Formal Education Is Good, But Not For Everyone

Boy reading book sunset

Often, when I tell people that I am a high school dropout, they show some concern. “Maybe you should go back to school,” they say. “It’s good to have a diploma, just in case your other plans don’t work out.”

I see what they mean. Completing your education is a good thing, for most people at least. If you want to become a doctor, a lawyer, or an architect, you have to go to college. All these professions come with standards and best practices that you need to learn. They also require hands-on experience.

But there are other professions which lend themselves better to solitude, and by implication, to self-teaching and self-discovery. Writing is one of them. It is also a question of personality, of course. Some of us have a greater need for solitude. Spending too much time around other people tires us.

Formal Education – The Yes and the No

Part of the educational experience is belonging to a group and making friends. That is something I have missed. For that reason alone, I believe that most people can benefit from completing their education, even if they are not perhaps too keen on any particular subject. Going to college can broaden your circle of friends and acquaintances, and could forge life-long friendships. That’s important.

One day I may go back to school. I may go even to college. But if the motivation behind that decision is simply acquiring a degree — even if this degree proves useful — then I cannot help but be reticent about it. On the contrary, I believe that in some cases having that degree will prove a disadvantage, as it may give you an excuse to settle for a comfortable lifestyle that deters your from going down the harder route of fulfiling your potential.

When you go to school, you are not only being taught. You are also being conditioned. I don’t mean this necessarily in a negative way. Let us not call it a global conspiracy of democratic governments.

But back in my high school days in Romania, we used to have 7-hour school days which had to them something of the rigidity and the boredom of many full-time jobs. The only thing I felt like doing after all those hours of education was play video games until late into the night.

A Question of Time

I would be far more tempted to resume my education at some later point if classes won’t take more than a few hours a day (or be just weekend classes). I believe that four hours comes nearer to the ideal work week, and on this one, I am with Tim Ferriss and Bertrand Russell. This is not to say that I think it’s wrong for us to work more than four hours. When we believe in what we do, we can put in all day. But that won’t feel like work.

When we work, though, which we can vaguely define as performing a series of tasks for someone else to make bread money, then working for more than 4 hours may not leave us enough time to pursue the things we want to pursue. You may argue that a 9 to 5 job still leaves us four or five hours every day and that we have the weekends, too. But thinking of the day in terms of hours is counterintuitive.

After a full day of work, we need those free hours to relax. We won’t have enough energy for our personal pursuits. And the lull of comfort and of a regular paycheck will quietly undermine our ambitions.

School generally conditions us for a full day of work, which in turn increases our risk of feeling that we do not belong to ourselves. That may well be the greatest tragedy of our day. In a world full of possibilities, settling for what is obvious and comfortable denies our most authentic selves and leaves us feeling quietly frustrated.

Workings Less – The Key to Feeling Better?

There is a great sadness in spending most of your day doing things you do not want to do for other people. Even if these things are not entirely unpleasant. With work comes discipline and responsibility, it’s true. But when work threatens to take over the better part of your day, I think we must at least pause a moment and wonder whether we should not have more confidence in ourselves and break free from our comforts and our fears. Whether we should not do what we feel we have to do and not worry so much about the money.

That doesn’t have to mean that we must go traveling around the world or start a business or write a novel. Simple things like going through the day not feeling rushed or having the time to cook our own food and eat it at our leisure can make us feel like our day belongs to us.

Formal education can change our life for the better too. But not always. Not for everyone. One day I may go back to school. I may go to study photography or some other subject. But not tomorrow. Tomorrow I will do what I feel comes naturally to me. Tomorrow I will write and read and ride my bike. Tomorrow I will chisel a bit more at that novel that one day I will finish.