Have you ever heard someone say that if they could just go back to school and get their degree they would be successful? Or if they could only get their Master’s degree they would be better off?

I have heard several statements of the same effect and every time I hear such statements I always ask, ‘Why are you waiting for a piece of paper to determine your life’s story?’

‘Tomorrow is my exam, but I don’t care because a single sheet of paper can’t decide my future.’ – Thomas Edison

Sure, if you are looking for professional white-collar employment it may be necessary for you to have gone the whole nine yards in formal education and attained that degree or that Master’s degree. But is this the only road to success? If you are anything like me, the answer is definite ‘No’.

Why Formal Education is not Synonymous to Success

Don’t get me wrong, I think education is very important and I’m currently pursuing my LLB degree but that’s only because I am passionate about social change and I feel that this avenue would better position me to effect the kind of change the world around me needs.

However, at the same time I refuse to believe that formal education and being an employee is the only way I can end up being a success in life. If you are anything like me, you believe in creating employment, being creative, being an entrepreneur…you appreciate freedom and you would simply make a bad employee.

The common perception that going all the way through college and getting a good payment package from a big company is getting old… This is why the unemployment level is on the rise even for graduates, everyone is just waiting around to be ‘employed’, and no one is willing to create employment. This might have worked out well for Baby Boomers but it is about time that we change our thinking.

What’s the point of studying for about 25 years of your life only to be confined behind a desk making someone who broke out of this cycle money for the next 30 years? Why don’t you break out of the cycle as well? Challenge yourself… stop shielding yourself on the safety-net of employment, stop limiting yourself, take the leap, you’ll never know what you could have been if you don’t at least try…

What you need is to first re-think your idea of success. Do you consider success to be a big bank balance, exotic cars, a huge house, and a prestigious job title? I think this is an illusion of success, but then again, everyone will have a different idea of what success is, and that’s okay. I personally feel that success is measured by how much impact (positive) you have on the world when your story is over.

How many lives did you touch? Did you change someone’s life for the better? Did you make sure that future generations lead a better more comfortable life than you did? Did you inspire someone to break out of their shell and reach their full potential?

Let’s look at the most revered success stories in history… writers, actors, activists, religious leaders, entrepreneurs, fathers… these people are remembered not for the size of their banks or mansions but for the number of hearts they touched and the impact they had on the world. Creating something valuable and lasting was their idea of success and I feel that we should all learn to view success in a similar light.

For me, success will be changing the social culture of my world, teaching them how to look at the world differently and to shun the negative practices as opposed to glorifying them. This can’t be done by going through college but by feeding my passion, educating myself on social thinking patterns and approaches that resonate with the masses, hence effectively positioning myself to influence change. For me, this is the most important kind of education, one driven by passion as opposed to the hopes of a stable life.

In the past, a lot of people have dropped out of school to follow an unconventional idea of success, to work on their passions, and they became hugely successful. These people chose to educate themselves informally to reach their goals and they eventually found success and happiness.

We have missed the real meaning of education. The real point of education is to make us aware of ourselves and the world around us. Once a person has realized what they want, they can educate themselves and acquire the necessary skills to reach the heights that they set for themselves. I mean look at a man like:

Case Study: Malcom X.

From being a regular street thug, he found his passion while in prison, converted to Islam, educated himself on the social injustices that were ongoing against his people at the time, reflected on possible solutions, and came out to become the spokesperson of one of the largest civil rights movements in the world’s history, the Nation of Islam. Today he is remembered not for a college degree, or a big house, or luxury cars, but for the significant role in the civil rights revolution.

This article will emphasize on the importance of education but at the end, it will explain to you why formal education isn’t necessarily synonymous to success, I hope you will have changed your idea of success and become inspired to truly educate yourself and follow your passion. If you do this, I guarantee you a happier and more fulfilled life ahead.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION

Undeniably, formal education has paved way for the modern era and is the basis of logical and rational thinking. However, it is inaccurate to say that without education people would not be able to read, write, or calculate… Think of the Egyptian Hieroglyphs.

Nonetheless this form of education has been extremely beneficial to people across the globe in both small and large measures. Education has contributed immensely to social development across the world and has provided different people with the skills necessary to navigate a world beyond their own.

