The best professional opportunities need to be created.
The other day I discovered my old University of Michigan student ID card in a stack of papers.
When I saw the expiration date, May 2018, a terrifying thought occured to me: I could still be in college.
To be more blunt, I could still be sitting in classes I didn’t like, doing things that added no value to my life so I could please adminstrators, parents, and friends, and spending my days producing nothing for the real world.
I’m 23 years old and I’d be no better off professionally than I was at 18.
I was having lunch the other day with a student and had to chance to talk about what she was interested in.
Her answers might seem ridiculous, but they’re actually typical of many conversations I have with college students today.
The truth is most students have no idea what they want and when you press them a little, they fall apart.
They use college as a way to absolve themselves of the responsibility of figuring out what matters to them and doing it. Read the dialogue and see what I mean.
Derek: So what are you interested in?
Student: I’m studying journalism.
Derek: Nice! What about journalism excites you?
Student: I really love writing.
Derek: What have you written?
Student: Umm.. well I wrote an essay for my English course this year.
Derek: But you haven’t written anything else?
Student: No not really.
Derek: Nothing at all?
Derek: Why not?
Student: I just don’t feel like I’m good enough yet.
Derek: Well, what would you like to write about?
Student: I have a ton of interests. It’s hard too because I have so many and never enough time to hit them all!
Derek: I bet! What are some things you’d like to write about.
Student: Well, politics and maybe culture. There are just so many.
Derek: Thats not much what else?
Derek: It’s probably just hard to think of them….Anyways, politics is pretty broad. Anything in particular?
Student: I’m not really sure yet. Maybe elections
Derek: Do you post political stuff on Facebook or Twitter?
Student: Not really.
Derek: What are some journalists you follow regularly?
Student: Oh I don’t know, just a bunch of stuff I see online.
Derek: Hmm. Well you should just get started!
Student: How so?
Derek: You can start a blog and just start writing and what not.
Student: But who would read it?
Derek: You have to start somewhere.
Student: I know. I’m just so busy with school.
Derek: Maybe try something else? You really don’t need a degree to be a journalist.
Student: Yeah I would but I’m already over a year in. I feel like I should finish.
Derek: Well you can start writing now always. Any ideas for what you could write about?
Student: Hmm. I’d have to think about that.
The problem is that you don’t just magically know what to do when you graduate. It takes time, trial and error, a bias for action, and a lot of introspection.
College, with its dinosaur credentialing system, its emphasis on grades and conformity, allow for almost none of this.
Parents are a tough one. I struggled with them a bit when I was getting ready to drop out of college and I’ve known and helped others who have had far more challenges than I did.
You’re scared they’ll cut you off financially.
You’re scared they’ll stop talking to you.
You’re scared they won’t love you.
A Marketing Director was at a coffee shop in Austin, Texas when he saw a young man working on designing an advertisement on his laptop. The ad was one of the best he’d seen. The Marketing Director complimented the young man on the quality of his work and asked him if he was in college.
The young man replied, “only for a little while. I dropped out.”
The Marketing Director then asked why didn’t he go back to school and study marketing and advertising. He even offered to write a letter of recommendation.
The young man said he was learning a good amount on the job and making money.
The Marketing Director then asked, “so what is it you do? Personally and professionally”
The young man said, “I work from coffeeshops, contract for clients right now and will be starting a company soon hopefully. My clients respect me and I make good money, learn a ton, and travel around the world regularly. I have a ton of free time and am writing a book. I’m also debt free.”
The Marketing Director scoffed. “I have an MBA from Harvard, and can help you,” he said. “You should go back to school and get yourself a degree in marketing and advertising. With that degree, you could get yourself an a good entry level job. You could work for 5-10 years and move up the ladder, and one day make really great money. You might need to take out student loans but it will be worth it.”
The young man asked, “But, how long will this all take?”
To which the Marketing Director replied, “Oh, 4-6 years for college, and another 5-10 years on the job.”
“But what then?” asked the young man.
The Marketing Director laughed and said, “That’s the best part. Eventually you’d be able to leave your job.”
The Marketing Director said, “Then you could work from coffeeshops all over the world. Get paid to contract with clients, start your company, make great money, and travel the world. You’d be highly respected. You could spend time focusing on your hobbies and even write a book if you wanted!”
In 2014, sometime after dropping out of college (or getting kicked out, depending on whom you ask) and being dumped by my girlfriend, I started getting my first job offers and freelance clients.
I had no degree and no more than a bit of sporadic work experience from my family’s company, yet opportunities started coming my way from industries ranging from commercial real estate to technology.
I was able to get these opportunities by testing two assumptions:
1) Most job “requirements” are negotiable. What employers mean when they say “degree required” is really “value creation ability required.” They want someone who they trust will create more value for their company than they take out in wages. There are better ways to show this than a degree.
2) The common sense job getting strategies are nonsense. What worked in a world where degrees and education were scarce no longer applies when everyone and your grandma have a bachelors degree, volunteered to build a pipe in South America, and a did a summer internship. When everyone is getting mediocre results doing something one way, maybe it’s time to try it another. That’s what I did.
Within a year or so I’d made over $100,000 and not long after became the Director of Marketing at a startup. Life has been a bit of a fairy tale since.
The steps I took to get from 20 year old college dropout to everything that has come my way in the past two years are simple, reproducible, and scalable as you continue you career beyond your first job.
Some may be counter-intuitive to what you’ve been taught, but what worked when I got started still works, and I’ve added considerably to it as I’ve gotten more experience in the real world.
In fact they’re more relevant than ever.
It dawned on me the other day that I would have still been in college this past semester.
Looking back now on the past 6 months or so, it’s interesting to think what I would have been doing if I were in school vs what I actually did instead. My college life is a world away from my life in the real world since dropping out. [Read more…]