Entrepreneurial Quote of the Week for October 15

Entrepreneurial Quote of the Week for October 15

Entrepreneurial Quote of the Week for October 15th

While I am not much into self-help, self-actualization, motivational speaker-type hippie junk, I do appreciate wisdom…especially when it is distilled down to bite-size pieces.  I have for some time written down nuggets of wisdom as I’ve stumbled across them in articles, podcasts or everyday conversation and I’ll start sharing these with you as well as a few thoughts of mine on the meaning and application of the quote. My goal with these quotes is to motivate and encourage you through what other successful individuals have written and said as well as provide an easy resource should you need a topic for your next seminar or class or back-porch conversation.

This week’s Entrepreneurial Quote:

“Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” -(unfortunately I did not copy down the source so I cannot properly attribute this; please comment below if you know the source)

Now this topic might get slightly controversial. The quote above reminds me of something my friends and I would tell each other in college when we were having difficulty with a professor: “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach“. While perhaps slightly disingenuous, that college saying and this week’s quote express similar sentiments; namely, that there is a limit to what formal education can actually do for you.  Though there is certainly much good in education (knowledge is normally better than ignorance), knowledge or book learning can only do so much; college or, more broadly, education alone does not guarantee success.  At best, college can teach someone how to study and examine information critically…as well as teach them basic facts in their field of study.  At worst, formal education is the proverbial self-licking ice cream cone that exists solely for its own benefit (and for the self-indulgence of grown children) with no true application in the real world (how many newly graduated Master’s degree holders are realizing that an anthropological treatise on sub-Saharan subcultures of the 15th century has no market except to other masters students?)

A little personal history is in order here.  In high school I desired to take a few classes at the local vocational school but was told that was for those who didn’t have what it took for more advanced schooling. So while others were learning how to weld or do construction, I was in AP Physics. I went to college because I presumed that was what was expected of me (though I knew my parents were unable to pay for it), but when I told some of my parents’ friends I was going to a military college they looked at me with disappointment, preferring instead that I went to a more traditional college. In my chosen profession there is a big push to get an advanced degree; what kind doesn’t matter, just get a piece of paper from somewhere saying you’ve studied even more. A few of my siblings went to college, got in debt, and are now not doing anything related to their chosen field. Another family I know pushed all their kids to higher education, paying for it along the way; but only one child graduated and the family is now in debt up to their eyeballs.  Other friends and family I know have ground out four (or more) years of college for a degree they NEVER PUT TO USE.  And a few years ago, when I was considering exiting the military, I had a corporate headhunter tell me I had an old, worthless degree from a no-name college and if I wanted their help I needed an MBA just to get my foot in the door (they had no interest in what I brought to the table without that piece of paper).

Does that mean I’m against formal education?  No, at least not directly. What I am against is the unthinking assumption that a formal degree is required for “success”, that all children need to go to college (and that parents should pay for it) and that college is some sort of rite of passage for today’s youth.  I agree with the societal norm, at least in the United States, that kids should graduate high school, and I will certainly encourage my children to consider the right colleges- colleges which encourage critical thinking, promote a deeper understanding of society and history, and provide a safe environment for my children to continue to acquire the skills necessary for true independence (brains do not fully finish developing until the mid to late 20s).  And whether it is through high school or some sort of secondary education, anyone desiring more than just a minimum-wage job and to not be a leech on society needs the ability to write (not just tweet), do basic financial math, plan, read and comprehend current events, and understand their country’s heritage.  But college (as the example of “formal education” here for this post) is not the right answer for all, or even most, people.

Ok, to wrap up. 1) Whatever the source, you DO need to be literate and capable of critical thought…but college or formal education is no guarantee of this ability.  2) Formal education can possibly give you a framework for finding suitable employment in the “real world”…but does not provide you all the answers. 3) College and advanced degrees are fine provided you know why you are pursuing them. 4) You can always find a course or school or a YouTube video to fill in missing knowledge, even at 90 years old. 5) No one cares about your success as much as you (well, you and your spouse)- no professor or TA or career counselor.  If success for you is a job that requires a certain piece of paper, do it, but be honest about why you are doing what you are doing. 6) History is littered with those who bucked the system and found success…especially those we celebrate as entrepreneurs.

Am I off base here?  Is this just me not wanting to study or am I on the right track?  Am I going to wish I had that MBA in a few years?