A Letter to my 18 Year Old Self

I just read another one of those posts/blogs about people touting what they would say to their 18 year old self. I don’t know why I keep reading them, each time I do I just wonder if these people are just so upset with their current lives that they have to tell their younger selves things to do differently in the hopes that their lives will turn out better, or just different.

This one was about the value of a higher education, and how it’s not really worth it in the larger scheme of things. I was intrigued. I didn’t want to go to college, but I come from a family of educators and basically went to a college prep kindergarten. It was never a question of if I would go to college, it was would I go to the right one. 18 years or more of my life was dedicated to making decisions that would affect my ability to get the right grades, scores and application-awing stories and experience that would get me accepted to the place that would define my future.

It was a little much, but it was true. Where I went to college defined my future. But to be honest, any place I went to college would have, as did every decision, experience and block I turned down. It’s all made me who I am.

Lately there seems to be more of a hype about the value of a higher education, is it worth it or not. Maybe I’m just hearing it more, maybe it’s the political machine calling POTUS an elitist snob saying everyone should go to college, maybe it’s just the economy and people looking at the ROI (return on investment) when balancing the enormous, crushing debt they will incur doing so. The arguments, or rationalizations, for not going are not new, and they’re valid. The academics taught are often outdated for current professional positions, they do not provide specifics on how to be successful in a career, and there’s no guarantee of employement once the loans come due.

It’s the age old question about the value of experience over traditional education. Believe me, I’ve heard it. I I’ve had to sit through the generations of being considered a loser because I wasn’t smart or clever enough to drop out of college early and become disgracefully successful like Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Now it’s Mark Zuckerberg. There will always be those few who are the poster children for crushing the dreams of those who aren’t good enough, whether they went to college or not. That argument, however, always neglects to point out how many MORE genius successes DID graduate college, and even went to graduate school. In the moment of inspiration, or pitty pot blithering defeat, those details don’t matter. We just cling to the symbol that best defines our mood.

I’ve had to realize that I won’t change the world on a large scale, and have resorted to reading social media snippets that soothe my soul into submission about how small changes make a difference, life in the slow or middle management lane is respectable and makes the world go round.

Then I read this blog. And I felt better, better than any snarky instagram meme or Somecard insult could make me feel over my college degree. This is as much a load of crap as any ad for online colleges or certificate programs!

Sure, it sounds good, it even makes sense. But it can really only be written by self-employed true or out-of-necessity entrepreneur. Let’s be honest for a bit, and understand the REAL world.

Yes, opportunities for entrepreneurs and a select few individuals exist outside of education that can take a person to the upper eschelon’s of business and industry. The rest of us are relegated to the hiring process, which involves being discarded from even remote consideration without the door-opening education requirement.

Business reality is not reality, and they don’t consider experience equal to or greater than the need for education. They want specifics, and in this market if you don’t have the foundation letters your resume won’t be viewed.

As for what college REALLY teaches? True, the skills and facts are nearly as useless as geometry and whatever formulas from chemistry and physics classes have long been forgotten after they held such a central point in our lives in high school. But like those formulas, they taught us the importance of now, of knowing what we need to know at the time to get the task done.

College taught us to think, to transform our sad little high school minds into transitioning adulthood and responsibility. It taught us to not be coddled and catered to, and it taught us time management.

Think back to when you started college and said wow, only 5 classes? Geesh, piece of cake. I balanced 8 or 9 in high school, WITH a job, dating and weekend blackouts.

Now think back to midterms first semester of college and see how well that thought held up!

If I ran the reality of life I would require sleep away college for ALL high school graduates. As is it most recent college grads are annoying, self-proclaimed experts in thought and reasoning and all knowing. Imagine if those were the 18 year old versions coming off the coddling high school experience without the realization that it’s way easier to be successful in a deadline when you’re sober or not hungover. No, those egos and attitudes need a little breaking in before they transition to the real world.

Get the demons out in those 4 years (or 5 or 6 or whatever), learn how to live semi-independently, and take the changes in a somewhat protected environment without worrying the crap out of your parents as they stand by and watch. Do it from a distance.

Transition into adulthood first. Learn how to be a person and see perspectives differently, so that you can better understand how your roommate’s upbringing is different than yours, and you can begin to get a different view of the world.

College is about learning. It’s about learning and becoming a person. It’s about understanding that experience is learning, and learning is thinking.

I’ve worked with people who didn’t go to sleep-away college. For the most part, I don’t understand them or get along with them. They’re strange people who have the same self-absorbed, self-exalting attitude as the 18 year old high school graduate but with self-assurance of a small-lived lifestyle of a near shut in. And with the added years of experience they have been able to solidify their single-vision view of life.

So if you’re writing letters to your 18-year old self and saying you don’t need college, clearly you should probably take a refresher course, or consider getting a couple lottery tickets to pay off that student loan that’s eating your ass today.

I’m not denying I’ve discredited the value of formal (costly) education. I have. I don’t have an MBA because I’m using the same argument that it’s not necessary. To get to the next level of my career it is a near requirement. Now I have to convince myself that that is an eschelon I never wanted in the first place. Or … write a letter to my 23 year old self saying I don’t need one, that I can do better using those 2 years for good and experience that will MORE than make up for the value an MBA would give me in opening doors and opportunities.

I also found comfort in jobs along the way, when I could say to myself wow, this job would suck even MORE if I had an MBA loan to still pay off with this pathetic excuse for take home pay.

So I understand the argument, and I understand the rationalizations. I just think it’s idiotic, because we all know people only care about matching resumes to requirements, and with a college degree, in most situations in life you will not be given the time of day for a job you are more than qualified for, based on your experience alone. That’s just life. Few out there will change it, and those few can change the world, but so can a few more with college degrees, and the increased lifetime income levels to support those who are still struggling.

So if I were to write a letter to my 18 year old self I would simply say, “it gets better, keep going”. I might also add, “Nice hair, pinks not really your color”. Oh, wait, that was another experiment in sleep away college.


About Laurissa Doonan

I'm a marketer. I've been a professional marketer for over 25 years, but in reality, I have always been one. Marketing to me is about communicating effectively, regardless of platform, regardless of channel. Marketing is understanding both your objectives and your audience, and finding the right method and message for your customers to reach them where they are. Now I dedicate my efforts to helping very small and small companies pursue their passions and grow their businesses through marketing; providing agency trained expertise without the overhead. www.Charter-Marketing.com www.CharterMarketing.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Humor and Comedy, Oddities, Reactions (Stories), Stories (Creative Writing) and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A Letter to my 18 Year Old Self

  1. Dear 18 year-old me. Two things: wear sunscreen and don’t be dickish.

    • LJ says:

      Yeah, if I didn’t know you better I’d think you stole that line about the sunscreen, but … I know you mean it. As for the don’t be dickish thing … it’s never too late to start, ha ha.

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