Our careers is usually set well before we understand what happened. The childhood and college years are more important than we know. And to be honest the specific subjects we learn are not as important as other, less explicit messages. More reading here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Why even get a college education?
People with good degrees potentially earn more money and have a more interesting job. This is not a must. Not every degree will earn you more than the cost of tuition. An engineering or medical degree probably will get you a nice quality of life. A business degree from a prestigious place may cost more than you will ever get back in a salary raise but also may open very prestigious positions in other countries. The return on investment for arts or music is usually next to none, with very few people actually leveraging the acquired skills to land a high-profile job.
General education will make smart people enjoy your company. Specific expertise may open very special doors most of us do not even see. Yet you can acquire those online and from video courses. Very cheap. So what do you really get with each level of formal education?
You kind of need a university degree simply to be invited to interviews. Unless you built a successful startup or acquired fame otherwise – then you live by a different set of rules.
An ivy league education opens alumni clubs. It makes sense to enter different clubs at different levels of education to open more possibilities. Also, it might be easier to get a scholarship for a higher degree.
A very specific degree is needed for legal practices, accounting, medicine, and psychology. If you do not have it, you can practice patent editing, business management, medical devices/alternative medicine and coaching. You need either upgrade or downgrade. When a social worker is effectively a clinical psychiatrist, the charge is lower and the sessions are not named “therapy”, but the job is similar.
A graduate degree is required almost only for a career change, typically towards business or brain science but not always. A physicist can easily requalify to engineer. And you can widen the range of your alumni support and networking.
A PhD will allow you to travel to another country, open any research job, and train you to read and write professionally. PhD opens several entrepreneurial activities and people will treat you with respect.
A medical doctor or dentist is effectively a PhD level education, even if it is called otherwise.
The most famous test linking early life and success is the marshmallow test. There is a marshmallow on the table. If you can avoid taking it within 7 min, you get two marshmallows. And the results of this test correlate with later success in life.
Guess what? The results of the test correlate with many other things:
- Father present in a functioning family
- Mother with a college degree
- Cultural background supporting education
Moreover, the first 20 seconds are more predictive of future success than the ability to wait for full 7 minutes. If you come from a functioning family and can deal with your urges for 20 seconds you should be fine.
IQ is not everything
In some other tests, the effect of IQ on success was measured. The effect is visible for IQ between 80 and 120. For IQ above 130 there is no clear effect, and above 160 the effect starts to invert. In one of the tests, thousands of kids, 1 out of 10000 kids tested, was carefully selected. The high IQ kids were followed for their entire life, and the results were pretty average.
Math and medicine require a very high IQ, but then you do not need to be a mathematician. You can get a Nobel prize in physics or biology with IQ slightly above 120. And if you choose a non-academic career in something like the military or even accounting, an IQ of 100 will do. Moreover, you may be GREAT in some mental skills and useless with others. That will influence your IQ score, but not necessarily your success rate.
So if you think that you are not smart enough this is not a great excuse for anything. The attitude is often more important than anything else.
The perfect attitude
Success is correlated with high openness, low neuroticism, high extraversion, high conscientiousness, and high agreeableness. Too high of anything will actually be destructive.
Now, what does this correlation mean? Do we change as we become more successful? Do good things happen to those who look for them? Probably both.
Some of the most successful people in human history suffered from all sorts of issues. For example, Lincoln suffered from major depression. This did not stop him from becoming the best president in American history…
We can slowly change our personality through hard work, or we can accept it and be authentic. Both options work. Usually, the strangest people around go into psychology and psychiatry. Our education quite often is overcompensation for our own needs.
Businessmen tend to be very accurate with their attitude and painstakingly fine-tune it for the best results.
Creative people are often brutally authentic. This is very important in arts.
The job for the future
So far programming has been a job with the best growth over time. AI can replace many other professionals, but someone needs to feed it with well-formatted data and someone needs to define new AI architectures. There is absolutely no indication that the growth of the high-tech sector with revert any time soon.
Any other education is a gamble. AIs replace low-end advocates with pre-drafted contracts, low-end doctors with databases of symptoms and treatments, low-end sales representatives with advanced customer support. This does not replace the experts, but the shrinking job markets are troubling.
Nursing will not be replaced by AI for a while. There is a huge demand for nursing jobs. These jobs are not very lucrative, but they are in constant demand.
In a volatile environment, a career change might be your best bet. When I was young I decided to learn electrical engineering since it opens up almost every possible career. So far this is true. I actually worked as:
- RF engineer
- Civil engineer (not for long)
- Patent editor (in training)
- Programmer of all kinds
- Financial analyst
- Professor/teaching jobs
Any kind of career switch was really easy. Math and physics are the same, and PhD level education opens many doors. I even worked with medical devices, cognitive psychology, and creative writing.
Notice that the focus here is on the capability of independent learning and not competing with closely guarded guilds (like doctors, lawyers, or accountants).
Not any profession can open so many doors, and not many people need to open these doors… If you are an artsy person, industrial design is equally effective.
Something like business education has an opposite quality: it is an open door for ambitious individuals of any professional background. So this is a very solid graduate degree.
Harward and Stanford
There are many good schools. Statistics show that CEOs of major companies attended Harward and Stanford more than any other school. This matters. Especially if you get a top job. Some school alumni offer more VC and private equity support than others. More graduates will get VP positions and will provide you with top mentoring. And you will need to be freakishly successful even to be accepted into one of the best academic establishments in the world. It is not about money, as it is about power.
Moreover, if you get into one of those places, you do not even need to graduate. Just the fact that you were accepted is more than enough in many places. Dropouts of the fine establishments do not get lazy or rehab, they build companies with others.
Is career success inherited?
Independent life-long learning is the key to career success well above any college degree. After working for 30 years in any industry we do not really remember what we learned in the University. We rely on our experience. And yet…
Successful individuals pass the winning attitudes to their kids. It is not a conscious process. It just happens. The expectations are high, and children usually comply.
Money can buy the best extracurricular activities, coaching, and learning environment. This understanding of effective time management, collaboration, and communication are worth more than immediate financial support. Simply focusing on personal growth rather than counting cents is a powerful incentive.
IQ is also genetic, passed through the X chromosome. Smart people are less likely to get sick, have an untreated condition, or get a divorce. They are also more likely to support their kids through grad schools.
Is independence overrated?
The downward trend in job opportunities for youth combined with the rising importance of a college degree has affected the developmental trajectory for many young people entering adulthood. As a result, parents often remain actively involved in their children’s lives, influence career choices, and contribute to their financial support well into their twenties.
The effect of longer parental involvement in multiple aspects of young people’s lives is under debate. Some researchers suggest that support into young adulthood increases children’s well-being, life satisfaction, and goal achievement. Others suggest too much parental support may unduly extend a child’s dependence on their parents and create a sense of entitlement.
College is the place to learn how to work on your own and reach your goals without parental supervision. Group work. Project completion. Rules and consequences. Diverse ideas and people… School is one the most important parts of one’s life.