I still remember the first time I knew that my future career would involve writing. I was probably around ten or twelve years old at the time. I had successfully completed two of the 50 pushups that my commanding officer (soccer coach) had ordered my team to execute and was contemplating the universal ramifications of dying at a young age while also wondering how my family would cope with the emotional trauma of losing a child at such a young age or whether or not they would attempt to charge my coach with murder.
You see, I wasn’t exactly a great soccer player. In fact, I wasn’t particularly athletic in general. Moreover, I wasn’t any good at measuring up to the irrational demands of a guy who acted more like Colonel Nathan R. Jessup than a boy’s soccer coach.
“At least if I die here and now, tales will be told of this day,” I thought to myself. “And my death, while tragic, will probably save lives. But, one thing is certain: I’ll never be a famous professional athlete.”
I hated playing sports. The whole running-up-and-down-a-field-really-fast thing just wasn’t for me. I dreaded every practice session. Every single one. I despised every offensive and defensive exercise, every scrimmage game and every bit of forced interaction with other children who seemed far too excited about wearing cleats and shinguards, kicking balls into nets and swallowing mouthfuls of dirt and grass on a daily basis. Also, I loathed my coach’s gruff disposition and having to endure his unpredictable mood swings. Did he enjoy torturing small children? Was it some sort of personal hobby for him? Was this how he got his jollies in life? I didn’t know. All I knew was that I was miserable and sports weren’t for me. I was never going to be making bank as a multimillion-dollar soccer player. Why was I out here wasting my time?
There was really only one thing in life that I did love. There was only one thing at which I excelled. It certainly wasn’t math or science. It wasn’t history or foreign languages. Of course, I was surviving in those areas, but just barely. Even in high school, I had to study overnight just to make a ‘D.’ I would always do my best. I’d answer everything on a 50-question multiple choice final exam and screech by just enough to pass the class. I was drifting listlessly through a confusing world of absurd private and public school academia and no one even seemed to care — least of all the teachers. But, the one thing that I could do was write. I could write all day and never tire of it. I could even write about subjects in which I had no particular interest and then develop an interest in them. It just seemed to come natural. All of my English teachers took notice. I never made below an ‘A’ in their courses. They loved it. And so did I.
Ironically, all of my classmates seemed to hate writing. They did everything they could to avoid it. They even wanted to pay me to write their papers for them. I found this a bit odd (not to mention highly unethical and morally questionable.)
After high school, I honestly had no idea what to do with my life. So, I took a year off. I continued to work my menial retail job where you could get by with nothing more than the ability to fold ugly denim. I was a lowly peasant; a meager serf of the clothing business world and it seemed that there was no future for me at all. My brother — who was a year younger — had already made up his mind to pursue a Music Business degree. That’s right. A degree. From a college. A big ole fancy university.
“That’s what people do,” my school counselors and friends told me. “After they graduate, they go to a college. If they ever want to have any chance at succeeding in life, they go to a college.”
Fantastic. More tests. More multiple choice exams. More opportunities to be humiliated or to humiliate myself. It was already embarrassing enough that my two younger siblings seemed to have their life goals sorted out while I was still wandering aimlessly through my dreary existence. Now I would have to go to a college, pick a major and spend thousands of dollars over the course of four years in order to acquire a piece of paper that says I officially possess a really important skill set which would — in theory — qualify me to be successful in life. I mean, that’s how this whole college thing is supposed to work, right?
So, that’s what I did. I graduated from a four-year university with a bachelor's degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in English. That was almost eight years ago. It was thousands and thousands of dollars ago. And, what has it gotten me? The occasional freelance writing gig with a couple of local lifestyle magazines. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m sure the editors who see my résumé appreciate the fact that I have a degree in journalism. But, I know of plenty of published writers and authors — successful, accomplished, awarded, well-paid, full-time writers — who have no degree at all. I personally know business owners, managers and administrators who climbed to their corporate salaried positions without ever attending college.
That’s because college simply isn’t necessary for most folks these days, a fact which was recently pointed out by Bryan Caplan, who — ironically — is a tenured professor at George Mason University. Speaking with FOX’s Tucker Carlson, he rightly said that college has essentially become “extremely wasteful for society,” reflected in our nation’s $1.5 trillion student loan debt. To put that in perspective, that’s roughly $40,000 per student. Personally I think "wasteful" might be a bit of an understatement here.
Caplan, whose piece on the issue was published in The Atlantic, also said:
You might say there’s an addiction to getting more education, which is fairly rampant. A lot of people just punch the clock and sit through classes and get a degree in something or other… It’s a burden on the individual to feel like if I don’t accomplish this, my whole life is a waste of time.”
He’s right. And the truth is that something has to change. This “college-is-a-must” mindset among my generation is not a realistic one, nor is it a sustainable model for our nation or our hemorrhaging economy. It hasn’t been sustainable for decades. There are millions of teenagers taking out loans that they’ll never be able to repay in order to acquire a flimsy sheet of paper that will likely never amount to anything more than a framed document on their bedroom wall, just to the left of the Spider-Man poster. And it’ll be plastered just a few feet away from the closet where they hang their McDonald’s uniform or Starbuck’s apron.
Now, before I’m accused of college-bashing, I’m sure we can all agree that, in some cases, secondary education is necessary. Doctors, astronauts, physicists, psychologists, nurses, mechanical engineers, teachers, chemists, lawyers, dentists, veterinarians, etc. obviously need degrees in order to operate successfully and knowledgeably in their career fields. No one with half a brain would argue otherwise. Speaking of brains, I have epilepsy and I certainly hope that the neurologist who I see on a regular basis has a Ph.D in his field.
But, maybe it’s time for some of us to reexamine our skewed perspectives on the notion of “higher education.” You don’t have to go to college just because society says you do. You don’t have to go just because your parents or your siblings went. You don’t have to go just because your friends are going. Countless people in this nation have achieved immense success and wellsprings of knowledge without a degree. They’ve put their God-given talents, abilities, ambitions and passions to work.
It will require you to invest yourself in your interests. You’ll have to dedicate your time and your energy. You’ll have to take risks. But, that’s what it’s all about. While the rest of your peers have their heads buried in textbooks and lecture halls, get out there and conquer the world. Find your passion and pursue it. Excel at it. Market it. Be better than anyone else who’s trying to do it.
That’s what I’m going to do. And you can too.