Doesn’t it feel good when you master a new skill? Isn’t it especially nice when you plotted the course and planned exactlly how you would go about learning it? This is the sensation independent learners experience on a regular basis. They captain their own learning ship and don’t constrain their efforts to the classroom walls.
Independent learners are the core of our community. They have the advantage of being flexible and critical thinkers. But what does that really mean? What do we mean when we describe independent learners? And as a friend or parent, how do you support independent learning?
Independent learning is education taken on outside of the classroom, and directed by the learner’s curiosity. It can be a great way to engage a bright young adult who struggles in traditional academic environments, or an enterprising A+ student who wants to stand out from his or her peers. Independent learning can look unfamiliar; goals replace assignments, projects replace classwork, and the internet amongst other tools replaces traditional textbooks. Examples of independent learning projects are:
Why do we support independent learners?
Independent learning focuses on the process as well as the goal. Learners are not given a road map similar to those found in schools, but instead they will have to rely on themselves to be resourceful and find their way forward. Along the way, they will pick up real life skills like organization, time-management, and budgeting. Students in self-regulated independent learning environments are shown to have improved academic performance, increased motivation and confidence, and greater awareness of their limitations and their ability to manage them.
How do you support independent learning?
There are many ways to support independent learners. From emotional support to being there to physically take them to a class or library, the possibilities are limitless. Here are some of our favorites:
Take all of their questions seriously and encourage curiosity.
This is a must to demonstrate that you are supportive of their independent learning. Do your best to answer every question – no matter how ludicrous it might sound. Just saying you are “tired,” or “don’t really care,” will take the wind out of their sails. If you have no idea how to answer, try to send them in a direction where they light uncover the answer or just offer to listen as they think the problem out.
Invite them to events.
If you are older than the learner you are supporting, consider taking them with you to events such as professional development meetups, films and more. This might help you discover new topics your teen is interested in pursuing.
Point things out, but don’t hand them over.
When you discover something – a book, an article, a workshop – that they might enjoy, point it out. That said, do not force it upon them. They might have a full schedule and don’t have the bandwidth to take on a new resource.
Recognize that every situation presents a learning opportunity.
Similar to working from home as a professional, it’s important to leave time to relax. Make sure they have space to do so, but recognize that every experience can be a lead to a discovery. Even watching television at home in your living can be a learning experience if you ask the right questions.
Did you like this article? If so, don’t miss this one.
Alexander Schnapp is an unorthodox, entrepreneurial-spirited beast…or at least that’s how others perceive him as he weaves his way through the busy San Francisco streets, riding his motorcycle.
Schnapp grew up in Taiwan and spent his teens in Germany. While a college student at the University of Washington, Schnapp stumbled across Dale J. Stephens, and the UnCollege community. He already had the motivation to pursue his own path, but was intrigued by UnCollege’s unique outlook on learning and education and figured he could use the program’s resources to his advantage. He decided to go for it. After kicking off the program with some volunteering in Mexico, which he describes as an amazing “spiritual and historical cultural experience,” he began to launch his own startup in San Francisco.
Code Name: Alsch
Mission: Provide the world with an awesome “ordering food” app
Hero: Alexander Schnapp
Schnapp’s startup, Alsch, is an in-store payment processing system which allows customers to use a smartphone app to order and pay for food. Customers are notified when their order is complete so they can conveniently walk into the restaurant and take a seat just as their food is being served on the table or pickup the order once it is ready to go without the hassle of having to wait in line or wait on waiters. Also, if you’re sitting and forget to add a side to your order and can’t get the waiter’s attention, you can order it on the app, jumpstarting the delivery time.
Only three weeks into UnCollege’s launch phase, Alex is developing a prototype for his app, talking with interested investors, and has already built a website and partnered with two restaurants. He attributes his recent productivity to UnCollege and his UnCollege personal coach, Gabe Stern, in giving him a roadmap to success and the guidance to self-learn and get things moving. Currently, he is working hard to gain the sales and tech skills his app will need to grow and thrive.
Overall, he believes UnCollege to be an awesome, accepting, and supportive educational alternative to those who believe they can make it, but do not know where to start. He loves how the program allows individuals to come together and pursue their interests in a productive and collaborative way, but emphasizes that it is not for the weak. “UnCollege is not for everyone, it’s for those who love to learn. You have to be hard-working, self-directed, and have the drive to make yourself better.”
Schnapp Mission status: Skyrocketing
Check out Alex’s site at: www.alsch.co
This post was written by UnCollege fellows Jessica Humphrey and Jonathan Lund. If you like what you’ve read, leave a comment below.
Two weeks before I was supposed to move into my freshman dorm, I decided not to attend college. Making this decision brought up a lot of thoughts, doubts, and fear.
“What will people say?”
“What if it doesn’t work out?”
“Not having a degree will hinder things…”
But now, I’m totally over this fear. And you can be too.
I want you to feel okay that you did not go to college.
During the time when I was making my difficult decision, I looked at the student loan papers that I had to sign, read the fine print, hung out in the library to research alternatives, and spoke to recent high school graduates about what their plans were. So it wasn’t like I did not have a plan or at least a curiosity in the opportunities that were available as alternatives.
At the time, I was blogging, tweeting, and hanging out on Facebook. I was starting conversations with other students and also with people who were offering alternatives. I read the UnCollege Alternative by Danielle Wood and mentioned that I really loved it on Twitter. The next thing I know, Dale Stephens reaches out and says have you heard of the #UnCollege Movement?
I continued blogging, interviewing self-made and self-taught entrepreneurs and freelancers. Asking the question of “How did you get to where you are today?” I took a few classes in film and design at my local community college, took a TESOL certification class, and was taking online classes from other female entrepreneurs like Leonie Dawson, Ash Ambirge, and Makenna Johnston.
While collecting these skills I was still infatuated with world travel after reading Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Nonconformity. He traveled to every single country in the world and started the World Domination Summit among a variety of other entrepreneurial pursuits. So, I packed up my bags for China to use my TESOL certificate to teach English abroad and travel.
With the help of some very good friends I made (while asking questions on alternatives to college) we co-founded The Global Education Partnership – a program in which every year students from around the world come out to the Yunnan Province of China to teach English, bring school supplies, and learn about ethnic minority culture in mainland China.
These extraordinary opportunities came to be through networking, contributing, and learning to give value in every single conversation I have with people.
Coming back from China, I made a silent promise that I would be on a plane every year. It didn’t matter where – but that I wanted travel to be a big part of my life.
This all happened a few years ago. The UnCollege movement has definitely grown since and so has the higher education dilemma. Major news outlets are really seeing and unveiling the issues like the student loan crisis. There have also been some major developments in alternatives. The opportunities are much more plentiful than they were just a few years ago.
There are start ups popping up everywhere. There are travel bloggers, infopreneurs, life coaches, freelance professionals, authors, and most importantly, there are problem solvers that need your voice, talents, skills and story.
When I decided to skip college I took education into my own hands and surrounded myself with people online and offline that I could learn from. I invested in myself so I could learn sales, marketing, design, copywriting, blogging, how to create a community, how to solve a problem and create a product, what customer service looks like, color psychology, personal development, and a variety of other subjects that could help me in starting a location independent business.
Joel Stein’s article in Time Magazine recently shared that the new “share-economy” is becoming a norm. Companies like AirBnB, Uber, and Snapgoods are changing the way we do things. As millennials we are juggling a variety of passions, jobs, and side hustles. This is a new reality for us. But I see it as an opportunity to problem solve using your interests.
My interests in all of those things I mentioned earlier? That’s what helped me start a virtual assisting and consulting business for busy female entrepreneurs that needed help to increase sales, create communities, and get clear brands so that they too can create location independent businesses.
I will say that my business is still evolving based on what my community of amazing budding entrepreneurs needs.
And that is okay.
So if you’re going to skip college – start conversations with people that are doing what you want to do. Hang out in communities like UnCollege. Research what you are really interested in. Start blogging. Share the amazing work you are doing while pursuing your interests.
Let your work and projects speak for itself.
Get a part time job to learn about how to run a business. Get in a mastermind or hire a coach that will help get you over your fears. Read mindset books.
And do not forget to share your story. You are embarking on an amazing adventure by taking this non-conformist path. Know that you are not alone – even if on some days you might feel like it – you are joining hundreds of us that are creating change, tinkering with things, and solving problems using our innate curiosity.
Isabelle Rizo is a travel blogger and digital marketing consultant that wants to cheer on entrepreneurs to success. She loves the window seat of airplanes, warm cups of tea, and tiny houses. Her internet home is TheBellaVie.com, send her a tweet at @bellavie92.
At UnCollege, our goal is this: to get people to take control of their education in whatever way works best for them. For many people in our community, this means forgoing the traditional route and completely designing their own education, perhaps while working or traveling. For some people, it means participating in a program other than a four-year university, and getting the support they need to develop new skills and mindsets. For those who do not fall into either of the groups above, it means going to college and approaching the process with the mindset of a hackademic could be the best route.
But if you’re on the edge, how do you decide what’s right for you? This is a guide for high school juniors and seniors (or the unschooling/homeschooling equivalent) who are facing that tough decision themselves.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I discovered the UnCollege website and absolutely devoured its content. I spent a weekend in bed and read every single one of the blog posts. By the end of it, I was no longer sure about a part of my future that I had long taken for granted: whether or not I wanted to go to go to college after high school.
At first, I didn’t know what to do. There wasn’t anyone I could talk to about this new revelation I had: I was a top student, and everyone around me was resolute on going to a good university. What I can I do? I asked myself. There was a lot that I had to think through, because this was such an important decision, and one that required planning months in advance.
I decided to discuss my path with… myself. Because I had no one to turn to, I asked myself a series of questions to clarify where I wanted to be, and what the best way was to get there. Below are just a few of the questions I asked myself.
What do I want?
Do I want something that a college degree can reliably get me?
My answer: No. As a top student, I saw that I had the ability to get into a good school, and do well in it. And I recognized that people who got into and graduated from “top” schools got some pretty impressive things: cushy jobs at large companies, the respect of their parents and the admiration of their peers, and a clear path to a stable (if boring) life. What I also recognized was that this was repulsive to me. I grew anxious at the idea of knowing what my life was going to look like five or ten years from now. I wanted risk! Adventure! The unknown! I wanted a shot of doing something more than living an easy life… and I realized that college might not be the best place for that.
Your answer: Depending on your academic situation, what a future degree can get you will vary — dramatically. A degree from a “brand-name” school like Harvard or Stanford will often yield much higher returns than a degree from a lesser known school. Getting a degree from a lesser known school can likely just put you in crushing debt… without increasing your ability to get a decently-paying job. Dale cites this statistic a lot, but it’s worth repeating here: more than 44% of college graduates under 25 who were area studies majors were unemployed in 2009 or working in a job that did not require their degree. When answering this question, it’s important to be realistic about your situation.
Do I want something beyond what a college degree can get me?
My answer: Yes. Yes! YES! I’m by nature a very ambitious person, and I realized that the kind of success that I longed for was not something that I could rely on a college degree to get me. It was something that I had to create for myself.
Your answer: Yes? No? Maybe? There’s no right answer to this question. People want different kinds of success, and different amounts of it. It is worth noting, however, that most of the “good” things in life can be obtained without a college degree… like fame and fortune, power and prestige.
What’s the best way to get it?
Am I willing to be told repeatedly that I’m making the ‘wrong’ choice, and still make it? (This is unfortunately a situation that many people who opt out of college will experience.)
My answer: Yes. It sucks, but yes.
Your answer: If yes, then great. If no, that’s okay too. Being strong in this way is hard (and can be harder depending on your circumstance). But this is an important skill, one that you might want to consider developing regardless of your choice in this situation.
Am I willing to work very hard? (This is required if you want to succeed as a hackademic).
My answer: Yes, absolutely.
Your answer: Not everyone wants to be obsessed with work. I’ve been told that it’s a distinctly American thing. How much effort you’re willing to put in, especially in the short term, matters a lot. In the beginning, as a hackademic, you will have to work quite hard to build up experience and expertise. You don’t have a college degree to fall back on… and may find yourself putting in longer hours than many of your peers who have chosen to go to school — especially while they’re in school.
Do I want to apply for college, regardless of whether I choose to go?
My answer: Yes. I want to keep my options open, because I haven’t experienced what college is like yet, and it may be the case that it is something that I enjoy and get a lot out of.
Your answer: If you have the time and the money, I would recommend taking the time to apply. In addition to being a great chance to reflect on what you’ve done so far, it’s also very practical. In the event where you can’t find a way to support yourself without going to school (and you’re offered significant financial aid by a school), for example, you have an option you can fall back on.
How valuable do I think a degree is?
My answer: My answer to this has changed significantly through the years — from extremely useful to pretty useful to “it would be a nice decorative object, I guess.” Personally, I think the value people get from college is more about what they learn and how they grow, as well as who they meet. A fancy degree might get you in the door at some places, but it’s easily replaced by actual abilities.
