the “school of hard knocks” is a thing… and it’s about time you graduate

Some thoughts to ponder this weekend, particularly on education.
[WARNING: I’m fired up, swearing ahead]

Recently I was talking to someone about my path to becoming a coach.

It sparked an interesting discussion on education, training, certification.

Or rather, it brought up the age-old notion that only folks with degrees and certifications are qualified to teach and guide others.

I call bullshit.

You don’t have to go to school to be successful.

Take it from someone who’s Sallie Mae’s bitch for the foreseeable future.

Three degrees, including a Master’s. And I’m not even working in a field I majored in. I’m working in a field I’m PASSIONATE about.

The most important lessons I’ve learned to date… two of them came from the classroom.

And we’re talking approximately two DECADES of formal schooling here.

You want to know something funny?

I majored in French, with a Political Science minor.

I have a Master’s degree that’s a weird hybrid of creative and business… because it was specifically designed to bridge the gap between the creative and business sides of Hollywood.

Have I used my creativity? Absolutely.

I’ve been a writer for a decade. I’ve written everything from lazy students’ college papers to the live stage production script for the Miss Black USA pageant to a 112-page full color print catalog.

Have I used my formal education? Meh.

There’s one class I had in grad school that I HATED at the time. It was called Entrepreneurship.

And even though I hated it and I hated my professor (at the time), it taught me a lot about how the world REALLY works.

See, all my life I’d learned that if I followed a certain number of steps and checked a certain number of boxes, it would equal success and happiness!

Right?! Do your homework, get an A. Pass the class. Get the scholarship. Go to school. Get the degree. Get the job. Happiness.

In this class, we had two projects that at the time made zero sense to me:

Project #1: Pitching for VC Funding

My group and I worked our asses off on our first project… a pitch presentation for venture capital funding for a hypothetical company.

We got a B and we were all pretty pissed. Especially since the one team that got the A, we KNEW had half-assed their project and started putting it together the day before.

So the next time we had to make a pitch, we half-assed it too, and wound up with an A.

Project #2: Take Money to Make Money

A few weeks later, the prof divided us into the same groups as before.

She handed each group $50 and said, “using ONLY this money, you have two weeks to come back with more money. It’s up to you how to make more money. The only rule is you cannot supplement this with your own money. But you CAN reinvest any money you earn into making more. By the way, the team that makes the most money keeps ALL the money.”

Oh man, there was no way we were about to be outdone twice in one semester. My group and I buckled down.

One musician sold CDs. We held a low entry fee art class. Probably our best idea? Noticing that particular hall had no cafeteria and the vending machines were inconvenient. Yours truly baked some homemade treats that sold like hotcakes to hungry grad students between classes.

All told, we raked in about $380 from what I remember. But the winning group made well over $400. They took our idea of feeding hungry students to the next level, invested their $50 in food from a local restaurant and essentially had takeout ready for folks every day. They used the profits to go get more lunches.

Here we were, the overachievers. Outdone again.

I was angry at first, but it turns out those are the best lessons I ever learned in school, because:

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how hard you work.

Maybe the timing is off. Or maybe someone else saw your idea and was able to translate it into something even better (with much less effort).

It took me a long time to unlearn what I picked up in all my years of schooling… mainly that if you follow all the steps in the right order, you’ll do well.

But doing well in the real world requires failure, and failure is something school teaches you to fear.

We’re all told from when we’re tiny that to make something of yourself, you have to get educated. But these days, I think it’s important to consider 1) the circumstances and 2) the source.

You know who thought higher education was for the birds? ALL OF THESE GUYS:…

Yeah, a lot of them are in tech. But they include T-shirt makers and the founder of Whole Foods. By every definition in the book, they’re all successes. WILD successes.

Here’s the thing – if you love something, I’d argue that you spend more time educating yourself than most other people.

You’re fascinated by it. You study it, spend time working at it.

Because you love it, you’re willing to experience failures and still keep going (rather than taking failure as a sign you should quit). You talk to others who teach you tricks. How do you think these college dropouts got good at coding? The answer is not class.

Now I’m not saying higher education is for losers…

1) If I felt that was true, then I’m loser royalty with my degrees.

2) Higher education is absolutely essential for some specialized professions (I’ll take a heart surgeon with a degree, thank you very much).

3) Higher education (if embraced with an open mind) can expand your horizons and change your life.

But if you’re using college time to party? If you’re using it to stall taking action? If you’re using it to take a break from life and get back into a routine you know and are familiar with?

Your education (which is those bits of knowledge that actually survive all the shit you “learned”) remains pretty damn limited.

Do you need to sell your future to Sallie Mae to learn computer code? To build a website? To pitch an idea to an investor? To plan a company? To be a kickass photographer? To be a mom that works from home?

NO. You need nothing but your own talent, your own drive, and some faith in yourself to start getting shit done.

I wish 2019 Angie could go back and punch 2008 Angie in the face.

I’d ask her if she was really educating herself, or if she was using the most expensive way in the world to run away from her problems and figure out what to do with her life.

I’m glad I have it figured out now, degrees or no.

The TL;DR version? Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, or that you can only start doing what you want to after a formal education.


In 2019, you can learn anything you want to from anyone you want to.

Now what are you going to do about it?

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