Bill Gates famously dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft. Before teaming up with Steve Wozniak to start Apple, Steve Jobs left Reed College during his second semester and traveled through India and dropped acid. And we all know that Mark Zuckerberg started The Facebook at Harvard before leaving early to follow his entrepreneurial dream in California.
This all comes to mind as my wife and I have just returned from the East coast after dropping our youngest daughter off at college (boo hoo!) and I have some words of advice (and maybe even a little wisdom) for her and all of the other college kids out there who dream of one day starting their own special venture or otherwise making it big.
Stay in school.
Stay in school as long as you can.
The reason is that, despite the anomalous tales above, if you want to maximize your potential, if you want to get smarter, if you want to be well-rounded, if you want to learn how to think critically and how to write well (and you do), if you want to look good to those first few employers, if you want to end up around people who are smart and talented and who will get that you too are smart and talented, then stay in school.
Look, work, if you find the right work, is great. To me of course, starting one’s own business is the best sort of work there is. But even so, let’s face it: Work is called work for a reason. And you will have plenty of time to work. You can and likely will work for 50 years. But you won’t have plenty of time for school. If you ever think of dropping out, even if you think you will go back, even if you promise your mom that you will, most people don’t once they leave college. (Exception: In 2002, Steven Spielberg got his degree 33 years after dropping out. He turned in Schindler’s List as his student film project.)
There are all sorts of reasons people usually stay out once they drop out: They may meet a mate, start a family, buy a home, start a business, etc., and it all requires money, and money requires working and not studying.
Moreover, going back to school, even if you can afford it, is tough when everyone is ten or twenty years younger than you. As The Byrds famously sang:
To everything - turn, turn, turn
There is a season - turn, turn, turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap . . .
If you are in your 20s, it is time to go to school and learn.
But even beyond that, school for its own sake is a rare gift. Later on, you won’t easily get the chance to study, for instance, “Global Freud” as my daughter signed up to do today. School makes you smarter, and if you want to get ahead in life, smarter is better.
College also allows you to make mistakes – and you will make mistakes. But the cool thing is, the mistakes you tend to make in college are smaller and less impactful than the mistakes you can and will make once you are outside of that protective womb. Learning how to deal with adversity in the nurturing environment of a university is something that will serve you well later on.
And, if you can figure out a way to go on to graduate school, I say do that too. Although I do not practice law anymore, it wasn't until I got that degree that I 1) was able to get published because people took me more seriously, and 2) was able to start a real business because I had a skill I could sell.
So, sweet Mara, enjoy the ride. Soak up the wonderful opportunity you created for yourself. Meet some great people. Learn something new and discover something about yourself that you never knew. Make some mistakes. Have a blast.
But stay in school. You have plenty of time to make your mark later, once you are done (and, if possible, on the West coast, OK?).