What I Learned from 3 Years at University (That Has Nothing to Do with My major)

I just finished my last exam at university ever. I’ve spent the last 3 years studying for an accounting degree and today it comes to an end.

During that time, however, I must say I’ve learned a few things. While I will not be able to recall to you what I learned about accounting as that was memorized and forgotten in the span of 24 hours.

I can tell you about the lessons I learned on life, formal education, and the new age of work in that time.

Here we go.

The Most Valuable Things You’ll Learn in Life Will Not Be Taught at School

Despite spending sixteen or more years in them, anything that’s going to yield returns over a lifetime (outside of a work context) will probably not be learned in a classroom.

I’ve found that I’ve learned more practical life skills in the past year from reading a lot of good books and writing online than I did from 3 years of higher education.


Because formal education and learning are in fact, two very different things.

You cannot say you’ve learned something after reading a textbook or listening to a lecturer read off a PowerPoint slide because real learning is not something that’s done to you, but something you experience.

If you’re not changing how you act and engage yourself in the world, then you’re not really learning. You’re just filling your brain with junk and actually getting nowhere.

Thus, anyone who thinks learning is only done in the confines of a classroom probably isn’t going to amount too very much. The whole world is a place to learn from and it’s your duty to teach yourself.

Similarly, bestselling author, Ryan Holiday has said,

“If you ask most smart or successful people where they learned their craft, they will not talk to you about their time in school. It’s always a mentor, a particularly transformative job, or a period of experimentation or trial and error.”

Don’t Fight For the Middle. There’s too Much Competition

Getting a job when coming out of university/college is no easy task. You and everyone else who graduates in your field is trying to get the same position you as that’s all you’ve been trained for.

Thus, your best option is also thousands of other people’s best option.

To add to that, many people have devoted their lives to getting good grades while participating in extracurricular activities that look good on a resume.

This is not only bizarre, but it’s also absolutely insane. Why would you spend some of the best years of your life in the pursuit of little numbers, symbols, and letters that supposedly represent where you’re heading in life?

We need to stop competing with the masses for an ordinary life, and instead, pick ourselves. We need to create our own destiny, our own paths, and our own definitions of success.

That’ll be a heck of a lot more fulfilling, and ironically, it’ll actually be whole a lot easier.

As Tim Ferriss wrote in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek,

“It’s lonely at the top. 99% of people are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most competitive.”

The Economy Has Resigned the Old Offer of How to Make a living

The deal used to be: give up 3 years of your life (or more), incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, do as you’re told, get decent grades, and you’ll be set for life.

While that might have been a very good bargain to enter into 20–30 years ago. Only half of it still holds today, and that is the half where you give up 3 years of your life and incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

The other half of the offer has been resigned. The economy has said, “No, we don’t need any more complaint cogs. We already have enough of those and not enough jobs. We need people who are passionate, who want to create something meaningful, and are willing to carve their own paths.”

Yet, schools continue to churn out more and more graduates who are looking for a map.

Why? Because there’s still a supply of students who are looking for that sort of education. Parents insist on their kids going to college without realizing how little it’s changed in comparison to how drastically the economy and the world of work has changed.

Said James Altucher,

“We’re in an idea-based economy and a skill-based economy, not a certificate-based economy”

Schools Are an Unethical Business

After a time, it became very clear to me that schools are a business and an unethical one at that. They are stealing peoples time, money, and dreams.

We used to dream of living lives filled with adventure and excitement. We wanted to be sport-stars, rock-stars, or billionaires, but now those dreams have been replaced with the industrialists’ dream.

Dreams of climbing up the corporate ladder, sitting in a corner office, and of all things; having a secretary.

And I know it’s not by nature that’s kid dream of these things, in their idealism, kids want to make a big impact. They want leave their mark on the world, and they want to do something with importance and meaning.

It’s simply that years of propaganda from schools, society, and parents has convinced kids they must trade their dreams of making an impact for an education on how to live a predictable life.

It’s come to a time where someone needs to take responsibility and give the kids their lives back. We don’t need any more compliant factory workers.

Once wrote Seth Godin,

School is a factory, and the output of that factory is compliant workers who buy a lot of stuff. These students are trained to dream small dreams.

In Conclusion

“Some people get an education without going to college; the rest get it after they get out.” -Mark Twain

It feels a bit like I’ve just got done with a prison sentence. I did the time, paid the price, and now I can get on with the rest of my life. The only difference is I was always free to go.

There are some things I wish I’d seen earlier, and some different choices I wish I’d made. But ultimately, the journeys made me who I am, and I just hope to warn others about the dangers of going down the same path.

We’re in the 21st century and the economy no longer rewards those who are looking for a safe and predictable route, but rather, those who are willing to stick their head out, create their own paths, and do something meaningful.

We have to question if we’re going to allow schools to continue churning out dumbed down, instruction seeking young adults, or if we’re going to request that they deliver what the new economy really needs — adaptive and self-motivated individuals?

Because right now, the system is beneficial to only one group of people — the schools.