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A Brief List of Things You Shouldn’t Have Learned in College

A few days ago I was writing a guest article for another blog and when I finished it, I read it over and thought to myself, “Wow, this is really bad.”

It’s not that the ideas weren’t any good or that it wasn’t thought-provoking. The problem was the language. The whole damn thing read like a research paper.

This has plagued me for awhile. I’ve been out of school for more than two years, but whenever I write, it still comes out like it’s for science class. You don’t get to see it, but after I write an article, even this one, I go over it three or four times to make sure it’s written in a way that you’ll actually enjoy reading.

Writing is easy, editing is tough.

My immediate thought when I’d realized what I’d written was “Where the hell did I learn to write like this? It’s so boring.” Of course, the answer was, “At school.”

I have mixed feelings about school, especially college and higher education. On one hand, I can’t deny it shaped who I am and I learned some valuable lessons. On the other hand, I usually tell people that, had I known what I do now, I’d have skipped it entirely. If high school hadn’t been mandatory, I’d have skipped it, too. (I’d have never skipped grade school though. Recess was awesome.

Overall, school felt like more of a blockade than a gateway to real creativity and success.

Each stage of education I went through did an excellent job of preparing me for the next stage and not a lot else. Going to grade school prepared me for high school. Going to high school prepared me for college. Maybe I would have excelled had I decided on grad school, I don’t know. By that time, I felt like I was in the throes of some giant conspiracy to keep me there forever and I had to get out.

What happens when there’s no more stages? School certainly didn’t teach me how to run a creative business and I don’t even feel like it prepared me for the corporate world.

Still, I don’t entirely regret my decision to go to college, but I also don’t admire it. Exhibit A: I have no idea where my diploma is.

That’s not all, though. Here’s a brief list of 11 other things I’ve had to unlearn since college that were stifling my creativity, my understanding of the world, and my knowledge about good business:

1. A piece of paper entitles you to something.

Your diploma is supposed to signify your ability to learn and to stick it out through a difficult program. It’s supposed to tell a future employer that you know what you’re doing and that you deserve some sort of special consideration over someone without one.

This couldn’t be further form the truth. The person that deserves a job is the one that can contribute the most value to an organization and a diploma is no proof that that’s you.

2. Your wrong answers are just as important as your right ones.

There’s this common belief among universities that the process of getting things wrong is just as important to your education as getting things right.

No doubt about it, if you get something wrong, you need to learn from it and move on, but the idea that getting things wrong over and over again on the way to getting it right is important is just, well, dead wrong.

The faster you get to the right answer, the sooner you can move on to doing even bigger and better things. Doing things wrong teaches you what not to do again. Doing things right teaches you what to repeat over and over again to get even more things right.

Getting things wrong is not that important.

3. Your future is more secure with a job.

 

I don’t think I need to do a lot of convincing in this economy to prove how wrong that is.

The conspiracy theorists argue that getting a job is the only thing college prepares you for, but I think even that might be giving too much credit. I don’t know a lot of people that feel like they were able to make an easy transition into their careers because they went to college.

In fact, I know a lot more that had to unlearn a lot of things just like I did.

Of course, I can understand why people think that. Every single college I know of has a career placement department where they try to match you up with companies you might want to work for. How many colleges do you know of with an entrepreneurship department? A lot less, right?

 

4. The best way to learn is to pay a teacher.

I think that learning from an expert, especially having a mentor, is one of the best ways to get an education, but I don’t always think paying a school qualifies.

Don’t get me wrong, if you know of an expert that you want to learn something from, offer to pay them to teach you. There’s nothing wrong with investing in yourself or your education.

The problem is that most colleges these days are filled with educators and theorists, not experts. They’re experts on how to educate, but few of them are experts on how to actually do things.

If I had to do college over again, I’d only take courses from adjunct faculty – the people who make their living doing something you want to do that also happen to teach on the side.

 

5. Pleasing one person is the key to success.

Want to get an A? Better figure out how your professor thinks and make everything you do line up with that. Incidentally, that’s also the way to get a raise or a promotion when you work for a big company.

When you’re working for yourself, though, trying to please one single person is probably the worst way to make more money or gain more influence. Instead, you need to focus on making a lot of people happy. The more” bosses” you have, the better.

6. Excelling in many areas will make you more successful.

 

I’m a big fan of self-reliance, but the idea that you need to be great at everything to be successful is a total load.

Most of the greatest thinkers and doers in history were brilliant in their area of expertise and complete dunces in all the others. They realized that early on and embraced it.

Put them in college and they’d fail 9 out of 10 classes and be the supreme valedictorian of one.

Since starting Riskology.co, I’ve had to make a conscious effort to quit wasting so much time trying to get good at all my weaknesses and focus on getting great at what I already do well.

7. There’s an objective way to evaluate anything.

 

One of the biggest myths that I think conventional higher education sustains is that they have a system of standards that can objectively evaluate your work.

The problem is that every system is created and run by people and even the most honest people have a bias. That’s fine and in a lot of cases, it’s even good.

The better you can get at detecting and embracing bias, the better you’ll do in life. It’s unfortunate that so many people have been lead to believe that their grades are some kind of objective measure.

8. Success comes from following the rules.

 

The whole point of higher education is to teach you which formula to follow to get a desired result, right? The great irony, of course, is that every business, every person, really, that has done something great did it by breaking those rules.

If you’re going for average, then that formula might work quite well, but if you want something above and beyond that, then you’re going to have to write your own formula.

9. You need a big group of people to organize a big group of people.

 

Next to government agencies, I’d guess that colleges and universities have the most bloated payrolls in the world. The school I went to has more than 1 staff member for every 12 students (and staff member does not equal teacher).

It’s an example of inefficiency and extreme bureaucracy. If you come away from college thinking that’s what it takes to have a big, important mission, how could you ever get started?

It doesn’t take a huge staff or a ton of money to do something big and important. It takes dedication and a lot of work. Both of those things can be had alone, for free. And it can stay that way. You can do a lot of great things by deciding to stay small.

10. Using proper etiquette is the best way to deliver a message.

 

If you’re well organized and you have compelling ideas, then you don’t need proper grammar, perfect spelling, or polite etiquette to get your message across. In fact, unless you’re writing for a university, that would probably hurt your ability to say what you really want to say.

Use hyperbole, metaphors, swear words, or anything else your political science teacher wouldn’t allow in a term paper to get your point across and drive it home.

If I said that this point is the holy grail of this essay and it’s the most important fucking thing you’ll learn all day, which one these 11 points are you going to remember tomorrow?

You might be a little shocked, but it worked, didn’t it?

 

11. You should take all the time you need.

If you’re in college or work at one, it’s pretty common advice that you should take as much time as you need to learn everything you want and don’t rush yourself because you might miss a big opportunity.

Well, I agree that you should learn everything you want, but it’s been awhile since I’ve met a graduate who wished they spent more time working on their degree.

You get one life to live and you should make sure you’re using it to pursue something important to you. If a degree is the most important thing you’ll ever get in life, then by all means, spend 20 years working on it.

For the rest of us, I’ve found it far more rewarding to quickly accomplish things, even if they’re not perfect, and move on to the next. I’ll go back and fix them if I have to, but the faster I can unleash something, the faster I can start working on something even more important.

So what about you over there? What have you unlearned? Let me know in the comments.

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Image by: laffy4k