“If you opt for a safe life, you will never know what it’s like to win.” Richard Branson, British entrepreneur
It’s amazing what you can learn from reality TV. Just last night, I watched Master Chef with my daughters, mesmerized by the beat-the-clock skills of various contestants. One young woman particularly caught our attention — a sweet-looking sorority girl with giant glasses and the admission she had dropped all her college classes in order to compete.
“That’s stupid,” gasped daughter in the throws of the more-more-more education years.
“No, it’s not,” middle-life mom instantly replied. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. She can go back to college any time.”
And, that’s true, no matter what the education industry tries to tell us. Whether it’s Master Chef or an inheritance or the chance to take over the family business or an opportunity to swap an iffy professional track for a rock-solid non-professional opportunity, windfalls happen. They are those shining moments in which preparation meets opportunity to the extent that a risk is well worth taking.
What is education for, anyway? Beyond the ideal of maintaining a literate, competent citizenry that can itself maintain a literate, competent democracy, education is mostly about acquiring the skills and knowledge needed to make a living and a life. Education is supposed to be a means to an end, not the end in and of itself.
Yet, ironically, that’s what it has become for many Americans. Families dig themselves into financial holes to pursue higher and higher degrees from tonier and tonier schools in hope that their sons or daughters will be the chosen ones who snag a gold-plated job.
How many of us are or know someone who’s fully qualified for such a job, but isn’t working in one? It’s a common situation. On one hand, there are simply too many graduates for the number of jobs that are available in many, many fields. On the other, many fields demand so much of one’s soul that still other grads eventually opt out for their own sanity, or to have the opportunity to do some of those other incidental things like marry or reproduce.
I’m hoping our daughters will see realities like this and be mentally flexible enough to zig even if everybody else is zagging. To take calculated risks when everybody else is trodding down the path that worked well 50 years ago. To be, like that sorority girl, willing to step away from so-called career certainty to explore a windfall.
That girl may win it all and be the next Gordon Ramsey. She may lose the big prize, but find the pursuit has opened up another path that will lead to a good-but-less-observed life. Whatever the outcome, she can’t really lose as long as she keeps an eye on the end she is hoping for.