Making your way in the world today without a degree or six

It’s become the point of entry, hasn’t it?

You must have a degree. One to pick up the trash, one to push paper from A to B (stamping as it passes over your desk), one to ask “do you want fries with that?”.

Or at least, that’s how it looks when you peruse the advertisements for positions open that come by.

Increasingly, too, multiple credentials are now required for ever less lucrative roles. A master’s degree to work not more than three days a week in a charity, for instance.

How, pray tell, do you turn $30,000 a year into something that can retire a minimum of five years’ university education — even as a commuter student at an in-province school you’ve probably spent upwards of $60,000 on it and that’s if you packed a lunch or did without — while providing food, shelter, transportation, clothing and the occasional bit of entertainment?

No wonder some students feel that suing their college because they didn’t get a better grade makes sense. No wonder, too, that noted career advisor Penelope Trunk published an article saying grad school doesn’t make sense on LinkedIn this morning.

The sheer mass of people who, having their Bachelor’s framed, rush to community college to get a diploma in “something useful” is a message to our society.

Whether you’re talking graduate studies after the de rigeur undergraduate degree or undergraduate education itself, it’s time to face facts. Schools are fundamentally expert in zitsfleish, or “sitting flesh”: can you stick it out?

What’s never admitted in public is that our governments encourage this explosion in educational requirements for all positions: those in school are not counted as unemployed.

So, in the face of things as they are, can someone make their way in the world without a degree at all? (I include community college diplomas as “degrees”: Canadians may not use the “Associate” degree nomenclature, but that’s effectively what the role they play.) Simply have a high school education, and “make it”?

Absolutely. You might even be wealthy.

We make a lot of entrepreneurship, but that’s not the only way to make your way.

Consider the artist (painter, sculptor, certainly, but also the actor, dancer, documentary maker, writer, etc.). Degrees in the fine arts may help hone your craft — but so does doing it. (In other words, going to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts is a path to a career in acting, but, then, so too is being in a theatre company and performing.)

If you’re willing to start by lugging things, or cleaning up, careers in kitchens, in construction, etc. still beckon. Cleaning rooms at the local B&B, mowing its lawns, etc. can put you in a position to one day buy it from the retiring owners.

Of course, if you rent a storefront and open an shop, or start madly coding in your garret, there are roads to a business life that don’t depend on credentials.

What all of these share is a different path, a path that isn’t formed by titles other people recognize as “ah, you’re a somebody”. Each is filled with risks — baseball players may still (at least half) leave high school to go straight into Single A ball and only a few make it to the major leagues “where the money is” — but each is also filled with something the traditional “go to school, get your degree(s), get on the corporate ladder” path doesn’t come with.


You may be a struggling artist, whose works pile up in the corner and few ever sell, but that doesn’t mean you’re failing. It takes years to hone a style, and more years for the breakthrough to occur.

Still, those days are spent (when not moaning about pinched pennies) doing what you love to do.

Allan Holender, the author of Zentrepreneurism: A Twenty-First Century Guide to the New World of Business and Zentrepreneurism 3.0: The Inner Game of Conscious Business notes, the goal is to have a business (a way to earn your living) and a life (actually living), without sacrificing the second to the first.

Real success, in other words, is measured by more than money and title, no matter how seldom you hear that.

Given that upending your entire career to go and do something completely different — do you remember the old Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch about the chartered accountant who wants to become a lion tamer? — is a lot like starting out without a degree or six, and that there’s a lot more of that going on these days as whole career paths and industries disappear than you’d perhaps imagined, maybe learning how to make your way from nothing isn’t such a useless option after all.

All paths, on the other hand, come with risks to be managed. That’s where PDD comes in. Even for when you’re not on the beaten track, and you are hearing the sound of a distant but very different drummer, we are able to work with you to help keep the risks in what you’re doing well managed — and with an eye on having a life well worth living out of it all.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s