You’re Not Your Degree
When I was a kid, I was told that going to a university, having excellent grades and a getting a bachelor’s degree was the path to be successful as an adult. As if we were talking about a simple recipe to bake a cake.
When I graduated from high school, I started getting a lot of pressure to choose a career, go to a university and keep studying until knocking out a degree.
But, picking a degree was really hard for me. I had already started working at Platzi, and by age 14, I was already doing a lot of things that I would have never been taught in school. To me, it seemed like I was learning a lot of diverse stuff from different “degrees” while on the job, and there wasn’t a certain degree that could have possibly unified all the disciplines I wanted to learn.
So, I dragged my feet and decided to wait one semester to specialize, keep working on what I was doing and take some time to think a littler bit more about how I’d continue.
This was in 2014. In Colombia, there weren’t many people talking about startups at the time, and the roles surrounding them weren’t as in-demand. But while I was learning more about the ecosystem while working hands-on, startups started to feel like the future. Most importantly, I loved what I was doing and didn’t want to stop.
If at this point you’re wondering what the heck was I doing, I was the very first employee at a Platzi, which is now one of the most recognizable startups in Latam. Back then, I was doing a mix between whatever was needed, and whatever I could manage learn and execute in a week.
Regardless of the hands-on learning I was getting paid to receive, my parents were still expecting me to choose a path and get into a university the next semester despite the fact that I really didn’t want to; simply because it was what I needed on-paper to build a good foundation for my future.
That way, if I was wrong about startups being the future, I’d still have my degree and be able to get a conventional job.
After all that, I ended up completing one semester of Statistics in college, and of course, I hated it. But, when my dad saw that I tried, didn’t like it, and still was locked on continuing on my own path, he supported me in my decision to leave university behind and keep working, learning, and growing without a degree.
I think at that moment my dad secretly started a savings fund just in case I was wrong and I needed to go back to school, until a some years ago, when he realized that I was more than a bachelor’s degree.
Since then, every time I get the question, “What do you do?, it’s hard to answer, because people expect you to answer with the degree you got. This is especially true in Latin America.
So, if I say that I’m an engineer, but don’t have a degree in engineering, am I really an engineer?
And if next month, I want to use my engineering skills to become a Growth Marketer… do I need to have a degree in marketing to call myself a marketer?
Or, if I want to start building products, but there’s no specific degree in product management, is my career even viable?
It seems that work life is full of tags to help us identify and understand what we do. However, most successful people don’t fit within one tag, and the best entrepreneurs are multi-talented people that pursue what they really wanna be.
I remember that when I started saying I was a dropout people looked at me, totally amazed. But not good amazed, more like OMG-this-guy-is-going-to-homeless amazed. I even remember someone calling me stupid for my decision.
The funny thing is that when stories of dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs became more popular, peoples’ reaction was by-default that I was some sort of genius and in the next few years I was going to become a billionaire.
My point here is that is easy to fall in confirmation bias when you talk about university or being a dropout as part of that recipe to bake a cake.
The reality, is that life is like a product trying to find market fit, and we need to find an intersection between what we love to do and what someone wants to pay out there to be done.
As products do, the market changes all the time and we need to keep learning new things to keep fitting in that market.
Luckily I wasn’t wrong in my decision at that time, but also I learned that any decision in life isn’t a life-time decision.
When we look at ourselves as people, we realize that we are not what we study, and what we study isn’t something we just do when we were young. Everyday, there are new job positions with fancy names that signify different things that vary from company to company. So, the things that really matter are the skills we learn throughout all the things we do, from our hobbies to our daily jobs, and how can we use each of them to fit in a company that’s going to pay us for our work.
I get that starting a company isn’t for everybody, and my intention isn’t to try and convince you into starting one with this post.
My intention is only to urge you to keep developing your skills, the ones that make you a better person, the ones that make you enjoy your work and the ones that help you get closer to whatever you feel passionate about. Because like a product, your career isn’t ever finished; it’s in constant development.
Here’s to a new era that’s showing the world that you can create your own work, take your own route, and that there’s an infinite amount of ways to get to where you Wannabe.
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