My Alternative Bachelor’s Degree

minute read. Posted on June 15, 2012 in The Big Picture

In 2014 the people I spent the majority of my life with will be receiving a piece of paper that says they earned a degree from a place of higher education. I received my high school diploma from a very small school with a graduating class of about 40. I’d say 15-20 of those will get the coveted “Bachelor’s degree” in a couple of years and start their conventional lives at conventional entry-level jobs. Same goes for the vast majority of high school graduates around the country. They go to college because it’s the next logical step after high school. But is it really? Does attaining that Bachelor’s degree really give you a one-up on the rest of the world? In some instances, yes it does.

I wouldn’t receive medical treatment or get my contracts written from someone who didn’t go through medical schooling or pass the Bar exam. But for the rest of us, college is a place where we get the concept of conformity and obedience engrained in our minds. Good test takers with obedient attitudes thrive in college. We’re taught “formal education”. We learn how to please future bosses and be good employees. We’re taught how to get by in our field of choice by being mediocre. But we don’t learn the stuff that matters. We don’t learn how to live out our passions, follow our dreams and change the world. We’re simply another cog in the machine that keeps the system moving along.

If your biggest aspiration in life is to simply get by and live a financially comfortable life, then a higher education degree is perfect for you to get started. And you probably won’t care to read on about my experiences, so you are free to go.

My coming to senses

I had something totally unexpected occur in my life right after I graduated high school: my girlfriend got pregnant. It totally threw a kink in the plans I had for my life. I was supposed to go to a university (because it was the next logical step, of course). I was going to live the college life and experience freedom for the first time. But instead I chose to marry my high school sweetheart and start a family at a young age. I chose to take responsibility for some of the choices I had made. And I don’t regret any of it, because it was the first event that taught me how awesome living an unconventional life is.

But I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea how to raise a family, or even more: how I was going to make money to support my family! So I quickly cancelled my plans to attend Northwest Missouri State and enrolled instead in a local community college where I took full course loads for three semesters and received an Associates degree in business administration in less than a year.

My son was born three months prior to my college completion. He was five weeks premature and kept in the NICU for a few weeks. Those few weeks were the most important days in my life thus far. Because as I sat next to the little incubator admiring my beautiful creation, I had an epiphany of sorts. I still didn’t know what I was going to do to support the little guy and give him the best life I could, but I knew I had one skill with a high demand: I was a designer. I taught myself how to design websites when I was a high school freshman. I freelanced all throughout and even up to that point, but it certainly didn’t bring in enough to support a family.

So I did it.

I decided to not wait around, face the critics and start a business full-time. I branded my new company in two days in that little hospital suite with premature babies crying all around. I launched a website, scrapped together a pretty solid portfolio from my past works, created brochures (which were not needed) and business cards. The third day I got on the phone with a few connections I had made from my high school freelancing days and heard of an insurance salesman that was renting out some office space in Glenwood. I walked in to his building the next day, told him my story and my goal of living an unconventional, rewarding life and he loved it! He offered me his small corner office for $150/month. I jumped on it. It was a ridiculously unexpected offer, but I think more than anything he just wanted to humor himself by seeing if a 19 year old kid could pull off starting a business.

Here I am.

Almost a year and a half later, I’ve proven to the insurance guy that I can do it (although it hasn’t helped my rent stay that low anymore!). I’ve learned so much over this short period of time that I don’t even know how to carry on a conversation with my old friends who are living the conventional college life. I’ve learned more about the harsh real world than I ever could have by continuing my formal education. By the time I was supposed to have graduated with a Bachelor’s degree, I will have started at least two companies (Hetzel Creative is going strong and CompeteAgainst is about to launch), given public speaches (public speaking 101 didn’t help me one bit here), pitch my company’s services to million dollar companies, and hopefully a slew of other things.

A few things I’ve learned that aren’t in a college course

  • Your passions are more rewarding than paychecks
  • You can be the boss that you’re training in college to work for with a little hard work and creative thinking
  • “It’s not WHAT you know. It’s WHO you know”
  • Being exceptionally talented at one specific thing can lead you to way more opportunities than your peers who are mediocre but have a degree in hand
  • People only give as much as is required for something they’re not passionate about
  • Laziness will always hold back talent
  • You learn more from failure than from success
  • You have to ring your own bell, because nobody else is going to

Unconventionality is not for everyone

My short-term goal for living an unconventional life is to streamline and automate as much of Hetzel Creative as possible in order for me to pursue other rewarding things in life and, quite frankly, not work as much. Remember, work smarter, not harder. But having the freedom to make your own decisions and decide when and where to work is not easy. And it’s not for everyone. In fact, most people will find more happiness in “working for the man”. But for those of you who do long freedom from the day-to-day grind and want to pursue a life of rewards, then by all means follow your passions! Read. Learn. Ask. And then, DO.

Much of this blog post is inspired by an incredible guy whose books I’ve been reading lately: Chris Guillebeau. This guy walks the walk. I highly recommend his book The Art of Non Conformity. In it he lists his own “Grad School Alternative” which can be found here in a recap of the book by Beth Kobliner. One last great piece of media for those who seek more purpose in their life can be found here in a TEDx talk by Charlie Hoehn.