The Importance of Education

Bill Abbate

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When you finished school, did you stop learning or think you could? Does it take getting your master's or Ph.D. to put you at the top of your career? Can formal education guarantee a pathway to success or wealth? Let's look at these and other questions to uncover if and how education and success are connected.

There is no question that education is an important aspect of modern life. Imagine where the world would be without it! Yet, there is something even more important than formal education and having a pocket full of degrees. That something is what the most successful people in the world already know, have, and are.

"The great aim of education is not knowledge but action." Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)

How important is a college education?

A Georgetown study found the average college graduate will make about $1 million more than the average non-college graduate. While that is good, it is nowhere near the additional earnings of a highly successful person.

The median US household income in January 2022 is about $74,099, with the top 20 percent of earners above the $100,000 mark. Most of us would consider those top 20% reasonably successful in earnings but nowhere near highly successful. You must move up to the top 1% of earners, taking in more than $600,000 per year to be in the genuinely high-income bracket. That would make you successful only if money is how you measure success.

Highly successful earners earn far more than the average college graduate, even with advanced degrees. Those with professional degrees, such as some doctors and lawyers, may enjoy high earnings, but not all will. It takes more than mere formal education to place a person in the highly successful, high-earner category.

An example of this is a man I worked for many years ago. He hired me to run one of his companies and was a multi-millionaire at the time when a million dollars was serious money. Inflation has robbed us of that, as a million has a fraction of the buying power of 30 years ago. Like Yogi Berra once said, "a nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."

By the way, Let me take a little sidetrack for a moment. A million dollars in 1982, only 30 years ago, was enough to retire and live well for a lifetime. To have the same purchasing power today, you must save about $3 million. How's that for inflation! Effectively, in purchasing power, you must save $6 million in the next 30 years to maintain the same lifestyle as a millionaire in 1982.

The bottom line of this little exercise is to have a million dollars today may make you a millionaire, but you would be a poor one compared to 30 years ago. You must aim much higher if you wish to have enough income to live reasonably well 30 years from now.

Back to the story - the multi-millionaire gentleman I worked for only went through the fourth grade! I have known quite a few people like him who became very wealthy without a college degree or family money. Many billionaires do not have a college degree, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, and the late Steve Jobs, to name only a few.

If you are going to earn serious money in your lifetime, you must do far more than only get a degree.

Does that mean you should not go to college? ABSOLUTELY NOT! A college degree will provide a great foundation to build on. If you genuinely want to be successful, why wouldn't you want to complete college? The only advice I will give is to get a degree that will allow you to build a solid foundation. Skip the many frivolous degrees that can waste your time and money.

Ask any highly successful person if their degrees were the most important thing in their success, provided they even have any. The vast majority will emphatically say NO. Yet while they may not attribute their success to formal education, they will tell you about another type of education that is crucial. They will let you know that continued learning helped them achieve success.

Continued learning is the key to real success, regardless of how success is defined. I have not met or read about a highly successful person who did not consider themselves a life-long learner. Hence, highly successful people never stop learning!

"Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow." Anthony J. D'Angelo (1932-2020)

Become a lifelong learner

As already stated, formal education can lay an excellent foundation for success, but that alone will not make a person highly successful. Countless college graduates make a decent paycheck, but few make an extraordinary living. But then, those in the highly successful category are in somewhat exclusive ranks. The people who make it into those ranks do so because of their desire to know more, learn more, do more, and be more.

A lifelong learner is a self-motivated person who pursues knowledge for both personal and professional reasons on an ongoing basis.

Becoming a lifelong learner has numerous benefits. Following are a few that rank very high on most lists, with links to various articles to make each point. These benefits include:

  1. A more engaged life with greater happiness and curiosity.
  2. A healthier brain and a sharper mind. Many studies show a link between cognitive learning and reduced rates of Alzheimer's disease and dementia as well.
  3. Improved memory.
  4. Reduced stress, providing better sleep , and improved overall health.
  5. More opportunities and different experiences.
  6. Increased productivity, with increased career earnings.
  7. Increased intelligence and understanding of other people.

Who wouldn't want to be a lifelong learner with so many benefits? It certainly makes life more interesting, and it is rare for a dedicated lifelong learner to get bored!

If you are interested in learning how to become a lifelong learner, check out this article: How to Be a Learner for Life

"There is no end to education. It is not that you read a book, pass an examination, and finish with education. The whole of life, from the moment you are born to the moment you die, is a process of learning." Jiddu Krishnamurti (1898-1986)

Final thoughts

As you age, you become more acutely aware of how important it is to be intentional about learning throughout your life. A lifelong learner lives a far fuller life than one who shuns learning. Learning is one of the greatest joys of life for many of us. Curiosity, a love for reading and writing, and a passion for life thrive because of the love for learning.

Then there is the greatest benefit of all. To influence other people in their lives to become lifelong learners so they too may lead a wonderfully fulfilled life. This was summed up well by a great Scottish philosopher more than two centuries ago:

"The sweetest path of life leads through the avenues of learning, and whoever can open up the way for another, ought, so far, to be esteemed a benefactor to mankind." David Hume (1711-1776)

I hope you, too, will embrace the fullness of life that comes from being a lifelong learner!

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA
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