One thing that I don’t talk about often is the fact that I barely graduated from high school. At the end of my senior year, I didn’t have enough credits to graduate. Therefore I never got to hear the principal call my name inviting me to walk across a stage and receive a diploma. Instead, I watched my high school graduation from the bleachers. It was awful to have friends and loved ones who cared for me to recognize my name wasn’t called and to approach me and ask why. I had to tell them I was going to summer school.
During my senior year I wasn’t like most of my peers who were chatting about what college they were planning to attend. I knew then I would not be able to find a good university that would accept me because my GPA sucked. I think I was floating around a 1.0 GPA, if that. Realizing and accepting this is what led me to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps prior to my senior year. For the majority of people who enlist in the military, regardless of which branch, there isn’t much delay between the time you raise your right hand til the time you are sent off to begin your training. For me, that wasn’t the case. I had my entire senior year to contemplate my decision. So while many others were looking forward to the end of high school to arrive, I was somewhat fearful and apprehensive. Despite what anyone else may say, U.S. Marine Corps boot camp and the realization you might one day soon find yourself in a combat environment are not topics that many at that age look forward to with any sense of enthusiasm.
It wasn’t that I wasn’t capable of memorization and regurgitation of information which led to my poor grades. As an example, for the summer school I had to attend to get my diploma I needed roughly 3-4 classes. Summer school consisted of a computer lab that all the courses were pre-installed andthey walk you through the subject from beginning to end. For me this was a blessing in disquise. Though summer school lasts a few weeks, I finished and passed (with high scores) all the subjects I needed to in a matter of days, not weeks.
Rather it was my discipline to do something simply because I was instructed to do it which lacked. Somewhere around middle school I started questioning the purpose of homework and a lot of the “busy work” which is the educational school system. Lacking a solid answer that isn’t based primarily on “Because I said so” or “Because everyone has to do it” kind of logic, my interest and subsequent willingness to participate and comply quickly deteriorated. It goes without saying but the U.S. Marine Corps had no problem teaching me how to overcome this characteristic, but unfortunately that lesson wasn’t until after my high school days.
From elementary school all the way through high school, I can recall many of my teachers (who looking back I’d describe as no less than saints) recognizing my wasted intellectual capacity and they’d often pull me aside to see what was wrong. Upon realizing that nothing was wrong per say in my life in that I had a good upbringing and loving parents who weren’t strung out on drugs or abusing me, the teachers would almost be in tears as they’d downright begged me to try harder.
According to the teachers, their problem isn’t giving a student a failing grade when said student doesn’t comprehend the material. That wasn’t the case for me. The teachers were aware as anyone that I’d sleep through class, if I even showed up at all. Yet come time to take a test, I was able to earn passing grades more so than not. In fact, if it wasn’t for my superb test taking abilities, I would probably still be in high school trying to get my diploma.
What’s interesting about this revelation is I do love learning to my very core. Those that even remotely know me would be hard pressed to associate any description of me that didn’t imply “nerd.” Even now I continue to challenge myself by studying and learning topics across a plethora of academic disciplines. Given technological innovations in education such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) like Coursera, EdX, Udacity, Khan Academy, etc. I am able to fulfill my thirst for knowledge but on terms that I voluntarily agree to. If anyone was to look at my course records, they’d have to know how to scroll because the list is rather long.
Though technically I failed school in more ways than one, looking back I can’t help but feel I’m not the only failure. Of course someone with my grades is inclined to feel this way, but I sincerely believe the school system failed me as much as I failed it. The failure of the educational system from a systematic approach is you have “x” students with “y” types of interests and “z” different talents, yet you throw them all into one pot and teach them the same stuff. Later the future football player gets diagnosed with ADHD because he can’t pay attention in history classes and the future designer can’t go to university because they failed religion, chemistry and physics.
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.Albert Einstein
Don’t get me wrong, overall education IS important. My great-grandmother who still to this day the rock and foundation for which I build was a firm believer in education. She’d often say to me, “Education is something no one can take away from you.” So I value education but I challenge the definition of “education” which is currently in use. All academic disciplines have their time and place but only to an extent that later the students can decide where to put their absolute focus on. One’s grades in religion should definitely not affect my ability to study astronomy as well as bad grades in French shouldn’t influence your ability to study arts in the future.
One person who I enjoy listening to and respect above most other gurus of the day is Gary Vaynerchuk (refer to the video). If you haven’t heard of Gary, he’s a widely successful business mogul that is as unconventional as they come. He really came to fame through his efforts growing his family’s wine business. Since those days, he is a part of and leads many other business ventures all of which are great organizations in their own right. Though Gary prefers to share his failures and according to him, he embraces failures more so than successes, Gary has an exhaustive list of previous accomplishments that I suspect the majority of the planet would and can respect. Gary now spends a great deal of time touring the world to share his wisdom and unconventional approaches with as many willing to listen. If you have a few free minutes, I suggest you check out some of his content. He’s relentless in creating and sharing content as much as possible, whenever possible. You won’t have to look very far.
