If you aren’t going to become a lawyer, a doctor, or a traditional engineer, you are better off not going to college.
1) College vs Self-directed education and Praxis
The best colleges in Brazil are “free” (paid with taxpayers’ money).
I attended high school and technical course – a Brazilian equivalent to an Associate Degree – in a division of the considered* second best university in Latin America: Unicamp.
My grades had always been among the best of class, although I hardly studied for any test and had even gone through a whole semester without a notebook.
During my junior year, I had already scored enough to make it to my first-choice university for “free” (the application process in Brazil is just a standardized test, called “vestibular”).
But in the middle of my senior year, I went to a life-changing seminar in Texas, that showed me new views on two hugely important subjects: education and entrepreneurship.
I was also presented to Praxis there, a program in which I’m enrolled right now, that helps entrepreneurial young people leverage their careers by working in fast-growing startups and developing projects, skills, their personal brands, etc, on a 9-month self-directed educational experience. In summary, much more than an alternative to college.
I started seeing how dependent on external rules most people are (including me!). We choose not to live free. I was claiming to be pursuing freedom, but I couldn’t even create my own rules, nor be in the driver’s seat of my own life.
In the standard school path, you “learn” (let’s be honest, most times, you just memorize) what other people think you should learn, not something interesting, useful or meaningful for you. You accept a standard created by bureaucrats, for the sake of complying to the norm. Don’t you think we should think more critically before we subjugate our freedom and education to people we’ve never met?
This became even more clear when I realized that in spite of all the formal credentials my schools and I had, not only did I have almost no hard skills, but the vast majority of what I was learning was through independent research.
In the last one year and a half, I learned a lot about philosophy, self-knowledge, self-development, and many behavioral theories, because I was self-interested. My work experiences also taught me lessons no university ever could.
In fact, what is the value of a college?
It’s a signal that shows you’re capable of complying to rules, memorizing content and at best, knows how to do something related to what you’ll work with.
I’m sure you and I can create a better signal – this post and my blog are already part of it.
2) 9-5 corporate job vs Startup environment
By the time I went to the seminar, I was also losing interest in a standard career path. I had always envisioned (mainly because of external influences) working as a manager in a corporate job, traveling abroad, leading projects and teams.
So I lived it. Of course I still didn’t have the credentials and huge responsibilities, but I was living something quite similar: I was leading an international project, constantly talking to people from other countries, in a multinational corporation, where I could see a clear path for growth. I would have an upper middle-class income within 10 years or so…
Wait, what? 10 years?
I realized how much I had advanced in one year and a half of work experience, living alone, independent research, personal projects… My career path wouldn’t allow me to grow exponentially as I wanted. Nor was it the most appropriate path considering how fast the world is changing. The safe is the new risky, and vice-versa**.
Fortunately, I could achieve great results in my last company and start a job rotation, working for three areas, learning tons of new stuff almost every day. But I knew it was temporary, the long-term could lessen my ambition and leave me living in a plateau.
Praxis Business Partners, on the other hand, are startups all over the United States, and recently, some also in Canada. There’s one characteristic all of them share: fast growth.
That’s a perfect match. If I have an environment that pushes me to grow, like this one (and the Praxis community in general), I force myself to get things done.
By no means you should wait for the best environment to develop yourself. Since I started working, when I saw the value of an experience or skill, although it wasn’t my ultimate goal, I gladly dedicated myself to get the most out of it. Stepping stones also need to be polished.
But as I’m still in the process of deschooling myself, i.e. getting rid of the permission-based mindset, a propitious environment helps.
3) Stagnation vs Challenge
Recently I was questioned: tell me about a time you failed. Why did you fail?
I didn’t have a satisfying answer. Fortunately, I had succeeded at the 4 hardest situations I faced in life. What I could draw from the small failures, though, is that I failed mostly because of a lack of preparation, or simply because I didn’t care enough.
Neither I nor external institutions had ever challenged myself to achieve the potential I thought (and think) I have, until now. These external institutions tend to value exactly my natural strengths: things like strategic thinking, adaptability, fast-learning ability. This was something dangerous – it was comforting my ego.
Thankfully, the realization came to mind: I was thinking too small, playing too safe. I was winning every cheap, small stakes game I played. But I was hindering myself by not taking it to the next table, by not playing with new players, with higher stakes.
What happens when you take a step up? That’s what I’m discovering right now.
4) My next steps
Praxis is made of intelligent, driven, competent young people. I’m the first Latin American participant. English is my second language. I’ve just turned 18, while the average participant age is 21. The acceptation rate is around 15%. I’m not in my comfort zone anymore. It’s frightening, but it’s the first time I feel like I’m actually being challenged.
Dan Sullivan, a big indirect mentor of mine, talks about how every entrepreneur who experience any kind of breakthrough results, go through a four-step thinking, deciding, and acting process in this video. This process goes like that:
Commitment -> Courage -> Capacity -> Confidence.
You grasped the concept, right? By committing to a decision or process and doing it courageously, you become more capable, and this newly formed capacity gives you confidence.
You can’t wait until you’re confident to commit to a process that is supposed to help you grow. And that’s what I had been doing all my life. Preparing, not doing. Planning, not living.
Now I’ve entered the courage phase. And probably will stay here for the whole program. What happens after that? I’m more capable and more confident to go even further.
I’ve already taken my step up from small to medium stakes. After that, I’ll get to high stakes. And that’s where things get even more interesting.
*Source: Times Higher Education, 2016.
**If you’d like to learn more about how the world is changing eras and why entrepreneurship is actually the safest career path, I recommend the book The End of Jobs, by Taylor Pearson.