In Tim Ferriss’ podcast with Peter Thiel, the billionaire PayPal Co-founder answers the question on what he thinks of today’s education. He quotes a friend who suggested that:
We’ve reached a point in education which is comparable to the catholic church on the eve of the reformation. Even as it continued charging more and more for indulgences, people believed they could only be saved by going to the Catholic church.
But the answer to all of that is: You need to find salvation on your own.
While I do not fully agree with everything Mr. Thiel does or says, I couldn´t agree more with this statement.
If you´re a student reading this you might be a little confused now. Didn’t your parents tell you that by going to university you will get the skills to thrive in the market place? And didn’t your university tell you with a great degree you’ll find happiness, a great job, career and success?
As you can tell from the initial quote, these common truths about universities and degrees, today, are highly questionable.
They may have been true when your parents studied, 30 years ago. When the internet wasn’t a thing so people couldn’t just Google most of the stuff that is being taught in classrooms today. When they studied one thing and worked in exactly the same area for their entire career. Today only 25% of all graduates work in a field they majored in and 91% of all millenials are expected to stay in their job for less than 3 years, making it 15-20 jobs over the the span of an average career at its extreme.
I know from my own experience and the various conversation I’ve had with entrepreneurs and top recruiters: The startups and companies worth working for today couldn’t care less about your grades, about your degree and where you got it from. It doesn’t say anything about you. Most people that apply for jobs have some kind of degree anyway so having that “piece of paper” might become a door opener but it will definitely not make you stand out from the crowd.
Here’s what mission-driven organisations of today do care about:
You as a person – your values, your work ethics, your passion, your ambitions and your purpose
Your skills – your unique talents and (real life) knowledge that can contribute to achieving the vision
So, if uni can’t (or couldn’t) help you, how can you find your purpose? How can you get the skills necessary to start successfully in your chosen career?
1. Figure out your purpose
First of all, if you’re a student or graduate and don’t know your clear purpose or goals yet – relax, most young people don’t. How would they? Educational institutions worry about getting as many people as possible through tests to keep the pass rates high enough to get government grants and keep profits up. They don’t really care, nor do they have the time, to help you find your life purpose or enable you to find work you’re passionate about outside of the usual corporate 9-5. So it’s up to you to find that! Based on my experiences and also inspired by the blinks I read from the book “success principles” by Jack Canfield I’m going to try and help you through this.
First take your time to reflect on what you would like to do and what you’d like to achieve.
What drives you and what do you do that doesn’t even feel like work but makes you happy? For example, do you love writing? Helping others? Giving advice? Designing products? Creating things and leading a team? Brainstorm and come up with creative solutions to human problems? Do you have this one idea that might help millions of people to do something better? Examine your reason for being and start small if needed.
Now, to find your purpose, identify some of your strongest personality traits and the things you’d like to do; describe the way you interact with others; and then imagine your ideal world. Once you have done this, combine these into a statement.
Here’s the purpose statement I came up with: “My purpose is to use my enthusiasm and entrepreneurial drive to inspire and empower young people to find their unique path in life so they can better our society through their unique abilities and ideas.”
If you have a passion for writing and would like to contribute to solving social problems your purpose statement may sound something like this: “My purpose is to use my creativity and passion for writing to help NGOs produce content that will reach millions of supporters”
This is called your statement of life purpose and it can change over time as your personality changes. If you don´t know the specifics yet, keep it broad and refine it over time.
I highly doubt it’s your purpose to sit in front of a computer from 9-5 creating the same style excel sheet for 3 years until you can climb a ladder where the top consists of contributing to getting your company’s’ shareholders 4% more return this year. If it is, that’s OK, and I wish you all the best with it. If it isn’t – which I assume so because you’ve read until this far – I encourage you to start reflecting and to think about your purpose asap. Ideally right after you’ve finished reading this blog post – feel free to connect with me and tell me about what you came up with, I´d love to hear from you! 🙂
Once you know a little more about your purpose (or if you know it already), you need to go over to the second stage: Developing the skills you need to pursue your ideas, passion and purpose.
2. How to get skills before you’re graduated
The problem with the whole skills development issue is, that you can’t blame universities alone for not being able to provide up-to-date education and instead promoting word-vomiting theories and formulas on paper will make you skilled. I think, the entire society is to blame, including most of our parents for the importance they attribute to formal education. Nowadays, true personal and skill development happens outside of classrooms.
The period of learning things is also not tied to 9 years of high school and 5 years of uni that stops after you get your degree (wouldn´t we all have a miserable life if learning truly stopped after this period?). The most successful people adapt one thing: Lifelong learning. Learning never stops. In fact, if you’re open to it, it happens everyday. You can learn from every conversation, every encounter, every person, every task, every project, every event that you attend and you can learn especially from failure.
I´ve learned that to develop real skills I need to prioritise hands on experience over binge studying theory to pass tests and get good grades that mean…nothing in the end.
