I saw an article by a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, the school I attended for two years before dropping out. The article praised the university experience and noted that, “The value of an education from the University of Michigan is rivaled by no one.” It didn’t mention what you won’t learn in college.
I was told similar things when I entered college in 2012. The administration spoke long about the value of institutionalized higher education and how my 4 years in college would be some of the most enlightening and enlivening of my life.
4 years later, 2 of which were spent in college and 2 out of college, and my perspective is a bit different. There are important things you simply can’t learn there. Looking back now, it’s these lessons that have made all the difference, not my time in the classroom.
Here are three of them (a full list would be huge)…
1.You won’t learn to write for the real world.
In school, I was a good writer. I got great grades in all my classes because I always knew what the teacher was looking for you. If you’re reading this, you probably know what I mean.
Double spaced. Intro paragraph, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. Use certain kinds of trigger words. Don’t use “I” or address your audience. Cite your sources. Use quotes. And so on.
This makes for an ‘A’ paper in a class full of hundreds of students and an overworked teacher’s assistant, but it doesn’t make for writing that people actually want to read in the real world.
If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself how many people read and enjoyed your papers outside of the classroom?
When I left school, I started a blog and quickly realized that I had almost no clue how to formulate a thought in a compelling way, especially if I wasn’t given a writing prompt from somebody. Hundreds of articles and an eBook later, I like to think I’ve corrected this, and writing has now become perhaps the single most valuable thing I do for my personal and professional growth.
2. You won’t learn what the market actually values.
I spoke with some students in business school the other day who told me they were working on a mock business plan for the senior project. The problem with these mock plans is that nobody has any skin in the game. The students don’t have to put money on the line and customers don’t have to buy anything.
The professors are free to give a good grade to the project and say “I would buy that product,” without ever having to put money behind the words. Students graduate with all sorts of bad ideas about what people actually value and it’s only after months of work experience in the real world that they start to get a picture of what actually matters.
The only way to learn this is to get out and try to sell something to actual customers. Which brings me to the third thing you can’t learn in school…
3. You won’t learn sales.
Ask a student if they want to go into sales and they’ll look grossed-out and confused. Students learn that sales is dirty and sales is cheap, or they don’t learn about it at all. Students never have to use it because they have nothing to sell and the classroom doesn’t demand that they do.
The reality is that almost without exception, anyone who has achieved anything has achieved it in part because of their ability to sell something to others. Creation without sales is stagnant.
And again, the only way to learn this is to get out into the world and sell something to someone who must give you some limited resource in exchange for whatever it is you’re selling. That’s it.
Once you start doing it, you also realize that it doesn’t have to be cheap or dirty. It can be one of the most enjoyable, most valuable, and most fulfilling tasks you do in your professional career. And it’s something every professional should learn.
It’s not too late.
If you’re reading this now and you’re in school, don’t despair. You can start learning these things now. The obvious way is to drop out and try something new, but you can also do it while you’re still in school. Start a blog outside of the classroom, get a part time job at the first place that will take you in a role that is customer facing, or consider taking a gap year to apprentice at a startup.
You’ll have to learn this all one day. You might as well start now.