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University versus life, which teaches better?

I love institutions: I loved being at school and going to university. I love having worked at one retail store for three years. It’s the structure, the security of things...
Views: 1.540 Created 09/22/2006

I love institutions: I loved being at school and going to university. I love having worked at one retail store for three years. It’s the structure, the security of things not changing, or changing gradually enough to be non-threatening. Having this kind of immutable presence in my life means I feel fully able to explore entrepreneurship, without trying to get anything static from such an unstructured area.

I agree with the sentiment, commonly held by entrepreneurs, that there is so much to learn from living, from doing, from failing (hence my site, Make More Mistakes, of course). However, I do value ‘traditional’ education too. I am one of the few entrepreneurs I know of with a solid grounding in conventional education and I do not think I’m any the worse for it. As I’ve said, I loved going to school and education has really helped me.

I was lucky enough to have really good experiences at school. Not perfect, of course, but I emerged well-adjusted, though naive. Life has done much to dispel the naivety and transform my almost-mindless optimism in to a more intelligently persistent positive outlook. For example, my optimism now has a basis in intellectual, reasoned theories, like Steve Pavlina’s ideas about the true nature of reality (subjective reality & consciousness manifestation).

I’m getting to the point, honest.

My three years at university, I learned a lot (most of it at the end of my third year…!), due to my excellent tutors and my best friends. At the time, it really seemed like Daniel & James were the only people, aside from myself, going to university in order to, a) learn from tutors, lectures, books etc., b) learn from the experience, and c) learn by freeform discussions outside of the lecture hall.

My one year following university, I’ve learned a lot more. Not because studying by myself is better than university (not better, just different) but because in that time I’ve moved around to a lot of different places, with a massive variety of subject material & environments, which has all been compressed in to one year.

21 things I did this year

  1. I worked for the government
  2. I was contracted by a temping agency
  3. I worked for a popular, high-street retail chain
  4. I worked in the non-profit sector for a small company
  5. I worked in a start-up with only two other people
  6. I attended meetings in a prestigious design who-only-knows-what
  7. I started seriously planning my own real business
  8. I researched fields of entirely my own choosing, all on my own (still doing)
  9. I learnt about marketing (still doing)
  10. I took an online course in Web Entrepreneurship (still doing)
  11. I managed numerous projects - 10 websites - simultaneously (still doing)
  12. I worked freelance as a web designer (still doing)
  13. I contacted strangers and successfully secured free advertising
  14. I made loads of money and spent it all
  15. I became frugal and self-disciplined (still doing)
  16. I learnt to take more risks
  17. I read even more voraciously than ever before (still doing)
  18. I discovered my life’s purpose: Building empires online & helping people
  19. I learnt to dream bigger so that my goals really inspire me
  20. I became active within feminism and now recognise my goal to make feminism mainstream (still doing)
  21. I increased my focus on my personal development, time-management & other ‘lifehacking’ skills (still doing)

I can’t believe how much I’ve learnt this year, without doing anything particularly out of the ordinary. I haven’t had any near-death experiences, gone on a retreat or had massive successes or failures, yet my whole outlook on life has changed & developed.

Learning by myself

I’d been actively learning by myself well before this year. For example, I taught myself how to design & develop web pages over five years ago. Well before that, to a lesser degree, I was teaching myself how to write creatively. I highly, highly recommend self-teaching. Quite aside from learning about whatever you’re teaching yourself, you learn so much about yourself whilst doing it. Knowing yourself is something that will help you in every area of life - look in to personal development for more about that.

In any case, here are some places to start if you want a helping had to learn by yourself. You can always ask me as well, of course. Email me

Oh, in conclusion, as I’ve alluded to earlier in this post, I don’t think university trumps life or visa versa - it all depends on whether you want to get anything out of your experiences and if your eyes & heart are open to learning new things.

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