I recently made the decision to return to formal education after many years.
I’ve written elsewhere on this blog that don’t particularly value higher education, and for many years I have been a self learned book reader. I’ve read hundreds of books on history, politics, travel, lifestyle, business and even obscure topics like PUA, hacking and various sub cultures.
So what made me decide to give education another shot?
In short – I can see the immense and direct benefits. I am now in a career which I will most likely never leave until I am at retirement age, and I can see a very clear path to the absolute top of the food chain, but it will require a little education to get there.
To me, this is the right reason to get an education. If you’re going to enroll in college or do a vocational course of any kind, you need to absolutely know why. It should be crystal clear in your mind, otherwise you shouldn’t be doing it.
I’ve decided to study environmental management. Since I’m in the energy sector this will benefit me hugely. You should be looking for something related to your field which gives you an absolute tangible and preferably immediate benefit.
How To Choose The Right Program/Degree For You
The first consideration should always be relevance. If you work on offshore drilling platforms like me you don’t want to waste time with an MBA or Nutrition degree unless you plan to change careers completely.
I chose environmental management based on two factors – first it is related to what I do on the rig and already have experience in, and second it is a growing sector. As concerns about the environment become more and more intense, I can guarantee the job titles “Environmental Advisor” and “Environmental Auditor” will be appearing more and more in all sectors of the economy.
To quickly illustrate this point I did a search on www.oilandgasjobsearch.com – the term “Environmental advisor” brings up over 15 pages of results with ten job listings per page. When you compare that to almost any other job title it’s a staggering amount of jobs.
There are other reasons I chose this, too. It is something positive for the world, it is something which is applicable over a large amount of industry so if oil and gas ever ceases to be relevant it will still be applicable in other areas like construction or mining, and finally it is highly paid at the top-level.
These reasons were all my personal ones. Your reasons will be different as you have a different set of circumstances to me. Your way of earning a living is different, your priorities and values are different and your own personal ambitions will be different to mine.
Figure out what is important for you and work out which program is best. That being said, there are some points above which can be applied to any decision – it’s always wise to pick a growing sector which is highly paid.
Try to picture yourself ten or twenty years from now. Will the education lead you into a sector which will still exist then? If you can’t see it doing so, you should probably do something else.
Consider The Return On Investment
Unless you have money and time to burn and absolutely love the subject you are going to study you should always look at any form of education as a financial investment.
I chose the program I did because it is both a minimal investment in terms of time and money and it will have a large impact on my career/options. I can put an exact dollar amount on investment versus return, and I will make up to 20x my investment in increased income every single year after I graduate.
I’m not the kind of person who wants to commit to a four-year degree so I have decided not to go down that route. I will first study a certificate, then a diploma, then perhaps a degree. This gives me the option to stop at any of three points when I feel I have maxed out and need a time out, or when I feel that continuing to study further cannot be justified in terms of time/energy allocation.
To give you a simple figure – the investment I made was $1000 and six months studying (at a snail’s pace because I have many other commitments). After I complete this I will automatically be eligible for roles which pay 40-50% more than what I currently earn. After I complete the diploma I can make up to double what I do now. A $1000 investment to give you an extra 20-30k per year in income is a very good decision.
This is a huge return on investment, especially when you consider that the extra money will roll in year after year until I retire and I am currently only 30.
It will also give me the option of starting my own business in a highly lucrative field. Just doing an energy audit for a company as a lone consultant can fetch up to $2000USD in a day. This is obviously a very good reason to qualify as it opens lucrative options.
Pick Something You Won’t Hate & Might Actually Enjoy
I’m not a very big advocate of “do what you love”. I think it’s mostly cheesy cliché and won’t get you very far in the real world of business and money. I tend to be more practical and think “Do what the market needs”.
However, I also don’t advocate doing something you hate for money. Life is far too short to spend it in misery for a lousy paycheck, or even a good paycheck. The point of having any extra money to begin with is to be able to expand the joy in your life, so if your job/career is making you miserable it defeats the actual purpose.
For most people, the best we can hope for with regards work is to feel interested and/or content doing what we do. I am interested in the earth and how it works as well as learning about the science related to global issues and challenges, so I’ve found that studying this subject is actually quite fascinating. Sure there are some boring parts like analyzing data but that comes with all things.
I think I will genuinely enjoy taking my career in this direction and that is something extremely positive. I’m already deeply content doing what I do but there is always room for growth and improvement. After all, if we stop learning and evolving we start dying and we will soon be gobbled up by someone younger and hungrier who is learning and evolving.
As a result of finding the material interesting I find studying to be easy and effortless. It can still be an effort to break out of homeostasis and get going, but once I do I find it engaging and time passes by quickly.
This is what you should be aiming for when you enter or re-enter higher education. A genuine interest, entering a state of flow while engaged in study/work and the motivation which comes from knowing clearly what the benefits are to completing the work.
Look At The Different Options Available
I live in Asia and work on offshore drilling platforms at least six months of every year, so naturally going to a traditional college/university is simply not an option.
As a result of this and also because I much prefer reading than listening to some boring lecture, I decided to go for distance learning. I can study at my own pace, it is cheaper, and I get to utilize my strengths (reading/writing) more.
With the internet available in nearly every half developed nation these days we have a lot of options when it comes to choosing how to get a further education. There’s no need to spend your precious time and energy fighting traffic and pushing to meet someone elses schedule when there are so many other options available.
Decide what is right for you. I am also fortunate in the sense that the higher-ups in my industry understand our work schedules and respect/take seriously distance learning. You may be in a different position or field and it may pay to look into a more traditional setting for education if distance learning carries any sort of stigma.
Personally I would give the man who managed to study while also working the job any day of the week as it shows character traits I would find highly desirable in any employee like self-discipline and the ability to work under the force of our own will, but sadly not everybody sees things that way.
A Closing Word On Motivation/Following Through
The motivation aspect of seeking a higher education is a big factor. A lot of people jump into it, start strong and then lose steam. I myself have fallen victim to this in the past despite attaining extremely high grades.
All that can be said is when you know why you are doing it, have a very clear tangible benefit in mind and have either desire or fear or both pushing you, you will succeed.
I am highly motivated because I now have a family relying upon me, I have for the first time in my life a clear path to riches and success and I refuse to let that slip away, and I can reach the goal within a reasonable time frame.
You need to figure out what is motivating you. If you don’t have a very strong reason/will, don’t bother. When you figure it out and have a fire deep inside of you, don’t hesitate.
Know what you want. Be clear about the benefits. Know where it will take you and do something you are interested in or enjoy. Those are the keys to success when re-entering higher education.
Desire. Decide. Persist.