Your answer: It’s worth doing your research here. The value of a degree, like I mentioned before, varies depending on what major you’ve chosen and what school you’ve graduated from.
Will I be able to motivate myself to learn, even without the structure of school?
My answer: Yes.
Your answer: I hope it’s a “yes.” If not, this is something to work on regardless of what your choice here is.
Should I consider a gap year, to test what the best option is for me?
My answer: Yes. (I took a gap year in 2013-2014, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made.)
Your answer: If you have or can set up the finances for it (e.g. by getting a job), taking a gap year can be a great way to test whether you trust yourself to succeed outside of the structured college environment — regardless of whether you work, travel, or just do self-directed learning. There’s little downside, as long as you don’t go into debt while doing it.
What is my financial situation, and what is feasible?
My answer: I am very fortunate that my parents have the money to send me to college, and are willing to use it on me. I was also very lucky to be able to fall back on them for support during my gap year. When deciding to take my gap year, however, my parents made it very clear that they would not be subsidizing a year of travel and “fun.” That was perfectly fine with me — I wanted to work.
Your answer: How much money do your parents have? Are you willing to work to pay off student loans? Are you willing to take a gap year and work (not travel, which seems to be the norm)? Your financial situation may seem like it’s out of your control, but upon further examination you do have a say in “what’s feasible” — you just have to put in the effort.
What You Choose
Regardless of what you choose — college or UnCollege or something in between — know that this isn’t an irreversible decision. If you choose to take time off, you can still apply to college afterwards (in fact, this may actually give you a better shot at admissions). If you choose to go to college, you can still leave if it’s not right for you (although you should figure this out fast, if you’re going into student debt). The point is this: there is room for detours. The most interesting paths are often those that don’t lead straight to society’s definition of success.
People who criticize the mass education system often point to the apprenticeship model as an ideal. In many ways, it’s in fact a lot better. In some ways, it’s worse.
Historically, apprenticeships have been a way for young people to gain skills from a master craftsman, by working under them for five to ten years. The modern day apprenticeship, however, may span different jobs and internships. We see apprenticeships gaining popularity with programs like Enstitute and the University of Waterloo’s co-op education.
An apprenticeship offers a number of desirable things, depending on what you value and prefer:
1. One-to-one mentorship.
Benefit: One-to-one mentorship allows you to form an emotional bond with your teacher, who will then give you emotional support and encouragement. This will likely motivate you to try harder in your work.
Drawback: This is only effective if you like and are liked by your teacher. If this is not the case, you will have a highly uncomfortable experience, and the apprenticeship will probably be ineffective.
2. An individualized curriculum.
Benefit: An apprenticeship allows you to learn at a pace and progression that makes sense for you.
Drawback: The quality of the curriculum depends heavily on your mentor. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult for you to evaluate the merits of someone older and wiser than you.
3. A curriculum that is highly relevant to your future work.
Benefit: By gaining knowledge that you know is useful, you will be more motivated to learn, and spend less time having an existential crisis because you know that you’re wasting your time.
Drawback: You have less time to learn about things just because they interest you, because you’ll be focused on learning about things that relate to your work.
4. A greater chance of mastering a specific skill.
Benefit: By mastering a specific skill, you’re able to add significantly more value to the world. You also gain an advantage over your peers in terms of job security and work experience.
Drawback: Because you are choosing a skill to master earlier on in life, perhaps before you’ve explored the range of all the possible skills, you may not pick the right one for you.
5. The chance to spend time with people in many stages of their life.
Benefit: You’ll become more emotionally mature and more socially flexible. This will become apparent when you spend time with your peers.
Drawback: Dating can be difficult. Making close friends can be difficult. Neither is undoable.
What’s clear is this: there are subtle drawbacks to not going to college and choosing an apprenticeship that you have to compensate for (e.g. meeting people your own age, dating, etc.). Fortunately, it’s also clear that if you do the right apprenticeship, it can potentially offer you much more value than going to school.
There’s no shortage of advice on becoming a successful entrepreneur. From in-person seminars to detailed books and blogs, it’s simply everywhere. The real question is how to find sound advice in a sea of mediocrity?
It’s important to discover resources that are unbiased and run by people who have a wealth of personal experience in the field. You need resources that approach problems from different angles and, maybe most importantly, resources that don’t push products that will “help save you time and money” but instead, stick to simple, actionable advice.
