THE FIRST TIME I FELL IN LOVE
I learned English when I was four years old.
After some careful instruction, I successfully wrote my first sentence in junior kindergarten with Mrs. Peters watching over me.
I remember looking down at the paper, oddly emotional and confused about it.
My pocket-sized mind then acknowledged the following truths:
- Writing is beautiful.
- Language is powerful.
- Words are life-changing.
That was the first time I thought: I want to change the world with words.
My heart took out a lace handkerchief and subsequently wept.
I spent all my grade-school years writing. My teachers entered them into competitions and I came home with certificates and ribbons. Upon seeing the trophies, my parents (among those who had a vested interest in my growth and well-being) were positively beaming, and their utter joy at my accomplishments had me positively preening. I figured I must have been doing something right. It seemed to me that this was my calling: Make others happy.
Teachers were happy when I got good grades. My family was happy when I got good grades. Nobody smacked me when I got good grades. From this, I distilled that it was my life’s purpose to get good grades.
By the age of 12, I had made the firm decision to work like a mule and get good grades.
That same year, I began to kill my dream to fully live into the dream other people had created for me.
Slowly, I took pen to paper less and less. I no longer wrote poems or stories, unless it was for a school assignment.
By high school, I had stopped writing for pleasure entirely.
I walked away from what lit me up to please others.
On graduation day, I waltzed off with awards, praise, and scholarship money, and packed my bags for Queen’s University.
And, just like in high school, I thrived.
But I’m not here to talk about my academic performance.
I’m here to tell you that the happiest part of my life began when I left my formal post-secondary studies.*
I was set free. Also, I wish someone had written something like this to help me make a more informed decision when I was considering university.
I’ve learned a few things from reading books and talking to people, and one thing I’ve applied to great effect is this: To lead a life of purpose, you must listen to your inner voice/gut feeling/intuition very carefully, and then act in accordance to its feedback.
Trust your instinct. You’ll be very happy you did.
FALL TO PEACE
I walked away from Queen’s University in the fall of 2016.
Here are some reasons behind why I did it.
Reason #1: NOT THE RIGHT FIT
We’ve all been on the Unfortunate First Encounter (UFE).
- You sit down for coffee, only to discover his unspeakable breath is something he forgot to mention on his online dating profile.
- You’re at the restaurant, and realize she’s twice as old but only half as witty as you were led to believe.
- You share something in confidence, and they respond with a disheartening lack of basic human empathy.
At this point, you know that there isn’t going to be a second date.
Slightly miffed, you accept that your labours shall yield fruit for none.
With appreciation and kindness, you depart with finality.
For me, that UFE was university.
By the summer after first year, I knew there wasn’t going to be a second.
College and I were the couple who had misaligned moral values, found the other too high maintenance, and didn’t get each other’s jokes. So, after some time, we respectfully parted ways to move on to better things.
Reason #2: THE PRICE WAS WRONG
Education shouldn’t have to cost an arm, a kidney, and both functioning legs.
Let’s calculate: if I spent $8,000 for 8 months each year on university (not including the price of rent, food, liquor, textbooks, school supplies, and extra institutional fees) over a period of 4 devastating years, I would be spending…now let’s see…if I carry the 1…hmm…oh yeah.
The sad thing is, despite the huge financial investment I was putting into my education, I did not receive a result that brought me joy. I just felt stressed.
I respect and admire people who love what they do so much that they become experts of the subject, and are willing to share their accumulated wisdom with young minds.
Some of these inspiring people become professors. Some go on to become your potential employer or mentor or colleague or friend.** The human beings in the second category do not require a hefty fee to talk to. Go figure.
I was about to get an Arts degree for $40,000 that could not promise me a job, a feeling of happiness, or any sense of security.
So, basically, by staying in university, I was becoming a sitting duck.
But, technically, I was a sitting duck who was also accumulating debt.
So, ultimately, I was a fiscally irresponsible duck who was really good at sitting.
The price just wasn’t right. Bob would get it.
Reason #3: POTUS HAPPENED
President Reginald Frump of the Deflated States got elected.***
Like any normal person and survivor and immigrant and woman and visible minority and decent human being, I said, “Nope.”
Then I had a nervous breakdown.
Long story short: I went home.
Long story conclusion: I stopped getting my degree in Politics.
Reason #4: I LISTENED TO SMART PEOPLE
When it was time to consider dropping out officially, I sought advice from a network of passionate, experienced, and accomplished individuals whom I respected very, very much.
I trusted my own judgment, but I also recognized the value of counsel dispensed by brilliant people.
Here are a few who gave their two-cents:
CEO of a marketing agency
CEO of a management consulting firm
Co-Founder of a PR firm
CEO of a tech company
President of a biotech startup
Small business owners
Near the end of the list, I discovered that many university professors and people my age had shaped their thinking to fit the matrix in which they were raised.
(However, the last person on the list disagreed with them. Thanks, mum!)
In the end, the data was unanimous: University is amazing. But it isn’t for everyone. And it wasn’t for me.
So I picked up the phone, called my school, and said, “It’s not you, it’s me. Really!” And thanked them profusely before hanging up.
(Actual conversation paraphrased.)
