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I graduated from NUS Business 2 years ago and have never used my degree since. This isn’t a university bashing article, or a plea to quit school. It’s me sharing the biggest things I learnt in the last 4 years, and the eventual conclusion is staggeringly simple.
To be fair, not getting a degree, is not going to apply to everyone. I’ve never been employed before… and I kinda decided halfway to not complete my Honours year.
In summary, I graduated a 3 year course in more than 3.5 years and with a final CAP of less than 3.5.
2 years on, I’m doing pretty well for myself. The business I left school to join, made half a million dollars last year (no funding, just revenue). My latest solo business venture hit just over $25,000 in revenue over the last 5 months (I start all my businesses with $0).
Why was I able to confidently make such a ‘big’ decision? I knew that a business degree wasn’t going to help me at all. Once I knew that skills and results were more important than qualifications, the decision wasn’t big to me. It was necessary (doesn’t mean it was an easy decision).
I went on to invest my time in building skills that could get me the result I wanted. The 2 years after I left school were pretty much every entrepreneur’s journey ever — no pay, going broke, going door-to-door, getting into tons of debt, staying home when friends went out, working later than bankers but for no pay… but when I pulled myself out at the end of those 2 years, I gained an immensely valuable set of skills.
In the real world your skills are measured by the actual result. And I don’t mean grades. You learn sales when you make money. You learn marketing when you get a customer. You learn self-awareness when you find yourself after you get lost. Almost all the time, you only learn when you fail. (That’s why school doesn’t quite teach the right things in the right way.)
My skills give me a very useful result — I know that, starting from absolute zero (no money, no network, no business), I can deliver value and within a month make $3,000.
Looking back at the last 4 years (starting with leading 87 members in the not-for-profit organisation AIESEC), I almost accidentally learnt all the right skills to do this, without needing paper qualifications. I have real and rare qualifications that businesses who’ve been around 5–10x longer than me, pay me thousands of dollars for.
And I know from experience with some of the top 6 – 9 figure entrepreneurs around the world, that these are the same skills you need if you want to live without a degree. I’ve reverse-engineered what I learnt so you can too, if you want:
Year 1: Self-awareness and stepping out of my comfort zone
After a semester of doing badly in university, I decided to do something interesting and dedicate most of my time to it. I chose AIESEC, went on a 2 month solo trip to Ukraine where I worked at a camp teaching troubled teens, attended conferences around the world and ended up managing my own sales team. I saw for myself that everything we want to achieve is outside of our comfort zones, so I just kept walking.
Year 2: Leadership and management
I ran for President and won with 100% of the vote (I was the only one who ran…) I started with almost no members, built an exco of 9 members, empowered them to lead 80 other students, and achieved the best results in 40+ years of AIESEC history in Singapore. I later realised this was my first 6 figure business, but I was more proud of having 3 members run for President after me.
Year 3: Sales
I decided to leave AIESEC after a short but eventful 2 years, to do something in the ‘real world’. An AIESEC alumnus offered a sales role (full commission, no salary) for his startup and I jumped 100% in… doing door to door sales, cold calling and traditional prospecting for 9 months before I made my first dollar. In those 9 months I decided to leave school for a $0 paycheck.
Year 4: Marketing
I got to meet lots of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs in business, and got to learn direct from some of them. The most important skill I knew I had to learn was how to find customers… so I jumped 100% into that too. Paid for courses, spent my own money in trial and error, and eventually got to market some of these multi-millionaires when they launched in Singapore.
Looking back it’s pretty freaky how these skills aligned exactly to what I want to do. Or maybe that’s how it works… when you start with self-awareness, you drill down on what works and cut away everything else that doesn’t. Either way, you end up mastering something, and people pay for mastery.
Did you notice the trend in my 4 year journey? I made decisions and jumped 100% in each time. The years before you turn 28, aren’t meant for safety and plan B. It’s for plan A and “attacking the life you want”.
Back in my final year at NUS, I tried to find out why I should get Honours. Most people’s answers were either to work in the government, or I don’t know. I figured most people were only doing it cos everyone else was doing it, so I left. Do you want the life most people are living… or do you want your own?
This article brought to you by Mark Francis Thompson