If I had to do it all over again, I would skip the university route and, instead, spend three or four years working on a kickass, meaningful project that actually made an impact on the world.
I have nothing against college. In fact, I recommend you go if you want to do something specialized like becoming a doctor or lawyer or paleontologist. But if you’re reading this, chances are you don’t want to become any of those things.
In my opinion, every aspiring entrepreneur needs their first “Big Project.” The project is preferably not a job. It’s best if the project is something that you choose, you design and you fund. By deeply involving yourself in things that you really care about, you’ll start gaining real, experiential knowledge. This is the type of knowledge that you can’t get in a classroom and is the sort of “raw material” that you can turn into an asset (a skill or product) that can eventually be sold.
I’m not “anti-college.” I’m “pro-options.”
Many of us aren’t even aware that there is another way to find work that you love other than browsing through a catalog of majors and sitting in a lecture hall. Even if you read this and still choose to go to college (or you’ve already gone), you should be actively looking to improve your life and intentionally develop yourself by undertaking challenging experiences that you’re deeply interested in.
Here are a few life-changing projects to try instead of college:
Travel the world
Traveling will give you an entirely new perspective and exposure to new cultures always gives you something interesting to talk about with other people. Visit places you’ve only read about, eat food you don’t recognize and make friends with people you otherwise wouldn’t have met. It’s good for you.
Start a business
The #1 thing starting a business will teach you is that failure is inevitable, and once you can get over that, you’ll have a much better chance at succeeding the next time. This is old school character building. Starting a business is also a great way to learn how to negotiate when people don’t like you, and convince other people to help you. Ready to get started but don’t know how? Here are 25 business ideas that any aspiring entrepreneur will absolutely love.
Find a cause that you really care about it and give back in the biggest way possible. Help build houses in your community. Tutor kids after school. But don’t just dabble….treat it like a job. Give everything you have. Be a good human for no reason. It feels great — but you also learn a lot about yourself and others.
Become fluent in a new language
No, not with the same enthusiasm of high school Spanish -- really learn one. Work on becoming fluent, start to enjoy pieces of the culture that are typically reserved for native speakers (telenovelas, anyone?) then take an extended vacation to a country that speaks that language.
Painting, music, dance, sculpture; find something that really speaks to you and do it every single day -- create something beautiful that you’re proud of. Share it.
Compete in a sport
Learn a martial art. Start bowling competitively or learn chess. Hell, start a running club in your neighborhood. Do something physical with your time and force yourself to get better and better. Track your progress. Compete in tournaments. This is also a great way to get in better shape without trying. I can personally vouch for bodybuilding and jiu jitsu. They changed my life.
Become an expert at something that fascinates you
Like quantum physics? Devote the entire year to learning everything you can about string theory and become well versed in space-time. Create your own research studies and get them published in a journal. “Regular” people don’t do this. Be exceptional. Push your own intellectual boundaries and try to learn difficult concepts that scare you.
Write a book
There’s a good chance you won’t remember what the hell you were talking about when you read your work again in 20 years, but that's not important. The main benefits of writing are meditation, reflection and habit building. You’re learning to control your thoughts and dedicate a set amount of time to something every day.
This Big Project will benefit your life. It will show you that you’re capable of coming up with an idea and seeing it through to the end. It will allow you to create in a relatively low-stakes environment. You can’t really “lose” if the project doesn’t go well. (Another reason why it’s best not to consider your job a project.) It will teach you to creatively find resources that you need in order to complete the project. Especially because you probably don’t have a lot of money yet. And it will help you to see your true path and connect you with others who are also looking for their path, which is similar to yours. (The first stage of networking.)
If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve probably already finished college. Or you’re in college right now. That’s totally OK! You don’t have to drop out of school tomorrow or tear up your diploma in a fit of rage. It’d be funny to watch...but seriously, you don’t have to.
That said...no matter where you are right now, you MUST start the process of rethinking what it means to do your “life’s work” — which is a term too few of us use to describe our journey these days. What do you want the impact of your life to be? What type of uniquely meaningful work can you contribute to the world to leave it a little better than when you found it?