The Skills We All Need But College Doesn’t Teach

He dropped out of high school. Started a company that didn’t work. Read a lot. Then started another company. He wanted me to advise his company.

I didn’t do it. But we spoke for awhile about his being a high school dropout.

He said, “Once I figured out how I can learn to learn then I didn’t need school anymore.”

I didn’t know whether to believe him. But I liked that phrase, “learn to learn”.

He made an app that didn’t work. Nobody wanted it. Not even his friends who said they wanted it. I was thinking a year or two later: thank god I didn’t advise that company.

So he backed off and asked himself why the app wasn’t as popular as he thought it would be. Nobody can predict the future. A Harvard PhD and a high school dropout have equal skills at prophecy.

He called up the top people at many companies and asked them if there was any part of his app that they would want.

He met with maybe 50 heads of technology at all sorts of different companies in different industries. He figured out what their problems were. He listened and studied.

Then he rewrote his app. Just slightly. He also rewrote the way he described the app. Just slightly. It’s now four years later.

I’m not saying the name of his company because I don’t know if news was announced yet. But he just raised $60 million at a $250 million valuation. He’s on track for great revenues this year.

My friend who was giving me this update said, “I’ve never seen anything like this. He has a 100% close rate on his sales calls. Everyone buys.”

Is he uneducated? Of course not. He reads constantly. Maybe more than anyone I know.

Did he not get networked enough? Of course not. He created his network by helping them solve their problems. If I’m not mistaken, Google is one of his top investors.

Do I regret not advising his company? No. I’m not a very good advisor I think. I like to sit in my room with the shades closed.

If you go for every opportunity you end up chasing everyone else’s dreams except your own.

It’s good to know what you are good at and what you are not so good at. I like to deliver value my own way.

Everything has turned upside down. FOR THE FIRST GENERATION IN HISTORY, since Julius Caesar, we are on track to make less money than the generation before us. And with $1.2 trillion in college debt to pay back on top of it.

This is not just in America. The entire world is having this problem. This generation will make less than the generation before. We were all told to go to school and get a job and incomes would rise.

We were all told a lie.

Admittedly, we have some good things going for us. I can take any course I want for almost free. I can read books on my kindle.

I have a computer (courtesy of college dropouts like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates) and I can always see what my friends are up to (courtesy of college dropout Mark Zuckerberg) and I can even diagnose any diseases I have cheaper than ever (courtesy of college dropout Elizabeth Holmes).

I can stay informed if I want (but I don’t) courtesy of an expelled college student (Ted Turner) and I can eat healthy (courtesy of college dropout Whole Foods founder John Mackay).

You can say, these are all anecdotes. That’s true!

I have no defense. And yet, I can read, write, connect, eat, stay healthy, etc so I have time and energy to learn.

I’m an anecdote also. I went to college and then graduate school. Was thrown out of graduate school (coincidentally by the friend I had dinner with last night who told me the update about the high school dropout).

I then started to read everything I wanted. I then started to live the life I wanted to live. But it took a long time. I had many passions. I’m still working my way through them.

I hope it doesn’t take so long for my own daughters. I hope they learn how to learn. I read one study that shows that 45 minutes after kids leave a lecture they can’t remember anything said in the lecture.

Here are the only ways you can learn something. College or no college:
– do it
- watch it
- read it
- think about it
- talk about it tomorrow. talk about it the day after that. 
- love it
- repeat repeat repeat

I have no study to quote on this. This just an anecdote also. This is the only way I learn.

I want to home-college my kids. I know they have passions and interests. I want them to explore those instead of wasting time on useless things they will forget.

Then they need to put those passions to work. You change the world by changing yourself. That’s how you unwrap the unique gift you can give everyone else.

Here are the skills they need to learn that are specifically NOT taught in college:


  • James Kwan

    Although I’m making a career change away from everything I’ve gone to school for I do not regret spending 8 years of my life and tuition money on it. I got a BSc in Kinesiology, spent a year upgrading my GPA in order to get into and earn a DPT (physical therapy). I’ve been working as a PT for 3 years now but come April plan to “throw” it all away to pursue travel blogging and offering other skills and services online. My schooling taught me how to be a great employee but didn’t even touch on the essentials of making money. I don’t want to foster the jaded perspective that school failed me because it really didn’t. I just didn’t give myself permission earlier in my life to consider other life paths that may or may not of involved formal institutional education which could of better prepared me for pursuing my current entrepreneurial pursuits. The only thing I regret is believing that grades meant everything and sacrificed myself endlessly to deliver and in the end I can’t recall much of what I learnt. “do it – watch it – read it – think about it – talk about it tomorrow. talk about it the day after that. – love it – repeat repeat repeat” was actually more “pound it into my head until I memorize it, write it on the exam, let it seep out of my brain immediately”. I like to reframe negative experiences (ie. school was a waste) into more empowering beliefs ie. now I will focus on learning more effectively whatever creates results with the emphasis on application as oppose to appearing knowledgeable because I can talk about something. My learning process is now different and I’m actually enjoying it, may be a sign I’m headed down the right path. If anyone else here is going through similar journey I would love to hear from you.
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  • Kelly Kozik

    It doesn’t have to be an either /or situation with college. Of course you need street smarts, gut instinct, learning through networking etc. However, if we use the example of your friend, perhaps if he’d studied marketing at an MBA level he could have had advanced access to many case studies and shared experiences with his grad school cohorts. This partnered with the non-college attributes listed above, may have accelerated his success. I just don’t believe that we should limit ourselves. Why not have the best of both worlds?