I meet a lot of young college students. Most of them don’t like college that much. They’re excited by the thought of starting their careers early. They want to work hard, prove their value, and learn practical skills in the real world.
They want to be entrepreneurs, marketers, salesmen, business owners, apprentices, graphic designers, video producers, freelancers, and more.
They know that college isn’t preparing them for their goals. They know that college is actually delaying the things they actually want to do. But they continue to show up to class and prioritize their assignments over their pursuit of real-world experience, which they, themselves, deemed more important than class.
It’s a contradiction. They proclaim that real-world experience is much more important and that college doesn’t teach them practical skills, but they keep going to class.
I had to get to the bottom of this. Why are these young people contradicting themselves? If they know that college isn’t helping them achieve their goals, why are they still going? It’s like they’re coming to an honest realization about their situation, but instead of putting in the work to lead change, they turn off their brains, slip into autopilot, and do the same thing they’ve done for 12+ years.
I guess it’s the same reason we put off working out, skip going to the gym, and eat junk food even though we want to lose weight and be healthy.. We know those habits are not helping us. We know exactly which habits would help us. But for a myriad of reasons, we don’t put in the work to change anything. Changing habits is hard. I get it.
Talk is easy, but when push comes to shove, pulling the cord on your life plan that you’ve invested 12+ years into is hard.
While they may have come to a reasonable conclusion in their heads, their parents, teachers, and peers are cranking up the pressure to finish college and do what everyone else does. As you get closer to the “finish line”, the amount of time spent working towards your degree eclipses the actual value it provides for you.
Plus, every dropout knows there’s a horrifying backlash of doubt and hysteria from family and friends in the weeks following the big decision. What most people don’t see is the silent praise that comes 1-2 years after you start doing things in the real world. People notice, and you become something of an inspiration to them for taking the leap that everyone thinks about but nobody acts on.
If you want to make the leap, realize you’re not the only one. It feels lonely, but you’re not actually alone. Tons of people out there feel the same way you do. They’re going through the motions in school, wanting out, but not knowing how to get out.
It’s much easier to prepare for your backup plan than it is to go all-in on your actual dreams.
A long time ago, my dad told me something that stuck with me.
It was at a time when I was first realizing what an unreasonable jackass my siblings and I had been at times in our childhood. Despite this, he did a great job raising me (if I do say so myself). I wanted to know how he did it. He said:
“You don’t need to raise children any particular way. You just need to love them. They’ll figure out the rest.”
Love doesn’t mean making their lives easier. Love doesn’t mean buying them things they want. Love doesn’t mean stepping in to make them happy when they’re sad. Love doesn’t mean solving their problems for them. Love doesn’t mean disciplining them when they do something wrong. Love doesn’t mean providing everything you can for them.
Love means respecting them as an individual. Love means letting them experience all the beauty (and the pain) that life has to offer. Love means giving them the freedom to make their own decisions. Love means always being there for support when they choose to lean on you. Love means giving them space to be themselves.
The more you provide for your child, the the less they will learn to provide for themselves.
It seems like a contradiction, but it’s the nature of reality. I get it–you want to give them as much as you can so that they’ll be safe and taken care of. This is a reasonable desire. It’s your job to take care of them. You want them to be safe. You want them to be happy. You want them to achieve everything they dream of.
But remember how you got everything you have. Remember how you achieved your dreams. You worked hard for it. You earned it without shortcuts. Nobody handed it to you. You went through all the tough times necessary, working long hours, scraping money together to pay the bills, not having easy access to the luxuries that you saw other people have. You struggled.
In your unpleasant struggles, you resolved to never let your children suffer in that way. You decided that you would provide for them in a way that your parents didn’t for you.
It was this very suffering that gave you the ability to provide for yourself and your family.
I’ll say that again:
The fact that you suffered is the very reason that you earned the ability to help your children not suffer.
