On May 29th, CBS posted an Associated Press article on its’ Moneywatch website with the title, “Tech mogul pays bright minds not to go to college”. The tech mogul is Peter Thiel, one of the co-founders of Paypal. Although he himself is a graduate of Stanford Law School, he believes that young people with an entrepreneurial spirit can make a difference without spending at least 4 years in college becoming, “debt slaves”. This belief led him to set up the “20 Under 20” Fellowship. Thiel hand-picked the winners (there were actually 24 winners, all 20 years old or younger) and gave them each $100,000 to use over 2 years to pursue their dreams. One of the winning proposals has to do with cheaper biofuels, another with a mobile banking system for the developing world. Some of the winners were accepted to colleges and are turning down their spot at school to chase their dream. Of course Thiel has his critics, but his response is, “wait and see.” If even one or two of the fellowship recipients succeed, it could spur others to imagine a world where creative minds are encouraged to follow their passions without always first needing a degree.
Little by little, millimeter by painful millimeter, we are pulling the curtain back and revealing that the Great and Powerful Oz, which in this case is the myth that success can only come with good grades and a degree, is nothing more than a nervous man behind a curtain, scared of losing his power. No matter what anyone says, no matter how many statistics are trotted out on cue to defend higher education as the only path to success, the truth is that if each person was allowed to discover and follow their gift, their passion, they would succeed. And you know what? If they find it early enough, they’ll even be accepted into college to study it further, good grades or not. From the Moneywatch article:
“Instead of paying attention in high school, Nick Cammerata preferred to read books on whatever interested him. He also has a gift for coding that got him into Carnegie Mellon University’s esteemed computer science program despite his grades.”
He has a ‘gift’ for coding and got into a prestigious program because of it and ‘despite his grades’. But you know what? He isn’t going. Because he is one of the fellowship winners. Follow your dreams, cultivate your gifts and choose your path. People like to say that this only applies to the exceptions; the one in a million person. I say that is what we’ve been led to believe. It’s just another myth. There’s a great line from the movie “Thelma and Louise” where Louise says, “You get what you settle for.” How true.
I wish all the recipients of the Thiel Fellowship the best of luck in their endeavors. I hope that they will show a few more of us that we no longer need to settle for that well worn path (one might say it has become a rut, or even a chasm) that leads through school, to college, uncertainty and debt without the guarantee of a job at the end of it.
Kids are better than that. They are all creative geniuses until we beat it out of them in school. Only a few are strong enough to survive with their creativity and drive intact. They usually don’t quite fit in, maybe don’t do well in school (I’m looking at you, Cammerata!) but then they become that ‘one in a million’ who goes on to massive success. Wouldn’t it be great if the exception became the rule?
Peter Thiel is on the right track.