My brother was telling me about the trials and tribulations of his college course this week, and it had me thinking back to a time when I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I finished school. College seemed to be the default thing, and many young adults went straight into college, regardless if they knew what profession they wanted to follow.

In general, there is a big emphasis on going to college after school, and luckily I live in a country that offers affordable college fees, whereby, if you end up disliking your course, or discover that it’s not the direction you wish to pursue, then dropping out is not big financial lose.

But what if you had something else? What if you had a passion that you wished to pursue but wasn’t a college course? Something creative, something you could make a living from, doing your passion.

What if you were so good at it that instead of going to college, you could invest that time into growing it into a business?

The key to going down this road, at the very beginning, is get your family involved. Your family need to support your decision. Your family is going to be looking out for your best interests, but sometimes this will mean taking the safe route, going down the beaten path, following the traditional proven method. Sometimes your families best interest, is not your best interest.

Your family is there to support you, to keep you safe, thus by you taking a risk is not their best interest, even if it means you doing something you love and making a living with your passion.

Say if you are a guitarist. You have played for years, you’re good at it, and you enjoy the act of playing the guitar. If you decide to pursue this as a viable means of living and you’re passionate about it, then you need a plan. A long-term plan is what’s going to allow your passion to flourish. 

If you focus on money at the beginning, that is a sure-fire way to kill off any passion that you started with, as it then becomes a job. You position the passion as a job, as a facade, it’s only a mask to what the reason behind you pursuing it is because of money. You will never grow your passion as it will become something you need to do, instead of something you want to. You may realise that you don’t enjoy guitar or have the drive to pursue it in the long-term, risking not having a formal education or something you can build upon and monetize in the future.

Start with something you love. It will motivate and drive you. Set a goal. It will keep you focussed.

All this isn’t to say that education is unimportant, it’s the opposite. I highly encourage people to be constantly learning. A skill, a language, a piece of software. The internet has allowed us access to learn almost anything you wish, and for the most part, totally free. You can learn the vast majority of a subject matter online for free, maybe not all in the same place, but if you’re dedicated enough, you will find it.

If you decide to pursue a passion instead of going to college at the time of finishing school, it’s going to be much harder work for you. Your not going to get the same support from a college and the degree that comes with it. Nor are you benefiting from the years of curation and quality that have gone into crafting the curriculum on that course. The over reliance of the business world for young people to have a degree as a means of entry isn’t going to work in your favour either.

You are going to have to invest 4 years, like a college course, into your passion, showing up daily and deliberately practicing, and getting better. Imagine it as a 4 year college course.

To complete a college course shows something about that person. The time they invested, the tenacity and drive to complete something you have dedicate 3/4/5 years of their life to.

There is a bad cultural idealism related to the time spent in college to how fit you are for a job. There are no guarantees that you will ‘fall’ into a job as soon as you have a degree. I don’t believe the system (especially in the current economic state) is set up for that. Your not automatically set up for life on the back of a degree.

You have to constantly put in effort in your life, you need to learn new skills and build your knowledge. Because companies grow, software changes, skills evolve. You need to learn how to learn, and how to adapt to changes in your professional field. Your skills will stagnate if you don’t actively focus on learning and evolving your skills and knowledge.

Example: a couple of 22 year olds apply for the same job. One has just graduated from college, having studied a course directly related to the industry, and the other has been freelancing for the past 4 years in the same industry. Unfortunately, for both young candidates, it’s regarded that the college graduate will more fit for the role, having dedicated 4 years to learning in a formal institute and having just learned the latest software, techniques and practices in that field. Which stands to benefit those in the company in which they may be hired, as others there will learn from them. Which is economically efficient for a business, as they don’t have to spend money to train their employees externally.

Even though the freelancer has demonstrating a level of intelligence and direct experience required for the job, the amount of importance that is put on possessing a college degree is unfortunate for younger freelancers. See; The problem with being a young freelancer.

This isn’t to say that one is more fit for the job than the other. It comes down to the role they are applying for. The freelancer, having 4 years direct experience in the same field, working with and dealing with client, self promoting, curating their work, developing a website, dealing with money and getting paid, deliberately practicing their skill, have a burning passion in the field which has been demonstrated, so much so that they risked not conforming to what they ‘should’ have done by going to college, instead blazed their own trail and took the risk to pursue what they love to do. This has a lot to say about that character, more so than any degree can.

There is no right or wrong answer to the college question. Just because you’re not in college doesn’t mean you’re not learning, likewise, just because in college doesn’t mean your learning.

Be passionate about something, find something you love and pursue it, even that you want to make a living out of it. Have a plan, and develop a long-term mindset around your passion, curate your work, grow an audience, deliberately practice and learn new skills. Set goals, it will keep you focussed and motivated to achieve.

Define success and what it means to you. It’s a subjective term so make sure you define it for yourself, and not let someone else define it for you.

If you knew what you know now, would you have gone to college?

You’ll only get better by doing, and there is no better ‘doing’ than with real world experience.