In the last 4 years I worked for one corporate and five startups, alongside uni, in my holidays and during my internship semester. In this period of time I also started – and failed – my first start-up. Currently I am on startup number 2! Between all of these jobs, I also got fired twice, and called people at 10am on Saturday´s to ask them to participate in media surveys(a tough job as you can imagine)… All of these experiences shaped me into the person and professional I wanted to be and they gave me the skills I needed to pursue my purpose. It also taught me that it takes time and several experiences (good or bad) to truly find your path.
I learned by doing and got the initial basics by reading blogs and articles, listening to podcasts and talking to professionals. Like this I was able to develop a great understanding of how things work and what I needed to work on in order to get skills that would make anyone forget about my age or titles. When I had to pass 5 interviews to get a sales job in London at the UK´s number 1 start up, neither my degree nor my sales grade were a topic. It was all about my personality and the potential to benefit the company through my abilities.
Sometimes, a degree can still be a door opener, but even this won´t hold for long
I am not saying University is generally bad and that pursuing a degree is a waste of time, at least it may not be for a some of you (mostly for the very few people who want to work in research or academia themselves). I am also not promoting that all students should drop out. However, for those of you who don´t feel empowered but rather depressed and limited by the regulations the education system forced upon you, dropping out is certainly a possibility. Many people – including me – managed to find their unique path in spite of university, not because of it. Some of the most admired persons of our century such as Steve Jobs, Richard Branson or Kevin Kelly (Wired Founder), dropped out of university and went on to create world-changing businesses, products and organisations.
While in my opinion degrees are certainly overrated and absolutely not worth the horrendous prices that most parts of the world have to pay for them, they are still a door opener to many opportunities. Nevertheless, I strongly believe that if education systems remain the way they are today, in the near future degrees won´t even serve as an entry anymore. Our society is changing and even corporates like Penguin or EY are already removing degrees from their entry level criteria because they say there is no evidence that college degrees are linked to achievements in later life.
If you have the desire inside of you to create an unconventional career, one that suits you and not the other way around, or if you simply want to make the university period beneficial from a professional point of view, then, you can’t rely on what you’re being taught in classrooms and on the grades for your tests.
The most progressive lecturers will admit uni’s limitations. A professor from one of Europe’s leading business schools in France once told me:
“Daniel, sometimes I think we’re schizophrenic. We offer some things that really encourage students to do their own thing and think independently, but then we put them back in the classroom to tell them that to every problem there is one answer. Not allowing them to build their own opinions and ambitions”
Wrapping it up – Lessons Learned:
To get skills, get out of your classroom mindset. Talk to professionals, learn by doing and educate yourself about the stuff you want to learn and do. Do it in the way that is best for you. There are tons of (free) resources out there online and there are a bazillion of people who’d love to share their knowledge with you. You just have to find and approach them.
I often hear friends my age saying “that all sounds great but they don’t have time for it”. When I then ask them how much time they spend on Facebook, Insta, Snapchat or Twitter doing random shit (and trust me I do random shit too), most of them soon realise that they could certainly dedicate 15 minutes a day to find out about these things. That´s really all it takes for the beginning. And it´s worth it! According to Celeste Headlee´s Ted Talk, Harvard researchers have found, that:
Out of the many things that go into the happiness at the job (I´d argue, hence your life) the single highest impact is PURPOSE. People who think they are significant and meaningful to the work they do are about three times more likely to stay in their job. They also have more job satisfaction and are more engaged.
Start reflecting on your purpose and on what you’d like to achieve in your life (pro tip: if you´re stuck and don´t know what you want – go travel, you´ll discover more about yourself and people and places that inspire you!). Then go out and proactively build the skills you need to make your goals a reality. And always remember, learning never stops! In the process, stay humble and patient. Finding your purpose doesn´t happen from one day to another one and may involve having to eat shit sometime.
When I talked to the head of recruiting at Onfido about this topic, he told me: “Our primary concern is not your degree. We care about your ambitions and the actions you took to become the person you want to become.”
What are you waiting for? Go out and attack the life you want to win!
PS: I wrote this blog end of 2016 but only published it in July 2017. In 2016 I had already defined my purpose statement and guided by this I was able to become the youngest lecturer of Amsterdam in February 2017 (whilst I´m now trying to improve the system from within, I´m still of the opinion that the education system overall is broken, such as described in the blog above) and I also became the first international speaker of Student Talks in Copenhagen where I talked about a very similar subject, just with a more extended concept about finding your own path. Next to this I gave 4 other talks including one in India. I´m also working on an education start up.
At the time I´m writing this blog I do not have my bachelor degree yet (only thesis left). Hence, I hope you can draw inspiration from this article and my journey, as it shows, you can find your purposeful path and get the skills necessary, if you keep taking action and refining your vision.
For further inspiration, here´s the talk I gave in Copenhagen on how to find your ideal career path before graduation: