How much does education contribute to success? Let’s find out by looking at the connection between different types of education and success.
How important is your education?
Fortunately, most people have some formal education today, with literacy rates in developed countries near 100%. Unfortunately, in some underdeveloped countries, the literacy rate is low. Because of this, about 775 million people are illiterate worldwide.
Since the standard of living is highest in countries with high literacy rates, it is natural to conclude education is a significant contributor to success. There is little doubt whether some formal education is needed to make it in today’s world. But what type and how much is required?
There is also the question of whether you should continue your education beyond school. If so, what form should it take?
Does formal education guarantee a pathway to success or wealth? Can a master’s or Ph.D. put you at the level of the most prosperous and happiest people? Let’s look at these and other questions to uncover if and how education and success are connected.
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 a fraction of the additional earnings of a highly successful person, with or without a degree.
The average personal income in the US is about $63,214, with the average income of an American with a bachelor’s degree around $80,478, indicating a direct connection between education and earnings. To enter the top 20% of earners requires an income of more than $100,000. As of last year, the top 1% of earners had a minimum income of $597,815.
The problem with these statistics is that they make you successful only if money is your measure. Check out this article: Build True Success in Your Life, to look at different kinds of success.
Highly successful people earn far more than the average college graduate, regardless of education and advanced degrees. Those with professional degrees, such as some doctors and lawyers, may enjoy high earnings, but not all do. It takes more than formal education to place a person in the highly successful, high-earner category.
An example of this is a man I worked for years ago. He hired me to run one of his companies. He was a multimillionaire when a million dollars was real 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.”
More on the multimillionaire in a moment.
Moving beyond formal education
There is no question that education is an essential aspect of modern life. Imagine where the world would be without it! Yet, there is something even more important than formal education and a pocket full of degrees. That something is what the most successful people already know, have, and are.
“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.” Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)
Before discussing what makes the highly successful who they are, let’s take a brief sidetrack.
A million dollars 30 years ago was enough to retire and live well for a lifetime. You must have more than $2 million to have the same purchasing power today. How’s that for inflation? With the same inflation rate, you must save well over $4 million in the next 30 years to maintain the same lifestyle $2 million will give you today.
The bottom line of this little exercise is to have a million dollars today may make you a millionaire, but as you move into the future, the millionaire threshold means less and less. You may want to aim much higher to have enough savings to live reasonably well 30 years from now.
Back to the story — that multimillionaire gentleman I worked for went through the fourth grade! He owned several companies and a great deal of land. A self-made man, he was highly successful despite his lack of formal education!
I have known many people like him who became wealthy without college 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 want to earn serious money in your lifetime, you must do far more than only get a degree.
Does that mean you shouldn’t go to college? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
The right college degree can provide a foundation to build on, and many jobs may require one. If you genuinely want to be successful, why wouldn’t you want to complete college? But be careful. Choose to get a useful degree to help you build a solid foundation. Unless you are in one of those few fields where a graduate degree adds value, why spend the time? This is also true for those frivolous degrees that waste time and money. Why take on the debt if it is of no help?
Ask a highly successful person if their degrees were the most important thing in their success, provided they have any. The vast majority will emphatically say NO. They will tell you about another kind of education that is crucial. They will let you know that continued learning is a must.
Continued learning is the key to success, regardless of successes definition. I have not met or read about any highly successful person who did not consider themselves a life-long learner. Hence, it is safe to say most 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 stated, formal education can lay a foundation for success, but many highly successful people forgo it. Countless college graduates make a decent paycheck, but few make an extraordinary living. Those making such a living are in somewhat exclusive ranks because they desire to know more, learn more, do more, and become 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 of the more noted, including links to various articles for each point.
- A more engaged life with greater happiness and curiosity.
- A healthier brain and a sharper mind. Many studies show a link between cognitive learning and reduced rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
- Improved memory.
- Reduced stress, providing better sleep, and improved overall health.
- More opportunities and different experiences.
- Increased productivity, with increased career earnings.
- Increased intelligence and understanding of other people.
Is it any wonder the highly successful are lifelong learners? Who wouldn’t want to be with so many benefits? It certainly makes life more interesting, and a dedicated lifelong learner rarely becomes bored!
If you are interested in learning how to become a lifelong learner, check out this article: Live Your Best Life Through Lifelong Learning
“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)
As you age, you become more acutely aware of the importance of intentional learning throughout your life. As a lifelong learner, you will live 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, dear reader, will embrace the fullness of life that comes from being a lifelong learner!