‘Two more days. Then the weekend. Then repeat the process,’ said a beaten down, slumped family friend as he sat next to me on the bus. It was 7.30 pm and he’d finished work late that Wednesday, not an ounce of happiness shun through him. Let’s call him Adam. Adam is a mining engineer with a typical city office job, working for Rio Tinto on a lifetime contract until he becomes ‘redundant’, for lack of a better option. So this is what you’re left with after you finally graduate university. His situation didn’t look enticing, nor appealing.
Higher education in the new age is more and more becoming exposed of its flaws. It just doesn’t have the biceps it used to have in order to live a comfortable and financially secure life. It certainly doesn’t offer the real life skills to really thrive in the modern world. If you haven’t been exposed to this sort of idea before, you need to get out from behind that rock.
I’m currently reading The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn in College about How to Be Successful by Michael Ellsberg and was originally a bit skeptical on his ideas about how chasing your passions in life doesn’t involve slugging through university ultimately landing a 9-5 corporate job. He’s an advocator of the self-made, self-educated, university-credential free entrepreneur. Made me think, then how does running a business mean chasing your passions? I mean, big money is a pretty good incentive, but to a certain extent.
Until I came across his take on formal education. It was so good it sparked the inception of this post. I just had to share it. Here it is:
Enter Michael (excerpt from page 86)
[On formal education] As I’ve been arguing, and I’ll continue to argue throughout this book: unless you want to go into a profession for which formal credentials are strictly required – such as medicine, law, academia, and so forth, or in which they are strongly preferred, such a rising up through the ranks of a corporate or government bureaucracy along with the rest of the herd – then in my opinion, formal schooling past the basics is an extremely weak form of investment in your own human capital.
What kind of human capital do you truly develop in today’s formal higher education? The ability to write mediocre, turgid academic papers. The ability to cram all night for tests on things you will forget the next week and never use again in your life. The ability to study Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights, and party Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. The ability to navigate a social landscape full of binge drinking and Adderall popping. The ability to follow orders and do as you’re told. The ability to manage long-term loan payments on $20,000 to $100,000 of debt [HECS doesn’t exist in the US].
These, and a starter business wardrobe, will buy you a mediocre entry-level job and a lot of job insecurity. You get these meager returns on your investment in formal education for the simple reason that – when all is said and done, when all the lofty rhetoric from teachers and pundits and politicians about the value of higher education evaporates under the harsh sun of a recession – these skills don’t add much of value to anything or anyone in the marketplace. So, only modest rewards flow to those who have invested their time and effort in developing them. That means shit entry level corporate job, shit entry level corporate pay – if you’re one of the lucky ones to even get a job.
Ellsberg has the literary triceps to describe a concept that’d take my primitive writing skills a few thousand words to explain – maybe that’s why he received a six figure advance from Penguin for his second book at 34. It gets what I’m trying to say to you more concisely so best to hear it from him.
Anyways, back to the topic. I’m sorry to say that’s what our formal education system has become. It provides only brain-smarts, but not the street-smarts that’s required to simultaneously live your passions and make big bucks to live comfortably and make a considerable impact on the world (as all young Muslims should aspire to do).
On a more positive note, all is not lost for Adam. It’s never too late to wake up and smell the air. It doesn’t hurt to have a university degree on the side right?
If this post tickled your fancy, then you’ll love The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg. I haven’t even finished reading it as I write this and I’m already recommending it: I recommend it.