In America we love higher education. Well, we love the titles, pieces of paper, and the letters we can put after our names that come with it. Dr., PhD, Master of, Certified this or that, and on and on… I am all for learning but I often fear that the public education system and college level education has pushed us all down a conveyor belt of “Learning”. A conveyor belt of ‘sameness’. It seems like every career transition is accompanied by the incessant need to go back to school and get another degree. How is it that we have decided that the only way to learn and validate the quality of learning is through a college degree or some sort of official certificate? With that logic, I should have never attempted to lose weight as a kid. Why? I wasn’t certified to do that. Yup… Sit on that statement for a second… “I can’t try to lose weight because I’m not a certified personal trainer…” Yes, that’s ridiculous! But it seems that mentality has become the order of the day. If you don’t have a piece of paper that says you potentially went into a lot of debt to get that piece of paper, then clearly you are not qualified to do certain things.
This all started to come to bare for me when I was closing in on the end of my Electrical Engineering Degree. Every winter break I would travel home to Alabama and my Step- Father would ask me a very reasonable question, “So, can you, like, overhaul the wiring in the house?” Initially my response was, “Not yet, but it’s coming. We’re in the theoretical part right now.” The problem was the fact that, for the most part (aside from some computer programming), we stayed in the theoretical part. When I got towards the end of my degree I hated it when he asked that question because I realized that I had been spending all this time crushing myself and I didn’t have any practical skills to show for it. Had I gone to trade school to be an electrician I would have been paid to learn and gotten paid more to work. And I actually would have had an incredibly useful and always needed skill. I also would have had no debt. Today I think about it and the idea of going to college almost seems ridiculous for me. I was truly interested in fitness the entire time I was in school but I had always accepted the notion that a college degree in the sciences was the way to economic prosperity. For me, a better option would have been to pay a few hundred dollars to get a Personal Trainer Certificate and start working with people at the local YMCA. The same place that I had spent hours working off the weight. The same place where so many adults had come up to me and told me to keep up the good work because they saw the transformation. The same place where I had the credibility to be able to tell other people how to lose weight because I had done it and they saw me do it. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like had I had the nerve to say screw college and take five years to learn everything I could about the fitness business. Five years to make financially inexpensive mistakes that would have gained me a plethora of knowledge, experiences, and relationships.
Well, that didn’t happen but my engineering degree hasn’t been for not. As I was explaining to the students present in the video, “Nothing in your experience is wasted.” The analytical skills I learned as an engineering student are the same skills I utilize to break down human behavior. Now, I don’t have anybody’s psychology degree or anybody’s life coach certification, but I can read a person’s life like I’ve been there the whole time. Why? All these insane experiences I have in all these different areas of life. The funny thing about being the person in the experience is the fact that we tend to marginalize ourselves. “Who am I to talk to people about the really difficult challenges they have in life?! I’m not a Counselor or a Therapist!” That’s when it dawned on me, “I’m the only me in the world and I’ve been climbing big mountains since I was 5 years old. I was created to help people push through difficult times!” My experience gives me credibility! If you want to climb Mount Everest, you don’t go ask someone who has a Degree in Geography how to do it. You get on google and find someone who has done it and ask what they did (Bonus if they have a PhD in Geography). If you can’t talk to them, you probably read a blog they have, watch videos that document the journey, or, heaven forbid, go to the library and read a book they wrote about it. All that counts as learning in my book and it’s free. It’s also free to execute against that knowledge, make some mistakes, and refine your learning.
However, we have been sold the idea of debt and college as the only way to economic security and it’s just a flat out lie. When I left the Army and started coaching I had to fight the temptation to just go back to school. I’m not making enough money so maybe more education will solve the problem. It will, but I didn’t have to pay for the education that I was getting by working with real clients at the gym, who have real lives that they have to contend with, in the midst of changing eating and exercise habits. A gym environment is a great place to see patterns in human psychology and I got paid (very little mind you but I got paid none the less) to get that education. All my experiences combined with all the reading/podcast listening/video watching have created tons of valuable learning. Higher Education packaged at a much better price.
Think of it like this, when my ancestors were freed from slavery in this country back in the 1860’s, I’m sure that they were overwhelmed at the thought of having the freedom to choose what they could do with their time. Here’s the problem, you have a whole group of people (African American Slaves) who have never had the room or ability to think for themselves or govern their own path in life. Yes they are free but now the real work begins. How will they generate an income amongst former slave owners who still feel they should be subservient and act as property? Many must learn to read. They must learn to manage money. Thousands of broken families dispersed across the country must now figure out what a healthy family looks like. Oh yeah, there’s also the PTSD that comes from all the atrocities you saw in slavery and the further violence you now face as someone daring to be free of bondage. I’m sure many slaves felt that they would rather stay a slave. It probably seemed safer in many ways. Stay in bondage, at least we got feed and clothed and housed. I often think about how many slaves had to fight the urge to believe slavery was better. How many ex-convicts have to fight the temptation to want to go back to prison? How many people have to fight the temptation to run back to an abusive/cheating spouse? In the same way, many of us need to fight the temptation to run back to a higher education system that offers bondage to the tune of $50-100K worth of student loan debt for very little in the promise of work or skill set. Are there things you need to go to college for? Yes. But there are many things you don’t need a degree for.
Look at your history and start valuing your personal experiences. If more of us stopped to pay attention to these things, we would see value in ways we never considered. I lost 100 lbs and have kept it off, I was an engineer and worked for two fortune 500 companies, I paid off $60K of debt while successfully navigating the Special Forces Qualification Course, and I spent a year deployed to combat in Afghanistan. Now, I’m an entrepreneur. It’s hard to find people who’ve done one of these things, let alone all of them. I’m confident to say that I know something about what it takes to have success in difficult endeavors. Those are my credentials.
Reflect on two things this month:
- What have my life experiences taught me and what else am I interested in learning?
- Is there something I am hesitating to do because I believe I’m not Qualified? If the answer is “yes”, is that really true?
I love you! God Bless You!