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You Don’t Need a College Degree to be Successful

Skill + Ganas = $$$

First off, I feel I have to clarify my personal vision of education. So, just to be fair, we need to start with the traditional definition of the word.  Dictionary.com defines education as “the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life.”

Did you notice anything strange? They don’t mention a degree or an approved learning curriculum.

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My point is, that a degree, while it does help to verify our learning, is not necessary for success. Everyday we are learning through the experiences that we have.

Example: We might become educated on a certain topic through apprenticeship, volunteering, working, traveling, reading, socializing…the list goes on. We’re always learning and many times the things we learn outside of a university are just as important as the things we learn while inside the building.

I’ve often felt that there should be a “life experience” section on applications and resumes just for these types of skills. Some employers are considerate of life skills, but unfortunately, the traditional hiring system is woefully limited and likely by intention.

I’m not knocking university learning or traditional careers, they can help us to understand a ton of information in a very short time and with the structure and pace that many of us have trouble achieving on our own.  But, if you can gain skills and knowledge through other means, I say go for it! More power to you! Use life as your laboratory and develop the skills that will help you to reach your goals.

A degree doesn’t make you successful

While university learning may not be necessary for success, I do believe that education (in some form) is essential for becoming successful in life. I don’t mean just for making money and reaching your financial goals. I believe that education is essential for success in all things. Whether you’re interested in having a better marriage, wanting to start your own business, or being a better parent…we have to do our research, gain the experience and discover the means that will help us to reach our goals.

I firmly believe that the solution to every problem lies in education. A family who wants to grow crops must learn how to nurture plants, an individual with low confidence must discover ways to remove the psychological barriers that prevent them from believing in themselves and a person who wants to build a business has to create a product or service and develop a marketing strategy.

Now that I’ve put in my two cents, we can discuss the qualities that bring success in life and how education (not simply a degree) can help us to develop those qualities.

Whether you pursue a university education or self education, these same qualities of success apply.

Set goals and make a plan.
It helps to know exactly where we want to be and how we plan to get there. In order to succeed, we need to do research and learn about the field we want to pursue. Whether it be building houses or becoming a fluent speaker of a new language, we have to make a plan of how we /will become educated and gain the experiences necessary for the task at hand.  A plan helps to keep us motivated because it provides a visual reminder that there are only so many steps until our goals are realized, making them seem more within our reach.

Take action.
If we are achieve our goals, we must realize that each action is an opportunity to build skills and form habits that will lead us down the path of success. We cannot let fear or other barriers stand in our way. Instead, we must take control of our lives by completing the steps in our plan. In this way, we let our choices be driven by ambition instead of fear.

Prepare for the worst and be persistent.
Throughout life, we can be sure that many obstacles will be thrown at us and it is up to us to remain positive in spite of the difficulty. A favorite author of mine, Victor Villaseñor, suffered through 265 rejections before he published his first book. He kept on despite a learning disability (dyslexia), racial discrimination and his extremely low self esteem. It was a trip to Mexico that finally helped him to realize his worth and see that his people could be and do anything. In the same way that he ignored his 265 rejections and pressed on, we should continue in our efforts if we want to be successful, no matter the obstacles. Failure is life’s best teacher, so stay encouraging yourself and choose to see it as an opportunity for learning.

Believe in yourself.
When we know our worth, it becomes impossible for anyone to tear us down and deter us with their negative criticism. It helps if we can recall all our best skills and attributes and remember them in times of self doubt. Making a list and putting it in a location where we know that we will see it everyday can help. I have personally found it helpful to read the memoirs of others who are like me or have similar goals. Seeing someone like ourselves succeed makes our goals seem much more attainable.

Feed your curiosity.
When we find that we have interest in a certain area, taking time to research, read and study it helps us to gain insight that we wouldn’t have had otherwise. We become experts in a sense and gain understanding that helps to form our values and ideas about life. Learning the details also helps us to gain knowledge in our subject so that we can express ourselves confidently when in our field of study.

Go beyond your comfort zone.
Being educated means expanding our knowledge in not just what we enjoy learning, but also in the areas that challenge us most. Being open to learning from individuals or experiences that we wouldn’t typically consider provides us with diverse ideas and knowledge that broadens our perspective. In part, every person that we come in contact with is a teacher and every experience in life is a lesson that we can learn from.

In closing…

In order to accomplish all these things and become a success, we must always be building our knowledge in the areas that are important and useful to us. University education works for some and for others not, so don’t beat yourself up if it’s not for you. Instead find an alternative way to educate yourself and get prepared for success. For those interested in learning just how valuable university education can be,

CollegeBoard.org has an excellent research program dedicated to showing the differences in life quality at various education levels called “Education Pays”. The study also highlights the disproportionate gaps in benefits (earnings, health, etc.) associated with gender and race. This is one of the reasons why so many women and people of color are drawn to entrepreneurship.

So, no matter the means of education, don’t let others deter you from reaching your goals or push their values on you. You are who you are and your gifts were given with a purpose in mind…so use them.

This post was originally published on January 25, 2011. It has been republished for our current readers.

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  • Letty
    April 19, 2011 at 8:38 am

    What a great post. I agree education is first and foremost. I would like to add that grade school education is only the bare bones facts and we need to put some meat on that by being proactive like you mentioned.

    I know not everyone has the monetary resources for higher learning but a great free resource is your local library. Our local library offers free computer, tax & business classes all year round and special summer programs aimed at teens and children. A visit to a community college library can grant you access to specialized databases. Librarians are extremely qualified to point you in the right direction if you have a special interest.

    • Chantilly Patiño
      April 19, 2011 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks Letty. :) Good points! Sometimes expenses can prevent us from getting a quality education and some tend to put too much emphasis on the paper, rather than the education. I mean, is it better to get a D+ average from Harvard, or be self-trained A-level student? I just think that certain circles in society worry more about status than actual knowledge. I’m so glad you brought up free resources. It can be more work to do it on your own, but the savings can really be worth it! Great point about free classes…many communities do offer them and it’s a great way to build your skills! Thanks for the comment amiga! =)