Who Really Needs to Go to College These Days? (Hint: It’s not aspiring doctors & lawyers)

I was on a first date and we were going to get dessert. My date asks, “So what are you passionate about?”

Cue existential crisis and frankly, sheer cringe.

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“Shoes. And lingerie,” I smiled. I told him earlier at dinner him about my business idea for a women’s shoe company. I also have a similar idea for lingerie and I do honestly love my 3 piece garter belt sets, whether other people get to see them or not.

Physically, this man was just my type from head to, well, head (if you know what I mean) and a perfect gentleman to boot. If I wasn’t about to drop out of college and move back home 700 miles away, I would have never risked responding with something so shallow to a “deep” question. Under most circumstances, I would’ve wanted to impress him. (But sidebar, you shouldn’t feel ashamed for your passions, even if most people would consider them shallow or stupid.)

Anyways, the reason this question made me cringe is that (no offense to my date) it seems deep on the surface but I think, beneath that surface is just more surface. It’s actually, in my opinion, such a basic question; it’s right on par with “What’s your favorite drink from Starbucks?”

Like a lot of things in life, this is a spectrum. Some people are complacent and chronic underachievers who want more but don’t want to do what it takes to get it. On the other side, we have what I call high-octanes (HOs for short 😜). These HOs are the high-powered, over-achiever, “Type A” sort of people. HOs are super passionate and super driven. They are the standard for success in society.

Anytime something becomes a societal standard (even especially standards in niche circles that purport themselves as counter-cultural) I think it best to take a step back and reevaluate these standards: Is this standard what I authentically desire for myself?

Societal standards are basic by default. And thus, HOs, and by extension, the passion ethos, have become basic. The passion ethos is the idea that in order to be professionally successful, you have to find your passion and capitalize on it, otherwise, you’ll be doomed to a life draining desk job and 40 years of misery.

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The passion ethos has become popular to the point of counter-productiveness. The ethos has caused “passion” to become a source of pressure. I think that this pressure stems from a false dichotomy because it assumes that there are only a couple of ways to make money and that to enjoy making money is the goal.

Finding your passion with the intent to make money from it is so overrated, IMHO. There are 7 ways to make money and you don’t have to be super duper passionate about most of them (or any of them really) to do well. It’s unfortunate that the school systems are optimized for only teaching one out of the seven avenues for making money. I think it really limits people’s options and not everyone is able to see past what we were taught as children and learn new paths.

Schools teach based on the assumption that earning money is the best/only/correct way to make money. And the thing about earned income is that it is the “best” in terms of reliability. It will work for 10/10 people (barring any disabilities) who follow the standard societal formula of school-college-job. Whether or not you’re happy is an afterthought, or at least it was until the passion ethos took over.

The passion ethos was born from that same assumption. The difference is that the passion ethos insists that you can bypass the drudgery of working a job if you are passionate about it and love what you do. The problem with this is that, in my view, no matter how much you love your job, work is still work and I think most of us would rather be doing something else besides working. Even if you do have an amazing job like a celebrity, celebrities may love to sing, dance, and act but they may not love the press tours, endless interviews with sometimes rude journalists, the fans who cross boundaries and treat celebs like public property, etc. But the press is part of the package. And the other thing about doing your “passion” to make money is that it adds certain stress, conscious or not, that taints or takes a bit away from the childlike purity of doing something simply out of enjoyment. Simply, an “I want to” becomes an “I have to.”

Another issue with earning money from a job is that based on a regular 8 hour work day, working takes up a third of your time (and technically, the same goes for sleep). If you spend 33.3% of your life (or possibly more) in bed, it makes sense to spend a lot of money on a bed and sheets that are as comfortable as possible. The passion ethos attempts to do the same thing for work; if you’re going to spend a third of your life working, you shouldn’t have to spend it in misery.

You can’t change the number of hours of sleep you need but you can change the number of hours you need to make money by changing how you make money.

There are 7 streams of income but I’m just going to talk about the most common one for now. Earned income is the type of income that comes from working. Whether you work for yourself or someone else, it’s still earned income. Earned income is what’s taught to us in schools- you go to school so you can get into a good college so you can get a good job and make money.

The main problems I have with earned income are that 1) it takes up about 33.3% of your life, 2) it’s kind of like the classic carrot on a stick scenario, and 3) it’s miserable. The thing about earned income is that it is directly related to how you spend your time. You put the hours in, and you get a paycheck at the end of the week. Beyond that, the promise of finally having free time in retirement is the carrot on that stick. My mom knows several people whose parent or grandparent died soon after officially retiring. And what’s good is a bunch of free time when you’re too old and achy to do anything other than to sit on the couch and read the paper all day?

People say that you don’t really need to go to college unless you want to be a doctor or lawyer or engineer or some profession that requires official licensure from the government. I suppose that’s true since you do need formal education to enter these professions, I think saying this misses the point. The people who should go to college are the people who wanted to make money through earned income. 

If you want a job, go to college. But let’s be real, who actually wants a job? How many of us would keep working a job if Bill Gates gave us all of his shares in Microsoft tomorrow and we became billionaires overnight?

I met a guy on Tinder who went to BU. After chatting for a while about our majors (his being aerospace engineering) he told me that he wanted to go to Mars and that it’s the only thing he wants in life. I find his aspiration admirable and I was impressed. I imagine he’ll end up working for NASA or SpaceX and I hope I get to him on CNN as the first Martian one day. As for myself, I could not say the same thing about finance.

This guy is the type of person who would stay in school and keep doing what he’s doing if he became a billionaire tomorrow. He is the type of person who should go to college. College shouldn’t just be for “doctors and lawyers” unless you actually want to be a doctor or a lawyer. And by “want to” I mean that you’d keep doctoring and lawyering even if you didn’t need the money or the social cachet or egotism that comes from those professions.

“I got a million ways to get it”

For the rest of us, there are a million ways to get it and you don’t have to be “passionate” about any of them to support yourself financially. Ok so technically, there are 7 types of ways to get it. But the only 2 that “require” passion are earned income and royalty/residual income. Earned income “requires” a passion for it so that you don’t spend 1/3 of your life miserable. Royalty/residual income comes from being an author, a musician selling records, actor, or content creator (ie blogger, YouTuber, someone who sells online courses) and passion is required for that because people can tell when you’re being inauthentic, if you’re not passionate about it chances are you won’t be any good at it, and it takes a lot of time and energy to create content.

So the majority of the streams of income, 5 out of the 7, really don’t require passion at all. The reason for this is that the other 5 don’t require exorbitant amounts of time or energy; the remaining 5 are about working “smarter, not harder.” On the long list of things I wish K-12 education taught me, this is at the top of the list.

So, this April if you find yourself trying to make a decision about college and you know for a fact that you don’t want a degree and you don’t want to make money through earned income, don’t go. Save yourself the money and don’t go. Or do. Do go and have fun if you can afford to not take out loans for at least the first year. Otherwise, if you do stay and you find yourself wanting to drop out, it’s going to be a lot harder to leave school and pursue what you want with thousands of dollars of debt looming over your head.


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