Deep Thoughts

Why A Degree Is Not A Guarantee

We’re going to explore a bit of a random thought, composed after a series of experiences and conversations in recent weeks.

And this is focused on a mash of a few areas:

1) The disconnection of degrees.

2) Why more courses, accreditations and degrees aren’t the answer for most of us as we continue to develop (and I say most as doctors, psychiatrists, lawyers etc need these for safety reasons). 

3) Societies’ fixation on a model more linked to social status than one of benefit in a fast-paced and continuously adaptable environment.

Safe to say, these thoughts might get entangled but I hope I can at least provide some value and even a bit of reflection on the way our world views the process of growth today.

Anyway, let’s get to it, shall we?

The big thought

I’ve always found the notion of people believing that growth and learning stop after formal education quite comical.

As if on one particular day, we decide that this is it. I’ve done all my learning now so I now need to never do such a thing again and should be awarded all the riches of life in accordance with the education I have received so far.

Usually, this happens when one completes their higher education studies in their mid-lateish 20’s. But it can happen at any time of our lifecycle.

We could look at this as finite thinking in what is mostly an infinite game.

This is something I focused on a lot in the How to win in the Careerverse playbook.

Now, before we continue, I want to note that I’m not knocking the pursuit of formal education or degrees. For many, this is the right path and one that serves well. My goal here is to highlight the misconceptions of what this route can provide and what some people feel they are owed from it.

However, a degree is not a guarantee of anything or a debt that society owes any of us. It is, in many areas, what I like to call a ticket to the show.

In some way or another, my whole career has been connected with workplace people development in its now 16-year span. This has given me the wonderful and unique opportunity to meet brilliant people from all walks of life.

One commonality I have found amongst my connections with fellow humans is the way society has programmed us to look at educating ourselves and the status we are owed if we achieve x,y and z.

The words education, learning, and my most hated word of training are loathed by so many of us because of the experiences and untold amounts of pressure and stress that are placed upon us in younger years to attain a certain level within a commonly agreed-upon system.

I meet many (including myself at one point) who breathe a sigh of relief when they leave any education system and enter the world of work.

Why? Because they no longer have to conform to an experience that does not serve them and forces them to do something which yields little enjoyment and sometimes value.

And that’s a shame, as the real shocker is that we don’t stop learning, ever!

The known international education systems today are not where learning and growth end. 

They’re merely a chapter in our story. And, like the wise Albert Einstein said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” 

This is why I tend to find many are reluctant to engage in any forms of workplace development that mirror anything like education, learning or training in our minds. We’ve already formed a pretty divided opinion on those experiences before we set foot in the door.

Another reason why social learning, mentoring and coaching are popular is that they are methods of growth that haven’t been tainted with the experience of formal education. Even though all lead to the same outcome, our improved development as humans.

So, because of the bad rep educating gets, in whatever context you personally view it, people tend to see their time served within these systems as some sort of badge they clock in to guarantee their standing in society.

The funny thing is that life has other ideas.

We now live in an area of the multi-career where many of us will change what we do several times during our lifespan. Opportunities to diversify and build new skills and behaviours have never been more attainable.

We also have more of us than ever shunning what is viewed as “typical careers”. Instead, we focus on becoming social media stars, gaming streamers and content creators in all forms.

It has never been more popular to not have a defined career.

And you know what? That’s ok.

Our world is fast-paced, high delivery and full of pivot points where we need to adapt. 

Sadly our education system is not.

So, still telling people that you have a degree in philosophy with a master’s in this and went to this university when you’re in your 40s as some kind of validation to why you should be given a new role or promotion is not going to fly.

Today, what we need most are those who understand the skill of intentional and continuous learning.

As I said before, a degree is a ticket to the show. We need to continue to do the hard work and become the star of it.

On some levels what I’m saying here is that we can do better as a society in setting this up as the norm and making it part of the conversation when we talk about education in all forms. 

Learning is an everyday behaviour and one we’re all engaged with more than we realise. And yes, learning can be fun too. It doesn’t need to involve classrooms, textbooks or stupid assignments. It can be over walks or a coffee conversation between others.

Anyway, what’s my point here? Is there even a point? I’m not even sure

These are just some thoughts on a random day when I sip some white tea and delve into my own mind and what I see happening across our shared world.

Perhaps, my focus is on us to not put all our eggs in one basket and reject continuous growth (I get I’m probably preaching to the choir with most reading this).

Perhaps, it’s also recognising that a degree doesn’t equal an advantage or a divine right in the game of careers. It’s a ticket to the show like I’ve said already, but you still gotta put in the work.

Here’s a little story for you before I leave your inbox for safer emails to drop in.

Many years ago, I worked with a company that recruited 100 fresh graduates a year on a 2-year rotational scheme. Each had a degree. and even a master’s in some cases, of some sort.

They had done what society told them to do. Get a degree and increase your earning potential. This is somewhat true depending on your profession. Anyway, about those grads, how many do you think remained after the 2-year programme completion?

Go on…throw a number out there.

The answer is that 5% made it. Yes, really, only 5% were left after all was said and done. 

And why was this?

Because a degree alone is not enough to succeed. We need the full package. Adaptability, resilience, a thirst for continuous learning and the motivation to make things happen.

These are the traits I’ve seen in people who have become high performers in their domain by the measurement they use to define such success. No matter if they have a degree or not.

I tend to believe that if we focus less on one-time activities and hacks or quick routes, we’ll actually recognise that everything we do is about moving forward and getting a little better. Day by day, challenge by challenge.

I feel like this is a natural place to end this week’s thoughts. Otherwise, they’ll be another round of tea and an even more contemplative middle-aged man thinking and shaking his fist at the world.

Before you go… 👋

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