I have written in recent blogs about why it doesn’t really matter where you go to college, and about how college is not for everyone. Let’s take it a step further today and look at this question: Where do you get the best education? My answer may surprise you, because I don’t think it’s found in school.
One of my sons graduated from college, took on the challenge of teaching middle school kids for two years in the inner city of Chicago for Teach For America, and then decided he needed a break. He bought a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and a ukulele and took off for New Zealand. He had no contacts and no itinerary; he just winged it. He ended up traveling all over New Zealand, Australia, and five countries in Southeast Asia before calling quits after 20 months. He spent two months working in orchards in New Zealand picking fruit, and then six months at a high end seafood restaurant in Australia to pay for the trip.
When he returned home, he brought back with him a lifetime’s worth of self-efficacy. Living on the edge, not knowing each day where he’d lay his head that night, and being totally self-sufficient and in charge of every moment of every day resulted in tremendous confidence and resilience. He told us he had no worries about his future because he knew that no matter what he could figure it out.
Maggie was burned out on the party scene after one semester at college, and found an outlet for her adventurous spirit in a rock-climbing club. She spent long hours developing strength, endurance, and techniques with her new tribe of active, driven, loyal friends. There was something special about these relationships because of the reliance climbers have on their partners. Maggie advanced to sport climbing, which required more courage and a focused mental game. I’ll let Maggie describe in her own words the payoffs from rock climbing.
“My favorite reward of climbing is the mentality. Now, when I set out to do something, I don’t give up until it’s achieved. Climbing ignited my passion to set goals, work hard, persevere, and never give up on something you want. I will forever live by these values to continue to create the life I want, and if I ever veer off my path, then I can always think of my experiences with rock climbing to encourage me once again!”
When I was a kid, we spent long days and evenings outside playing with our friends, unsupervised by adults. We had vast geographic freedom, riding our bikes down four lane roads miles from home, and playing BB gun wars in the woods. These freedoms brought with them immeasurable lessons: making your own decisions and living with the consequences, problem solving, taking risks and learning your limits, supervising and taking care of yourself, initiating and making things happen, and challenging yourself out in the real world. We use to value such street smarts.
My son, Maggie, and I will all tell you that we don’t use much if anything of what we learned in classrooms. Qualities like persistence, problem solving, being able to initiate and create, self-efficacy, taking risks, people skills, grit, and knowing yourself are often gained out in the world when you are out on the skinny limbs, challenging yourself and doing things your way and in your time. The lessons that will best serve you in the real world are found in things like working jobs, travel, activities and passions you are fully engaged in, and unstructured and unsupervised down time.You won’t get your best education between four walls, so don’t confine your learning to classrooms.