Because you are on this website I’ll assume that at some point you’ve read inspiring stories of some of the world’s most successful people. In some cases, you may have been motivated or surprised to learn that more often than not, these game-changers, to some extent, failed in their school careers.
Big names like Sir Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison (the list goes on) are all part of the club. For a number of reasons, their choice to leave school sparked progress that led to unparalleled success in their chosen field.
This trend has been glamorized in recent years; where graduating school and university have become the norm, the stories of maverick business tycoons have sparked a non-conformist attitude in young entrepreneurs.
There’s an ongoing debate among solopreneurs as to whether college is worth it.
Through my own experience and researching successful ‘drop outs’, I’ve gathered the four main reasons why school isn’t a perfect fit for entrepreneurs:
1. All theory, no action
Granted, schools have gotten better at this. But for the most part, the little practical learning provided is still done in a heavily controlled environment. Alan Sugar once said ‘you can’t learn business out of a book. The most important thing is what experience you’ve amassed.’ The more real world action you take, the wiser you become and the more opportunities there are for you. A controlled learning environment simply doesn’t support that.
Education is mainly based around theory. By definition, you learn the ‘principles on which the practice of an activity is based.’ The schooling method is to learn for years and years, then when you finally reach adulthood, implement. By that time, due to disinterest and the fact you probably crammed for every exam, you would have forgotten most of what you learnt.
“A young man is a theory, an old man is a fact.” – E. W. Howe
The proper way is to put theory into practice as you learn. You wouldn’t learn the piano or guitar without playing it! It’s simple trial and error, review and repeat. That’s what successful people do; they try something and if it fails they learn from it. Which is probably why Steve Jobs ‘failed’ at elementary school.
In his words, ‘school was at fault for trying to make me memorize stupid stuff rather than stimulating me.’ When you have a desire to create something or make a difference, there is no time for debating, analyzing and pondering.
2. Failure is based on test results
During our time at school and university, our success is based on test results. Due to this, the level and quality of your qualifications can have a huge impact on your career, if you choose the employee route.
The mixture of test results and subsequent qualifications is a recipe for self-doubt and dissatisfaction. Independent and driven individuals refuse to be scared into going down a path they are not passionate just because it’s the ‘realistic’ option.
Instead they see failure as a positive thing, a tool for learning and analyzing to improve their methods. If Thomas Edison was given the task of creating the lightbulb as a school project rather than out of his own initiative, would he have tried so many times, or even have been allowed to keep trying after so many failed attempts?
The saying ‘don’t judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree’ springs to mind. School determines students’ success in a narrow range of abilities, but successful people judge themselves on their ability to persevere in doing what they love, not what they’re told to do.
3. School creates followers, not leaders
School should be a platform for students to discover and learn about their passions in order to create high performing individuals, and ultimately, leaders. It’s currently a platform to create followers (in other words, employees).
In fact, when I visited multiple business school open days, their selling points were the percentage of students who were employed after they’d graduated. Imagine that, an entrepreneurship course designed to put students into employment?!
Successful people develop at a young age into independent learners because school cannot stimulate their curiosity. Thomas Edison was seen as hyperactive and prone to distraction at school, deemed as ‘difficult.’ He went on to be home-schooled and very quickly developed a ‘voracious appetite for knowledge… a process for self-education and learning independently.’
“Leaders spend 5% of their time on the problem & 95% of their time on the solution. Get over it & crush it!” – Tony Robbins
You see, leaders seek knowledge to fuel their ambition. They do not bode well being fed selective information. Steve Jobs is a perfect example of this, as explained by the Dean of students at his university: ‘He refused to accept automatically received truths, and he wanted to examine everything himself.’
Followers are people who accept what they are told and do what they are told to do. Leaders, like Steve, develop their own opinions and use them to influence others.
4. They don’t have something to prove
Successful people never act on what is expected of them. They act on what they believe in and on what they are passionate about. Social ladders and school’s expectations can force a student into becoming someone they’re not. Successful people know exactly who they are and what they want.
In his biography, Richard Branson states that in his school, ‘your reputation – and ability to avoid being picked on – was helped enormously by your ability to score a goal.’ He was side-lined because he couldn’t play sport and wasn’t academic.
The pressure to submit to social norms is likely to create average performers because students tend to submit to school rules and their peers despite their beliefs, in order to be accepted. This hinders them from releasing their full potential.
In a letter to his father, he wrote ‘anything I do in life I want to do well and not half-heartedly.’ He pursued what he was passionate about despite what was expected of him. That kind of behavior is how individuals defy what is accepted and change the world.