If I Gave You Your Diploma

A hypothetical: Let’s say that as you wake up and get ready for class tomorrow morning I walk up to you with your diploma and I hand it to you, signed and valid. Perhaps you had a year before you were actually going to graduate: that is no longer. I just ended the rest of your studies, and you now have the piece of paper that you were going to school for. Better than that, in this hypothetical situation, I even made sure that you learned everything you were going to learn, you just didn’t have to show up to class for whatever time you had left. School is out, effective immediately.

What do you do now?

I’ll go get a job and start working.”

Okay, fair enough: you’re going to just continue on the same path but a little bit faster because you saved a couple months or years. Let’s spice it up a bit then: you can’t work for at least another year. At least, you can’t go work for somebody else for at least a year.

What do you do now?

I’ll start college,” or I’ll go back and start a different degree.”

You just got done with school! You can’t go back for more, at one point you have to actually go out into the world and start making some meaningful and positive change. So, you can’t do that either. The whole point is that you’re not in school anymore. Going back is not an option, and if you’re in high school, starting college early is not an option either.

What do you do, besides work at a corporation or study in an institution?

At this point, most people that I ask this question to draw a blank. They have no idea! Yet… they’ll call school a complete waste of time and be frustrated that they have to be there. I couldn’t agree more, but I’m frustrated at the fact that while I sit here and do busy work in my classes, I could be at home focused on my writing, and I’d probably finish my book in a week. Unfortunately, I have to be here when I’ve got better things to do.

To most of you who hate school and call it a waste of time: I just asked you what you would do if you graduated tomorrow and had a bunch of free time and you had no answer. That’s a problem.

If school really was a waste of time, you’d have something better to do at home. If you don’t, then you’re not really wasting your time at all!

Now, this isn’t to say that you should simply resign yourself to school and dedicate your entire life to it. Quite frankly, school should be a waste of your time, and it can be. You just have to start doing great things on your own, outside of school that are more worthy of your time than the education you receive in the institution.

Let’s rephrase the original question:

If I gave you an entire calendar year to learn anything that you’ve wanted to learn about for a long time, what would you spend that year studying or practicing?

It can be one or many things. This makes the question of What would you be doing if you weren’t here at school?” a bit easier to answer. Some awesome answers: learn a foreign language, learn a martial art, write a book, write a screenplay, start podcasting, start a blog, learn how to use Photoshop/Illustrator, read more, etc. These are all the things that you would do if you just had more time. If only school wasn’t in the way.

Here’s the question that I immediately follow up with, and it nearly always leaves a mark:

Why aren’t you doing those things now?

If you had a bunch of time, you’d start pursuing these things, but what excuse do you have for avoiding them now, other than school or work?

Another statement that I hope leaves an impression: there will always be something in the way. There will always be school, work, family, friends, distractions of all sorts present in your life. (That being said, few obstacles are as pervasive as school is, and no other distraction is a legal requirement, besides maybe work, which is not a legal requirement, but simply necessary for your survival.)

You might never actually work a four-hour work week, so how will you continue to develop despite that fact? You’ve got to start now. It takes 5–10 minutes a day on Duolingo to start learning a language. Get really serious with 20–30 minutes a day, and you’ll be making serious progress. Sit down and write 500 words a day for the next six months and you’ll have written 90,000 words. That’s a novel!

You don’t have to do it all in one fell swoop; make progress every day, because nobody is ever going to do what I did for you in our hypothetical situation and give you 365 free days to pursue your dreams. You have to pursue your dreams, relentlessly, every single day, no matter what your day looks like.

We all have dreams and aspirations. Your parents had them. They probably still do. All of the greatest men and women in history had them, too. The difference between those figures that we so deeply admire and ourselves is not that they had better dreams or aspirations, or that theirs were more realistic. It’s simply that they got started, and they pushed to completion. They made no excuse, didn’t wait, didn’t ask for anyone else’s permission to start making the changes they wanted to see.

What’s your first step?

Now we’re outside of the context of our hypothetical situation. Back to reality, where you have to show up to school or work tomorrow, and you have no year to pursue your dreams” or find yourself.” What are you going to do to pursue your dreams, if you’re not already? I don’t know what your path entails; otherwise, I’d give you advice on exactly what your next step needs to be. So, I’ll leave you with the most important piece of advice I can give to anyone: start now.