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What to Do if You Can’t Afford School

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In the recent article about the real purpose of school, you may have gotten a glimpse of my point of view as it pertains to college. While I am not anti formal education, I am a firm believer that someone’s lack of formal education is no excuse for not being successful. I, myself, am living proof that not going to college had no bearing on my success on any level. While it is true that there are more successful people who hold a college degree vs successful people who do not, I also question what success means to those who make that statement.

If success is defined to you as a job slaving away for someone else and being content that some monkey you call a boss (who doesn’t know half the shit you do) decides every year if you get a 1-2% increase, then by all means stop reading.

To me, success is more defined by someone’s ability to overcome their fears and live free of having to do something because they are told to, but rather because they choose to.

Regardless of what you want, there is still a way to get there even if you cannot afford a formal education past high school. You’ll need to have these 4 things figured out as quickly as possible, or you might feel trapped.

1) Have a destination, even if its vague.

When I graduated high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life nor did I even know where I wanted to work. All I knew was that I wanted to live a good life, and I wasn’t afraid to work for it. That was enough for me start doing something and start heading in the right direction.

If you want a better life, it usually means you need money and that comes to you for two reason: 1) You are really great at doing something, or 2) you simply work very hard till you become very good at doing something.

Either ways, the outcome is the same so if you don’t know what you are good at, start becoming really good at everything you do and you will eventually see a pattern that works for you and help you identify what you should be doing.

I got a job at a bank, but I didn’t understand finance, nor did I care for management, but I knew I was a great sales person since I had spent the past 5 years working in various sales and management positions at a remodeling company. I knew that if I worked really hard selling, while I learned everything else, it would eventually come together.

So instead of worrying about what I wasn’t good at, I focused on bringing the most value to those around me through what I did best so no one paid attention to the fact that I was still learning everything else. The idea was I was moving forward, not standing still.

This is something you must learn to do as unlike others with a fancy diploma, your experience and ability to shine is the only thing you have and that can’t be framed on a wall.

2) Position your growth, not your income.

Whatever you do, do not take jobs just because of what they pay or you will end up stuck in places that drain you and slow you down. Accept the fact that many employers are going to lowball you or tell you that you don’t have a degree so you have to start at a lower rank. Both are fine and if you know that the place you are applying is the place you will be able to grow to a more senior position or will teach you and give you valuable experiences that can position you for the next step, then that’s where you should go.

Don’t take the job you don’t see a future in because it pays $1-2 more per hour.

I had many opportunities to jump ship and switch banks, careers even, while I was in corporate America, but I chose to always stick around instead of chasing money. That resulted in 6 promotions in 3 years and a 300%+ increase in my original salary which was because I strategically positioned myself for growth, rather than a buck.

In other words, don’t argue to earn an extra 2% in your pay, focus on moving to the next role. Don’t be that jackass that says, I don’t think I would like the next role, so I am not interested in moving up.

People who say that are people who don’t know what to do to move up. If you have an opportunity to increase your title to a higher level, even if without pay increases, do so and do your absolute best at the role. That title may be worth $35K to that company but it is worth twice that to another, especially if very experienced.

In most organizations, you’ll actually see random pay increases occur when people see you doing great job knowing that you are underpaid. This occurs not out of love and compassion but rather because the idiots that employ you don’t want to lose you to their competitors.

3) Be flexible, remain uncomfortable.

Since this is most likely one of your first attempts at real long term success, remember that any organization you work for will ask you to do things you don’t like or change rules on you often and make your work conditions annoying. Large organizations don’t give a shit about you, they never will and they never have but the best way to ensure you keep moving up and reaching a new level within the organization is to become a change agent.

While most people at the organization will feel entitled and want to nag each and every time something or some process changes, simply make sure you are the exact opposite. Instead, immediately understand the upcoming change and comply, and even go one step further and share best practices to navigating that change.

By constantly remaining uncomfortable, you will be more flexible and you will get noticed more.

4) Don’t miss the opportunities you have, but time yourself well.

The reason why I recommend you to work for others straight out of high school if you can’t go to college or even simultaneously while going to college, is because you are able to beef up your resume, your work history, your title and rank level and are able to create a foundation to fall back on should your take on entrepreneurship and fail.

Think about those who do hold a college degree, they look at that as their entry point but they can always use that to showcase their commitment to something for 4 years. What do you think holds more weight? A college education for 4 years or 4 years as the regional manager of retail chain. Both have weight but experience comes with a past salary history, work ethic, and references.

Once you built that foundation for yourself, you have now made yourself the same foundation having a degree can have for someone. In other words, you substituted the very same thing you couldn’t afford to get but you did it without accumulating debt, and got paid along the way to do it. Now comes the real challenge or taking leaps of faith into the right opportunities at the right time.

Knowing you can come back to the same type of role or even the same organization you worked at, look for opportunities to start a side business, be part of a start-up, or completely dive in and start a business.

The goal is to move forward and if you did that in the past 4 years then you are now 4 years ahead of someone graduating college. Now that leap was an indicator to move to the next step and gain that experience early on as well.

I had 3 side businesses before I leaped to a full time one and gave up a very handsome 6 figure salary for it. I did so because I knew that no matter how nice the place I worked was or how amazing my office was, it was never really in my own hands. Some other monkey as I said earlier could at any time choose for me the outcome of my life.

I encourage you to spend the 4 years away from college learning just as much through becoming amazing at everything you do, becoming as curious as you can by exposing yourself to many positions, different jobs and networking amongst people very early on.

As I break down in Third Circle Theory, master the second circle (society) so that you can break free of the daily grind that always repeats itself and instead focus on your very own long term picture because everyday you do, you are one step closer to building your dreams, not someone else’s.