“Being in school is the safest place to be during a recession.”
It was 2008 and the economic World was imploding upon itself for anybody who had become comfortable in the way things “should be”.
For my generation, the generation too young to have a portfolio, it has become almost impossible to accumulate wealth the conventional way — interest rates are abysmally low and, according to the Bank of Montreal, the average age of a first-time home buyer in Canada in 2012 was 29.1
There is no fall back plan — nobody saw this coming.
Well people should have seen it coming, but that’s a different story all together. I mean really, how many studies do we need to read that say that stock pickers can’t predict the stock market any better than you or I? For anybody paying attention it was pretty obvious that the absurd mortgages given out were going to result in a large default rate.
Anyway, hindsight is 20/20 right? I can sit here and tell you that investing in stocks is almost always a worse investment than investing in yourself or into an idea and you probably won’t listen.
Well you’ll listen if you’re already doing it, but if you’re investing in stocks then you think I’m an idiot right now because you’re financially committed that way. So I’m an idiot but you’re still reading. This idiot is about to tell you why he decided not to go back to school.
School is the easy way out.
Almost everybody that I know who has gone back to school are people who are scared of the real world.
They are scared of the unknown, scared of taking a risk, and scared of forging their own paths.
There are exceptions but fewer than you think. For them I wrote a short corollary at the end of this piece.
School is a safety net.
School is acceptable and people are congratulated when they go back to it as if they’ve made a bold decision that will guarantee many successes. Tell people that you have a crazy idea and have the audacity to spend all of your money on books, coaching, and courses to develop it and you’ll get blank stares.
If you want an education, go to Coursea. I promise that you can find a course on exactly what you want to know taught for free from a professor at a top institution. It’s free and leaves you time and resources to try and fail and try some more at the same time.
But it’s hard.
There are no tests. There’s no pretty girl that sits two rows ahead of you who you’ll never speak to but like the way she wears yoga pants that scream “I do my squats” exchanging stares to keep you coming back.
There’s no seating plan and you won’t get a piece of paper that says you have learned 50% of the material enough to regurgitate it on a test to proudly frame and hang on your wall.
I wrote a book on personal training. It took 2.5 years to write and at least 5 to research. If you read it you’ll know more than 95% of the trainers out there but you won’t be certified. There’s no test and no piece of paper. The result is that it’s not studied like a good book should (this of course is assuming that my book is good. A point to which I’m quite biased.)
Before the recession in 2008 I loved my job and felt I was pretty good at it.
2008 happened and the affluent clientele I worked with became poor overnight. Out of that two major things happened:
- I decided that I never wanted to live my life relying on things I can’t control like the stock market. I want — no I must be in control of my own destiny.
- My clients started cancelling and I was given the advice that the best place to be during a recession is in school.
I applied to masters level courses and got accepted to interviews. I never attended these interviews.
He was a previous dean of medicine at a major University in Toronto and a client of mine. On this day, he asked me about my weekend:
“I was actually applying to get my masters degree,” I said.
For 20 minutes we spoke about my career and desire to pursue higher level education. He must have sensed an uneasiness in me when he asked,
I joked about wanting to become a doctor so that people could call me doctor. With a stern look he told me that the word “doctor” is unregistered.
“You’re already a doctor,” he said. “Like Dr. Dre is a doctor,” he added because he was actually an MD.
If you want to go to school to become an MD, please do it. I couldn’t get in. I’m not smart enough.
I then told him that I wanted to write a book.
I never thought about writing a book before.
Writing a book is really hard, I thought in that moment. There are a lot of words in a book. What he said next changed my life,
“so write a book. Today. Start your book.”
I Hated Formal Education but Loved Learning
After this conversation I remembered my frustrations with University. I’m terrible at multiple choice. Everything about learning was an absolute pleasure for me outside of University. Here are some questions I pose about my University experience:
- Why was I tested about obscure points as a measure of how well I understood a complex process?
- Why did it seem that the goal of the exam was to trick me as opposed to test my comprehension of the material?
- Why did a professor say to my face that he would rather take on a masters student with a 75% average than one with a 95%? What does that say about the teachers faith in the system?
