By Cliff Ennico
I was extremely touched to receive an e-mail from a young lady in India who had read, and was reacting to, a column I wrote years ago called “The Trouble With Kids Today.” In that article, I commented on the lack of entrepreneurial spirit and drive in a younger generation accustomed to having things given to them and structured for them.
Her e-mail deserves to be quoted at length:
“Education is definitely a boon bestowed, which if inculcated does give you the result of being recognized in the society as educated.
But I think we have to ask: is that the end or is it the beginning? If education was enough to be qualified for a happy life, then why do we have people in the category of ‘educated unemployed’? With all this education and still striving to make a living, don’t you think that they are not truly ‘educated’?
My brain and my heart had a joint committee meeting and the result turned out to be saying ‘education’ is the process of teaching and making oneself productive enough in the field of his /her liking. It is just not about hanging degrees and certificates around the neck but making the mark of self recognition.
Many people with little formal ‘education’ have ended up as chapters in the school books for the students to draw inspiration from: for example, Abraham Lincoln, Steve Jobs, Mark Twain, [Indian entrepreneur] Dhirubhai Ambani, [Indian cricket star] Sachin Tendulkar, and William Shakespeare. Their success hardly rested on the virtues of education but on the shoulders of the determination and focus that brought out their abilities, which enabled their recognition as pioneers in their own fields.
Despite unprecedented technological and cultural sophistication, this generation’s 20-year-olds lack some of the ‘soft skills’ that are necessary to move up the professional ladder: perseverance, humility, flexibility and commitment. Instead, they are obsessed with textbook education and white-collar dreams.
Could you please write something about this?”
You bet I will.
The difference between “book” education and what I will call “street smarts” – the ability to deal with people, to see and exploit opportunities, and to adapt to a world that is constantly changing – has been noted for generations.
One of my favorite quotes, from former U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, is that “nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”
Or as one of my teachers once told me, about the necessity of a college education in contemporary America: “If you are not educated, you had better be smart. If you are not smart, you had better be educated.”
Of course education has a role. You cannot be an entrepreneur in the information technology industry without a thorough grounding in mathematics and computer science. You cannot be a star athlete without intensive practice every day and studying the professionals.
But it is not education alone that gets results. I am the proud owner of a degree (magna cum laude, no less) from a prestigious Ivy League college. I worked very hard to get that degree, learned a great deal both in and out of the classroom, and wouldn’t trade my four years there for anything on Earth.
If anyone asked me why I have achieved what I have, however, I would not give credit to that college but to something that happened much earlier.
I grew up in Yonkers, New York, a working class community just north of New York City, and lived in a cramped one-bedroom apartment with my parents. Next to Yonkers was an extremely wealthy community called Bronxville. Many of my friends in grade school were Bronxvillians, and when I visited their homes I was amazed at the amount of space they had, the beautiful back yards where we played, and the fact that they often had their choice of three or four bathrooms.
I was embarrassed to invite them over to play at my home, where there was barely room for me, and swore very early on in life that someday I would have a big house in a place like Bronxville. I read books like crazy and drove my teachers nuts with questions. My first grade teacher understood what I was doing and kept me after school every day doing advanced reading and math assignments. Soon I skipped a grade, was reading at a college level at the age of 10, and started on the path to that Ivy League college.
My education was important, but my desperation to get out of that damned apartment and get something better out of life made me what I am today. And I am still hungry. If you are any good, the hunger stays with you for life, and your education never stops.
Cliff Ennico (www.succeedinginyourbusiness.com), a leading expert on small business law and taxes, is the author of “Small Business Survival Guide,” “The eBay Seller’s Tax and Legal Answer Book” and 15 other books. @cliffennico