Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why College Kids Shouldn’t Act Like College Kids

Guest post by Dale Stephens, Author Hacking Your Education

If a prophet came and told me that dropping out would be the best decision I ever made, I wouldn't have believed him. In fact, at the age of 15, it seemed like I had more chances of committing a Ghirardelli chocolate robbery then I did of dropping out of college.

But, looking back, it might not seem that way. I’ve been out of school since I was 12 - looks like I was setting myself up to fail, right?

To put it delicately, I’ve realized that not going to school was exactly what set me free. You don’t need physical chains to tell you that you’re being subjugated. But what many don’t realize, is that it wasn’t blindly dropping out that saved me. Instead, it was refusing to throw myself away, that did.

College kids act like college kids because they go to college - you don’t need a forensics team to figure that out. It’s the societal structure that dictates their own behavior, and we can’t blame them. But, within the thousands that go to college, there are many that are hacking their own education, as we speak.

Sure, they’re taking on $26,000 in debt (the national average), and pandering around impossible course loads that are begging (and receiving) their attention. Sure, 44% of graduates under 25 are unemployed, and they’re fighting an uphill battle. But, hacking your education isn’t about circumstance - it’s about choice.

Hackademics - as I like to call them - are refusing to settle for, dare I say it, the status quo. You’ll find them leaving marks on the real world, not receiving ones on a slew of academic papers. They’ll be traveling, interning, apprenticing, and running companies. They’ll be succeeding - wildly. Most of all, they’ll be free.

What does it take to be a Hackademic? Like I said, Hackademia isn’t about circumstance, but choice. If you’re in college, the path will be uphill - but, like many that have come before you, it’ll still be possible.

The first mistake is philosophy. College kids believe that education ends at 22, that learning is a 4 year process, and then, it’s lights out for your neural circuits. This couldn't be further from the truth - many people, including myself at one point in time, confuse education for college. But what education is, and what it’ll always be, is learning. And, if you leave this piece with one thing, I hope it’s this: learning is lifelong. It doesn’t take the physical walls of a collegiate institution to learn - what it takes is life. And with an internet connection literally a pocket away, you can do that from books, websites and experience.

Hackademics read for pleasure, and they read a lot. But they also do things. Reading about abstract business tactics in a classroom is a 3rd rate experience compared to that of actually starting one. To quote Good Will Hunting, “I’ll bet you can’t tell me what is smells like in the Sistine Chapel”. The real world is accessible. It’s just up to you to access it.

Another problem is the student mentality. It’s the one that says this: education happens to you. You go to your lecture hall, and your professor proceeds to shotgun blast you the material. That is not what will get you ahead. Instead, it’ll be precisely the moment you decide to seek an education, rather than let it happen to you, that things will start to happen. When you seek opportunities because of the learning experience and because you want to use that knowledge, then you’re already two steps ahead of the game.

When you seek out knowledge, you’ll see it as the student chasing after an apprenticeship with a bestselling author. The kid next door launching a startup. Your cousin learning to code. The college kid purchasing ‘The Elements of Style’, with no intention of using it on 100 page research papers. This is the plague of the Hackademic - but the side effects are all good.

The last bit that I think defines the Hackademic, is a morbid one: You are going to die. Charlie Hoehn puts this aptly in his own TEDx talk, but what the lesson he draws is a valuable one. You are going to be on this earth for a very short period of time. And life is too precious to do what other people say you have to do, even when the results aren’t compelling.

When you see that the norm is a boring day job, why settle for the norm? Hackademics are in on a secret - you can work for projects you care about, you can learn the skills you need without taking on coursework, and you can reach people to buy from you. Now, in the connection economy, we’re living in a world that is filled with opportunity.

It’s just that you won’t realize it. That, in the fake constructs of college, it’s hard to see past classes, GPAs, and rambling professors. Paul Graham makes a point in his own essay ‘Why Nerds Are Unpopular’, that high school is a fake, social construct that doesn’t reflect the world at large. While college is nothing like high school, I think the same goes for college. It’s hard to see past this. It’s hard to see that the truth is buried somewhere beneath the linoleum floors.

But it’s there. I’m not especially smart or talented. I wasn’t born in a golden throne. But, in today’s world, I didn’t have to be. Reaping the benefits of the Hackademic lifestyle, I’d say I’m pretty grateful to say that.

For more from Dale, listen to the interview he did this week on the Today Show.
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