If you met someone whose goal was to run really fast, it would seem odd if they asked you what credentials they should pursue to become a fast runner.
But that’s exactly what almost everyone does with just about every area of interest.
What about oceanography?
The other day someone messaged me on Facebook and asked what someone interested in oceanography should do in terms of a degree. I responded the same way I would to anyone interested in anything,
“The first thing would be to go find someone doing what you want to do, offer to work for free, and learn from them. See what skills and knowledge and network are needed. See what gaps exist and how you can fill them. Learn what will help, meet who will help. Solve people in the field’s problems. Hustle. Only if after this it becomes crystal clear there is no way to achieve what you want (and you know exactly what that is) without a degree, get one.”
In other words, if you think you want to do something, do it.
If you don’t know whether you want to do something, do it to find out.
It’s not that hard, you’ve just been blinded by classrooms
This is obvious, but it seems revolutionary to most people. The conveyor belt, permission-seeking mindset is so deeply rooted from years of schooling that people think you need to pick a job title, then pick a bunch of courses that will give you a piece of paper with a similar title. This is as absurd as our wannabe runner getting a degree in physical motion instead of just running.
Apprenticeship vs. studentship
Consider our aspiring oceanographer. (First, I’m a bit skeptical that any young person really knows they want to do oceanography. Given the lack of exposure to any real world experience, it sounds more like something someone picked off a list of pre-scripted careers because it sounded the least boring and painful.) What would studying for four or five years, almost all subjects that having nothing to do with oceanography, do to help gain mastery? Nothing.
Contrast all that classroom sitting with spending a few years or even just a few months working alongside someone currently doing oceanography type stuff. The lingo, the skills, the habits, the lifestyle and so much more will be learned and learned fast (else the apprenticeship won’t last).
If after real experience learning things with real value some government licensure law or bureaucratic roadblock means progress is only possible with a piece of university paper, you can go get one at any time. But no one really wants to pay six figures and spend four years to get to their goal, so why do it before you even know if it’s necessary?
It’s not that hard. It’s not contrary to common sense. It’s far less tedious and costly and dull than the dominant path. Why do so few do it? Because so few do it.
It takes guts and courage to do the obvious thing; the thing that’s a great fit for you. In a highly illogical and impractical world, you have to be a radical to be practical. When riding the conveyor belt is praised, pursuing your own happiness requires willingness to endure scorn.
Do it anyway. No one else has to live your life. You do. Don’t do the normal thing and complain with all the normal people. Take control. Get out of the classroom and into the world.
Stop chasing paper. Start chasing dreams.
Stop building a resume. Start building a life.
Want to run fast? Start running.