By removing suffering from your children’s lives, you’re taking away the thing that shaped you into a person who is able to achieve, succeed, and provide. By removing suffering from your children’s lives, you’re leaving them unprepared to face the real world without your nursing hand. You’re creating, within them, a dependence on you. You’re instilling in them beliefs that are not congruent with actual reality.
This is not love. Love is fostering an environment where they are free to learn, fail, and grow on their own accord. This is how they will grow up to be confident, independent individuals with the ability to achieve their dreams on their own.
As a parent, your child’s safety is a huge priority (as it should be). If they want to do something that you know might lead to utter failure, financial or other, let them do it. Remember how you learned that same lesson. Don’t deprive them of the invaluable experience of learning it firsthand. Don’t coddle them into believing reality is rife with shortcuts. It’s not. Let them find out for themselves.
I suppose this may be a natural cycle of generations. If you hand your children everything, they’ll grow up unable to provide for themselves and their families, leaving their children to suffer in the way that you did due to their inability to provide. That suffering will shape them into people who learn the ability to provide, just like you did, and the story continues.
I’m not saying you should deprive your kid of everything luxurious or intentionally make their life harder than it has to be. But don’t shield them from the natural law of cause and effect. Don’t give them things without allowing them to them understand what they are, why they exist, and how they came to be. Don’t let them go through life receiving things without understanding how they got there. Don’t do things for them because you know it’s good for them. Let them decide what’s good for them through trial and error. Let them fail. Let them take risks and experience the outcomes.
As a parent, it is still your responsibility to provide for them. Provide shelter, food, love, and support. Love them. Let them create the rest for themselves. In this pursuit, they’ll fail–a lot. Watch them. Don’t give them the answers. Help them learn for themselves when they ask you for support.
I’m not a parent, but I imagine it’s difficult to watch your child struggle when you can’t provide happiness and satisfaction for them. I imagine it’s even harder to choose not to provide it when you have the ability to do so. But just like everything else in life, doing the hard thing now leads to a better situation in the long term. This applies to you, too.
My parents often stepped in and provided something for me before allowing me to stumble through getting it myself. Every time this happened, I’ve had to learn that same lesson on my own later in life. Their intervention in my life only delayed my growth.
You might know what’s best for your children. You might know exactly what they should do to achieve their dreams. You might even have the means to get them there faster. They might say they want your help. Help them by resisting. Let them be.
Just love them. They’ll figure out the rest.
You don’t need to think for yourself.
Let’s go back to high school graduation since the same principle applies. During high school I played by all the rules, got good grades, completed my assignments on time, and attended class when I was supposed to. I remember sitting in my (boring) graduation ceremony, looking around at the kids who skipped class all the time, took the easiest minimum credits and clearly had no ambition to succeed in life.
I realized that at this point in time, I was on the same level as those kids. We were both getting the same diploma for completing the same program, despite the stark difference in mindset and effort.
Had I thought for myself during those 4 years, I would have realized what was wrong much sooner. I would have figured out that I was chasing credentials, not learning any practical or valuable skills. I would have found a better way to separate myself from the crowd, because even excelling in school made me average in the real world.
The end result matters more than the process.
End results matter. But the process is what creates the end result. In school, I learned that the only reason I studied & learned was for the end of getting a grade. The emphasis was put on the grade, not on the process of learning.
Because of this, I was incentivized to find easier ways to get that grade. I would cheat, not learning anything about the material through the process, and I could still earn the same grade. Even if I didn’t cheat, I could still do the bare minimum by memorizing what I was supposed to memorize, and repeat it back on the test to get a grade, having gained no new ability or skill or knowledge throughout the process. This doesn’t work in the real world.
Work isn’t something you should enjoy.
In school, I learned that the practicality of my career & major matters more than my enjoyment of it. Of course there are still times in my career now when I’ll be working hard and struggling through something in order to achieve what I want to achieve, but I will have chosen to take on that challenge.
The vision of my life when I was in college was one of feigned success and inner misery. I learned that getting an engineering degree would land me the best job, and it didn’t matter if I hated engineering because if I stuck through it then I could retire at 60 and be financially set for the rest of my (short) life.
