Monday, May 14, 2012

Do What You Love to do.

An education is not something you can buy off-the-rack like a designer dress.  It has to be earned.

In my last posting about college, I am afraid I was misunderstood.

Getting an education should not be about sacrificing your dreams on the altar of the almighty dollar.


What you should do, is what you love to do.  And if you really love to do it, you will find a way to do it without spending a fortune, or worse, yet, borrowing it.

But if what you love to do is be an artist, writer, philosopher, preacher, bartender, or any other career that is a relatively low-paying job, realize this up-front, and don't spend a literal fortune "studying" for such a career.

And in most cases, such careers do not require a course of "study" per se, but rather learning, firsthand, by doing.

When someone talks about the Hudson River School of painting, they don't mean there was a college that taught this.  Similarly, there was no school for impressionism, cubism, or modernism - although I guess the Bauhaus school comes close.

People back then learned by doing - apprenticing themselves to established painters - and then going out on their own.   Yes, some studied at the Sorbonne.  Some went to arts school.   And some, like Andy Warhol, studied to be commercial artists at a "trade school".

Today, though, it seems that to a lot of people, that an education is something you BUY off the shelf, like a new SUV at the car dealer.  You want leather seating?  Rear A/C?  Well you'd better get the sport package, then!

So they go off to a Name Brand School, and spent a ton of money - from their parent's 401(k) and the rest borrowed from Sallie Mae.

And many folks think this is normal.   After all, everything else in life has a price tag on it, right?  Get your kid into the right Manhattan kindergarten, and well, a Harvard education is not far off in the future.

Here's a clue:  Life don't work like that.   Life ain't "off the rack" with a price tag on it.  Life is what you make of it.

And if you think that buying your kid an expensive education will make him successful, I really feel sorry for you.

Take a look at some of the most successful people in the world.  And then look at their educations.  Bill Gates?  Harvard dropout.  Warren Buffet?   He didn't even want to go to college:

In 1947, a seventeen year old Warren Buffett graduated from High School. It was never his intention to go to college; he had already made $5,000 delivering newspapers (this is equal to $42,610.81 in 2000). His father had other plans, and urged his son to attend the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. Buffett stayed two years, complaining that he knew more than his professors. When Howard was defeated in the 1948 Congressional race, Warren returned home to Omaha and transferred to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Working full-time, he managed to graduate in only three years.
Warren Buffett approached graduate studies with the same resistance he displayed a few years earlier. He was finally persuaded to apply to Harvard Business School, which, in the worst admission decision in history, rejected him as "too young". Slighted, Warren applied to Columbia where famed investors Ben Graham and David Dodd taught - an experience that would forever change his life.

Sure, people who went to Harvard are successful - some of them, at least.  Not all.   Was George Bush successful because he went to Yale, or successful because his Daddy was President?  Not many people looked at his GPA.

The point is, life isn't about accumulating credentials.  If that is what you think you need to be "happy" then you are in for a world of unhappiness down the road.

And this is where I see the young people of today failing.   They go off to school, party hard, get indifferent degrees with indifferent grades (thanks to grading on the curve, more than half will be average or below average) and then wonder why they are $50,000 to $100,000 in debt and unemployed.

When I went to Law School, I did not take a lot of courses in Patent Law.  Why?  Well, as one Attorney advised me, "Learn the law, you already are learning Patent Law by working in the field."

And I was - I was already a registered Patent Agent, and every day, I was cranking out Patent Applications, Amendments, and other documents, even as I was in Law School.   In the few Patent Courses I did take, I (and the many other students already working in the field) embarrassed the professor by correcting them, when they taught procedures or rules that had been recently outmoded or updated (since the professors did not practice in the field they didn't have up-to-date job skills).   Those who can't do, teach.   And and doing is the best teacher.

Today, young people contact me asking for jobs.  They went to college and then law school and have no experience whatsoever.   They want me to hire them - for $100,000 a year, which they feel entitled to, and teach them the whole business.   Here's the deal: I barely make half that.  Get a job with the Patent Office - they will teach you the ropes!  That's what I did.   Their response?  "Well, I can't afford my car payments and my student loan payments on what they pay there!"

Well, shoulda got the job there first -because they would have paid you to go to school.  That's what I did.

"But then it takes four years, and I would lose all that income from not working in the field!" they say.

What income?  You are unemployed.

They tried to "buy" an education off the rack, and like most off-the-rack clothing, it didn't fit.  It needs some alterations - some real-world fitting and experience - to make it work.

You should seek your own muse - whatever it may be.   But to think that just going off to college to study "whatever" and spending more money than the cost of a new home - is just ridiculous.  $50,000 spent on college would equal $500,000 in your IRA, if invested for 45 years at even a modest rate of return.

College should be something that you have a burning desire to do - and something that you are eager to do.   Not just another pile of homework you have to plow through, for no apparent reason whatsoever.

And paying exorbitant sums to do this?  Just stupid.

As I noted before, many kids are not sure what they want to do, at age 18.   And this scares parents, who believe - wrongly - that going to college, any college, and studying anything at all, is better than no college.

Maybe in 1965.  Not today.  Not at $100,000 a pop.   You'd better figure out what it is you want to do, before going off on some tack that is not really appealing to you.

And if it isn't working out?  Then pull the plug before you rack up more college debt.  Change courses, change majors.   Figure out your direction.

I do feel sorry for some of these kids.  On MSNBC they profiled one lady who borrowed $100,000 to major in marketing or some such bullshit.  She thought that a degree from a famous "private" university would be an instant ticket to a high-paying job.

She is working as a waitress to try to pay the $900-a-month student loan bill.

She thought an education was like buying a new SUV - and that a BMW would be a better bargain than a Chevrolet.

Wrong answer.  Education is what YOU make of it, not something you pay for.   And frankly, the prices they are charging these days are idiotic.

You can still get ahead these days - but it requires careful thought, more than ever.  Smoking pot and going to Party University is just not an option - but most OWS protesters did just that.  And now they want the taxpayers to pay the entire bill for their four years of indiscretion.

Again, where is the outrage at the colleges and universities who took their money?    The banks didn't get that - the schools did.   They can only hope to make some interest on the debt.