Why Successful People Don't Always Practice What They Studied In School

I still remember the look on my parents’ faces when I told them that I didn’t plan on going to college. It was a unique combination of shock, disbelief and the fear that I'd gone crazy.

You have to understand that my parents were born in Europe at a time when getting a proper education was the only chance at a decent and comfortable life. The thought of me giving that up on a whim scared the crap out of them.

I just didn’t see the point of going to college. I’d heard the stories about people who became billionaires without ever stepping foot in a university. Why couldn’t I be one of those people?

Why waste tens -- if not hundreds -- of thousands of dollars on a college degree that didn't guarantee anything?

This was before the financial crisis basically screwed all new graduates out of a job. But I still didn’t believe I needed to go to school.

So many people I knew went to college only to have the mediocre life that everyone else had. Why do something that I knew I would hate only to live a life that I could attain without wasting four years of my life and my parents' money?

Bu after my mother begged me to go, I caved. I didn’t have a plan for the rest of my life, so why not keep my mom smiling while I tried to figure it out?

And thank goodness she managed to convince me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

I was planning on getting a degree in business management. But promising to go to classes didn't mean I meant to do well in them. I wanted to breeze by, put in some time, get that paper for my parents to frame, and then start my life -- my real life.

So I changed majors. Business classes required too much memorization and studying. I “didn’t have time” for that.

And then I realized that I was enjoying my literature and philosophy classes. They required texts that I actually enjoyed reading and found interesting. More importantly, studying hard wasn't necessary to succeed.

But I read the assigned readings, spoke up in class and debated topics. I popped out an essay when it was necessary for a "good enough" grade.

Then, the strangest thing happened. The classes I was taking started changing my perspective on … everything.

It wasn't that the things I was learning were helping me live my life (though some philosophy did alter my perspective). Rather, I was learning to think differently.

I learned to dissect my life in the same way I would pick apart an essay for literature or philosophy class. I went to college thinking I would leave as the same person who had entered it.

In reality, the difference was monumental: By the time I graduated, I was no longer the same person.

The weirdest part is that after this I somehow managed to make a living as a writer. This is something I not only thought was impossible, but also never planned on doing. I never planned on being a "writer"; I just liked to write.

I planned on working in business. And you know what? I am. I graduated with a B.A. in literature and philosophy and still managed to become the CEO of several companies -- all before the age of 30.

The point is that it really doesn't matter what it says on the little piece of paper that someone in a cap and gown gave you. It doesn't matter what degree you get because most of the things you learn are completely useless.

Sure, some skills are good to have and can even be incredibly useful. But don't go to college to learn what you think you're going to learn.

If you need information, Google it. Seriously. If you’re going to college to gain a specific skill set, I urge you to save your money instead. You'll most likely find a dozen free ways to access the same information.

College does offer a few things that you might not be able to access elsewhere -- and I'm not just talking keg parties.

College can teach you to think better. That's the main thing you'll get from going to college.

Sure, maybe you managed to do some good networking. But unless you’re going to a school where networking is a huge part of the culture, you'll probably do better networking in the real world.

Going to college can teach you how to manage your time wisely. It can teach you to approach problems in a different, more efficient and more reliable way. It can teach you to please different people (like professors) according to their preferences. It can teach you to make connections that you otherwise would not have made.

Most colleges don’t stress logic, reasoning and deduction enough. This is why college is what you make of it.

Some people will make their way through college with flying colors -- only to get stuck in a career they grow to hate.

And these are only the people who are lucky enough to even find jobs.

Then, there are the people who go to college to learn important life lessons and better ways of thinking. These people leave college and probably don't even use what they learned in their majors.

But they do practice new ways of thinking and perceiving. They alter their thought process and tweak their understanding of the world.

These are the people you will see on the cover of Forbes; they're the ones everyone's talking about and wanting to be.

Some of them won’t have a college education. Some of them will. But all of them have one thing in common: They are better thinkers than everyone else.

It doesn't matter whether they learned to think by hitting the books or by hitting the streets. The world would be better off if we placed a bigger emphasis on logic and rationale -- and less on fact-swallowing.

And that’s a fact you can take with you.

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