I’ve been thinking about my university education and speculating. I spent five years of my life paying no small amount of money to read the same books I would read at home anyways, writing essays for teachers whose opinions of my writing seemed to vary greatly, and attending painful three-hour night lectures whose content has failed to stick in my brain. Considering that I’m an English and history major, it’s unforgivable that I couldn’t answer Jason’s recent question about the reason for the legal formation of Upper and Lower Canada. What was I paying for, anyways?
University education was always considered mandatory in my family. Both of my grandparents were the first in their families to attend university. I never doubted I’d go, though I didn’t want to when the time actually came. I just wanted to stay in Brazil but my panicking parents relentlessly broke down my resolve to join a forró band as an itinerant fiddle player and made me promise to come back for a single year of study at the University of Toronto. Once I’d started, I felt I had to finish, so my career as a Brazilian violinist never materialized.
Does anyone else find it frustrating, or even tragic, that so many young people spend the prime years of their single lives locked into an institution that molds their brains to whatever serves capitalism best? Because, honestly, universities nowadays are more like trade schools than centres of creative exploration. A lot of young people fall victim to the assumption that a university degree is the holy grail of success and must be pursued at all costs, personal interests and happiness notwithstanding. It doesn’t help that we get counselled by parents whose degrees from the 1970s did, in fact, open doors to fabulous career opportunities, but that’s not the case anymore. Bachelor’s degrees are a dime a dozen and MBAs are everywhere.
When Jason talks to his brother on the phone, he hears the same script repeating itself: “I’m unhappy in my job. I think I should go back to school and get my MBA.” He doesn’t know why, or what it would be for, or even what he wants to do afterwards. “Figure that out first,” Jason tells him, “because it’s one hell of an expensive experiment if you don’t know why you’re getting that MBA.”
I’ve come to believe that career success comes to those people who have the right interpersonal skills and a creative personality that can think outside the box, more so than the right credentials. When I look around at the people whose careers I envy the most, they are all self-made people who have used their brains, individuality, and innovativeness more than they’ve relied on a degree to get to where they are. They’re often the ones who, years later, have deviated from their university paths into areas of work that intrigue them but seemed too risky to study formally at the time.
Of course it’s necessary to have a degree in many situations, but a degree without life experience, without personal pizzazz, without ambition and dreams, without the ability to run with an idea and turn it into reality, without being a good communicator, is nothing more than an obscenely expensive piece of paper. Call me idealistic, but more people need to focus on what they love doing and pursue that, because trying to turn something that you dislike into a career is a bad idea from the start.
I didn’t need to go to university to become a writer, which is now what I want to be more than anything else in the world. University opened my eyes to an academic world I never want to be part of. It sucked the creativity completely out of my writing and turned me into a citation-obsessed, essay-writing robot. It’s taken two years of being out of that system to reclaim writing for myself. So, was it really a waste? I don’t know. No experience is a waste if something can be taken away from it, but talk about a pricey life lesson.