Most people consider teachers, mentors, and advisors to be the leaders of education. They exist to guide us in our learning, direct our lessons and curriculum, offer relevant advice and ask questions that challenge us.
Leaders can play an integral part in education, but not in the way we think. In fact, educational leaders are most valuable when we lead them – not the other way around.
They can be valuable resources, and communicating with them has never been more accessible.
I saw my college advisor twice in the 1.5 years I was enrolled.
The first time, I was about 2 semesters in. I visited my counselor because I was studying Aerospace Engineering, and I wanted to switch my major. I didn’t know exactly what to, all I knew was I wanted something different.
The calculus and chemistry were kicking my ass, mainly because they were too abstract for me to get excited about learning them.
Maybe Aviation, I thought. I chose Aerospace Engineering initially because I liked planes. What I was really interested in doing was flying them – not designing them.
I looked into Aviation career paths, and they seemed pretty dull. To make a decent amount of money you had to have tens of thousands of flying hours, which would take 15-20 years. It seemed like you wouldn’t be able to advance much until you were a veteran pilot. I didn’t think I was ready to commit to that.
I went into the advisor meeting with a solid understanding of my current situation, but a vague understanding of where I wanted to be. I knew what I wanted to stop doing, but I didn’t know what I wanted to try next.
I expected my advisor to have the answers. I expected her to tell me what I should do next without having to think about it.
Can you guess how this meeting went?
I left the meeting more confused than when I came in. My initial passivism coupled with the lack of direction amplified the sense of confusion and turned it into a looming fog that didn’t have a clear solution.
She didn’t have any answers, and she didn’t tell me what I should do next. She did, however, give me some very practical knowledge on the traditional career path of a pilot versus that of an engineer. It was her job to know that kind of information.
This taught me something: she was a resource. She had a specific perspective and set of information. It was MY job to utilize the resource strategically to help me achieve my goals.
My second advisor meeting went differently. It was a semester later, and I had changed my major to Industrial Engineering for the last semester. I was having the same problem with math and science, which was actually worse than before since I had just come off of running a house-painting business over the summer.
That summer, I discovered that entrepreneurship and business made me come alive when math and science made me feel like death.
This time, I went in knowing exactly what I wanted to get out of the meeting. I knew I wanted to learn more about business, and I knew I had just learned a ton hands-on.
I was at a cross-roads, and needed to commit. I could either switch my major to business, or drop out of school and work full time on my painting business. I already knew what I would get out of the painting business, but I didn’t know what it would be like to major in business.
So I came to the meeting with a specific goal in mind: To get a clear idea of the business major track and how it would look for me switching my major 3 semesters in. Then, I could decide if it was worth pursuing.
I didn’t expect her to show me any specific direction. I already knew my options and my potential trajectories, I just needed some informational gaps filled so I could make the most informed decision.
This time, my advisor was just a variable in an equation that I had built based on my own experience and exploration. A variable I could plug into different equations if I needed.
I asked her questions that inspired answers that would fill the gaps in my plan, which I had already thought out to the best of my ability. I directed her insights to help me accomplish my goals. I took the lead by coming to the meeting with a specific goal and agenda.
So, just as I needed, my advisor laid out the plan for switching my major. It would end up being an additional 4 years, since engineering and business don’t have many transferrable credits. Then I asked her about students who have graduated in business and went on to start their own companies.
They were few and far in between. This was all I needed to know.
It was a clear meeting with a clear goal, so it led to a clear outcome.
I was not passive. I was in the driver’s seat.
This meeting preceded one of the most decisive, empowering decisions I’ve ever made – to drop out of college.
Ultimately, I bet on my own ability to learn how to create value in the real world by simply doing it, and I haven’t looked back since.
Related: Four Things Better than a Mentor.