When it comes to the educational system, Gary’s perspective (as expressed in the video) is that the entire system is outdated. The educational system is designed on memorization and regurgitation in a time where those are almost useless skills. If you disagree, I fear you are putting too much faith and value in the product of our educational system, which is a high school diploma. Despite the gigantic amount of resources our educational system requires and the operational expenses we are taxed to keep it afloat, the product is something that I dare say most don’t find any tangible value in. Last I checked, employers aren’t beating down the doors to a high school graduation so they can recruit top talent. Maybe I’ve lived under a rock my entire life and haven’t realized it yet and I do consider myself a laymen, but that’s not what I’ve witnessed to date.
To provide a little clarity, here’s a simple question to ponder: Why is it important that I know by heart the answer to 2+2 when we do live in a time where calculators are easily accessible? I understand and deeply enjoy mathematics as much as the next nerd, but the question is valid nonetheless. Even if someone is passionate about math, is there any real value to society that warrants every single student memorize the answer that question? No. I believe most of us have math experts in our network, but when a simple arithmetic problem presents itself in our life, we will just Google the answer. In the end, the method isn’t important so long as we get our solution, correct?
I wish our educational system taught students skills that will prepare and equip them for success during their life. Our educational system is so wrapped up on method and not focusing on the solution. If the problem in life is really what is the answer to 2+2, then all I technically need to know is that a calculator exists and how to find it. With the amount of resources at our dispose in the era in which those among the living find themselves, we should be learning what they are and how to find them again should we be presented with a problem that they could solve.
As a tech entrepreneur, investor and startup advisor by day, I preach to anyone willing to listen that the key to any successful business venture is to identify your niche. Whenever I first meet an entrepreneur, whether they approached me for investment or to solitcit my advice, in getting to understand their business I always ask “Who is your niche audience?” More often than one would suspect, the answer I’m given to that seemingly simple question is “Well everyone can benefit from my product/service” or something along those lines. At that point in the conversation, unless I have some strong affiliation or personal connection to the problem the business is proposing solutions to, I quickly end the conversation.
The point to learn, and on day 1 if you ever plan to go into business for yourself is that the one size fits all model is quickly fading. Companies that have this as their primary model are dinosaurs. As advancements in technology makes its way through every facet available, the name of the game is in customization, not cookie cutter.
Customers are increasingly turning away from pre-packaged solutions and embracing solutions which are tailored more to them as an individual. Though there are numerous examples, I’ll provide one of the rather obvious ones. Look no further than Uber. What did they really do at their core which shook the entire taxi industry and brought it to it’s knees? They got specific. Prior to uber, you had to call way in advance for a taxi which most likely would be late, provide a poor customer experience, and then charge you a small fortune. Now with Uber, you can schedule a ride that will pick you up within on average of 10 mins of making the request, it will cost less than a taxi, and the drivers who live and die by their ratings are more prone to not discount your comfort during the ride. Though this isn’t the best case study for all things customization, it still has a strong presence of being specific to each and every customer. I can get a ride whenever I so choose, in a vehicle type of my choosing, and most likely, I will enjoy the experience all the while paying less than what the traditional taxi industry has to offer.
In my utopian world, I would like to see the educational system take a more tailored approach that values the individual first and foremost. Given my personality which many of my friends cite as being “Marine direct” (whatever that truly means), I doubt a career in politics is in my future. Yet if it was, completely revamping the educational system would be my sole purpose on which I’d build my platform. Of course I don’t have a fix-it-all solution to propose at this time, I am confident that with the many innovations that technology has brought to our fingertips, there is a solution readily available.
In regards to the educational system, business and life in general, I believe in my heart and soul that the best approach is to not censor that which makes you special. Instead to highlight, harness and master that which sets your soul on fire. That’s what the world needs more of. I don’t believe the world needs more people performing mundane robotic functions that a calculator could have performed (and probably with a higher degree of success). Even in a world infused by technology, it is ever important to remain human. Whether you are an artist, engineering guru, star gazer, physics wizard, policy wonk, or whatever else you’d call yourself in your dream role, I pray you have the courage to be unapologetically you against all odds. What I suspect you’ll discover is that as you walk your path further out from the norm, you’ll find other like minds along your journey that otherwise wouldn’t have recognized you. Seek them out and value those people for they are a gift from the universe.
Thank you for reading. Now that you know my thoughts, I’d welcome to hear your view on the issue?