There are other benefits that formal education has brought the world. What are the most significant and notable of these?

Global Citizenship/Equality

Formal education provides you with global citizenship. By this I mean that formal education opens your eyes to the fact that regardless of a person’s nationality, gender, language, or skin color, we are all human beings.

When you learn about the history of people from different corners of the world you realize that, as human beings, we have all faced the similar struggles, suffered the same pains, and enjoyed the same pleasures. This plucks any notion of racism/ethnicism that your mind might have conceived and you begin to treat the entire human race as one, you view everyone as an equal regardless of their origins.

Essentially formal education exposes us to knowledge and truths that change our outlook on the world, an outlook that we would perhaps never acquired without it. It produces men and women of moral integrity who are tolerant, wise, and inclined to public service.

Development in Developing Countries

I am against the idea that formal education came to save developing countries whose people were disorganized savages constantly at war with each other. However, I do believe that formal education has played a role in social integration and contributed to the blurring of ethnic lines in young nations.

Formal education gives you an understanding of yourself and others, enabling you to view others as brothers and sisters and as opposed to a threat. The cohesion that arises from this effectively drives economic and social development in a young nation because people focus on pooling their efforts for the greater good of the nation rather than constantly engaging in a tag of war in which no one really benefits.

A Stable Life

Granted, employment does not necessarily imply that you have to be formally educated but with education most people are able to get a stable job with consistent income, hence being they are able to meet the basic material needs of their lives.

Without formal education it is more than likely that you could end up holding an unstable minimum wage jobs, it’s not a guarantee, but it is highly likely. At the least, education assures you a more stable and secure life… But with the rising levels of unemployment, even this is starting to seem like a gamble.

Reduction in Crime Rate

Formal education instills in your mind the difference between right and wrong, lawful and illegal. You may argue that this is not enough to stop a person from committing a crime, that there are also white collar crimes such as fraud and tax evasion. It’s a good argument and I agree with it, but formal education gives you something that an uneducated person may not have… hope.

An educated person will have hope of getting stable employment that will ensure a stable life for him. On the other hand, an uneducated person may lack the same kind of hope for opportunity and as a result that person may often be driven to crimes such as theft and robbery in a desperate attempt to secure a better future.

With wide spread formal education, this hopelessness can be mitigated, leading to a reduction of crime rate, promote an entrepreneurship spirit, and encourage social peace and harmony.

Builds your Confidence

Although it is not an accurate assumption, it is a common perception that a college degree is proof of knowledgeability. When you’re educated, people around you are more willing to listen to you and take you seriously.

Due to this widely held perception, an uneducated man may feel inadequate and therefore find it difficult to voice his opinions even when he has a good point to make, and even when he really does have a good point, people may not put that much weight to his words. An educated person, on the other hand will generally feel more confident to express his opinions, which people will gladly consider, gradually building his confidence.

Shields you from Exploitation

When you’re uneducated it is easier for people to take advantage of your illiteracy and ignorance.

Due to a lack of exposure, most uneducated people may not even be aware of their constitutional rights which leaves them open to harassment by police officers, mistreatment by landlords, exploitation by sales men and conmen… it’s far much easier to take advantage of innocent and illiterate people than it is the educated.

Formal education gives you an awareness of your fundamental rights and as a result you are aware when any situation deprives you of those rights at which point you are able to fight against that mistreatment or exploitation.

HOW EDUCATION COULD BETTER POSITION YOU FOR SUCCESS

I would be deceiving you and myself if I told you that education plays absolutely no role in a person’s success. I believe success is unlocking your true potential by applying the knowledge you have acquired in order to make a difference in the world around you as well as making your own life a beautiful master piece. I also believe that reaching a level where you no longer define yourself or your success with material possessions is itself an indication of success.

True education challenges you to creatively apply the knowledge you’ve acquired and think for yourself. Formal education that purely tests on your effectiveness to remember a bunch of facts is not true education. Anyone can cram a bunch of facts in their mind for a few days but once the tests are over a lot of people forget those facts… So what’s the point really?