- Why do courses like “introduction to vampires in society” count towards an honors degree in Kinesiology?
Some people need the rigid structure that a classroom and testing provides. Personally I prefer organized chaos or what I call “lightening learning”.
What I mean by that is that when lightening strikes and my passion is ignited I’ll go out of my way to seek out materials and learn.
I’ll search for information on a subject and track it back as far as I can to find the guru’s. Currently my passion is in behavioral economics and that led me to such brilliant minds as Daniel Kahnamen, Rory Sutherland, and Nassim Taleb. I don’t just read, I study.
I don’t want to learn for a piece of paper and I don’t want to learn obscure points just for the sake of filling in a bubble on a piece of paper.
In University I had a habit of drawing pictures on my tests when I was supposed to be concentrating hard on the questions. I knew the answers but they weren’t interesting to me. Instead of answering the question on the exam, I often wrote the teacher a story based off of what I found fascinating about the material — complete with pictures.
One time I drew a fish for a comparative animal physiology class. He was in a bowl and asking another fish about this odd ether they seemed to be floating in. The other said that it was “water” because he overheard some weird two-legged creature say it. The other fish said, “water? What the hell is water?”
It showcased how limited we are by our narrow view of the World. I thought this was funny considering the circumstances because the 100-level comparative animal physiology class had taken obscure examples of animals seemingly at random and made us learn all of the weirdest parts of their physiology.
What a silly thing to teach first year University students who are paying you for an education that will help them succeed in the Word.
For some reason fishes and humans both spoke English — I guess I’d reached the peak of my imagination.
Years later I saw a video of a speech that started with a similar conversation. Guess I should have trademarked it or something. Or maybe I had heard the speech and it was somewhere in my subconscious when I drew the picture. Imagination is often innovation. Yeah, that was probably it. I can’t come up with brilliant stuff like that on my own.
I put a video to the speech at the bottom of this page. If you have 10 minutes to spare, it’s worth the listen.
I actually wrote answers like this on exams pretty often. That, and I spent my time doing social experiments.
One time in a stats class taught by a Hugh Hefner reincarnate I drew grass on a piece a paper and wrote on the top of it instructions to add one image and pass it on.
I got the paper passed back to me 30 minutes later. There was a robot in the grass with a house and birds and a whole lot of penises.
I did this picture experiment a bunch of times and the picture always had a bunch of penises on it. I guess people think of penises a lot in class when they are supposed to be thinking of school stuff.
I also spent time reading text books for classes I wasn’t even taking because they weren’t advised to me by my academic counselor who thought that I would have made a great academic (go figure) when I was supposed to be studying.
Somehow I never failed a class. It’s pretty easy to get 50% after all. I also didn’t get good enough grades to apply to medical school so I guess jokes on me.
Just Learn. Learn for You. Learn to Get Better. And Take a Risk
Going back to school would have been safe.
By the time I would’ve completed my PhD I had written two books read by tens of thousands of people Worldwide.
More than anything else. I’m happy. I’m forging my own path.
I screw up and it sucks for a while. It costs me money. It makes me upset and angry. I grow from it.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pursue higher level education after reading this. Far from it. It just wasn’t for me. If you have a distinct passion that requires it or an avid interest in a subject, go for it.
After all of this, here’s my advice to you:
Don’t go back to school because you don’t know what else is out there and it scares you. Admit that you’re scared. Being scared is fine. Being scared is good. It’s normal. We’re all scared. I’m scared every day.
If you retreat and hide in a place where you’re known for nothing more than your student number when you get scared then it’s time you follow your passions.
What do you do that gives you energy, not drains it? I heard of a guy who makes $100,000+/yr carving pencils and selling them online. There is a market for anything.
So to you I ask one simple question that changed my life:
A corollary: If you have chosen a path after a lot of serious thought that leads directly to a profession that is your dream job and the school you chose to do is distinct training for that profession, awesome. I know some people who have gone back to school as a second career because they decided that they were passionate about it and that’s great and you are definitely the exception I alluded to earlier.
Oh, and Here’s the Video with the Fish
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