Living Life in a Funnel
When I was growing up, my parents put a lot of emphasis on the importance of our education. I remember the repetition vividly, even if it doesn’t feel important to you now, know that you need a college degree to fall back on. My younger sisters both embraced this philosophy and coasted their way through the educational ladder and even completed their PhDs well before they were even close to turning thirty.
My route contained a lot more bumps. A combination of teenage rebellion and having absolutely no idea of what to do with my life apart from becoming wealthy. My parents tried everything, from tutoring to homework support classes. The more they tried, the more I resisted, and all their efforts mostly resulted in a complete waste of money.
By the time I started college, I had come around and found the discipline to take responsibility for my education myself. I still didn’t have a clue what I wanted in life, so I chose a field so generic that I at least, in theory, could do anything. I mean, apart from becoming a medical doctor and such.
Five years later, I finished college with a master’s degree.
As I entered the job market, I became aware that besides having a degree, I still had a lot to learn. Yet at the same time, there was the pressure of putting my education to good use and perhaps a bit of entitlement that came along with it.
After all, I did everything right, right?
The Paradigm Shift
Little did I know that the concept of education as a stepping stone has become outdated. There are no guarantees, and in this day and age, there are far more people competing for a similar spot in society.
A study published by RMIT University, in Melbourne, Australia, went into this development at length and analyzed the growth in college enrolment rates across the globe over a forty-five-year span, as depicted in the table below. Also, they forecast these numbers only to increase further.
An explanation for the staggering growth in higher education enrolment rates is the fact that the world economy has doubled in size between 1990 and 2016. Yet, there is another explanation that should not be overlooked.
That reason being is that for the first time, a generation will likely experience less economic prosperity than their parents. To ensure children will at least maintain their position in society, parents increase spending on education. After all, education played an important factor in achieving their own goals.
In the US, this intensive parenting phenomenon has significantly increased the spending gap in annual spending on education and childcare between the rich and poor.
When zooming in on other individual countries, we find a similar pattern. In the Netherlands, where I live, one in every three high school students receives some form of tutoring. The high tutoring rate mostly stems from parents that are not willing to accept that their child is of average intelligence and their willingness to go at great lengths to make sure their children get into college. They have to be remarkable, just to keep up.
The Value of a Degree
To me, it seems that the college route just for the sake of getting a degree is more than anything about comfort than fulfillment.
The thought that goes into what you want to learn is overlooked. There is a difference in learning for a specific purpose and going to school.
If you’re a doctor, dentist, even lawyer, you should have a degree. It matters because you are trained in a field in which you work. For many other professions, though, it’s not as relevant.
A degree in business will not teach you business acumen. I know this because I have a degree in business, and it hasn’t taught me anything of the sort.
I’ve learned far more through on the job training and seeking out courses and educational programs next to my full-time job.
Some will say that getting through college says something about a person’s character, to buckle down, persevere, and get that degree. To those, I would say, well yeah, if you come from an unprivileged background, be the first one in your family to break the cycle and all that. But really, not if you’re from a stereotypical middle-class suburban background, then it’s just something you do. Why? Because everybody does.
Education can be a great stepping stone towards a better life. Yet, for a lot of people in my generation (Millenials), we’re just trying to catch up.
We’re playing a game of loss aversion and are told we’re entitled. Even though this might be true in some form, it’s most likely the result of what we are told, that there is something better in store for us if we focus on doing our best in school and fulfill our potential.
Isn’t it so that working towards a goal will bring you fulfillment. But what if, we’ve reached such a level of comfort already that it’s impossible for the current generations to attain a similar level of fulfillment by going after the same goals their parents had. Where the previous generation reached an entirely new level, the current generation’s level of comfort is already saturated, and only catching up instead of progressing. Isn’t it possible that this makes Millenials more prone to anxiety, burnouts, etcetera?
It seems that a lot of unhappiness stems from the desire to be original but from within the confined comfort space. This leaves little room to maneuver.
We have reached a point where the best possible outcome is to have a breakdown.
Speaking from personal experience, doing everything right started to feel very wrong because the choices I made lead me to become more and more risk-averse and hung up on safety and comfort.
I have come to a point in my life where I find it challenging to make decisions that lead me outside the guided path, yet I’m questioning the path itself more and more.
What’s the alternative?
Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. All I know is that, as a father, I’ll refrain from the intensive parenting approach. I will not push my children from one tutoring class to another or emphasize the importance of a college education as the only way they’ll ever achieve anything in life.
To anyone else, I would say, spend more time exploring what’s important to you and don’t expect a college education to do that for you. Because, without knowing what you’re after, you can end up feeling stuck.
As for me, I’ll continue to take an active approach in continuous learning and work on not letting comfort get in the way of achieving my goals.