Must Do It

To Attend or Not to Attend

If you’ve ever wondered whether getting a college education is worth it or not, it can be a tricky question to answer. And, ultimately, it is a personal choice which each of us must make, depending upon our chosen career path.

For instance, I chose the career path of a professional writer and chose to earn a BA with the major. Could I have acquired the same level of training without the degree? Perhaps, but I was aware of the main advantages and disadvantages of formal education.

A major benefit is that having assignment due dates both applies external pressure and trains us to meet deadlines. A disadvantage, however, is that the University emphasizes critical thinking and theory, practice being secondary. This is unfortunate. After all, if you’re a writer, you must, above all, know how to write. The same goes for a computer programmer.

The realization that the University has things backwards is explained by writer and programmer Cory Althoff in his book The Self-Taught Programmer. Althoff, for instance, mentions Jeff Atwood’s blog “Why Can’t Programmers…Program?” In the blog, it is explained “that 199 out of 200 applicants for every programming job can’t write code at all. I repeat: they can’t write any code whatsoever.” For this reason, Althoff emphasizes practice over theory in his book.

As a result, it occurred to me that a similar mindset ought to be applied to all my learning. On the one hand, I completed my University assignments, building my critical thinking skills. However, on my own, I practiced writing for at least an hour every day and still do. The same goes for learning web coding. Skills acquisition over theory.

Effort Above All

That said, theory is still crucial. As Leonardo da Vinci put it, “He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast.” Yet, if Leonardo da Vinci did not practice art, merely reading books about it, his name would be lost to us, no?

Among other Masters, author Robert Greene discusses da Vinci in his book Mastery. Greene also discusses the need for 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery—an observation drawn from author Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers. As Greene explains, “When it comes to mastering a skill, time is the magic ingredient. Assuming your practice proceeds at a steady level…certain elements of the skill become hardwired” (77).

The key though is consistency and perseverance. We must push past the boredom and frustration. As Greene points out, once we attain a certain degree of skill, we enter the cycle of accelerated returns. In short, practicing becomes easier which enables us to practice more, which in turn makes the practicing even easier. As Greene puts it, “Reaching this cycle is the goal you must set for yourself…” (60).

Make Your Choice

Lastly, as for determining whether you want to pursue formal education or train yourself, however, you ought to weigh your options. For instance, make a list of the pros and cons of attending college. Plus, you hopefully know yourself better than most. Do you, for instance, need that external pressure to complete the work and meet deadlines. And if your choice is to attend college, you need to determine if you will attend in-person or online. With the busy lives many of us lead, online education can prove to be an attractive option. With this option, for instance, we have a flexible schedule but must have the self-discipline required to meet the deadlines.

In the final analysis, it is important both to practice what works and understand why it works. That said, practice must be our number one priority. Don’t become one of those University graduates incapable of performing their own craft/trade.

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