I’ve watched hundreds of young people launch incredible careers in top jobs at top companies making great money and loving what they do. I’ve seen them move to cities they love, build a life of meaning and independence, and become total rock stars in their field.
They’ve done this with no college degree; many times winning jobs that “require” one, and going on to hire and manage indebted, degreed peers who are four to five years behind them in the professional world and struggling.
Despite this success and self-actualization, there is one area they struggle with for the first few years, sometimes longer: explaining themselves to their family.
Friends and family rarely have the attention to learn what Product Management is, what your company does, why you’re so good at it, or the future opportunities your network is making possible. Those are individual pieces of your life and they don’t know how to put them together.
They want a story. A quick, easy to understand story.
In fact, an incorrect, inaccurate story told about a person who’s struggling will usually make them more comfortable than disparate facts about your success if not packaged neatly into a story they can understand.
College is a story.
It’s an accepted story. It’s an easy story. It’s a story that makes people feel good about you. The story goes, you went to college, so you are doing well. You’re succeeding, you’re a good person, you are happy, you are OK.
This story is so embedded in the subconscious of the culture that people will ignore any number of facts that fly in its face.
You can be depressed, aimless, angry, in debt, clueless, frustrated, unemployed, unhappy, and sleepwalking through a life you barely tolerate. That doesn’t matter. If you went to college, that simple story is all people see.
“Good for you!”
No one has an answer for, “Now what?”, nor a reason why they are so happy about the college story. They are programmed to be, and it’s very difficult to question or rewrite that programming.
If you deviate from the story, they wonder and worry. They can’t easily check the mental “success” box.
The solution isn’t to fight with them and try to convince them out of it, the solution is to package the path you took into a better story!
And it IS a better story. If for no other reason than that you wrote it yourself, instead of accepting a stodgy story society foisted on you and simply playing out the script.
Your story is uniquely you, full of purpose, adventure, challenges overcome, battles won, confidence gained, and successes earned.
It’s not always easy to package your path into a neat, easily digestible story. But the process will not only help others, it will help you see things and appreciate your own life more.
Instead of, “I’m not going to college” (heard as, “I have no story”), try, “I’m going into an apprenticeship”, or, “I went to the pros straight out of high school, like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James”, or, “I’m doing an elite bootcamp to fast-track me into a startup“, or, “I’ve crafted an intensive curriculum to go directly into what I want to do”.
If you can label or name your story something quick and catchy, it helps. But in the very least, put together a basic pitch that conveys you are not merely opting out of the dominant story, you are actively creating a better one.
Oh, and even if you went to college, you’d better start building a better story. Your parents may be satisfied with it, but the college story doesn’t do much for you on the job market these days.
If your degree is the most interesting thing about you, you’re gonna struggle, even if your mom is proud.
Go start writing a great story and learning how to tell it!