Being educated is being able to make independent decisions and opinions about different subjects, enabling you to make an original contribution in the field you choose to delve in. A good education encourages the development of two facets, analytical intelligence and emotional intelligence.

Analytical intelligence enables you to solve technical problems while emotional intelligence enables you to communicate and make connections with others. An education focused on these two facets as opposed to simply memorizing a bunch of facts breeds characters who are capable of achieving success and leading a happy content life.

Here are two of the strongest arguments I have found to be in support of the opinion that education plays a significant role in your success.

Provides Skill Set/Experience to Succeed

The kind of education that inspires success is not just the formal kind. Education that promotes hands on skillset acquisition and experience that goes beyond the cramming of facts better prepares you for success.

A form of education that encourages one-on-one time between the teacher and the student is much more effective than conventional education were the teacher feels that his only obligation is to disseminate information without any consideration of whether the students are challenged or inspired to think independently on the subjects being covered.

This formal education rarely positions you for success unless you personally take a keen interest in the subject and educate and challenge yourself further, otherwise all you’ll be doing is keeping facts in your head, facts that you’re probably not even interested in.

However, true education leads you towards success by challenging you to apply the things you’ve learned to solve real issues and to make original contributions in whatever field you are involved in, hence paving the way for your success.

Access to Knowledge

At its most basic, formal education enables you to read and write, not in Egyptian Hieroglyphs, but in the most commonly used letters and languages. This gives you the access to a vast collection of human knowledge and wisdom that spans across numerous centuries and generations.

With access to such vast knowledge you can learn from the teachings of the masters of whatever field you have chosen to engage in and this will propel your own success. When you stand on the shoulders of your predecessors who made great contributions in your field you are able to see much further than they did, it’s better than starting from scratch.

Great achievers like Isaac Newton have acknowledged that the contribution of his predecessors immensely contributed to their success. Malcom X once said it’s important to study history because we get to learn from people who experienced the same predicaments, so we already have the solutions in place.

WHY FORMAL EDUCATION IS NOT EQUAL TO SUCCESS

Winners have an edge over their competition despite the fact that they possibly have the same educational level because they think outside the box and push the limits rather than take comfort in things as they are. They choose to innovate and make their own unique contributions in their field.

Habits

‘Our actions, not our thoughts, define who we are.’ – Unknown

Our actions define who we are and in time the actions we consistently repeat come to us automatically and become second nature, they become impulsive, you could almost do them in your sleep.

Good habits like pushing through your tasks for the day even when you don’t really feel like it can propel you towards success while bad habits such as snoozing through your first alarm and allowing yourself to slack off can be detrimental for your success.

In this light, no matter what your level of education is, if you haven’t mastered discipline in your work and you are therefore never consistent in your efforts towards your goals you are almost guaranteed to miss your mark.

A less educated person who has cultivated positive habits, for example waking up before daybreak, never letting himself slack off, and who is willing to go that extra mile to achieve his goals will certainly achieve success. In this case your level of education has nothing to do with your level of success. The habits you cultivate, that inherently become you, are a greater determinant of whether you fail or succeed.

The Entrepreneurial Spirit Doesn’t Discriminate/Thinking outside the Box

Formal education takes you out of the class right into a career, possibly for a big company. But who creates these companies?… Entrepreneurs… The entrepreneurial spirit does not consider your educational level, if it finds you it finds you. Entrepreneurship is not a career you have to qualify for. Entrepreneurship is a calling, a fire inside you that overwhelms you; it becomes a lifestyle, a way of life.

Formal education confines you in a predictable environment where the results are predetermined and controllable. The formula is… finish college, possibly do your Master’s and Phd, get a well-paying job in a big company/become a university professor… Formal education doesn’t encourage you to think outside of this box and most people never break out of this line of thinking.

They never feel prompted to do more or make an effort to leave their own mark in their field as long as they keep receiving that stable income at the end of each month.

Entrepreneurs are the people who create the jobs for the college graduates. They are the ones who dared to break out of the conventional reliance on formal education to achieve success.

Case Study: Bill Gates

Gates dropped out of Harvard to follow his passion and found Microsoft with his childhood friend Paul Allen.