That’s what Barrett Brooks and his colleagues at Fizzle.co are all about – providing reliable advice for creative entrepreneurs who want to work on things that they actually find interesting and exciting.
Every week the Fizzle team, which features a hodgepodge group of entrepreneurs, marketing experts and research junkies, releases a free blog post and podcast that address issues raised by their loyal band of hard-working business owners and young, motivated go-getters. They also run an individualized program that helps members of their community tackle issues that confront their businesses. Over the years, they’ve noticed trends and built foundational advice for young entrepreneurs.
I spoke with Barrett last week to ask him a few questions about the challenges young entrepreneurs face today, how to avoid common pitfalls and what people should be doing on a weekly basis to stay ahead of the curve.
UnCollege: First off, can you give us a brief outline of how you ended up where you are, working with entrepreneurs on a daily basis?
Before Fizzle I ran a company called Living for Monday about 3 years. The company was a way to help college students develop the career search and soft skills they would need to build an independent career or find a job they would care about. I started it after I left my job as a consultant at Ernst and Young.
While I was working at E&Y, I realized that my peers and I had kind of been sold a lie about what the work entailed, what the career path would look like and what the lifestyle would look like. To the outside world our jobs were considered prestigious, but when you really looked at what life was like, it was full of 60-80 hour work weeks, work-related travel and no time to really explore the world. Living for Monday was a fight against that system where I felt college career centers weren’t doing their job. Instead of advocating for students, they were advocating for big companies trying to increase their placement rates, etc.
I raised over $120,000 to support that effort, but in the end found that college students aren’t the best target market. The majority aren’t looking to spend a lot of time and money on career development. Ultimately, we decided to shut the company down. I joined Fizzle shortly after that. It was a great fit because I had personal experience in what a lot of the Fizzle community were going through as entrepreneurs.
U: For a young entrepreneur who decides to delay a college education or bypass it all together, what do you think is the greatest challenge he or she will face?
B: Young entrepreneurs have the massive disadvantage of being naive and lacking the life experience to understand their customers and clients. They haven’t had the time they need to develop all the skills they would need to succeed in business. In many ways, they haven’t had time to develop strong beliefs on how the world works. I think that most successful entrepreneurs have a strong belief about something that was wrong in the world or some opportunity they saw in the world based on interactions they’ve had with people or causes they’ve supported. It’s not that they can’t overcome this, but it’s a challenge.
U: How about the greatest advantage?
B: As a young adult you usually have a lower cost of living and fewer commitments like relationships or children, mortgages and car leases. You are nimble and in many ways, fearless. If you have college debt, however, that affects how you approach things. On the podcast we talk a lot about a minimal viable income and how everyone needs to figure out how much money you need to survive and support your business. Debt and loans can affect this number greatly.
In all cases, we encourage young entrepreneurs to take an intermediate apprenticeship – whether they are transitioning out of a job or a college dropout. They can develop their ideas and belief system while working under someone that they really admire. This gives you a bridge from working and being told what to do to working towards what you want to be some day.
U: What’s the best way to identify if you have a genuinely good idea?
It’s the same for everyone, really. The worst ideas come from thinking they are brilliant. We prefer the lean startup methodology. Fix a problem. Have conversations with real people who would use your product or service. If you talk to as little as 8 or 10 people, you can find trends in the problems they have that you can solve.
U: And how do you know when it’s time to cut bait on a project?
B: As soon as possible, see if people will pay you for your product or service. If you can’t sell, maybe you aren’t targeting the right audience or maybe you aren’t solving the right problem. You can go back and change these things, but even if you have a massive email list or community, if you can’t sell it, you have a problem to solve yourself.
U: If you do not yet have a product, how do you begin to network with influencers in an industry?
B: Start with research. Start with The 10-10-10 strategy (on site). That’s 10 people you would want to work with some day, 10 organizations and 10 dream projects. Start by identifying who your 10 people are and instead of shooting them an email, research their public material. Most influencers have blogs or podcasts or some sort of public facing material out there on the web because they don’t have time to have 1:1 meetings with everyone who emails them. In fact, it’s rude not to read every post they’ve ever done and to try and answer your own questions that way. Once you’ve done the research, if you do reach out, they’ll see the effort you’ve gone through and be more willing to listen to your request for help.
U: What are some essential weekly tasks you encourage entrepreneurs in the Fizzle community to take?
B: It really depends on what stage they are in with their business, but across all stages we recommend the following:
– Start a mastermind group.
