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What College Doesn’t Teach You: A Class for the Real World

Over the years, I’ve noticed a huge gap between education and work. Looking back, shockingly only a few of the things I learned in the classroom actually align with the most valuable and important lessons I’ve learned from my lived experiences.

All my experience has made me ponder the following:

How come we continue to teach outdated curriculum that doesn’t help us to prepare for life after school? 

Why doesn’t college give us the true skills that help us define any career we want for ourselves?

How come I’ve seen so many of my friends lost a few years into their job with whom I graduated with looking for the next job, but never really tapping into the root issue of why they’re unhappy in the first place?

So, I decided to ask our Pathfinding community if they also looked outside of the classroom for real answers, and posed this question:

We wanted to find out if most of them left college feeling more aware of who they were. 

Did they feel prepared to fulfill that identity?  Or, instead, were they left wondering and longing for opportunities to find themselves, instead? 

When I asked people to expand on the reasons why college did or did not help them, of the 100+ answers, there was one thing that most had in common: most people didn’t find themselves until they were thrown into the real world.

Of the 240 individuals in our LinkedIn community who participated in this poll, 57% said that college did help them find themselves, but it wasn’t in the form of a textbook. 

Here’s what a few of them said in response:

“I found myself in college not because of my classes but because of the people I met. I realized who I wanted to be more like and what kind of energy I wanted to channel.” 

— Tasha Bapat

“I found myself after college. I awakened at the age of 45, and this is when I feel I came alive.” –Linda Tilson

“I didn’t really get a sense of myself, especially in terms of identity until after college. I definitely wasn’t prepared to go when I went. In retrospect, I would have rather either done a gap year or worked on an Associate’s Degree at a community college before transitioning to a university. I’m currently researching what options exist for me to return to school now that I am an adult who understands my identity and understands my learning style.” — David Charles

“I didn’t find myself until I was thrown into the “real world” in a job straight out of college that I hated. I realized I could take some control of the situation I was in and taught myself coding / data science and have continued to grow myself in both my career and mentality.” — Nash E. Deel

When asked if a degree or a self-discovery program was a wiser investment, 70% of voters chose a personal discovery program.

“Ideally a self-guided program with guidance and certain accomplishment measures determined by a certified (degree-holding) mentor/professor. The dynamic of education needs to shift to empower the student to want to learn, rather than make the professor feel an obligation to teach. That shift will better align passion with pursuit and provide an opportunity for students to learn from a multitude of sources. A one-voice teacher of any subject is a disservice to the learner, especially if the learner is not actively seeking knowledge & experience.” — Kevin Schafer

Similarly, I attribute my self-discovery process to everything I sought outside the classrooms, college campus, textbooks, and curriculum. The path I am on is one I had to forge for myself, with the support, conviction and encouragement of those around me and the opportunities I beamed after learning how to overcome obstacles and push past doors that were shut for me where others may just accept their fate and move on without going the extra mile. 

The Higher Education System Today is Very Broken

Unfortunately, the higher education system today doesn’t focus on relationships, surrounded by 300 of your peers in a class built for the regular mold. I think back to my accounting class at the University of Georgia, the one class I had to convince my teacher to give the class extra credit with a budgeting assignment so I could pass the class. What I learned in this class was one thing. A quote the teacher told on the first day of class…

“Success is not for the chosen few, but for the few who choose”

While I clearly wasn’t meant to have a degree in accounting, the content of the class wasn’t valuable to me at the time. It didn’t serve me with where I was on my path. Education is best served when it aligns with your interests, where you want to go, so it can be an intentional pursuit – not a forced pursuit.

One person who understands this better than anybody is Rich Keller. On a recent podcast, Rich told me about his son’s experience applying to college. He said that his son felt overwhelmed by the application process, when Rich asked him one of the most simple, yet complex questions we must answer in our lives:

“Tell me about yourself.”

When his son struggled to answer, describing himself as a hard-working student and defining himself by his work instead, Rich responded in disbelief, “You have no idea who you are?”

I think a lot of us can relate to what his son said in response:

“They don’t teach us how to answer that question in high school.” 

If you ask me, they don’t teach you any classes to learn about yourself in college, either. In addition, college also doesn’t teach you about how to build relationships aligned around who you are in an intentional way that will help you throughout all your pursuits.

As someone close in my network said to me recently, “College taught me how to learn to become a professional test taker” So, what are we really preparing kids for in their lives? To check boxes and hang that degree on the back wall of their office so that they can show up in the world in an environment where they never belonged in the first place? Or, should we instead help them learn from the ground up how to find their path in the world? 

A Controversial Question: Is College Even Worth It?

Have we all been wasting our time by going to college before we know who we actually are? 

In college, we have to make so many major choices that profoundly impact the rest of our lives. Even choosing to go to college is a huge decision. At age 18, we don’t know ourselves well enough to buckle down for four years of time commitments and head down a narrow path, getting strapped into a lifetime of student loan debt along the way. 

What is the point of picking a major we know next to nothing about if it’s preparing us for a career we might not even enjoy, let alone excel in? For most, you go to college and it’s a reality check. After you leave, you’re still left with questions about life and personal quests.

