Dec 052011

Lots of people rely on excuses to explain to themselves and others “why their lives are as they are” — usually average rather than extraordinary.

Excuses transfer blame. They make the person using the excuse feel powerless to change. Excuses become your chosen reality. Excuses hold you back.

There are a number of excuses that are self-limiting, including “I’m overweight because of my genetics“, “I tried that before (marriage, stock market, writing) and it didn’t work out so it will never work out for me“, or “I’m this way because of how my parents raised me.” One of the most frequent excuses I hear that drives me absolutely crazy is variants of “I didn’t go to or finish college so that’s why I have less opportunity” to succeed in life. Whenever a person blames moments from the past or factors-outside-one’s-control for his or her current state, the seeds of pessimism sprout as though you doused Miracle Grow fertilizer on them.

Let’s put college in accurate perspective.  For the vast majority of people, college gives them a well-rounded education.  This oft-used phrase sounds good, but what it really means is that four or five years of time and money was invested to fills a person’s head with a finite amount of generally-available knowledge and very little, if any, specific knowledge. Yet specific knowledge, not general knowledge, is what is invariably needed to succeed financially in life.

There is good reason that companies have specific training programs for their new hires.  Specific knowledge is what is needed.  If you want to create your fortune, the formula looks something like this:  Fortune = [specific knowledge of an industry] + [a strong imagination] + [excellent leadership and people skills] + [good timing] + [initiative] + [optimism]. For most people, college does little in the way of specific knowledge, leadership, imagination, optimism, or people skills.

Most people have never appreciate the depth of meaning found in this famous quote by Albert Einstein:

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Al knew a thing or two about knowledge.

I’m not saying that the college experience is useless.  All things being equal, definitely go — learning is fun. At its best, college teaches you how to learn efficiently, especially on topics that are not of true interest to you.  It teaches you the value of determination and discipline if you study where you are challenged. A degree proves to many employers that you are a serious young man or young woman, giving middle managers reasons to recommend your hiring. If you earn a degree from a school with good brand-name recognition, you might find opportunities with those that hold such degrees in high regard. There are careers that simply require a degree so if you are passionate about one of these, college is a requirement. Lastly, you will have more general knowledge than the average bloke, preparing you for better small talk at the dinner table or when playing along with Jeopardy game-show reruns on TV.

But here is the most obvious of truths: While the price of college has sky rocketed, the price of general knowledge has absolutely imploded! I can Google virtually anything and have the general (and some quite specific) answers in seconds, from my smartphone, while drinking a Guinness at Buffalo Wild Wings. General knowledge has plummeted to free – you don’t even have to spend the time to trudge down to a library – when Google comes up short, Wikipedia is awesome for most topics or my free library card offers extraordinary access to online academic and business databases.

Whether you have a degree from Harvard, Yale, State U, Community College, or Podunk High, knowledge is now free for anyone that is willing to seek and learn. Many who did graduate and now have the gold leaf diploma hanging on the wall didn’t take away the most important of lessons: What matters is to have a burning desire to never stop learning. You must learn something new every day or you will fall into an excuse-filled rut soon enough.

The day a person realizes that his own excuses are holding him back, shakes the I can’ts and decides that I can, and realizes that only specific knowledge helps secure a bright future, his life and outlook will become simultaneously sobering, exciting, liberating, and optimistic.

One final thought to consider — studies have found that passionate people reach expert status on a topic in just seven years. Experts are people with very specific knowledge on their chosen topic. What subject or topic would you like to become a true expert in? You can easily become just that, by investing 5 – 7 intense years of focused reading, writing, and experimentation.

The no-college-degree-excuse did not hold Mary Kay Ash, Richard Branson, Coco Chanel, Michael Dell, Barry Diller, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, Milton Hershey, Steve Jobs, Rachael Ray, Stephen Spielberg, Ty Warner, Oprah Winfrey, or Frank Lloyd Wright back. **

Don’t let excuses hold you back! 

I.M. Optimism Man

** Note that some did complete college degrees later in life or were awarded honorary degrees, long after they succeeded.

  One Response to “Excuses hold you back”

  1. As always, very inspiring stuff!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.