Credentials matter more than the ability to create real value.
The entire focus of college is the degree at the end of it. “Gotta get that piece of paper!” Supposedly, this piece of paper is a magical ticket that will get you a high paying job. I went into unreasonable debt on this empty promise.
This means your ability to impress the right people is more important than your ability to consistently create value. You can earn a degree without learning skills that are valuable in the real world. Therefore, by going to college, you’re buying a piece of paper with special “pull” with the right people—-not for the genuine increase in your abilities.
The following is a short list of some core beliefs I hold. These are things I have not always known–in fact, most of these I’ve learned over the last couple of years. They are beliefs I hold, wholeheartedly, though I find that I must consciously remind myself of them. Living by them in every action I take is the ideal, not the reality.
It’s a constant struggle to embody these beliefs through my actions consistently. Every time I find myself acting against them, I pull myself back, and that is where the growth happens. I get closer to the ideal every time I pull myself back and remind myself why I believe these things and why I’ve decided to act in accordance with them.
1. My own judgement is more valuable than that of others.
Even if my judgement is wrong, it is more important to value my judgement first, take it into consideration, and work hard to develop it. Of course other people have valuable opinions and judgement. Often, the judgement of others actually proves to be more insightful than mine. But still, I must value my judgement first.
By giving my own judgement a fighting chance before accepting the thoughts of another person to be true, I am regarding myself as confident, competent and capable, and so I act that way.
2. Taking care of my body takes care of my mind.
When I’m feeling un-motivated or down, it’s usually because my mind is working too much and my body isn’t working enough. Giving my mind a break by exercising, even for 5 minutes, is enough to stabilize my mind.
Sometimes when I feel sluggish, it feels inevitable. I might eat fast-food because I don’t feel like expending the effort to cook, and I might sit still all day without moving around because I don’t feel like doing so. But when I force myself to make a change in my physiology, I feel better. I get energized.
The food I eat and the exercise I do cause vitality, happiness and motivation, not the other way around.
3. I am who I think I am.
Self-image creates self. The way I perceive myself in my own head ends up being the way I act and project myself in the real world. When I feel like I’m on top of the world, the people around pick up on it and me see me that way. If I feel incompetent and stupid, I will act as such.
4. Motion solves everything.
Motion, hustle, and change all drive happiness, purpose, and fulfillment. The more you defer action and plan, strategize, and think, the more you will feel stuck. A healthy amount of thinking is necessary, but only think so that you can act. Do not get stuck. Move. Go. Try. Start. That is the nature of life.
5. Questions drive progress.
Questions are what the greatest thinkers of all time used to drive them. They were insatiably curious, and they had a deep hunger to find answers. Once they found answers, they instantly came up with more questions to pursue.
The people with all the answers are not the ones who drive humanity forward. The people who drive humanity forward are the ones who take questions seriously.
6. Half attempts never work.
If I’m going to do something, I better do it completely. Committing can be difficult, because when you commit to doing something fully, you give up every other possible thing you could be doing instead. But if you wait to commit, you’re not actually experiencing anything. All you’re doing is viewing all the options as possibilities that don’t actually exist. If you’re going to dive at all, dive as deep you can.
7. Don’t fake reality.
There is always an underlying truth. We lie to ourselves and lie to others sometimes without even knowing it. Pure honesty is hard, but like most difficult things, it is worth it. Wherever truth is, seek it. Don’t settle for anything less. A seemingly perfect life is much worse than a raw and imperfect one.
8. Nothing really matters.
Everything in life is a game. That girl you’re afraid to talk to, that business you’re afraid to start, that thing you’re afraid to tell your family. None of it matters in the end. Stop taking it so seriously. The worst case scenario is never as bad as you think it is. Have fun and stop worrying so much.
“Nobody exists on purpose, nobody belongs anywhere, everybody’s going to die.”
~Rick & Morty