I never had the luxury of being just a full-time student. I had to work between school hours to survive. Luckily, I found a job while in college that allowed me to work late hours. I could pay for rent, bills, and necessities — but I didn’t have much time to study outside of school.
I was making enough money, and I eventually started getting business calls while I was in class. So I decided to quit school and grow my business full time. I couldn’t figure out how I was ever going to make money anyway if I had to pay down the debt I would accrue going to college. (The average debt of students who graduated in 2016 is more than $37,000.)
The idea is to go to college and take your education into a great job. However, I never would have made it as a salesman without having gone door to door and gained some real-world experience. It taught me more about dealing with different personalities from different walks of life than I ever would have learned in a classroom.
Don’t get me wrong: I strongly believe that, for some people, pursuing a higher education is absolutely the right thing to do. For me, however, being exposed early to the ebbs and flows of working in the real world was the best education I could have received. I’m not alone, either.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fewer than 20 percent of U.S. companies actually require employees to have a bachelor’s degree. They understand that a formal education doesn’t always provide students with the leverage they need to be exceptional employees — and more and more employers are leaving degree and experience requirements off of job postings. As I found out firsthand, a non-traditional path can be especially valuable for entrepreneurs.
How to Go Against the Grain
My advice to budding entrepreneurs is to make a decision. No one can make the decision for you, so it’s worth taking the time to thoroughly understand why you want to be an entrepreneur and what it will take to succeed. Once the decision is made, it’s important to focus on building toward that goal, and these three strategies can help immensely:
1. Surround yourself with experience.
One of the best ways to learn about running a business in your field of interest is to surround yourself with the right people: those who do, live, and breathe what you’re trying to achieve. Choose a mentor, and take note of what his or her daily life is like, as well as how that person surmounts challenges, arranges his or her schedule, allocates resources, and more. Test the waters by seeing how that person exists in the same space you’re thinking of occupying.
2. Set clear, specific goals.
I was lucky to figure out early in life that entrepreneurship was what I wanted and that it would be worth any effort. I was young, though, so if my business failed (as half of them do) I had few responsibilities and plenty of time to bounce back. Venturing out meant securing funding and having the tenacity to believe in myself when 100 people told me no. Traditional or non-traditional methods don’t matter as much if you know what you’re chasing; the way you get there isn’t as important as the endpoint you want to reach.
3. Don’t stop learning.
Choosing a path outside of formal education doesn’t mean you’re choosing to stop learning. In fact, most successful entrepreneurs invest their time in building up knowledge and learning new skills that will help them build and grow better businesses. If you lack technical skills, take coding classes at a local trade school. Even if you never get a bachelor’s degree for it, the lessons you learn will tangibly impact your success.
Not everyone is cut out for a traditional 9-to-5 job, and not everyone is cut out for the educational path that typically leads to one. I didn’t have to work a typical job to know that I wasn’t meant for it. If you feel the same, these tips can help set you on the more fulfilling path of entrepreneurship that you’ve been considering.