Life choices are not easy for young people today. A few years ago, the choice between education and entrepreneurship wasn’t much of a question. Before I founded my own company Red Swan, I personally loved higher education, gained several degrees, and became a lecturer at 5 Universities in Austria.
But as an entrepreneur and lecturer, I can not recommend this path to young people anymore.
It doesn’t make sense to accrue a huge amount of debt for an education that does not prepare you for life. Don’t get me wrong, it is always good to learn something and most of the great entrepreneurs of our times are avid lifelong learners, but colleges and universities nowadays often do not teach students how to think. They teach them what to think. And that contradicts the open-mindedness we need as entrepreneurs.
The choice between going to college or diving straight into the business route, in general, is not an either or decision and definitely not a one size fits all situation, but here are three key principles to consider before deciding which path is right for you.
Know your passions, your skills, and your impact on the world
Your first priority should be figuring out what you want and need out of life. This is something seldom taught in high schools, colleges, or universities and I know it’s easier said than done.
But only from a place of knowing what you really want and need can you make further decisions. Consider what your passions are, how you would like to impact the world, and what skills you have that will support those goals. From there you know what skills you need to acquire, and figure out the best route for obtaining them.
I have a process for that. It’s called Future Scenario Thinking and helps you imagine various future scenarios, not only the one you think might most likely evolve. Thus, you are able to prepare for the best, the worst, and all the uncertainties that lay in between. It empowers you to be successful no matter what the future holds. (more about it here: www.redswan.at)
Stay away from everyone who wants to teach you what to think, instead of how to think
Why am I as a University lecturer advocating against the pursuit of higher education here? The problem is: Universities should teach people how to think, but unfortunately, students nowadays mainly learn what to think. And that is a contradiction to entrepreneurial thinking, which should be very open and always eager to find new, genuine solutions.
I am personally shocked by the fact that students are almost offended when I encourage them to think critically instead of telling them what to think at the very beginning of my lectures. Learning how to think is a key skill required for entrepreneurship, but unfortunately, it isn’t prioritized in colleges anymore.
So, if young people think of pursuing higher education, they should be very careful about which college, university, or teachers they choose: do they encourage multiple perspectives and openness, or do they have a set agenda and predetermined opinions they want to teach you?
Stay away from anyone who wants to impose their opinion on you and calls it education.
Stay curious and practice lifelong learning
Choosing between attending university and becoming an entrepreneur is not a choice between education and business. An eagerness to learn is a trait of successful entrepreneurs. They are often passionate lifelong learners even if they choose not to attend a traditional university. Elon Musk is a typical example of that. He learns a lot about all kinds of things and then combines them to create new concepts.
The entrepreneurial path is one of education too, just not necessarily in the traditional sense.
Choosing to go to college makes sense for those who require a specific certification to enter their field, but starting a business doesn’t necessarily require formal certification. Developing skills needed to build a successful career as an entrepreneur can be learned on the job, through courses, mentors, and self-induced learning.
If you have a clear idea of what you want to achieve, the business you want to build, the values you have, and the life you want to create, skipping university might be beneficial, saving you time, money, and energy you can then use to build your career as an entrepreneur.
Discussion about this post