[i]In 2009, an Australian palliative nurse reported what she had found among those whose death was imminent. What she found was a recurring theme and that those who were on their deathbed all regretted much of the same thing.
What were those regrets?
Regret #1: I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This can be interpreted a number of ways depending on your worldview and belief system. I don’t believe that we are meant to lead a life that simply says ‘do what feels good or feel right’. In fact, that belief might lead to not only bad decisions but also stupid decisions.
I interpret this regret as not living as society expects us to live; a life that is considered the norm just because ‘we should’. The current American culture expects school, job, marriage, kids, retire. Go to college, get a good job, make smart money decisions, get married, have kids, improve your life over time with more things, better vehicles, better houses, better jobs, better vacations while always carrying around an invisible social measuring stick. Then retire between age 65-70. We then pass this on to our kids. Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat. Normal is defined. I don’t think normal is necessarily bad or inherently wrong. In fact, most of my family and friends are the norm. I’m the odd bird. But there’s a reason that most are ‘normal’. We’ll touch on that later. It’s a simple reason, but difficult to change.
If you live outside the lines of normality one is often considered irresponsible, immature, naïve or idealistic. Certainly one is considered different. This is a badge I carry with great pride and honor.
We’ve encouraged our children to attend university, get a degree in something that is of interest, and then pursue your passion or at a minimal pursue what is of interest. A degree is a backup…unless of course the degree is specific to a particular vocation, i.e. a physician. I know not all of our children will attend university.
Otherwise, a degree has become a world societal norm and considered necessity. ‘No degree, no life’ has been the societal norm for a long time although that is changing.
Google, one of the most progressive and leading technology companies in the world is now seeking a different breed of employee. That new breed does not exclude those who have not attended university. In fact, it seeks them out as well as graduates. Speaking to the common practice of screening and hiring top graduates, Google had this to say when considering intellectual humility vs intellectual superiority:
[ii]“They, instead, commit the fundamental attribution error, which is if something good happens, it’s because I’m a genius. If something bad happens, it’s because someone’s an idiot or I didn’t get the resources or the market moved. … What we’ve seen is that the people who are the most successful here, who we want to hire, will have a fierce position. They’ll argue like hell. They’ll be zealots about their point of view. But then you say, ‘here’s a new fact,’ and they’ll go, ‘Oh, well, that changes things; you’re right.’”
“For every job, though, the No. 1 thing we look for is general cognitive ability, and it’s not IQ. It’s learning ability. It’s the ability to process on the fly. It’s the ability to pull together disparate bits of information. We assess that using structured behavioral interviews that we validate to make sure they’re predictive.”
Speaking to those Google candidates who did not attend university:
“When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.”
I first read this article shortly after spending nearly two weeks with a couple of chaps from the UK while visiting Queenstown, New Zealand. They had been in Queenstown for roughly 6 months at the time. At the time, one was 22 and the other was 25. The first did not attend university and has been traveling abroad for 6+ years. Chap #2 attended but did not finish university and has been traveling for 3+ years. They’ve made their way in the world and worked dozens of jobs from the most awful to the most interesting and adventurous.
A few things stood out about these young travelers who are exploring and enjoying life. They’re kind, compassionate, and giving. They are extremely intelligent and travel has not only taught them incredible life lessons but they’ve learned invaluable skills. They’ve dealt with all kinds of people from all walks of life from countless cultures with varying beliefs. They’ve learned how to make decisions on the fly; some good and some bad. But all of their decisions have given them another experience in life. In fact, we took travel advice from them. Both were giving and gracious human beings. Our whole family fell in love with them, their sense of humor, sense of adventure, and zest for life. These are the exact type of individual that Google, one of the leading companies in the world, is seeking.
So university isn’t everything. It can be a great thing but it’s not a necessary check-the-box for success. I would argue that travel alone offers, at worst, as much. Ideally combining both will offer valuable experience and life training.
And while we agree that university is a necessary step in the development of thought process and learning how to make decisions, we do not think it is necessary one iota in becoming successful, however one may define that term. We’re also encouraging all of our kids to take a gap year in between high school and university. See the world. Go serve. Meet strangers. Overcome hardships.
[i] Huffington Post; Bronnie Ware - Top 5 regrets of the dying
[ii] qz.com; Why Google doesn’t care about hiring top college graduates