As a career coach, I can’t tell you how many times I meet people who are deeply curious. They want to investigate a new field, a new line of work, ro a new trade but they’re paralyzed by the fear that they don’t have enough education. To compensate, they jump online and start looking at going back to school only to realize that they either can’t afford it or don’t have the time.

Sound familiar? I can totally relate. When I was finishing college, I found myself struggling with the pressure to go straight to grad school. “If you don’t go now, you’ll never go,” many well-meaning professors told me. The people who knew I loved learning joked that I would never stop going to school. In their minds, it was the only way they could make sense of my insatiable curiosity.

I quickly came to believe that going to school was the only way I could learn.

For many of us, our lives and career paths have been full of learning, just not the conventional way (i.e., in school). The trick is learning how to identify those moments and turn them into assets for your job search. I’d bet that once you take an inventory of all your experience, you’ll realize you don’t need to go back to school because you already have the experience you need to get what you want.

According to the 70-20-10 model of adult development, only ten percent of our learning comes from formal education. An additional 20 percent comes from relationships, similar to the kind we form through mentoring, conducting informational interviews and collaborating with others at work. And, a whopping 70 percent comes from experience: learning that occurs on the job from doing things, making mistakes and learning from them.

Unfortunately, I didn’t know this when I graduated from college. So I absorbed the terrible advice and off I went to to grad school. I bounced between two different programs before walking away three years later with 16 credit hours, almost ten thousand dollars in debt, and no degree. But here’s the real clincher: higher education couldn’t give me what I really needed at the time, which was clarity about who I was.

This experiment taught me that formal education is good, but it’s not the only way to learn. The knowledge and clarity I needed I could only get through experience, relationships, and trial-and-error.

After a few years working and gaining that kind of perspective, I found clarity and went back to grad school. I started and finished a master’s program in industrial and organizational psychology and loved it.  

So if you went to college, heck if you have three degrees, or if you only finished high school, my message for you is the same: don’t ever think that learning is over or out of reach for you.  

In fact, think about the total opposite: this wild adventure of learning is never over.

Maybe more formal education fits with your goals and that’s great. But if you’re rushing to register for classes because you’re anxious about not being credible enough, keep in mind the best “secondary degree” you can get is probably coming to you in dozens of small ways through the various experiences of life.

How can you tune into the relationships, opportunities, and projects unfolding around you that could prove to be your best teachers yet?



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