– Keep a progress log.
– Work with a mentor and coach (if you can afford a coach).
To find out more about Barrett and the Fizzle team, visit fizzle.co and follow Barrett on Twitter.
Imagine this: you’re working on a creative project that you’ve been excited about all week. You take a quick coffee break and dive back into work and…nothing. Zero production. Despite the caffeine coursing through your veins, the creative juices are at a standstill. You’ve hit a wall; a creative roadblock. Slowly, you begin to feel a mixture of impatience, anger, and discouragement. You’re ready to roll, but your muse is AWOL. And you’re wondering one thing:
We’ve all been here before. Creatives face these challenges routinely. We dread them and develop super-complicated schemes to overcome them.
Luckily, we have a few simple tips that can help you win the wrestling match and breakthrough creative blocks.
Sometimes it’s easy to get so discouraged that you stop working on that project, stop setting time aside for it and decide that you’ll only work on it when inspiration strikes. Anything else seems like a waste of time. This is actually the biggest mistake you could make. You’re surrendering to your block if you do this. Don’t surrender. Keep showing up.
But what do you do if you run into a block while you’re working?
Take a Break
Sometimes, blocks are your brain telling you it needs to stop to recharge. Set a timer, take a break, and come back to your work. Instead of sitting there being stuck, see if moving around, getting a snack or surfing the web for a while helps you take on your work. We don’t always realize it when we push ourselves beyond our capacity until it begins to affect our work. Incorporating breaks into your scheduled work time might help you avoid running into (as many) blocks.
Don’t knock exercising during your break. Your brain and your body both need stimulation. If you’re needing some inspiration, trying moving your body. Get your heart rate up and forget about your creative block for a while. Not only will this give your brain a break from this puzzle and a chance to come back later, but it will get the blood flowing to your brain as well.
Remember that regular exercise is important not only for you body, but also for your mind.
Change Your Scenery
Your surroundings have a huge impact on your mind. If you’re having trouble being creative in your current spot, move. Go to a coffee shop, a park or somewhere that inspires you. Once you’re in a new place, your brain might feel refreshed and get through the block easily.
Read a book or watch a movie if you’re struggling with your script or poetry. Look on pinterest if you can’t think of your next jewelry or photography project.Get together with other creatives to get your creativity flowing again. Look for inspiration wherever you normally find it, whether that’s on your laptop, a museum, or out in nature. Go looking, and you’ll find it.
If you show up daily and put in work – even if it’s terrible, even if you hate the final product – it’s better than letting it sit. Even if you delete every word you struggled for or rip out every page of your sketchbook you fill that day, it’s still worth it. You’re still combatting the resistance in you and making good habits. Not only that, but the more work you put in, the more likely it is to be good work. If you stop putting in work every day, the likelihood of the work being something you’re satisfied drops dramatically. This is because you aren’t honing your craft on a regular basis, you’re not constantly improving by giving yourself feedback and learning from your failures.
If you sit down and it goes nowhere, search for your inspiration, take a break or do something else. But be sure to show up again the next day, ready for your muse to give you great ideas.
From a very early age, Alex knew he didn’t want to go to college. “I think from an early age I just never liked the classroom,” he recalls, “You’re on this track. It’s very comfortable. At school, I had to do things just because someone was saying that I had to do them. I wasn’t engaged. I don’t do well when I’m comfortable or bored; I have to have some skin in the game, I need things to be unpredictable. College just seemed like a four year comfort zone.”
At the same time, Alex didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to spend time with other interesting young people. If universities offered one thing, it was the chance to socialize with smart, engaging peers.
“I didn’t want to stay in DC,” Alex says of his motivation to join the fellowship. “When I found out that I could get up and move across the country and work and be inside the startup world where they’re building these companies and live with 18 people from around the world, with the freedom to do what I want… that’s why I decided to do UnCollege.”
Freedom is exactly what Alex found. After completing UnCollege’s three month launch phase, it was time for his voyage phase: the period where fellows travel abroad for three months to do independent work. Most of Alex’s colleagues took on work abroad — “tech incubators overseas, internships in Paris, au pairs in Spain,” and the like. [For upcoming fellows, the voyage phase will be slightly more structured, with options to choose from around the world.] Meanwhile, Alex and his roommate (who, he’s quick to say, is now one of his “absolute best friends”) bought two round trip tickets to Bangkok with no plans and just a backpack each. Neither had ever been out of the United States before.
