The following are approximately the first 1000 words from Chapter 4 of Jonar Nader’s book,
How to Lose Friends and Infuriate Your Boss.
The early bird catches the bookworm
For years, I have been a critic of commercialised education, saying that studying at university is, more often than not, a waste of time for those who go there in the ‘hope’ that they might find a direction. Unless they have a specific purpose for obtaining particular qualifications, students are likely to regret their actions. This chapter outlines salient points about how education relates to personal development. It points the way to a satisfying and rewarding career — with or without the help of formal education.
The first step is to acknowledge that no level of qualification is useful for prospective students, until they know the direction that they want to take. Alas, most students approach this problem in reverse, attending a university to find a direction. Such a process is futile. Tertiary studies ought to fuel existing passions, not ignite new passions. Studying a subject merely to seek a qualification, so as to impress employers or peers, is not being true to oneself.
Any criticism levelled at education does not pertain to learning. Fostering an inquiring mind and learning how to develop (and later to feed) an insatiable appetite for knowledge ought to be the second-most urgent pursuit of the intelligent being.
Our uneducated pioneers
Many of the products and technologies that we use today were given to us by uneducated pioneers.
At your next social gathering, ask your friends this question: ‘Think of the ten major inventions or developments of all time that you would deem to have been the most important for society’s progress.’ Perhaps each of the ten would have been given to us by pioneers who, if lined up today, would not pass a basic university entrance examination. In their day, they might not even have been respected citizens.
Imagine attending a concert where you are entertained by sixty leading musicians performing some of the most energising music you have heard. How would you react to being told that the composer does not read music? It seems impossible that such a person can compose breathtaking masterpieces for a sixty-piece orchestra! One such musician is Yanni Chryssomallis.
Who says that Yanni has to read sheet music? Which came first, music notation or music composition? Surely notation and sheet music reflect what musicians do best so that the rest of the world can learn from their talent.
Beethoven composed music while completely deaf, yet many of us would expect that hearing is a prerequisite for composing and performing. We need to adjust our understanding of what it means to be an expert of our craft.
Leading-edge thinkers are years ahead of educators in institutions. Thinkers go about their business by innovating, devising, inventing, building, and paving the way so that other people can benefit from better products and improved processes.
Universities do not create brilliant people. They merely seek the knowledge that brilliant people possess, and re-package it in the form of information. The recent information-technology industry that has changed many aspects of our life (and kept the economy buoyant) was propelled by non-graduates. Universities could not keep up with what these innovators developed. School dropouts were innovative, so universities rushed to observe what was going on. Entire faculties were built to capture the fury of an emerging industry. The innovators were the inspired and talented, not necessarily the university-educated.
Nowadays we are hearing more about the importance of ‘knowledge’. The slogan ‘knowledge is power’ is misleading. Knowledge is not in itself power. Rather, power comes from the application of knowledge.
The grand illusion
Many students are under the grand illusion that they can ‘become something’, merely by undertaking the appropriate course. When they make a decision about the profession they want to pursue, they genuinely believe that all they have to do is get the right marks, apply to a university, and if they are lucky enough to be selected, they can be on their way to reaching their goal.
We live in a world of ‘instant gratification’ whereby we want answers and pleasures immediately. We expect to see results straight away. We are impatient when we go in search of joy and ecstasy. We dislike waiting for medication to work, and we expect speedy recoveries. We want paint to dry instantly, and we want beauty products to enhance our features without delay. Yet, strangely enough, there are still some things for which we are prepared to wait. For example, many people are prepared to go through tiresome routines and long time-frames to attain a goal. Prepared to work hard all year at a job that they do not particularly like, they wait patiently for a holiday, thinking that eleven months of misery can be alleviated by four weeks away at a resort.
It is with the same perverse sense of delayed fulfilment that people are prepared to invest years into tertiary education, hoping that they will eventually find an excellent job. They also believe that the more they study, the more likely they will find employment in an exciting industry, working for an innovative company. This is the promise that many students want to believe in — just like we all want to believe in the perfect marriage and the blissful loving relationship. Unfortunately, the problem with following such a dream is that by the time we find out that we have been misled, it is often too late to reclaim our energy and our youth. Seeking job-satisfaction by undertaking tertiary education is often a gamble. Gambling life away with idealistic fantasies at education institutions that paint rosy pictures, is folly.
Interestingly, institutions espouse the benefits of education, yet they are not responsible for delivering on the promises they make. There are no guarantees. There is no recourse at the end if you find that you do not have an advantage after all.
The modern rationale for tertiary studies
Students have many reasons for attending college, not dissimilar to the varied reasons why some people attend church. Their faith might draw them to worship with their community. Some attend for social reasons, others attend out of habit, or because their parents force them to go. Some might be there to steal a glimpse of their sweetheart. They might pursue their religious activities out of hope, fear, guilt, or custom. Some churchgoers attend for the sake of their partner or children; others attend with neither a sense of purpose, nor conviction, but through obligation or indifference.