I barely graduated high school with a 1.7 GPA. I never made it past basic algebra and I didn’t take the SATs or any other college-admissions test.
While most of my friends went to school out of town, I gave up my hosting job at a restaurant and started working at a clothing store.
During that time, I attended one half-assed semester of local community college. It lasted three months. My economics professor told me all I had to do to pass the class was turn in the final assignment. I didn’t even show up that day.
A couple years went by and I got a job at a health club wiping down machines, re-stocking towels, and changing the soap in the men’s locker room.
I was 22 years old, living in the same town I grew up in, with no college education, cleaning sweat off of treadmills.
This is the part where you may expect me to say I pulled my shit together, that I hit a point where I said, dammit, I’m not gonna live like this. The part where I started to turn my life around. Well, that never happened. I never had an epiphany like that.
I knew I was on the right track.
Back then if “someone important” would have looked at me on paper — at my jobs, my GPA, my lack of college — they’d probably think I was a loser destined to a shitty life of minimum-wage jobs. And that would be a fair judgement, based on the sheer amount of evidence.
But they would have missed a few things.
They would have missed the two years I wrote a weekly sports column for my city’s newspaper while in high school. They would have missed me reading strength and health books during math class, and the 40 pounds of muscle I gained in the weight room. They would have missed my job as editor of the community college newspaper for that one lonely semester. They would have missed the day where I randomly emailed the former fitness director of Men’s Health magazine and told him I wanted his job. And the day I took out a $1,200 loan to fly across the country to attend a fitness seminar. And the day where I started my blog. And the day where I started training clients in between wiping off the treadmills.
They would have missed it all because they would have been looking in the wrong place, comparing my shitty grades to the rest of my class and basing my future worth and earnings on those numbers.
I’m telling you this because there’s a lesson and an opportunity here.
The lesson is this: Education isn’t restricted to the classroom. The hallowed halls of Whatever College are not the only place where you can learn. What most people won’t tell you is that you can get education on your own by doing things. By trying stuff out. You can learn a lot by taking risks and connecting with other people who have taken risks before you.
And this education — what some call “street smarts” — may just be more helpful in the real world than a piece of paper.
College, I’m told, is a wonderful place for discovery and learning and building life-long relationships. That’s fantastic. And if that’s why you’re in college — or why you went — then I understand. It sounds fulfilling and exciting.
But if you’re in college with no clear direction and no clear goal other than “It’s what I’m supposed to do” — if you’re in any situation with no clear goal or objective, for that matter — I challenge you to ask yourself why. Is it really the place for you right now? Or could you get an even better education by investing in yourself and taking some chances?
You can always go back to college (or back to the job or back to whatever). But you can’t get back lost years of your life.
I’m not suggesting you drop out if you’re currently in college. And I’m not suggesting you go to college if you’re not sure if it’s for you. It’s up to you to do that critical thinking.
But whatever you do, make sure you learn something. Make sure you take control of your education — however you get it — and use it to build a life worth living.
Because isn’t that the whole point?