Many years ago, I was eating hibachi with a friend. There was a family of four sitting at our table including two sons, one of which was close to graduating high school. We started talking while waiting on our food. At some point, the father asked my friend and I what we did for a living. I told him I worked for a hospital managing an IT department. His face lit up! He looked over at his son who tilted his head towards his lap. He said “ Great, my son doesn’t want to go to college after high school, tell him how important it is to get his degree.” You could tell Dad was excited to hear me embrace his direction; he wanted his son to hear it from me. This is when everything changed.
I looked over at his son and smiled. I looked back at his dad and said, “ I am sorry, I think you may have picked the wrong one to ask that question to. You see, I didn’t go to college right out of high school. I actually didn’t go to college until I was 30 years old. I just wasn’t mentally ready and I came out fine.” His jaw dropped and the son grinned! We continued on with our dinner with light conversation however Dad avoided any sort of conversation on the same subject.
Now, I speak of this story - not to pat myself on the back for getting where I am today. Instead, I tell this story to shed light on what I feel we often don’t do. Often times we don’t question “Norms” and the Status Quo of life. Life is about growing up, going to school, getting a degree, finding a great job and living an awesome life. That’s what we are told right? This norm though, isn’t true for everyone. The likes of Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Tom Hanks and even Tiger Woods never graduated college yet they have done great things. I know what you are thinking, those are outliers! Honestly, who says your son or daughter isn’t an outlier too? As someone who didn’t take the traditional “Normal” path through life, I am here to tell you. It is ok!
Being openly honest, I was a “late bloomer”, my friends will laugh and say I still haven’t. Maybe they are right. Even into my 20’s, I was immature and lacked many of the skills needed early in life to make the right decisions. As a parent, I totally understand the premise behind “I failed as a parent” when thinking about my child lacking in skills or not being successful. I am here to reassure you, as a son and as a parent that it’s not what you did or didn’t do. There are things in life that our parents will never be able to teach us. Things we will only learn through the experiences of living. We must fall before we realize what it is like to rise. We must sink before we recognize the true meaning to swim. Parents, including myself want to provide a nice clear path through life where the view is amazing, the dangers and fears are gone and all they have to do is walk the path we pave. The problem here is that even we as parents didn’t take this path. Had you taken it, you would not have learned as much as you had learned today. We teach our children to follow this path subconsciously however we verbalize to our children to take “your own path.”
Look at some statistics with me. The average cost of an undergraduate degree is around $60,000. That is a lot of money. If your child doesn’t really know what they want to do or maybe they want to wait a year to go to college. Why force them into something they don’t want to do. This will drive resentment, they will buck and most likely will not get much out of college, if anything at all. In the end, they MAY be one of the 50% of people who receive a degree within 6 years and/or one of the 27% of graduates who actually get a job related to their degree. Why force them to go and have a hefty bill at the end. Did you happen to notice that 27% statistics? Here it is again, 27% of people do not work in a job related to their degree. I bet you know many like this. This is because what we feel like we want when we get out of high school, we sometimes don’t want as we grow and mature. This actually happens in many parts of our lives. There is logic in waiting until you know what your purpose is before going to college, if you chose.
As I mentioned earlier, I was immature in my 20’s. I don’t think I really started to figure out my career until 23 or so. At this point, I committed to going to school to become certified by Microsoft. This took a year and I knocked it out of the park with a 3.5 GPA. You see, when people have autonomy (to do what you want – when you want –where you want - with whom you want), they are internally motivated and will excel beyond belief. The same thing happened when I turned 30. My daughter was born. I transitioned from being rather self-centered to needing to care for my daughter. She was the most important person on earth. I knew at this time, I wanted to get an education (for the right reasons). One thing I didn’t tell you, I barely graduated high school. I didn’t even receive a 2.0 final GPA. My strong willed mother and my teachers got me through high school. Seriously! Me, the guy that barely graduated high school (1.448 GPA) went on to college at 30, received my undergrad in 4 years while being a single parent and going to school at night. My undergrad GPA was 3.4. I continued on with my MBA where I received a 3.5 GPA. How did I go from a 2.0 GPA in high school to a 3.5 GPA in school? I had autonomy, I was able to master a skill I wanted and I had a purpose. I was internally motivated which WAS the difference! I went under my own power and it was AMAZING! I didn't need to be pushed and prodded to do my homework. I just did it. And now, I am over half way through my Ph.D. in Psychology AND I am about to publish my first book “The High Performance Mindset”
An article in Time Magazine written by Martha White noted that 60% of employers claimed applicant’s lack “communication and interpersonal skills.”. Young adults out of college are struggling in the work place, in what White calls “Unemployabilty.” Simply put, young adults are not ready for work. “As it turns out, they can’t even show up on time and in a button-down shirt and organize a team project” said White. O’ how I can relate. One of the many blessings in my life is that I experienced life “the real world version” by working, paying rent and developing life skills. Learning that I didn’t want dead end jobs or to work in factories. I learned interpersonal skills through work and friends, however I could. I learned about being on time and doing the right thing from my mother. Had I went straight to college from high school, it would have been different, for me. I truly believe I wouldn’t be where I am today without the lessons the real world taught me. This doesn’t mean that everyone should wait. Some have it all figured out early in life and that’s amazing! My sister is one of those who had it pretty figured out early on. All I am saying is that we should limit forcing our children to go to college right out of high school; it is not always cookie cutter. Allow them to take their own path. As parents, we have to let go of our belief that we truly know what’s best for our children at this point in life. Maybe college is not something they want to do at all. This too is ok, it is their choice. We should be cognizant of imprinting our beliefs for success onto our children. Just because we want our children to become highly educated and have everything in life, our children may have different plans and probably value things in life different. They are individuals. As parents, we should embrace that. As long as they are happy, what more can a parent ask, right?
So, here is what I ask, let us think differently. If your son or daughter wants to take a break from school, let them. By supporting them, it will most likely help your relationship with them as well. Life may teach them more than college will right now AND they will not walk away with the debt for a degree they end up deciding they don’t want anyway. It is time to stop “forcing”our children to go to college and let them decide for themselves. When they chose on their own time, I promise you, the payback will be far greater. I am thankful my mom did this for me. Your child will be happier and wiser. I also promise that YOU didn’t fail your child. In fact, you are allowing them to succeed by letting them find their own way and what they want in life on their own. I promise, it’s worth it!
An updated version of an older blog post*