A few weeks ago, I shared lunch with a very good friend of mine and over the course of about two hours we talked about nearly everything on our minds, but one thing really stood out. He was about to graduate and I am only a semester away from finishing school and we both shared the same feeling about what it meant to be a “college graduate.” An almost lack of enthusiasm. It seemed odd to the both of us that every semester, a few thousand students would walk away with the same stamp of approval from the university, but yet have drastically different experiences.

What actually makes an individual smart and interesting? Is it the number of diplomas that they have or the number of courses that they have taken? Of course not. My friend and I both studied different flavors of engineering and as we looked back at the courses that we took in those four years, we struggled to even recall what some of them were about or why we were required (read: forced) to even study certain topics. This stuck with me.

So why do we get college degrees? What is the relevance of what you study and the job that you actually secure? Most of the time, zippo. When a job posting states that a “BS is required,” it usually just implies that the company is seeking a candidate with a specific skillset, a tenacity to complete a long winded goal, and a personality to boot. However, that doesn’t come across on a resume. A diploma is a convenient categorization tool for recruiters to find employees when sifting through piles of resumes. But there is one big problem: employers require skills, not degrees.

I am not suggesting that a college degree is not worth anything, far from it. The breadth of learning that can be accomplished while in school is incredible. Formal education is hugely important. Trust me, I don’t want a college-dropout surgeon who decided that medicine school “wasn’t for him” to operate on me. What I am suggesting is that there are distinctly different learning paths and both should be explored in depth. Learn new skills that you may not learn in school and do it not only because it may help you land a sweet new job, but because you will become a more well-rounded and interesting person.

I encourage you to join me on a journey this year. A journey of learning, but not in the typical sense. Harness that inner curiosity that you typically silence for a fear of embaressment or failure. Let’s try a different type of learning.

Unschooling Yourself

Unschooling yourself is more a change in mentality. An eagerness to learn outside of the classroom or workplace. I share with you some suggestions that I believe may aid you in this process. Whether you are far out of school or still in school, these suggestions will still apply.

1. “I wish I could…“

We have all been there. Envious of a friend or family member that has a skill you wish you had. Here is an often forgotten secret: you are perfectly capable of doing it too! Write these instances down and save them. Review them frequently and make strides towards achieving them. A very talented friend of mine has compiled a few resources that may help achieveing goals. A very important aspect of this list is that it does not have to be related to the field of study or line of work that you are in. The process of learning new skills is highly non-linear and chaotic, which brings out a tenacity that will directly impact your professional career. Here is the list I made.

2. Brag about your mistakes

Vulnerability is a natural fear of all humans. If you don’t believe me, a much smarter lady named Brené Brown can explain with her TED talk. Bragging about your mistakes seems counterintuitive, but when practiced you will see how impactful it can be. Be bold and reach for one of the goals you have listed. When you fail at it (which you will), tell someone close to you all about it. Simply sharing your story will release fear. You will be shocked by the support you get from your network.

3. Stop comparing yourself to others

You remember that friend that you were jealous of? Just because they inspired you to learn a new skill does not mean you need to be as good as them at it. Be yourself and enjoy what you set out to do. Look at them for motivation, but never knock yourself for not being able to do as they do.

4. Read. Read. Read.

I can’t stress this enough. Books, magazines, blogs, Twitter feeds, newspapers, whatever! Just read it. Dive into it and avoid the urge to skim. You may even find a few reads surrounding the goals you wrote down. Try using the internet productively, rather than aimlessly stalking friends on Facebook or playing Trivia Crack.

5. Write about it

Throughout this journey, you should practice writing about your experiences. I began writing once a month surrounding three things:

  • What went right last month
  • What went wrong last month
  • What I learned

Make this writing a habitual part of your life and it will hold you accountable to keep expanding your horizons. I find myself wanting to explore new things almost because I know I will have nothing to write about unless I do so. It is an accountability loop that you can produce all by yourself.

6. Just Show Up

I saved the most important for last. This is the essential ingredient for learning outside of the academic environment. Two years ago, I had the opportunity to go to an event that I was somewhat intimidated by. An event called Startup Weekend. A jam-packed weekend of learning the first steps of launching a startup, which I partially credit with the motivation that made me dive further into the idea of working at a tiny company. The people you meet, the things you see and the challenges you may encounter by simply stepping out of your comfort zone and showing up in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar faces. This goes for pursuing the goals you wrote down above. Just show up…who knows what could happen!

I wrote this. I showed up.

I will leave you with a quote.

“Don’t let schooling interfere with your education. -Mark Twain”