I had sixteen years of quality schooling. I went to a great public school and a great four-year university. This is not something that I would take back, and I’m fortunate for the opportunity. But the reason for that has less to do with the content and instruction and more to do with the inherent academic journey that good schooling provides.
When we are young most of us don’t know what we want to do and we could go in a hundred different directions. I was the same way. As a society, we want our students exposed to a broad swath of fields so that we can excite the next generation of specialists and entice them to go into their respective fields. I wasn’t exposed to economics until I was a senior in high school. Economics (or as I prefer to call it, economic philosophy) turned out to fascinate me to no end. We don’t know what we want until we find it. That’s why it’s critical that schools continue to expose us to different fields, subjects, and perspectives.
Graduate and professional schools are different. They are explicitly not a “liberal arts education” and are instead focused on subjects. There is no academic journey anymore, at least not in the same way. In grad school for journalism you may be choosing between financial journalism, local reporting, sports and investigative. But you’re already in the right place–journalism. You don’t need more school to get there.
Which brings me to my real point, and that is, in generalities, schooling is a passive, intellectual and theoretical discipline. Unless your career is in research (and by the way, we need people like you, especially STEM) a person should only choose graduate school if they already know their desired professional track. But once you know what you want to do, school has accomplished it’s biggest function. Continued schooling is the easy way–a passive track that gets chosen for you.
Real success–in whatever one may choose–comes from relentless proactivity. This means dealing with ambiguity, providing your own structure and your own answers. In school, you proactively do something that someone else has assigned to you. On your own, you proactively do something that you researched, designed and organized yourself. And that’s a huge difference. Nearly all professors publish books. There are blogs, meetups and forums devoted to every topic. The knowledge is out there. Any reasonably ambitious person has the opportunity to dive into the space and take a proactive stance on their education.
I want my education to be self-directed and tied to things that I am doing. In the past three years I have read about forty business books and daily I read a slew of online publications. I participate in discussions with peers, attend events, and have taken continuing ed classes in project management. And I’ve done all this while working full time, which is not to imply that I work harder, but to show that I’m practicing what I’m learning in real time.
Is this education better than an MBA? I’m not going to say that because I don’t have an MBA. But I know that a major stereotype of MBA students is that they don’t know how to do things in the “real” world. They arrive at their new employers with a confidence-inducing degree and a set of prescriptions but can’t implement, empathize, or close. I know that, and so I’ve tried to organize my education in such a way as to try and avoid the “real” world problem by integrating the two together.
Creating and being proactive are skills. Skills that one must practice like any others. When you make and design your own lesson plan and calendar and follow through with them you not only get the content, but you exercise your “creative” and “proactive” muscles. You become a starter and a doer. And in may ways this is the most important education of all.
I’m going to do one more post in this series: Why you would choose grad school: An Addendum.
Marc Brodeur just wants everyone to be awesome. His first company, Brode, the first professional drinking companion, makes a special vitamin that helps promote proper hydration and detox when drinking alcohol. Follow him on Twitter and Tumblr.