Like me, most of the people I know have followed the very traditional path of formal schooling, college education and a graduate level degree. That was the only road to travel in my mind and a result of my upbringing. I do not regret it. For me, learning is a passion, and my years in college only fueled me with more desire to learn and teach. However, I was fortunate enough not to depend on student loans, thanks, in no small part, to my parents sacrifice. Others aren’t, or have not been, so lucky.
I had, unconsciously, adopted my mother’s mentality, “We are meant to work for somebody else”. She only told me this a few months ago, nevertheless I always felt it. That had always been my goal and my vision, all throughout college. I was to go out into the world, send my resume to strangers in the hopes they might get a glimpse of all my abilities and potential, a glimpse into who I was, and give me the chance to work 40hrs a week to get pay minimum wage, and someday, may be, I would get to climb my own ladder and make my own imprint on the glass ceiling.
These all might sound a bit sad and depressing. It is not. We can surely find success taking the traditional road. Professionals can become experts in their fields; get the opportunity to be part of a great, innovative company, with a great culture and values. You may be able to break through the glass ceiling, and reach the position you were always meant to have; in my mother’s case, an office with a window.
I do admire her for that goal, and for her achievements. She has belonged to the fast-pace, male dominated corporate world since the 70’s.
But I do wonder if my vision of what I could do and what I could accomplish was blurred, and I could not see, at the time, the bigger picture of possibilities.
This week I watched the CNBC 20 under 20 two-part documentary (about The Thiel Foundation’s Fellowship Program). The selected group of young men and women will be given 2 years, and a substantial amount of money, to develop their own unique ideas and projects. The core thesis for the program comes from at least two elements of our current reality; first, the fact that college tuition and the amount of student loans graduate students have to pay after graduation is a great burden for the young professionals trying to get ahead in the eight to five job market. Second, the growing awareness of our social consciousness about the fact that traditional college drop-outs have come up with ingenious ideas and business ventures that have had great amounts of success, and have actually change many aspects of our lives and the course of our history.
Why were we lead to believe we could not act upon our ideas and ideals without the patronage of a corporate overlord? Could this mentality be the product of my middle-class upbringing?
What is the difference between us and men like Disney, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg or Peter Thiel? Yes, they have made a lot of money, but most importantly, they created a legacy; they had an idea, and found the way to follow through, and some of them did it without a college degree.
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, an entrepreneur is someone who “organizes, manages and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise”. So, as I see it, the difference between them and us is simply the amount of risks we are willing to take, to take a concept from idea to reality, to take a project through every failure up to success.
Society will not change its traditional structure by tomorrow, the traditional path to a career, and more importantly, to a job, will still be lay down for our young people, pretty much the same way that was lay down for us. Our college years may be long gone, but we still have ideas, we still come up with interesting projects, and now, thanks to those entrepreneurs before us, we do have some valuable tools to make them happen. What would it take for us to start assuming more risks on our own, instead of conforming ourselves to being only witnesses of other people’s ventures? What would it take for us to set ourselves, our children and young people toward as riskier path? Yes, it would involve facing failure and fears, but in the end, wouldn’t it have been worth it, if all efforts and risks resulted in greater freedom, and greater ownership of our and their own success?