Those Who Study…May Succeed. Those Who Do…Definitely Succeed.

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Theory Versus Practical Education
Those Who Study…May Succeed. Those Who Do….Definitely Succeed.

I included The Education of Millionaires by Michael Ellsberg in the Kaizen Reading Challenge, because this book is highly relevant today. Whether you are currently in education, interested in future studies, or thinking about education for your children, this book gives you something to think about.

The Education of Millionaires doesn’t advocate forsaking college. Nor do I. In fact, Ellsberg specifically states that, “I am passionately pro-education. There are few things I care more about than reading and learning constantly.” [Kindle Location 266]

I share that view. What the book states is that you can no longer rely on the college education to give you a financially secure future.  Graduating from a college also does not guarantee that you will be able to pay off the debt you accrue to get that education. The message of this  book is that to be financial successful, one does not require a college degree. Ellsberg has presented case studies of several millionaires and others who are not yet millionaires but have reached a financially comfortable status. Majority of these people were college dropouts. Through these case studies, Ellsberg makes the case that, “even though you may learn many wonderful things in college, your success and happiness in life will have little to do with what you study there or the letters after your name once you graduate.” [Kindle Location 279]

His case studies have some value. Two decades ago, maybe even a decade ago, a good degree might have been a passport to a good job, and in a strong economy there was an illusion of job security. Illusion it was, because the security of working only for one company for their entire life is generally present only amongst people who entered workforce thirty or forty years ago, and is rarely available in today’s market even for those people.

Ellsberg poses two questions at the beginning of this book. “What do you actually need to learn in order to live a successful life? How and where can you learn it?” [Kindle Location 242]

I’m a devoted academic. I would not change my school or university experience. However, I agree that I use nothing, indeed have never used anything from my business degree, even in my business career. The assets and the positive university memories come from the experience. It was the peripherals – the environment, people, and the encouragement of learning that helped. But it helped more in a hindsight.

The point of this book is not to discourage you from going to college, or from sending your children to college. The point is to gain awareness that a college education doesn’t guarantee you a great job, or a high income. In fact, in this day and age, it doesn’t guarantee you any income, let alone a career.

There are hundreds of thousands of new graduates every year. Each one of them goes to college with hopes that it will be a guarantee of a great pay check. Let’s get the reality check. College education is nothing special.

So what differentiates successful people?

Ellsberg says, “It has to do with your drive, your initiative, your persistence, your ability to make a contribution to other people’s lives, your ability to come up with good ideas and pitch them to others effectively, your charisma, your ability to navigate gracefully through social and business networks…and a total, unwavering belief in your own eventual triumph, throughout all the ups and downs, no matter what the naysayers tell you.” [Kindle Location 279]

The illusion of security is still there. People who are getting monthly pay cheque are expecting it to be always there. I had a brief glimpse of this a little while ago, when I went to a function with a friend. I was introduced to several people who work for Airbus, where I used to work 8 years ago. One of the guys asked me what I do. I answered, “I’m self-employed.”

He said, using his hands to show scales, “Freedom or security.”

I said, “I choose freedom.”

The point here is that he believes in security. Considering majority of the employees present were contractors sent from India, it was all the more interesting. Not only they are not permanent employees, they are not even permanent citizens of the country in which they are talking about the job security. Airbus could cut them all off tomorrow and send them packing. Of course they would argue that their contracts have been renewing for several years. That’s why the illusion of security persists, because it only takes a moment for it to be gone. We think it will always be there. Until it suddenly is not.

Ellsberg argues that it is not education that gives you financially secure future, but a mix of skills and traits. In his book, he presents seven success skills which all the millionaires he used as a case study possessed. He found that, “…almost all of the education that ends up actually earning you money ends up being self-education in practical intelligence and skills, acquired outside of the bounds of traditional educational institutions.” [Kindle Location 378]

It makes sense. No matter how much we learn from books, a skill can’t be acquired until it is actually practised. You can’t become a master pianist or an ace baseball player simply by reading about it. In the same way, you can’t become a brilliant salesman or a master entrepreneur by getting a business management degree, regardless of the reputation of the institution which provided that degree.

The message, therefore, is that by all means go to university. Experience it – not just the classes, but the connections and the friendships, and the life experiences it has to offer. However, remember that your financial success depends on your actions, not on your degree. 

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