You have a ton of knowledge. Learned in school and on the job, you worked hard to get it. Your guidance counselor and military recruiter assured you such knowledge would make you more valuable on the job market. So how come you aren’t making the salary you want? Why aren’t you doing work you love and that makes a difference in people’s lives?
When I got out of college over three decades ago I was shocked to find life didn’t just open up before me. Having survived four years of architecture school in a demanding program at USC I expected to walk into a career as a designer or at least a project manager. The profession and economy had other ideas.
Construction saw a big downturn in the early 1980s. Architectural firms were laying off experienced designers. They didn’t need a purposeless, lazy, recent college grad.
Knowledge Isn’t Change
My mistake: I confused knowledge with change.
People commonly extoll the benefits of education. We’re told knowledge is good for its own sake. This statement is false. Knowledge is good only to the extent it's put to use positively changing people.
The ability to read is a fundamental building block to navigating today’s society. So is mathematics. Basic science is valuable because it establishes the foundation from which to develop applied scientific discoveries.
But what is the value of a master’s thesis on the number of times Shakespeare used the word “the” in Hamlet? [Note: I may have the article and play wrong, but this is an actual example of work being done in an English literature master’s degree programs.]
The uncomfortable truth: If you take classes, go to college, or get an advanced degree believing it will make you more successful you’re setting yourself up for a hard landing. In the absence of direction, self-discipline, and ambition, all more knowledge will mean is you spent money on tuition.
When Should You Seek More Knowledge?
Before pursuing additional education ask yourself these two questions:
- Why do I want this knowledge? If you are seeking it purely for self-gratification, by all means, proceed. There is great joy in studying. But keep in mind, if you borrow money to pay for it, you’ll have to pay it back without additional income. If you want knowledge to enhance your success, ask yourself…
- Is a lack of knowledge really what’s holding me back? Honest introspection is required here. As I mentioned above, without the purposeful, undistracted pursuit of self-change, more knowledge won’t help. It may even hinder your progress by feeding the belief that having spent all that time, money, and effort obtaining more education you're entitled to be more successful.
Don’t be fooled by data showing people with bachelors, masters, and doctoral and professional degrees making ever-higher average incomes. Such statistics are correlative, not causative. They indicate that the ambition to get more educated tends to be more frequent among people who have the drive to succeed. Nothing about getting a degree causes success.
If you seek knowledge to increase financial success, a great option is to learn sales and marketing. Then change yourself into someone who helps people by showing them how products, services, or ideas will make their lives better.
You make knowledge valuable by using it to affect positive change in yourself and others.
What would you do with more knowledge?
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