Reason #5: ONLY YOU CARE ABOUT YOUR DEGREE
Unless you are entering a standardized industry, such as medicine, policy, or law.
The main concern that arose when I told people I wanted to leave university was: “How on earth will you ever find employment?!”
Sometimes, they said it with a more enthusiastic “?!?!?!?!?!?!?”
- Because finding a job aligned with your degree is the only possible outcome.
- Because there is no alternative, such as working for yourself, being an entrepreneur, starting a business, building an empire, or changing careers.
- Because no one, ever, on the planet, in the history of the world, has ever been able to earn a dollar or land a job without a college degree.
For those with broken sarcasm radars: please try again.
University will teach you how to work for somebody else. Life will tell you there’s a bit more it has to offer. Just ask Robert Kiyosaki.
Over the past year, I’ve come to a clear-water conclusion about this “I-just-graduated-with-a-degree-but-cannot-find-a-job” dilemma: There is way too much emphasis being put on resumes by universities who use that as a selling point to get us to fish out our wallets and throw in our cash. At the same time, employers are looking less and less at your education background to focus on your experience and your potential. They want proof of purpose.
It makes sense, since your graduating with honours does not accurately predict your ability to solve very different problems in the real world.
Here’s what Elon Musk has to say about how he hires people: “There’s no need even to have a college degree at all. Or even high school. If somebody graduated from a great university, that may be an indication that they will be capable of great things, but it’s not necessarily the case. I mean if you look at people like Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Steve Jobs…These guys didn’t graduate from college. But if you had a chance to hire them, that would be a good idea.”
His progressiveness is not isolated.
I asked some CEOs how they hired. They said, “Ability. Track record. Energy. Potential. Personality.”
Nobody said, “College education.”
In fact, some disregarded it. The Co-Founder of a PR firm stated, “I’ve hired people with great resumes who completely flopped on the job. I don’t even look at the education part on resumes. I don’t ask. I don’t care. All I care about is what this person can do for my company.”
Yet, post-secondary institutions insist that having the “Education” line on our CV is paramount. They claim having a certain name listed underneath that subheading is what will save us, disgrace us, or maim us.
For some jobs, this is true. For living a successful life, it isn’t.
Human beings are imperfect. I’m sure there are people who work at universities who genuinely want to affect change. But it is the imperfection of the human race that can turn even the best-intentioned ideas into agenda-driven games.
I was tired of running a race in somebody else’s game.
Especially when nobody asks to see the medal.
Reason #6: ANYONE CAN LEARN TO BE EXCEPTIONAL
In our day and age, especially for fresh-faced 20-somethings, the following fact applies: The competition for employment is fierce. The opportunities, however, seem scarce. Thus, young people are scared.
- That’s why you have thirty-year-olds stuck flipping burgers.
- That’s why you’ve got 28-year-old Sue living in her parents’ basement.
- That’s why, to stand out, you have to be nothing short of remarkable.
I know very little about many things, but I can tell you what works for me.
I’ve been hired many, many times. I’ve started a business. I’ve been not-hired once. (The interviewer laughed at zero of my jokes, so I’m quite sure it was the attempted humour that did me in.)
To be remarkable, you must:
Be intensely kind, even in painful situations
Respect people reverently
Consider the other person’s feelings before you speak
Clarify your goals, and be currently working towards them
Understand life is 5% action and 95% how you react to it
Own up to your mistakes, even the little ones
Jobs are everywhere, waiting to be assigned to remarkable people.
And here’s a secret: If you’re phenomenal, people will make jobs FOR you.
Opportunity scarcity is not a problem for a person of high calibre.
These people create opportunities out of what may seem like nothing.
If I told you that within three months of leaving university, a college dropout received 4 job offers without placing a single resume, would you believe me? If I told you that in less than a year, a college dropout was offered 2 well-paid full-time positions in vastly different industries, would you be surprised?
This stuff happens to people all the time. It happened to me.
Happy, kind, successful people are not made from university degrees.
If the universities are lucky enough, they get to have these people for awhile.
The truth about university is this:
More and more, it is becoming something that’s nice to have, like garnish on your salad.
University does not have courses that teach you to cultivate qualities of goodness. However, it puts you in challenging and stimulating situations that give you the chance to figure it out.
If you can choose kindness over cruelty, forgiveness over hate, and love over injury, you’re all set. If you can’t, university gives you a minimum of three years to try.
You just have to exchange the price tag of some vital organs for the experience.
Self-education is the most valuable gift you can give yourself. Most of the time, it won’t cost you a dime. Its requirements include: 1) your awareness; 2) your passion; and 3) your time.
So find out what sets your heart on fire, and go do that better than anyone else.
The truth about life is this:
Learning is everywhere, if you’re willing to learn.
Trust your instinct.
Live your dream.
Never stop learning.
I left university because I fell in love with life, and I couldn’t wait to start living.
How about you?
*I say ‘formal post-secondary studies’ because, really, your whole life after high school is composed of many streams of dynamic, groundbreaking, first-hand studies. You can do great things. You just have to believe it.
**Or they become your client, and they pay you money to access your brain. Instead of the other way around. Funny, eh?
***Name changed to protect the innocent.