”m sure we can all remember being asked throughout the school years. My answers were always hilariously different: scientist, fashion designer, model, mother, singer/actress, doctor, artist, lawyer, writer, spy, magazine editor, psychologist, and the list goes on. I was a free-spirited child with countless creative ideas who loved learning about life. I was especially intrigued by the dynamics of my friendships and the relationships around me. It was utterly fascinating to see people interact and learn how they think. By the time I was a senior in high school, I knew I liked the subject of psychology, but I still had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. I envied my peers who knew exactly what they wanted to do and wondered if that would ever happen for me. Of all the options I had, there weren’t any that brought forth any passion. There seemed to be a clear cut path for everyone except me. Why did I have to be so odd?
It’s pretty strange how the SATs and ACTs determine our post high school fate. I remember thinking what the heck does any of this have anything to do with whether or not we can become what we want to be? I don’t even know what I want to study, let alone what I want to be. But somehow these mandatory tests are the first key to the golden gates of freedom a.k.a. college. The second key is being able to pay for it. Nonetheless, I should mention that I didn’t even know if I wanted to go to college. My father presented me with two options post grad: go to college or join the military. I briefly considered the military, but even more quickly decided against it as I knew in my heart that wasn’t the route for me. So at the very last minute, I chose to apply to a few different colleges.
As a high school senior who never really grasped the concept of financial matters, it never dawned on me that going to a 4-year university in the US would eventually become a huge burden once it was all said and done. In my whimsically nonchalant teenage brain, I had it all figured out. And none of that included grants or scholarships. After I graduated I would land a job making at least $45k+ and work my way up the ladder, and by 30 I would have all my loans paid off. I didn’t factor in cost of living increases in a booming city, student loan interest rate increases, capitalization, a recession, hiring freezes, etc. I just thought it would all work itself out. My dad definitely taught me about budgeting and shared how he takes care of all our family expenses, but I wasn’t interested enough to retain any information. They provided for me thus far, so I believed it didn’t apply at that moment. And because I was a teenager, I knew everything. And I knew that once I crossed over into adulthood, everything would fall into place. Oh how I wish that were true.
I can make this part extremely concise. I attended college, switched my major/minor three to four times, and then finally graduated with my BA in Psychology and a minor in Journalism. The catch is that during my junior year, I realized that entrepreneurship was something available to me. My passion was to create something that didn’t have a clear cut path to success; finally it seemed like all these ideas I’d had over the years didn’t have to go to waste. I could make them a reality, but I had to be resourceful and determined to make it happen on my own. I could draft up a business plan, register an LLC, create financial projections, request funding, network with people in a given industry, and become my own boss.
Though college was a great experience, all it teaches us in application is how to be a good employee. And frankly, I didn’t need to spend thousands of dollars to learn this; I worked enough during the summers in high school to grasp those principles. Sure there is a wealth of knowledge to be learned in college, but success is measured by your GPA and how efficiently you follow directions or meet deadlines. Which is parallel to the traditional work model for the typical day job people devote a majority of their lives to only to retire making less than 25% of their previous earned income.
I aspire to have time and financial freedom while doing something I love that helps others in substantial ways, and the only way to achieve that is to use the system but not rely on it solely. College was not built for the entrepreneurs and creatives. It’s built for those who have defined career goals that match the majors available. Take a moment to ponder why so many successful entrepreneurs dropped out of college. Steve Jobs (Apple), Bill Gates (Microsoft), Michael Dell (Dell), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jan Koum (Whats App), Travis Kalanick (Uber), etc. Grant it, all these people made billions in tech, but there are others who are extremely successful in other industries as well.
So I share this to encourage people who don’t have a degree. The lack of a degree does not define you nor does it validate your purpose. The only hindrance to your success are the thoughts that keep telling you this is the only way. It’s not. You literally have the power to create the life you want. And everyone’s path will look a little different. There is a level of investment required and our access to that will vary. However, if you want it bad enough and believe in yourself, you can make it happen.