When I began college as a freshman at the University of Tennessee, I was excited to embark on the quintessential college experience. But after the first couple of weeks, I was so bored with the entry-level courses that I stopped going to classes. I wasn’t learning anything that I thought would better my future, and most of the content being taught I had already learned in high school.
In contrast, I was having a great time going out with friends. I went to football games, parties, and hung out after class. But I quickly began to wonder why I needed to be enrolled in university classes to do those things. What was I learning in college that I couldn’t acquire somewhere else? By the end of my first term, I’d completed only 9 out of 15 attempted credits, and I was burned out on partying and irrelevant classes. I also knew I wouldn’t be able to find an internship or job because of my low GPA.
Taking control of my future
With so little to show for my first semester at college, I was utterly disappointed.
While home (I’m still not sure why) but I chose to read a book titled Rich Dad Poor Dad: What The Rich Teach Their Kids About Money-That The Poor And Middle Class Do Not! by Guy Kawasaki. That book changed how I thought about my education and my future. It wasn’t the content of the book that changed my life (although I do recommend it if you’re interested in business and entrepreneurship), it was the concept of using what I learned from reading a book and putting it into practice to create a better future for myself.
I learned that I could set a goal, based on what I wanted to do, and then find the educational content to help me reach that goal. I learned that I could design my own future, and I’ve never looked back.
Designing my future
After reading the book, I decided to transfer schools and focus more on creating my own education that would allow me to live the future lifestyle I wanted. I put much less emphasis on traditional education, which would result in a traditional lifestyle. Instead, I focused on a unique education that in the end would create my unique, desired lifestyle.
By the second semester of my sophomore year, I was charging clients a couple hundred dollars for a website or digital marketing help. This was the point where things really took off. I was being paid to learn business skills, instead of me paying a school to learn the same things. I invested money from some of my work into more courses like Treehouse, Lynda, and Udemy, learning SQL, Data Analysis, and Python.
Today, my GPA still isn’t great, but I’m interning at a Fortune 100 Company doing digital analytics. In addition to that, in the two years I’ve been freelancing I’ve made over $40,000 and successfully run a company that has been profitable from day one. I’m also not as worried about finding a job after college. Recruiters are already reaching out to me on LinkedIn about full-time employment, and I haven’t even graduated yet. I can also say with confidence that while a college education is valuable, the knowledge that I provided for myself has generated far better returns so far.
You can do it too
I don’t want to bore you with my story. I also don’t want to seem like I'm against a college education. I value mine highly and love my professors for working hard to teach me concepts I might not run into anywhere else. I just know a college education alone will not be enough to get me where I want to go. So here’s a short guide on how to take control of your own future. You too can start deciding what you want your life to look like, learn what you need to learn to get there and be the captain of your own ship.
I’ll use my own goal of becoming a data scientist as an example.
- Determine your end goal
- Reverse engineer your goal and break it into milestones
Determine your end goal
This is the most crucial step. It’s also the hardest. It’s impossible to know what you’ll want to do and what will happen in the future, but you need to set your sights on something, so you’re moving in the right direction. Determine what it is that you want to have, do, or become. Do you want an internship, a particular job or lifestyle? What is it about those specific opportunities that you want?
Reverse engineer and create milestones
Begin everything you do with a picture of what the end looks like. Then take that picture and work backward. What benchmark do you need to reach to get to your goal? For each one, what’s the most important thing you need to do to attain it? It’s different for each achievement.
Here are my milestones:
- Data Scientist
- Apply for Data Scientist jobs
- Complete a portfolio of AI + Machine Learning projects
- Master Machine Learning + Artificial Intelligence Topics (I’m here, by the way!)
- Complete a portfolio of basic Data Analysis projects
- Learn Data Analysis
- Learn Python
- Learn SQL
- Learn Excel
Now that you know what’s required to get where you want to go, you need to learn how to do the things that are most important for each milestone. This is where you learn. Go find as much information about each of the key activities you need to reach each of your pillars.
Take what you learned and apply it. This is all about seeing if it actually works in the real world. It doesn’t matter if it works or not the first time. The most important part is that you get feedback so you can...
What is the outcome of what you applied? Did it work? If it didn’t why not? If it did, what made it work well and what’s next?
You only do this when what you applied didn’t work. So you learned about a subject, and when you used what you learned, you didn’t get the expected outcome. What do you do?
Adjust your aim. Imagine shooting an arrow toward a target. Were you too low or too high? The next time you pull back the bow, adjust your aim based on your last shot and try again until you hit a bullseye.
If you didn’t hit your target, that’s okay! See each failure as a step closer to success, now you know exactly what not to do. Go find something else to test out. Learn more, apply again, review what happened, and adjust. Did it work?
Advocating for Student Apprenticeships
Over the past two months, I’ve had the opportunity to use my own business, Studious, to work with Alyn Vaughn. We connect college students and recent grads to local companies for freelance work. I stand behind Alyn Vaughn and their mission to advocate for student apprenticeships. Many of my internships were similar to apprenticeships because I often worked less during the school year, more during the summer, and was paid for my work.
I’ve learned so much outside the classroom that I wouldn’t have learned in school. And with the specific career path I chose, I think I could’ve chosen an apprenticeship instead of a degree. For new and emerging fields, most colleges don’t have curriculums that prepare students for the real world. But in an apprenticeship, you become part of the field. What better preparation could there be?