“There’s something about going to Southeast Asia with no responsibilities and no plan. You’ve never had so much freedom in your life. If you weren’t having a good time, there was no excuse. You couldn’t stress about little things like waiting ten hours for the bus or sleeping on a bus with no AC. My takeaway was that if you’re going to stress about something, change it. If you care enough, you’ll change it. If you don’t change it, you don’t care enough, so stop stressing.”
Learning to let go of the little things is one revelation amongst many that UnCollege brought up for Alex. “UnCollege is about being very goal-oriented and very self-aware and self-reflective. I think I was somewhat self-aware and self-reflective before UnCollege, but the program showed me how you can break everything down. Now, I write down all my goals, every day. I write down the things I want to accomplish each month and each day.”
Back in Thailand, Alex traveled around the country and on the islands south of the mainland, staying in hostels and going where the wind blew. After about a month, Alex and his roommate decided to visit another UnCollege fellow who was in Malaysia before the three guys flew to Hanoi. “All this was on a whim. We wanted to ride motorcycles across the country, even though we’d never ridden motorcycles before. We arrived in Hanoi at 8 a.m., met three guys at the hostel who had just ridden from Ho Chi Minh city with their motorcycles. We bought them for $200 each, learned how to ride them that day, went to bed, and first thing in the morning we set out. We were still struggling, but we rode for three weeks on the Ho Chi Minh trail all the way across Vietnam, stopping in these little villages. Nobody spoke English. It was just an adventure. Our bikes would break down every other day. We had to tie ropes around our bikes and pull each other through the mountainside.”
That’s how, at the age of 18, while most of his high school friends were sitting in university lectures texting under their desks, Alex Tatem was motorcycling across Asia.
After his voyage phase, Alex knew what he wanted to do and headed back to DC, where he packed up his things and drove across the country back to San Francisco to begin work at an education technology company, where he now does sales operations and account executive work.
“It’s not as though I wouldn’t be doing this work if I hadn’t been in UnCollege. But I wouldn’t have traveled. And I wouldn’t have met these awesome, awesome people that I’m now friends with. That voyage was the best thing I’d done.”
To learn more about UnCollege and how you can become a fellow, check out UnCollege.org/program.
Have you thought about dropping out of college?
Maybe you’ve daydreamed about traveling the world, writing a book, or starting a business. Or maybe you don’t know what you want to do… you just know you aren’t happy where you are.
But you can’t just leave.
How will I support myself?
What will my parents think?
How will I get a job?
These are real concerns, but people have done it and gone on to thrive both personally and professionally – People just like you.
I talk to them every day. They have taken their education, career, and life into their own hands.
But what finally pushed them over the edge? How did they know it was time to drop out? Below are the top five signs from successful dropout that you should consider dropping out of college.
1) You are depressed (with no history of depression)
“That was my breaking point – I wasn’t prepared to live my life unhappily just to fulfill this ‘American Dream’ or to climb whatever social/career ladder that everyone believes is the way to a successful life.” –Dropout To Flight Attendant (Read her story)
2) You have no motivation
“The classes and programs offered by my college did not match with my interests so I naturally became unmotivated in school.” –Dropout To Data Scientist (Read her story)
3) You feel powerless
“I felt I needed to make decisions for myself instead of being a subordinate to people who thought they knew what was best for me.” –Dropout To Author/Yoga Instructor (Read her story)
4) You have something better going
“Why was I doing it? I’d just helped sign my first multi-platinum rock act and I wasn’t about to go back to the dorms.” –Dropout To Digital Marketer (Read his story)
5) You hate it
“I lived in a dorm, bought the overpriced books, and went from class to class with an optimistic attitude. The optimism faded when I realized something: I f#*$ing hated it.” –Dropout To Fashion Designer/Author (Read her story)
This definitely isn’t an exhaustive list; there are a ton of reasons to opt out, stop out, or drop out of college. However, for me, it was a combination of the reasons listed above.
I don’t know anyone who regrets taking time away from school. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, definitely take some time off.
Worst case scenario:
- At the end of the year you decide you want to go back to school and call it a gap year.
- You’ve saved some money and gained some work/volunteer experience.
- You’re confident school is the right place for you to be.
Best case scenario:
- Your depression disappears
- You discover what motivates you
- You feel empowered
- You build a career
- You love your life
“What finally convinced me to go ahead was simply that I was so unhappy not going ahead.” – Steven Pressfield
About the writer: Casey is the creator of Killing College. On his blog, he chronicles his journey as a college dropout and argues that college is no longer the best option for young, motivated, and intelligent people.
