Don’t drop out of college—not everyone can be Steve Jobs.
Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs both dropped out of college to build successful companies.
Many students daydream about following suit. But if you’re one of them, consider this: Both men had experiences that helped shape their lives the way college does for most young adults.
College is not just about taking classes and getting good grades to land a high-paying job. The most important part is the life experience—learning to do laundry, cook meals, wake up on time, and survive without your parents. There may be no class that teaches it, but maturity is one of the key skills we learn in college.
Life experiences teach us what is acceptable and what’s not, and college is the time when many of us learn this type of maturity and professionalism. Consider college a free pass for the occasional screw-up. Get showing up hungover or ill-prepared out of your system before you start a career.
You earn more than a degree in college.
I went to college for a medical-related degree, so there were few opportunities to test theories without putting someone’s life in serious peril. Providing doctors with readable results was vital to diagnose and treat the patient. Instead of just focusing on the results, I learned why it was important to deliver a high-quality medical scan to doctors on the first try. If the picture didn’t provide enough information, the patient would have to return for another round of scans, ultimately delaying proper treatment.
Sometimes, patients were immobile or limited by their medical devices. During school rotations, I asked questions and learned from several techs in the field about how to get around these challenges without risking harm to the patient. The hands-on experience was vital. Learning from textbooks and in class was important, but the practical application and understanding made all the difference.
These three quotes might help you understand all the skills you gain from college, both inside and outside the classroom:
“Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.” ~ Napoleon Hill
Patience is necessary to get through the most difficult tasks. It’s important to be persistent and to continue trying, even when we fail. Perspiration shows our willingness to put in the work to make our dreams become realities.
There are no shortcuts to greatness.
Both Zuckerberg and Jobs’ stories are often told with several key facts missing. Jobs did not find success instantly. He underwent years of learning, living, and sacrifice. Zuckerberg did not create Facebook in one day and suddenly become a billionaire. No one talks about the sleepless nights or the endless moments of stress, worry, strife, and missed good times with family and friends. Every moment of success comes with five moments of sacrifice, and it was no different for these two men.
While I was building my first business, there were no weekends, holidays, or sick days. I spent every moment either at my 9-to-5 job or locked away in my home office. It took five years to see the payoff, but when I sold one of my businesses in 2011, the outcome altered my entire family’s future. All the risks I had taken and work I had done came full circle. While my pace has not slowed much since, it’s validating to see how hard work pays off.
“Obstacles, of course, are developmentally necessary: They teach kids strategy, patience, critical thinking, resilience, and resourcefulness.” ~ Naomi Wolf
The key here is “developmentally necessary.” We need to experience life before having to go live as adults. Experience is vital to success, and the more experiences we have before it costs money out of our own pockets, the better we are when making decisions that can affect our wallets.
When I think back to my childhood, when money was scarce and my parents often both worked late into the night, I realize that my experiences helped mold me into the passionate, driven person I am. Having the freedom to make mistakes helped me recognize what it took to make good decisions. This goes for business just as much as it does for daily life in the working class.
Business requires you to be just as street smart as you are intellectual—I was fortunate to grow up in an environment that allowed for growth in both areas.
“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and, most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.” ~ Pelé
Even the most successful soccer player of all time knew it took days, weeks, months, and years of sacrifice (and a willingness to learn new things) to reach a high level of success. We can learn from every experience.
College is full of studying, but there’s more to learn than just what’s on the syllabus. The time we spend there is full of opportunities to gain knowledge from life experiences, even if not all of those experiences are easy or positive. Sometimes, we fail completely. But that’s a part of growing up: In every failure, there is a lesson. We can only truly understand the correct answer when we understand why our approach was incorrect.
I have worked with several young, enthusiastic professionals in my business who have not gone through the college experience. One of the biggest hurdles for them has been overcoming professional maturity and growth issues. College students learn simple things—like why it might not be the greatest idea to share your weekend follies with your boss during the Monday morning roundup, or why, when you’re in the office, your focus has to be there, too—by going to classes with professors who have zero tolerance for anything less than acceptable behaviors.
College isn’t just books and parties. It’s a place to learn, grow, and experiment with less risk than a professional setting. We learn about decision-making and the consequences of our actions.
While dropping out of college may have been the right path for Zuckerberg and Jobs, they are anomalies. College is an important time of gaining life experience for most people—and that experience can be the key to success.
Author: Daniel Wesley
Image: Leo Hidalgo/ Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren