As far back as I can remember, my parents always stressed the importance of an education. My mother was an English teacher, and my father worked in finance. They came from a 3rd world country, worked hard, and put my brother and I through school.
I love them dearly for that. Many people in this world, including many of my friends, grew up in single parent homes or were not pushed to succeed by parents that stressed the importance of an education. To be sure, many of these same friends who did not have the benefit of encouraging parents still received excellent educations, great careers, and have gone on to start families of their own.
Now, I am a firm believer in education as instrumental to success. I have an undergrad degree and a graduate degree as well. However, I do not necessarily believe that one must get educated and acquire skills through expensive universities. Looking back on the past 15 years or so, I wondered what I would tell my former self with the benefit of hindsight.
Now, mind you that this is simply my truth, and not applicable to everyone. Hell, you might disagree, and that’s perfectly fine. I’m open to being challenged and by no means do I think that there is only one path to success. Now, with that out of the way, here goes:
Now I am by no means a philosopher. Success can be defined by having great friends, a family, children etc…I am going to assume that is separate from this discussion and define success purely in financial terms. Success, in this context, is about how much money one can earn. Plain and simple. After all, there are very few people in this world who don’t aspire to have the finer things in life.
To me, there are two types of success. Either you have a successful career and you eventually become rich (or financially secure). The other kind is when you actually become wealthy because you own something (real estate, stocks, your own business etc). I like to consider myself an aspiring entrepreneur, and I believe that the only way to truly be wealthy is to start, or run your own business.
But how do you ensure that you are successful? Bottom line. Make sure that your skills are always in demand. Education is all about building skills at the end of the day. So if I were talking to my teenage self, where would I start?
Today there are much more options to get rich than in the past. For example, some years ago there was the profession of a web designer. Today, several young designers on the Internet are among the richest countries in the world. Each new technology creates more and more young millionaires.
Seek a mentor, as my father was for me, and surround yourself with friends and family who share the same hunger for success as you do. Get rid of the negative people as soon as possible. As an aside, be careful whom you end up marrying. I have friends whose partners just don’t share the same drive to succeed, and….well I’ll just say that it’s important that you align yourself with those who share the same goals as you do 🙂
Step 2-Education &identifying the Opportunity
As I said before, today we have more options than ever. The problem is that very few people have the knowledge, skills, experience and, above all, courage to convert opportunities in fortunes. In fact, one of the best ways to capture an opportunity is by means of the problems. Entrepreneurship 101-Identify a problem/need, then come up with a (good) solution to tackle the problem. To me, there are two phases/skill sets to being a successful entrepreneur.
First, being exposed to a variety of cultures, people, and industries increases your overall chances of stumbling across an opportunity. Think about it. If you do the same thing every day, then you will have a very narrow view of the world, and preclude your ability to generate big ideas. Travel the world; try different professions, read, read, READ!
Secondly, ok, you’ve identified a problem. Whether it’s tackling basic food and water issues in impoverished 3rd world countries or coming up with the next great app. Now, here is where education becomes important. To actually manage your business, the value of a law degree, an MBA, critical reading and writing skills, mathematics etc…you know, all the stuff they teach you in school is absolutely necessary.
Now, if your goal is to become a doctor, lawyer or architect, then you absolutely have to go to school, get good grades. But to be an entrepreneur, then, again, I believe you only need fundamental education meaning that I think you should still get a college degree, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be from a fancy university and saddle you with student debt for the next decade or so. A public state school will teach you all you need to know about how to think critically, read, write, mathematics etc..
If you observe, the most successful entrepreneurs in the United States had not graduated from any university. Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company. Thomas Edison, General Electric. Bill Gates of Microsoft. Michael Dell, Dell Computers. Nor my hero, Steve Jobs, creator of Apple Computers. As a matter of fact, none of them finished their degree.
Now, with that caveat, let me say a word about an MBA degree since I chose that route. There is plenty of advice out there about what to look for in a school how to prepare yourself to get into a good school etc…I’ll insert my $0.02. This is going to sound harsh, but I believe it to be true. If you can’t get into a Top 20 MBA program, don’t go. It’s simply not worth the price of admission. Trust me, I know, I’m in the 100K+ worth of debt thanks to my degree, and I am by no means working some cushy job, making 200K/year.
However, if you can get your employer to pay for some or all of your education, or you are pretty confident that the degree will result in an increase in salary of at least 30K upon graduation, then by all means do it. This topic has been debated ad nauseam but it really is that simple from an ROI perspective.
Either you go to a great school full-time, and pretty much guarantee that you will land a great job upon graduation, or you spend that a mere fraction of that 100K+ on boot camps, certifications, and other job training to build up your skills. Or you get your current employer to pay for your education. In that case, a Top 50 school should suffice.
I boil success down to the simple laws of supply and demand. Spend your life acquiring skills that are in demand. In my case, I minored in Spanish but am not a native Spanish speaker. Plenty of people will get hired above their peers simply because they speak the language fluently. One wonders whether I wasted my dinero on those classes but I digress.
One can acquire skills in multiple ways. If that means you go through a boot camp to learn about data science, the latest programming language, or web design, so be it. Guess what, you’ve saved time and money while positioning yourself for skills that are in high demand, yet few people(relatively speaking) can fill these roles because they don’t have the skills or training. Alternatively, you can invest in a grad degree that is in high demand, yet does not have an adequate supply of people ready to work these jobs.
Once your foundation is set and you have differentiated yourself with a set of skills that will at the very least, ensure that you have a stable career and not spend every waking minute worrying about how you’re going to pay your bills, then your mind is at ease to dream big. The range of experiences, professions, cultures, and people that you’ve been exposed to will have broadened your view of the world such that your brain is primed to be on the lookout for problems that need solving.
Anyway, this is simply one man’s opinion. I am not a millionaire so my words of advice can simply be dismissed. But this is exactly what I would tell my younger self. What do you think? Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section!
About the author: George, along with his writing partners, run Sobredinero.com which offers personal finance advice to the 50M+ Latinos in the US. There is a lack of quality content in Spanish and we intend to entertain and inform our Spanish speaking audience. We cover topics ranging from money management, credit cards, loans, debt, etc. Check their site out!