I am not in any way encouraging you to drop out of school but it is a noteworthy example… How a regular student who over the years had honed his skills in coding didn’t need a university degree to follow his passion and go on to build one of the most successful and wealthiest companies in the world today with an employee base of over 100, 000.

Belief in Yourself is the Key

The best lessons to be learned are actually learned from life itself. Besides formal education, the adoption of strong ethos’, our abilities to self-reflect and adapt, as well as our belief in or abilities and capabilities all play a key role in whether we become successful or fail.

The real key to success is our belief in ourselves, this is what enables us to tap deep into our cores and unleash our potential. Formal education does not encourage self-introspect but if you put yourself on a path of self-discovery that results in self-belief and self-confidence in your own abilities, you will have the tools necessary to achieve success in anything you choose to do.

Attaining a college education may be important, but the most important lessons are those that forge men of character who are willing to break away from conventional boundaries and are bold enough to take the bull by the horns to achieve their dreams.

Goals

Goals are also never determined by your level of education. Sure some courses will lead to better paying careers than others. Sure formal education may expose you to realities that may be hidden from a person who did not attain the same level of education but whether you are formally educated or not your dreams have no limit… there is no cap to dreaming.

You may be educated but set goals that are too easy and never make any significant progress, remaining stagnant in that well-paying job of yours, never reaching your full potential. On the other hand, you could skip formal education but set lofty goals that inspire you to work harder to attain them, so much so that you even create employment for the formally educated.

‘Impossible is Nothing.’ – Muhammed Ali

To attain true success, whether you are formally educated or not, you should establish broad but flexible long-term goals that detail your long-term success, while simultaneously having small day-to-day goals that you remain dedicated to in order to achieve the broad vision.

You cannot achieve true success if you have no vision regardless of whether you have a college degree or not, do not just assume that you can relax and success will come to you just because you have a formal education, you have to chase it.

Environment/Company

Have you heard of the phrase ‘You are a product of your environment’?

I have personally found this to be true. If you create an environment that feeds your distractions you will never make significant progress and possibly miss the mark of success. For example, when you live in an untidy environment don’t you feel that your mind is clogged and unable to focus? It works the same way in life. For you to be successful you have to maintain a tidy environment.

Even when you are educated if you surround yourself with unmotivated, apathetic, and lazy people you will find yourself being equally reckless with your time, being unable to motivate yourself to reach for your goals.

‘You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.’ – Unknown

If the kind of company you keep doesn’t acknowledge ambition and hard work they will slowly suck the ambition out of you and you will find yourself stagnating. On the other hand, an uneducated person who is surrounded by ambitious individuals who feed his passion will be greatly motivated to reach for his goals and is better positioned to achieve success, even surpassing individuals with a formal education.

Create an environment that feeds your ambitions, that propels you towards your goals. Structure your work environment and surround yourself with people who encourage your productivity and lead you to success. Whether you have a college degree or not, once you start creating this environment you will find yourself gravitating towards success. With a vision, a great attitude, and the perfect environment, nothing can stand in the way of you and your success.

Case Study: Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was a firm believer in keeping good company, one of his most notable words we, ‘Surround yourself with the dreamers, the ones who see the greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.’

CONCLUSION

As a closing remark, yes, I believe we need education to be successful, but not in the conventional sense of the word ‘education’. We need to redefine what true success is and educate ourselves in a manner that will enable us to achieve it.

More than anything, your attitude is the most important determinant for achieving success. Attitude affects how you cope with failure as well as the enthusiasm with which you approach your objectives as well as your challenges. Formal education cannot teach you attitude or enthusiasm and without these the drive to go for your dreams and to positively impact the world around you will be little or non-existent.

‘Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.’ – Ralph Waldo

Formal education has many benefits, but makes no mistake; it is not an automatic prerequisite for success. You are not going to become automatically successful because you have a college degree; it takes much more than that.

To be successful you must be ambitious, driven, disciplined, and passionate. You must educate yourself in your field of interest beyond what you learn in the classroom, study your predecessors and stand on their shoulders to be able to make an original/unique impact of your own, to influence (positively) the world around you, and leave a lasting legacy before passing over the baton to the next generation.

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