I tell people often of how I felt a profound sense of relief when I threw my graduate application away, but the fact of the matter is that chucking it was a hard action to take. I craved the societal acceptance of a graduate degree, and I thought my aptitude for scholarship meant that it was something I was destined to have.
Although the information for learning and understanding almost anything you want to know is accessible for a paltry sum compared to getting a degree, there are reasons why people still pursue the upper-level degree apart from the dream job requirement of having it.
People like to have standards of measurement for success. We like to see that someone has gone through the rigmarole of research and memorization, even if the minutia learned isn’t relevant in the career.
Sometimes people gauge others by their degrees, and we pursue higher education so that we can be praised by others for our intelligence.
Other times, people have drive to learn, but they don’t know how to focus it. So they take on a degree to have someone outline what they should learn and how they should go about it—in a comfortable, familiar setting.
Sometimes people know what they want to do with their degrees, but many times, people are learning to procrastinate. And sometimes the degrees dictate the jobs. A student may want to pursue international research, get a PhD, and then they continue teaching and researching as that is their educational background—even if they were destined for something different.
Is it fear for not knowing what to do? Is it a safe sounding option when you can’t find a job? Is it the social clout you get from spending extra years in an educational system?
I don’t regret the time that I spent in school. If I had debt, I might feel differently. But I liked the culture, the feeling of safety in the system once I left home, the people I met, and the things I learned that I otherwise might not have. I like that I was forced to do research, and that I developed skills through the forcefulness of a professor’s rubric. I also like that it ended, and that I decided to break into the real world.
Transitioning from school to work life was difficult. I spent years in jobs that I felt indifferent towards, that I didn’t like, or that I didn’t think reflected my skills. For years after my undergrad days, I worked, having the underlying idea that I would go back to school, and then become a lawyer or a teacher. If that had happened, I would’ve inevitably transitioned back into the working world, making more money, but continuing indifference, dislike, or the pursuit of something that didn’t matter to me.
I can’t say exactly when the idea of business became so enthralling to me. The idea that I could build a system how I wanted it—based off of my values, following my systems of organization, pursuing the ventures that I believe worthwhile—fills me with joy. I’ve read dozens of books on business. I’ve taken lectures from Udemy and Teachable. I’ve discovered paths and avenues of learning that I previously didn’t know existed. It’s not a process of doing what others tell me, but of taking control of my education to shape my life according to my preferences and intuition.
It’s a scary future, but I can’t imagine going back to a regular job. Don’t get me wrong—I love many of the people I connected with at work—employers and coworkers. I just feel an urge inside of me to create, and I like the limitlessness of business. I like that the visions and ideas of entrepreneurship manifest into reality, like in art.
My business journey is still in its initial stages. Some books that I’ve read that have changed the way I think about business are From Good to Great, by Jim Collins, Zero to One, by Peter Thiel, The 4 Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferris, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, Building a Storybrand, by Donald Miller, and the book I am currently reading: The E Myth Revisited, by Michael E Gerber.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic addresses some of the ideas about education that I have in terms of living creatively.
I’ve also listened to some amazing podcasts, taken step-by-step classes, and met people in real life who are on similar journeys.
I read a Harvard interview about true introspection, and it included a quiz to see if you function based off of narratives that you’ve created for yourself, or if you are truly internally and externally introspective. My results laid out that I internally was self-aware, knowing my values and my expectations, but externally, I wasn’t introspective about social exchanges.
The advice for improvement at the end of the quiz suggested asking a close friend for honest feedback about how others perceive you. My friend told me that I build rapport easily because of my happy nature, but that sometimes I act pretentious. She believed I wanted to prove I was smart. Her reasoning was that I felt insecure about not having a Master’s degree.
Her assessment was fair. I reflected on instances where I’d pull Economist articles into conversations unnecessarily, or bring up my thesis on Ulysses because I was pouring wine after excelling in academia.
I remedied my behavior, but my fear wasn’t unfounded. The fact is that there are people who will think you’re less smart for not having a higher level degree. But disregarding those judgements is important for growth.
I think part of choosing to pursue life your own way means also to let go of the expectations and judgements of other people to ensure your success. In the aspects of my life where I feel secure, I am happy to love and respect people who act differently—people with different political opinions, with non-conventional relationships, with unfamiliar religions.
Since my friend enlightened me of my habit to be insecure in my education, I have grown and built relationships with people who are in graduate school, people who have never been to college, people who are climbing corporate ladders, with lawyers, with doctors, and with business owners. Slowly, I have found security with my unconventional choice in education.
Getting over the hurdle of insecurity opened me up to more connections and experiences, which I believe will lead me to being better at business.