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"It’s Not Just a Piece of Paper, it’s a Stepping Stone."

Photo by Tim Simpson

The above quote was taken from a Suffolk University ad I saw on the orange line train this morning here in Boston.  After a 2 hour commute, thanks to another snow storm and the failure of the MBTA commuter rail (thanks again), I was feeling a little chippy.  This ad poured some fuel on the fire. 

I’ve got a few questions for the Suffolk University marketing department.  What is a stepping stone?  How much should you spend on a stepping stone?  Stepping stone to what?  I’m not going to attempt to answer these questions because that’d be boring.  The point is that referring to a very expensive degree as a stepping stone is misleading and not a very good sales pitch.  It’s catch phrase, fortune cookie crap.

My initial reaction to this was, “Wow!  That’s some bullshit.  You’re right it’s not just a piece of paper, it’s a piece of toilet paper, but not the good kind that makes your bum feel nice and infuses it with vitamin e and aloe.  It’s the kind that leaves your bum feeling torn up and sore and leaves you wondering where that $150,000 just went that you never should’ve been loaned in the first place.” 

I have nothing against Suffolk personally.  It’s as good as any other school as far as I can tell.  I know it has nice facilities – particularly the law school.  My issue is with the attempted mass brainwashing these institutions of higher learning are undertaking.  Granted, it’s not all their fault; they are just trying to sell their product.  We as a society are complicit in this scam.  It’s a nice tale to believe and a relatively easy path to follow.  It puts off the tough questions like:  What do you want from life?  What will make you happy?  Instead we’re told  ‘Just go to school, work hard, get a job, and it will eventually pay off.  Don’t worry, you can enjoy your life when you’re 65.’  Gee, thanks!  Can I get that sweet corner cubicle too?  There are much better ways to spend $150,000 – and better ways to spend a life.

A degree from one of these schools is all fine and good if you really want to have the college or grad school experience (or if you just want a fancy looking acronymn after your name so people know how smart you are), and if you have plenty of money.

I loved college.  I went to UMass Amherst and had a fantastic four years that helped shape who I am today while spending under $15,000.  Bargain!  My point is that a degree from Suffolk or UMass or wherever is not going to make you successful.  Intelligence, drive, focus, and persistence will make you successful and they cost $0.  (How’s that for some motivational poster type b.s.?)  It’s possible that higher education can help to instill or enhance these qualities in you, however, this is a topic beyond the scope of my rant and current research capabilities.

If you are intelligent, driven, focused, and persistent, you don’t need a college degree to succeed or to make your dreams come true.  If you have these qualities, you will succeed.  If you don’t, a college degree may help you a little, but not in this Bush economy (yup, still blaming G-dubs).  You may want to be a lawyer, which is dumb, but ask yourself why?  If it’s for money, there are easier ways to make more money.  Do your research.  Being a lawyer sucks for most people.  Lawyers are overworked and underpaid (except for the top 10% but they are severely overworked and tend to be more miserable than your average lawyer).  There are certain occupations that require you to get a certain degree like a doctor or lawyer.  I would urge you to really dig into what’s behind your desire to become a doctor or lawyer.  Odds are you’ll find a cheaper and more satisfying way to achieve your goals. 

I know some of you will say, “oh, just another bitter unemployed attorney” or “it could be worse, you could be starving.”  To you I say, GFY. 

Moving on…  I’m still trying to escape the 9 to 5 and find a day to day routine that make me happy, but I am trying.  I’m starting a business and writing.  I’m enjoying the hell out of it too.  It’s hard though and there are many days that I wake up and think ‘boy, video games and booze look pretty enticing today.’  One thing I’ve discovered, is that it feels much better to try and fail, than to not try at all. 

Here’s a suggestion, start a business related to your passion.  If you need some direction to get going on your big idea, read these guys:

Tim Ferriss – 4 Hour Workweek, Experiments in Lifestyle Design
Seth Godin – LinchpinSeth Godin’s blog, and pretty much anything he writes
Gary VaynerchukCrush It  & Thank You Economy (coming soon)
37 Signals – Rework
Chris GuillebeauArt of Nonconformity
(and yes, I do receive a commission if you buy through these links, but don’t worry it’s miniscule – thanks Amazon!)

If after reading this stuff, you aren’t inspired and questioning the traditional career path, then there’s something wrong with you.  Seek help.  Now, I know that there is great value to be derived from higher education.  Some of our greatest advances have come as a result of colleges and universities.  That’s great.  Plenty of people will still go to college and come up with great new ideas, but not everyone has to attend one of these very expensive schools to have a positive impact on the world.  Aside from attending a state school and paying resident tuition, college and grad school are way too expensive (except for those programs that end up paying you in exchange for research).  So, all I’m saying here is consider the alternative.  Far too many talented people don’t even perceive alternate routes to happiness and meaning.  If you have the qualities inherent to success, you can succeed with or without a very expensive “stepping stone.”

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William W Barnes

Creating and evangelizing world-changing products. I like Lions and Cows.
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