You just have to be business smart.

A few years ago on the reality show, The Apprentice, Donald Trump featured two groups competing against one another for the coveted spot as Trumps Apprentice. What made this particular episode unique was the angle of pitting those who were “Book Smart” [post-secondary education] against those who were “Street Smart” [no traditionally structured education].

This episode resonated with me in many ways. It made me consider the bigger question: does your level of education really matter when it comes to reaching goals and achieving success?

This question is deep-rooted; it’s been around as long as I can remember and of course, continues to evolve over time. How many of you grew up with parents who continually told you that you needed a degree in order to reach your goals? Time and again, we encounter people with an impressive resume of post-secondary education who are tremendously successful (and those who aren’t). But there are also people with a high school diploma (and sometimes even less than that) who also succeed and thrive. How can you have similar results, but such drastic paths in getting there?

I circumscribe to the idea that success is defined independently through each individual. For example, success for John may be finding a surf instructor job in the Caribbean after he’s done high school where he’ll teach all day and party all night. But perhaps success for Annie is heading to university to get a Bachelor of Commerce degree and then going on to work for an oil company. Two completely different paths, but once attained each individual has a feeling of personal success.

Post-secondary education creates a safe environment and opportunity to learn, build expertise, establish confidence and prepare yourself for your career (sometimes). And many times I’ve witnessed an incredible transformation of former high school students blossoming within the walls of a university or college. I can see that this experience plays a huge part in defining who they are and their personal growth. But there’s a disconnect occurring in our society; there’s a misguided impression that post-secondary education is a pre curser for success. And we’ve enabled this understanding. Don’t get me wrong. There are professions that require extended education; would you want a surgeon who just walked out of Breaker High, working on you? No. But just because you have a degree does not mean you’re going to have a free ride to the top of your industry. That takes the same traits for everyone:belief, vision, focus and resolve.

Attending university or college provides the theory on how things work in the real world, but spending time working in the real world prepares you for it.

Think of it this way:

There are two high school students who have just graduated:Person A & Person B.

Person A goes to University.

Person B decides to go right into the workforce.

In four years Person A earns his degree and he’s ready to work. ButPerson B already has four years of experience in the field. Who is better equipped for success?

Time blurs the writing on the diploma, but there’s no education that can match learning in real-time. The hours spent in the boardroom or apprenticing can’t be replicated. The classroom is a wonderful environment to learn and build knowledge, but the workplace is rich in hands-on training, which can compliment the theory already learned. Unfortunately, today the education factor (or lack of education) places one candidate over another if they’re equal in all other capacitates. And you guessed it that the person with a post secondary education has the edge. I had the fortune of working in a province that puts aptitude ahead of the letters that come at the end of your name. And my understanding is that now in order to even be considered for a job, at minimum you generally need a degree or diploma. Why has it come to that?

Here is what I really think: you don’t need a degree to reach your potential (unless you want to be a surgeon; even then you could probably teach yourself using YouTube.) In an ideal world, the most important consideration is character, not diplomas. Let me clarify a few things:

1. Who you are as a person “trumps” all. If you’re a person with tremendous work ethic, true integrity, positive attitude, demonstrate the desire to continuously learn and subscribe to a life style of living the Golden Rule you’ll become successful as you define it.

2. Degree doesn’t mean dollars (at least not the way you think). We’ve created a society that expects economic success from those who have attended university or college. I know plenty of people with hefty student loans who aren’t rolling in the dough. So if you think getting degree upon degree will turn into dollars, you’re wrong.

3. We need more out-of-the-box thinkers. Many kids leave high school and subscribe to the idea that more education equals greater success. Listen, I think continual learning is paramount to success but I don’t think that’s restricted to the classroom. It’s evident that the society we live in, is one that’s focused on the need for piece of paper saying they can do something (eg: engineer) But what we also know is that through apprenticing and the desire to absorb every ounce of knowledge available, one can be an engineer without the ring.

Universities have been around since the 11th Century for individuals who wanted more structured learning. At the time, the university was not the physical space but a collection of individuals who banded together for shared interest: to study. There’s not much difference in the learning that takes place within the walls of a university, through on-the-job training or checking books out from the library if the character and desire are the same.

I know that success is attainable without a degree because I don’t have one. I’ve reached incredible heights both professionally and personally and I’m included in the 21% of college dropouts. But what sets me and others like me apart is the belief in myself, the vision of what my future could look like, focus to keep me on track and resolve to push when times were difficult. I don’t mind joining the ranks of Bill Gates and Ellen DeGeneres, however, I’m not saying this route is right for everyone, because it’s not. But I can tell you definitively that if you believe you can reach your goals, you don’t need a piece of paper to triumph. Unless you want to be a surgeon; then I would prefer you have that piece of paper.

I care not what others think of what I do, but I care very much about what I think of what I do! That is character! - Theodore Roosevelt

© 2013-2014 R. Todd Millar. All rights reserved.

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