I’ve always had a taste for adventure, so taking the road less traveled has never seemed daunting. I’m intrigued by the prospect of a challenge, and I live this ethos everyday; that adversity encourages you to do your best work, because you have to tap into your resilience and courage in a bold way. I’ve got a long history of living out what it means to overcome obstacles and maintaining a mindset of relentless dedication to my dreams. A big part of this story for me is the decision I made to drop out of college after one semester. While frowned upon, I knew it was a move I had to make in favor of the vision that I had for myself. It seems pretty contrary to the societal notion that we all must get our four year degree, muscle through the system, and rise to the top working hard for someone else’s dream while we steadfastly pay off the debt we entered into to create this cycle for ourselves.
In no small irony, it was announced this week that student loan debt has reached $1.2 trillion.
I think it would be an understatement to say that this is having a profoundly negative effect on our economy, not to mention the wellbeing and livelihood of so many young people who were banking on a college education to catapult them into astronomical success. I view the University system very much as a business. While there is much value that can be gained in a communal learning environment, the system upon which our higher education is built is an incredibly shaky foundation with questionable intentions at best. I guess I had a sense of this when I decided it just wasn’t for me.
I don’t come from a background of entitlement. Making the choice to leave college did not include any kind of safety net. I had no idea what would happen. My family never illustrated a picture other than what I had learned about the American dream, my grandparents immigrated here and worked incredibly hard to build their lives and prosper. Growing up, I watched my mom work 7 days a week just so we could thrive. I watched my dad struggle to keep a job, work incredibly hard, and set the example that no matter what you stepped up to the plate. My parents insisted that my sisters and I attend college for this reason, it’s just how it’s done. You climb the ladder, and you figure it out along the way.
Somehow, still, this whole notion just didn’t sit well with me. Academics had never been my strong suit, which was not an effect of not having much intelligence, and more that the way I was learning and what I was learning wasn’t fueling my fire. I was more about real life experience, living the adventure instead of reading about it. Building the dream instead of thinking about it. This is also the difference between being a successful entrepreneur and someone who sits on the sidelines.
I wanted to make my family proud. I wanted to heed what my parents had to say, because I have a tremendous amount of respect for them. So, in opposition to my beliefs, I dove into the college experience for the sake of giving it a shot. My first semester, I was overwhelmed by the proof in favor of my feeling that it was all a big transaction. I was instructed which courses to take, for what price, so that I could get which credits, and purchase which textbooks. I was told down to the dollar how much it would cost to live that four month semester of my life. I was interested in learning how to start a business, and finance, but I wasn’t getting that experience. I recognized it wasn’t for me, even though my friends and everyone around me were wholeheartedly giving themselves over to the four year ride. My best friends attended a different school, partied, and seemed a world away. My parents couldn’t afford to put me through school, so naturally I was going to have to take out loans. Things weren’t exactly looking like the shiny picture of bona fide accomplishment that I had been led to believe was possible.
That’s when I made the decision to commit to self-education.
The internet was really starting to come alive at this time. Social media was starting to boom with Myspace and AIM. I wanted to know how to use it as a tool, how it could be leveraged to create an income. Growing from this, my first real passion was the stock market. I was raised with an awareness of Wall Street, this mythical place where people made tons of money and knew about intricate financial systems. The web of capital there intrigued me. Quickly, I educated myself. I also realized there wasn’t an online community that was easily accessible to learn about the stock market and the matrix of wealth in a way that was grounded and straightforward. So, I created it.
What does this have to do with dropping out of college?
This crazy idea was my first business. I grew that community, Stock Spot, to ten thousand people. I was learning from dedicated mentors. I recognized that I was truly passionate about the stock market. It drove me. It kept me motivated, and I worked harder than I ever had. I still wanted to make my parents proud, that hadn’t changed. Fear of failure was what also kept me moving forward, I refused to give up, hustling all hours of the night, trying to get that business off the ground.
One thing led to another, and by the time most of my friends were fresh out of college, I was a millionaire.
Meanwhile, the whole time I had had my head down grinding away on something I was incredibly passionate about, everyone around me was convinced I would be a failure. People assumed I was a drug dealer. They really looked down upon the fact that I dropped out of college. But, I dropped out of college, was debt free, and was living my dream.
No one believed that someone could be successful outside of the societal box we have created about what success looks like.
Success is not always linear. It requires passion, dedication, consistency, commitment, and hard work. Sometimes it also entails wanting to make your parents proud. What I can say with full certainty is that I would not be where I am if I had suffered through four years of a system which did nothing but hand me a piece of paper in exchange for countless hours spent in a classroom where I may or may not have gotten the information I needed, for an hourly price which averages out to about the same as having a therapist or a high level mentor.
And my friends? They couldn’t get jobs. They wanted to learn from me. I hired some of them.
Here’s the bottom line: the system is broken.
We have to define success for ourselves. There is no set path to success, there is only the vision you have for yourself, and the motivation required to get there. Many of the skills we need in life do not come from inside of four walls, they come from being out in the world. In a vastly dynamic world, entering into a debt cycle simply because someone told you it’s the way things are done is a surefire way to prolong the fulfillment of doing what you actually want to do. There are hundreds of young founders changing the world without college degrees.
Will you be one of them?
Gerard Adams is an Elite Daily co-founder, millennial thought leader, investor, and mentor.