Education vs Experience

UPDATE — I’d like to quickly create a preamble for the point I’m trying to convey. I’m in no way, shape, or form attempting to bash or dissuade people from going to college. This isn’t an examination of college education itself. What I’m really addressing is the faulty societal views that some people have of a what a college education “means”. To be clear, I think for some, there are plenty of wonderful reasons to go to college.

Ironically, many people (including some who were formally educated with college degrees) have a very limited way of looking at education. The line of thinking that you’re a loser, not very intelligent, and unlikely to get a job outside of mopping floors or flipping burgers because you dropped out of school or never graduated or went to college is very common in our society. Ironic, because nothing could be more ignorant. This idea that someone who went to college is “smarter” than someone who has not is a tired one, one that I’ve seen disproved many times.

The story of the high school dropout going on to start their own successful business is not a new one and I’m sure we’ve all heard one or two famous ones by now. This isn’t an exception to the rule or some random anomaly, there’s a very good reason that many of the most successful people are dropouts. The first thing to consider is why someone dropped out. It’s easy to assume they couldn’t hack it, had problems at home, or were simply lowlife criminal types.

The truth is, many of us drop out (yes I’m a dropout too) because we’ve carefully considered our options and decided to not be trapped by conformity or the parent/teacher scare tactics of being a burnout unless you go to a great college and made our own paths instead. I was only 19 when I had my career path mapped out, and I’m 100% self-taught.

I’m 26 now and most of my friends are still scrambling to figure it out, in college, or have completed college, but decided that wasn’t really their passion or those that did the exact, by the book steps to success, which is great (I’ll discuss those career types later).

The biggest problem with those who seek formal education, is that they’ve put themselves in a box. They look at the courses and degrees a college offers and then try and decide from there instead of simply thinking to themselves “What makes me happy? What could I be passionate enough about to do day after day, hour after hour?” The train of thought is usually more along the lines of “What college can I get into? What degree can I afford? What pays well?” This is why people get stuck in dead-end jobs that they hate.

I say, decide what you want to do first and then build from there. If it isn’t even a job anyone has heard of before, so what, invent it and then do it, that’s essentially all anything ever was in the first place, an invention. Someone made something up or did it out of necessity and then it became their job.

Now, here’s where the archaic education system is mandatory. If you want to be a doctor or lawyer or accountant, most, if not all businesses require a specific college degree. If you want a career like that where you know it’s a prerequisite, there’s really no other choice, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have.

Here’s the real kicker though, and I hear this all the time, even after earning that piece of paper that gets you in the door or an interview, even after landing the job, most still aren’t prepared. Most formal educations really don’t prepare you for the real world. I’ve heard often that once someone lands one of these jobs that they’re still essentially completely lost and learning from scratch how to do their job.

So, with the mandatory formal education exception out of the way, here’s the bottom line: experience is the very best education anyone can get. If what you want to do won’t require a bunch of red tape, what are you waiting for? Just start doing it.

I know this conversation runs much deeper with the quality of our education system, the economy, and more, so I’d love to get your take on this in the comments below.

  • You seemed to have missed my point altogether and locked onto something that I actually wasn’t saying at all, but you internally perceived that I was saying.

    Here’s where I think you misunderstood. You read into it that I was saying that the very ACT of going to college was a poor decision. Not at all what I was saying. All that I’m examining here is the generalized societal WHY of going to college, which is what I think is often misguided.

    It’s not going to college itself that’s the problem, it’s that many go for the wrong reasons based on things we were told growing up that simply are not true.

    That doesn’t mean that there aren’t good reasons for going to college, in fact I even said “those that did the exact, by the book steps to success, which is great” referring to those that had exact and well thought out college plans, which I really do think is wonderful.

    I just re-read it to make sure my point is getting across appropriately, and I’m not seeing anything that would confuse my the point I’m trying to make.

    I invite you to please re-read yourself and if you’re still not sure I’m conveying the point I mean to convey properly, I’d happily welcome your input on any confusing language and hopefully I can correct. I’ll go ahead and add an update to simplify for clarity.

    Thanks, Bryan

  • Totally agree with you — thank you for sharing your perspective. And I’m a bit on the other end of the spectrum — I dutifully got a bachelor’s degree (worked hard to get into a top 10 university) then got accepted into a top 10 law school… and after a year, dropped out to help start a brand new MBA program focused on sustainable/socially responsible practices. After all that, I still think, as you do, that experience is the best teacher. Not formal education, because accreditation rules plus academic culture often constrict teachers (and students) from actually working on the most relevant topics for the creation of the students’ true livelihood. So, thank you for being a model for others!

  • Very good point, that’s a whole other layer of the issue, the curriculum you get stuck with!

    I’m sure there’s research you could do to a certain extent and different “qualities” of schools to consider naturally, but until you have a perspective (experience) it’s hard to know the difference between good and bad.

    For example (and I’ve probably said this many times already throughout the blog), I’ve actually been hired by 4-5 actual college students (back in the day of client work) who were learning web design to some degree.

    What did they all have in common? All the curricula for all their courses were just awful, and some counter-productive. What I mean by that is that many of them were learning syntaxes and coding language versions that were something like 5 years out-dated from what was being used in the real world at the time!

    Which was another of your points, the academic constricts put on some teachers (I know some colleges are less strict and more open-minded).

    Furthermore, the fact that many teachers aren’t actively participating in the field (that they teach) on the side (as some do) so they’re not keeping up on the bleeding edge standards.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t some wonderful colleges out there that really do have their stuff together, of course there are. The point I want people to take away is that it’s up to the individual. College isn’t universally and automatically “the answer” to everyone’s education and career potential.

    Thanks, Bryan

  • Jim

    I totally agree with you Bryan. When I was in college, my classes were with FORTRAN IV and WATFOUR & COBOL. My curriculum also included antiquated Data Formatting Classes also. When I was going to college, I would have been better prepared if they offered C/C++, but it wasn’t offered. We were constrained to doing all our flow charting using only Warnier-Orr, but when the professors had to explajn a logical process to the class, they had to go back to the flow chart method. Hello!

    Warnier-Orr was required because some of the local ‘big’ companies located in the city where the college was, used it exclusively, so they used it exclusively so their grads could get a job there.

    Still, to the untrained eye, W-O brackets can be difficult to understand, compared to the plain old flow chart, with it funny-looking boxes and lines & arrows.