That is exactly what I did, but I shouldn’t have. Now let me tell you why.
First of all, I am not at all saying that an education isn’t important. I am a firm believer that we should always stay curious and keep learning, especially when we don’t “have to.” The point of a higher education is to teach you the specifics of what you are interested in, but what if your interests can’t all fit under the umbrella of the major you’ve chosen? What if your particular umbrella doesn’t even exist? This is where the idea of college starts to get away from me. I don’t think people should strive to specialize in one thing, but that is basically what college sets you up for: expertise, increased division of labor and capitalism.
I was sort of kidding with that last bit but I definitely don’t subscribe to the notion that college is the only way to get your foot in the door of life; or that is it ever an accurate measure of character, true knowledge or creativity. While sure it will probably be beneficial for getting jobs down the road, a degree doesn’t mean anything in regards to travel and happiness, at least not for me.
Before I went to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; even after, I was still clueless. I had always been interested in environmental soundness and the idea of sustainability so I threw myself into an Environmental Sciences major without really thinking about what I would do with it later. If I had known what I wanted my life to become that summer before freshman year, I’d imagine this story would have played out a little differently.
I’ve questioned my choice of even going to college many times. Looking back, I probably just I did it for the resume, or for my parents, or for everyone else telling me that it was the next logical step. Now, I feel almost ashamed that I hadn’t seriously considered other options before tucking away the last four years in pursuit of a diploma. Nonetheless, I feel absolutely no regrets towards my college experience or even the degree I ended up with, except for the amount of time (and money) it took to obtain. It’s not that I didn’t want to put in the work, it’s that I never really stopped to think about why I was putting it in in the first place. I had just figured life went: childhood, school/college, career, family, retirement and death. Not to sound morbid, but that is pretty much what happens, give or take a couple of pets.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that model, it’s just not one I would prefer. There are loads of people who follow it though, and know exactly what they want. They have career goals and get a relevant education, and then their dream job. I admire them for working hard and meeting their goals. However, I am obviously not one of those people, nor do I think jobs should be a thing of dreams. It wasn’t until recently that I realized where my true interests lie. They lie in the outdoors, in thought, in new experiences and travel and, most importantly, in living. Clearly, none of these requires a degree; but also, none of them can really make a livable amount of money.
Unless you decide to live off the land, hunting and gathering for sustenance, you’re going to need some source of income; and therein lies the dilemma. Oh money, the paper that so cruelly rules all of our lives. How unfortunate it is that we work all day just to spend it on things we don’t need. Not to sound like a minimalist, but after comfortably living out of a 50 liter backpack for extended periods of time, it’s hard to come home and see so much unnecessary excess literally everywhere. Cutting out the non-essentials, life becomes much simpler, and monetary needs not as steep. However, money will always be an issue and to attempt long-term travel without it would be ludicrous. (I will have a post about money and cheap travel in the near future but for now, I guess just trust that it won’t be as painful as you think).
Back to the topic at hand, personally I don’t believe in grades and degrees as a viable means of measuring worth or intelligence. They are just systems some people are better at hacking than others. For example, I got some of my best test grades by cramming like crazy and then immediately forgetting everything a week later. That’s clearly not the best way to learn, but I got a good grade so that means it works, right? The only reason I am not completely disgusted by spending the last four years in school is because of the experiences it have me, the friendships I made throughout, and the slight advantage I now have of getting work in the future. Though I don’t think it’s necessarily the specific degree you have that employers are interested in; the mere fact that you have one is what gives you the upper hand. Why that should be an impressive thing of meaning, I am still not totally sure.
So, should we keep waiting to finish college and graduate before getting out there and exploring; keep just waiting for the gap year everyone wants to have before “real life” starts? The annoying answer is “it depends.” It simply depends on what your goals are. If you want easier job access and the security of a degree then, by all means, go for it; but if your passions lie in constant change and new experiences, it may not end up being totally necessary. There are advantages and disadvantages to either option so it really just depends on where your own interests lie. Personally, I don’t think my own degree will help me that much because, while my interests haven’t changed drastically, my passions have and don’t all fit under the umbrella of Environmental Sciences anymore. But, if took me an entire college experience to figure out what I want my life to be about, maybe it wasn’t such a waste of time after all.
I’m curious to know what you guys think about this. What are your own goals and thoughts on education and travel? Please feel free to share your comments below!