I understand college is an exploratory time, but after going through four years of my education, I do think a lot of the work done in the classroom could have been put aside for me to invest my time solely in the apprenticeships and internships that I sought after that aligned to my interests mixed with classes that helped supplemented that education for a far lower cost.

While there is no right or wrong answer to this question about college; it really just depends on what you want out of life – and what you want out of yourself, too.

When do you confront the fact that you don’t understand yourself at all on a personal level? At what age and with what experience can you ask that same question with contentment that you may never fully be able to answer that question?

The answer should be as soon as possible, and before you commit to anything other than yourself, which is why it is so critical to take the time to find your own path. 

What if we Understood our Vocation Early, Before our Investment in Higher Education?

I really think that deep down, everyone is searching for the very same place: a place where they truly belong—a place where they feel fulfilled and find meaning.

But the process of belonging is hard. You have to face yourself in the mirror, give up or lose touch with relationships that don’t serve you, and then freely lean into who you are and be who you want to be while others will judge you. However, that is more meaningful than showing up a shell of yourself throughout your life thinking “only if I pursued this interest, that relationship, or that opportunity.” Life shouldn’t be a set of shoulda, coulda, woulda’s — It should be built so we look back without regrets.

Most importantly, this place of belonging, whether it’s building a family, launching a company or joining the startup team of your dreams, is somewhere you can stand out fully and live a meaningful life.

If you can learn about yourself before college, and build around skills you want — by using self discovery and relationship building solutions — you can develop the raw skills to stand out as a young professional and transfer those skills to any job you choose.

Learning about yourself through the self-discovery process early on can enable learning opportunities that surpass being set up for a job — you will be set-up for life. 

Recently, I’ve had countless conversations with young and even mid-career professionals that echo the same refrain: 

“I’m not on the right path and in the right job”

“I keep bouncing from job to job, and none of them feel right”

“I don’t know where to even start looking as a college student” 

The biggest gap I’ve been noticing is how none of these individuals were intentional about figuring out who they were before deciding on a course that would simply set them up for a job.

But what is the point of plotting a course for the next five years of your life if you don’t even know where you want to end up?

My Lesson Plan For Teaching Yourself Everything You Didn’t Learn in College 

So, how do you start investing in yourself early, so you can create a life you’re truly meant to live? A purpose-driven life will look different for everyone, but I think it comes down to these two fundamental criteria:

1. Personally fulfilling to you

2. Aligned with people who also care about your ideas and priorities and help you get there

At the start of your career, there are specific steps that everyone should take. I’m framing these as lessons, and I hope you consider diving into this self-guided syllabus.

Lesson 1: Learn How to Understand Yourself

Self-discovery is an extensive, challenging, and lifelong process. Distilled down to its essence, however, it all comes down to four clear components:

1. Figure out who you are by taking time for a deep dive into self-discovery

2. Align that newfound identity with you with what you do, whether that’s a job you apply to, a class you take, or a major you pick in college

3. Develop the skills required for this newfound path

4. Form and nurture connections with people who will stick with you for the rest of your life 

You can start this process at any point in your life. Just make sure you’re investing in yourself at the same time along the way.

Lesson 2: Learn How to Talk About Yourself  [build community]

 They don’t teach you any of these skills in school:

  • Describing your core value
  • Expressing your personality
  • Talking about yourself to other people

This set of skills is absolutely crucial for achieving professional success. I think a good way to get started is to consider how other people do this, and what you take away from that:

  • How do other people talk about themselves?
  • What impressions do they make on you?
  • How do you talk to others?
  • How do you perceive the people around you?

Consider this process in reverse, in terms of you:

  • Who are you beyond your program of study?
  • How do you introduce yourself?
  • How do you talk about yourself to other people?

Lesson 3: Get Honest With Yourself in the Mirror

Now, take this to the most personal level: How does the way you talk about yourself to other people compare to how you really feel and think about yourself? 

Think back to the way you perceive yourself in those private moments. When you’re all alone and must face yourself in the mirror, who are you, really? Does that align with the person you truly want to be?

If you’re realizing you don’t have the answers to any of these questions, it’s not a failure on your part, it’s an opportunity. Now, you can finally start learning about yourself through the process of self-discovery. After you get clear on your identity, path, and values, you can start writing your next chapter.

Seek Beyond the Classroom

At BW Missions, we want to disrupt the status quo. We believe there needs to be a massive shift to how society as a whole approaches education and the ways in which people can belong in the world.

Students and young professionals alike have so much to gain from learning to look inwards introspectively with those around them. Only the inner work can take you on a journey to better understand your story that sets you up for your future that leaves your with:

  • A better understanding of self, increased confidence in the direction over your path
  • Relational awareness
  • A new understanding of how to be a mentee to executive-level connections
  • An online presence and brand truly representative of you
  • Connections

While these are no easy skills to conquer overnight, they’re skills to consider focusing on at a foundational level of your career to set yourself up for success personally and professionally in the long term. They’re skills that will help you at critical junctures and cruxes and carve pathways as you navigate the game of life. 

If this sounds like something you would be interested in growing in, sign up to apply to our upcoming pathfinding education cohort. We are only offering a few spots, but we want to hear from you if you’re interested!
If you think critically about where you want to go and you find yourself early, you can stand on your feet, face hardship, build something for yourself and stand out. That’s what we stand for.

For Young Professionals
Bryan Wish

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