For the past year, I’ve dedicated myself to learning many skills across different fields. I’ve learned to rock climb, design iOS apps, DJ, write sales copy, and hip-hop dance.
Along the way, I discovered several unexpected benefits of learning lots of different skills.
Whether you are just getting started in self education or want to eventually become a specialist, there is a lot of value in spending a few months to a year to learn many different skills.
You have a better idea of what you want to do with your life.
There’s an expectation built into the education system that we should know what we want to do with our lives by 18 or 19. But really, there are many 45 year olds with no idea what they want.
For those of us who haven’t stumbled across our life’s mission, the way to figure it out is by trying many different things — except most 18 and 19 year olds haven’t had the time to gain that many experiences.
This is a goal that college ostensibly fills, but fails at. The problem is, learning about a job is not the same as actually doing it. Only by trying a new skill or job can we really know if we will enjoy it or now. Because as Dan Gilbert showed in his book, Stumbling on Happiness we are terrible predictors of what will make us happy.
By trying many different things, you find out a lot about yourself. This gives you confidence once you begin to focus on one thing.
You can relate to more people.
Relationships form the bedrock of all success. To build relationships, you need to be able to relate to people — that is, have something in common with them.
The more fields you understand, the greater your chances of being able to relate to someone. Often, you’ll connect with someone over something unrelated to how you end up getting value out of that relationship. For instance, I connected with a friend of mine over DJing and a love for travel, and now we do business together.
Not only will being able to relate to more people make you more friends and connections, but it will also help you become more persuasive. Empathy is the core of copywriting and successful marketing. And whether you are in business or not, we’re all selling something, whether it’s convincing your parents that dropping out of college is a good idea, diffusing a fight with a friend, or getting a date.
You become a connector.
Upon arriving in Saigon, I met a fellow entrepreneur named Jeremy who also happened to be a local musician. He made a few valuable introductions and now I have some DJing opportunities lined up.
What just happened there? By having a foot in two different communities, Jeremy was able to make several valuable introductions for me.
The more communities you are tapped into, the more often you can provide this type of value to people. Learning new skills lets you relate to more people, which lets you have friendships in more communities.
So not only do you get to learn a cool new skill and meet other interesting people involved in that skill, you also have the chance to connect these interesting people to each other.
You become a fascinating person.
Here’s a secret about spending time with successful people: you don’t have to be successful yourself. You just have to be interesting.
After spending a few months learning in different areas, you’ll be fascinating. Not many people can switch from talking about trading Bitcoin to surfing in Indonesia to the science of smart drugs to what makes a good sales page. Your skills will be different, but that’s how you’ll be unique.
It’s a cliche for a reason: you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Being interesting helps ensure those five people are successful.
You become better at learning.
Learning quickly and effectively is a skill. And like any other skill, you get better at it the more you do it.
You probably already know that constant learning is key to success. But what if you could learn just 50% faster? How much of an impact would that make on your life?
There are principles about learning that you pick up when learning each skill that can be applied to other topics in the future.
For instance, I learned to row by watching hundreds of Olympic races and internalizing the technique of world-class rowers. I learned to design by diving in and through trial and error, comparing what I had designed to websites I knew were good.
When I learned to DJ, I combined these techniques, spending plenty of time ‘figuring it out’ through trial and error, but also time imitating the sets and techniques that were successful before.
Knowledge compounds. If you’ve ever tried to learn a new language, you might find yourself saying, “oh, this is just like ____ in English!”. The more your branches of knowledge you have to build off of, the more frequently you make these sorts of connections.
You can see the Matrix.
This is the biggest reason that specialists should spend time branching out.
The greatest breakthroughs of the last century have primarily happened at the cross section of several fields, where knowledge and ideas from one field were used to make a breakthrough in another. Much of Apple’s success could be attributed to their focus on design. But had Jobs not become interested in calligraphy, he may have never push design as a core value of the company.
Ken Wilber took this to the extreme, taking wisdom from dozens of fields, from Taoism to Physics to Politics, to create his Theory of Everything.
Seeing the big pictures makes you aware of the changes and shifts. This is where the opportunities are.
By Connor Grooms
Connor Grooms writes about how to learn any skill in one month at his blog, One Month Master.
Read more about Connor here.