What Your Ivy League Degree Will NOT Teach You?

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As a part of my morning routine to catch up with Twitter, this morning, a tweet from the digital evangelist Vala Afshar of Salesforce fame got me thinking about the value of education. What does being “educated” do for you?

The reason for the quotes is to call out the fact that I’m talking about education from the perspective of degrees, ivy leagues, grades, and the expectation of being straight A students. I write this post today from the vantage point of graduating from the best schools and colleges all my life, the latest having earned a Master’s from NYU.

But today, if you talk to me and the many others that attended these schools with me, our versions will be very different. Let me delineate this with a couple of examples.

I have an undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. The decision to pursue it was a result of my family wanting me to be an engineer, and my love for getting my hands dirty and building stuff. This is probably why I wasn’t the best “engineering student” at college. The education system in India, builds Type A engineers, who will do everything taught to them by a textbook. Well I was never good at that stuff, I need creativity and inspiration, and yes a bit of out of the box challenge. I really enjoyed the mechanical aspect of engineering and that today is what drives my strategic thinking.

You must be now thinking how I ended up being a marketer, or as I like to call myself a storyteller, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.

My curiosity for brands and their stories brought me to New York, the heart of marketing. My NYU experience has been everything I hope for in a school experience. I learned from the best in the industry,  not text book theories but real world cases. Special call out to Professor Tariq Khan, Joanne Tombrakos, Jeanne McPhillips, and William Reinisch who challenged me to think out of the box, draw outside the lines, and channel my creativity. The underlying commonality was execution.
But the reason I loved my NYU experience was not just for the academic course, in fact quite the opposite. Living in New York City, being surrounded by the best of the best, the hustlers, their stories, that’s what made this experience a way of my life. This passion I feel is not because I studied it, these things can’t be taught, it’s because I live it everyday.

In those 2 years I tried to maximize every opportunity to gain a fuller experience (I went out of my way to find them). I volunteered at school and outside of it, I took initiative and asked questions, I worked 3 types of jobs at any given time (other than my on campus, all of which were volunteering). I made sure I hustled to grow my skills and add more value. And in this process I gained more value, sometimes by stumbling upon people who are now my guiding force. (GaryVee I have to have a shout out for you :))

Circling back to skills, many of my fellow students hated the things I enlisted above.And this is exactly what gets me thinking about the value of education. We can all go to the same school, earn the same degree, even get great grades if we follow the text book, but what value does it have if you don’t grow with it?

What is the point of volunteering to add a skill or experience to your resume to get that job which you will complain about when it challenges you to break outside of the norm?

I guess this post could actually be broken down to two folds: first, the glitch in some education systems, and second the real skills that can’t be taught. The way I connect the two is through my own experience. I hated “learning to be an engineer”, but I loved the parts that let me be one. And today, marketing is not my career path, it’s how I am going to add value to this world through my skills, creativity, communication, and EQ.

Okay, it was little over a minute, but I’m going to tell you why I like to call myself a storyteller. I’ve always believed in the power of a good story and this has been my impetus throughout my life. I looked out for stories to understand people, machines, processes, and now brands and customers, and yes people always.  My curiosity for understanding is a skill not taught nor measured.

And so is true for all those real skills that Afshar mentions in his tweet – the ones that really matter, the ones that define who you are, the ones that can never be taught. But they can be encouraged and cultivated, even tested, not on a grade scale but through real experiences.

Even then, there’s not much education or educational institutions can do about it. It’s on YOU – your hustle, your hunger, your impetus, and more importantly your self awareness.

One of my favorites quotes on an ending note:

The difference between who you are and who you want to be, is what you do.


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