I’ll admit that when someone sees a Marine Corps Drill Instructor performing duties in Boot Camp, education and classroom learning is not the first image that comes to mind. But it is important to remember that the purpose of Boot Camp is to forge civilians into basically trained Marines in a short period of time. Once that mission is complete, there is still a lifetime of success to pursue.
The bottom line is that we live in a world of supply and demand. Skilled labor in many professional fields is in high demand. If you want to start your own commercial venture, knowledge regarding business fundamentals takes time to acquire. In either case, the starting point for obtaining the requisite skills is through a solid education.
If you have served in the military, you are more than familiar with the continuing education requirements necessary to progress in your career. It starts in “A” school where you first learn your trade, and does not stop, even at the very end, when you attend “TAP” class. Just like in the military, a mentality of lifelong learning serves you well in life. And just like in the military, it is very important to have a well-planned strategy when investing in your education.
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There are generally two schools of thought when it comes to education. The first is to study what you want, regardless of follow-on career prospects. The second is to study a field that is in high demand, even if you don’t enjoy the material you are studying. I believe both strategies should be avoided and that neither is conducive to a happy life.
For me, the ideal way to invest in your education is to study in a field where there is high demand and where you enjoy learning the material. Both factors are important.
Why the hybrid approach?
It is important to remember that obtaining an education involves numerous costs:
With that in mind, if you’re not already independently wealthy, you definitely want a return on your education investment. No matter how much you enjoy the program, getting a degree or certificate in a field with high unemployment may not be the best strategy.
On the other hand, selecting a study program solely because of follow-on job prospects or future salary does not portend to a happy life. Remember, you have to enjoy what you are doing with your time on a day-to-day basis in order to stay healthy. There are a lot of miserable lawyers and bankers who make a lot of money!
So the key is to invest in an education that you enjoy, and which still provides a practical return for your investment. As I’ve stated in another article, if you invest in the wrong education, you could find yourself in serious student loan debt with no job prospects. On the other hand, you can also find yourself in a financially lucrative career that makes you miserable. This after spending years in school with no chance to get that time back.
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There are specific areas where formal post-secondary education may not be the best immediate option. You may be considering how to start your own business. If you embark on building your own business, practical on-the-ground experience may be more useful than theoretical classroom learning. For example, while there are many valuable MBA programs on the market, many MBA graduates do not immediately start their own business. Instead, the knowledge they gain in their MBA program proves more useful in corporate America, working for a company already in existence.
Another time when immediate formal post-secondary education may not be the best option is when you’re constrained financially and the course of study that interests you is very obscure. You do not want to go into hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt for a degree that doesn’t provide subsequent employment.
I view these scenarios as more of an exception than the norm. In the vast majority of situations, the more formal education you can obtain the better off you will be. But there are certain endeavors and professions where practical experience is just as important as classroom learning. And when it comes to starting your own business, practical experience may even be more important than the classroom. When all is said and done, be as judicious about your educational purchases as any other major investment. But be rest assured, education is a good investment.
Like any muscle in the body, your brain atrophies without continual exercise. And just like it is worthwhile to keep your body in shape through good nutrition and healthy workouts, keeping your mind in shape through continual education (formal or informal) is very important. A mentality of lifelong learning will keep opening doors for you throughout your career.