Success without a degree – can it really happen?

Let’s start with the following two questions:

The first is simple and straightforward: “Do you have a degree?”

If your answer is positive, then you should already be well set for whatever career challenges life throws at you (if you do not feel this is the case, then you should keep reading this article).

But, if your answer is “no” and you have not yet studied at a tertiary level, then the second question is where your focus must lie:

“What does success mean to you anyway?”
Many of us equate success with wealth and financial freedom. And, the cruel truth is, that being wealthy and financially independent can give you an edge over those who are burdened with having to live from paycheque to paycheque paying debts, a mortgage and loans.

It is also true that, if you have a degree, your chances of securing a better paying job are higher than for your peers without some form of tertiary education. In fact, some professions require a degree and/or professional certification before you can even be considered for the role – such as doctors, lawyers, architects and accountants.

Nonetheless, if you keep an open mind, work hard and plan carefully, you do not always need a degree to be successful.

Perhaps an example situation can help illustrate this point: Imagine that you are driving along and your car suddenly breaks down. You bring your car to a mechanic (or call one out to get you). At the garage, the mechanic shows you a wall covered with his framed qualifications and accolades. Your first thought is likely to be based upon a fear of how much this high flyer is going to cost you, not how good a mechanic (s)he might be! In fact, at the time, all you really want the mechanic to tell you is whether they can repair your car and, if so, for how much and how long it will take.

In this situation, the paper qualifications of the mechanic are irrelevant, as long as they can do the job you need them to do, within a reasonable time, and without making you bankrupt!

This example speaks volumes on the way businesses are run today – too often caught in an inappropriate paper chase. But, if you are mindful to this trend, you will find ways to demonstrate your skills, even in the absence of certifications, and, thereby, succeed in your life and career.

Be motivated and inspired by the myriad examples of eminently successful “drop-outs” in the business world: Michael Dell, Coco Chanel, Bill Gates, Matt Mullenweg, Arash Ferdowsi, David Neeleman, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Austen and Ellen DeGeneres. There are many others, but they all share two things in common: they either did not have the opportunity to go to college or they dropped out of college to pursue their dream; and all of them became successful in their lifetime.

The Singapore government is now addressing the need to give equal opportunities to non-graduates in all industries. No doubt, graduates do have the edge, and may even enter by different doors. But, once you have gained the halls of your industry, how high a story you reach must be based upon the merits of your climb up the stairs. So having a degree is only half the equation: you need other qualities and a skillset that will allow you to boost your merits and outshine graduates in the long run.

Therefore, if your current circumstances cannot afford you the opportunity to continue schooling after Secondary or JC, don’t despair! This is simply a chance to take a different approach to life. Plus, of course, you can always get a degree later on – for the joy of it, rather than through a social or financial need!

So, what do you need to be successful in this world without a degree? I think three qualities, if honed well, will give you the edge over others:

Be resourceful

The one quality all bosses and companies look for in an individual is whether that person is resourceful. Being resourceful means that you are able to work within the limited resources provided and achieve your target no matter what obstacles seem to bar your way. This is a quality that is not best developed by going to university. It is something you earn through experience, through common sense trial and error, by being vigilant and recognising how to improve any and every given situation.

If you want to climb up the ladder of success, you need to take that first step up.

So, be resourceful, find every opportunity you can to update and upgrade your body of knowledge and hone your skills: Attend short courses, learn new skills, find out what your organisation wants and see whether you can develop the skillset to help them achieve it. Make yourself invaluable by being adaptable, by being constantly prepared, and by accepting challenges.

Have a daring attitude

Eudora Welty said: “All serious daring starts from within”. If you want to succeed in life you have to be crystal clear about what it is that you want in your life and what you need to do in order to achieve it. Then it is a matter of holding onto a powerful belief in yourself – not arrogance, but the courage

that allows you to gravitate towards success. A daring attitude will give you the sustenance required to go forth and capture your dream. In his earlier life, Abraham Lincoln would have seemed the most unlikely candidate to become the President of the United States. Yet, with his daring attitude and by refusing to conform to the popular view of the limits set by his birth status, he overcame inconceivable odds, always changing and adapting to what was required of him – and, of course, the rest is history!

To be daring, take another cue from the French author, Andre Gide; who said: “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore”.

Keep an open mind for opportunities

Once in the job market, happily ungraduated and ensconced in your role, there will be times when your resolve will be tested – when, for example, new colleagues join your organisation and are promoted faster because they have a degree.

In today’s general workforce, this is, for better or worse, the natural order of things. But, you do not need to conform to this behaviour and passively become part of the system.

Although, to start, you may feel yourself in an inferior position to those better (on paper) qualified than you; but, what you ought to be doing is keeping your eyes and ears open for those challenges, those opportunities. And, you will have to go out and look for them – too many believe that opportunity will come knocking at their door, only to find they wait an entire career for that visit. You, the prepared “lowly non-graduate”, must be raring to seize the chances others miss or actively avoid: seek the opportunities out, make them work for you and, in doing so, be accountable – by taking the responsibility, you will also reap the rewards (if you work both hard and smart enough).

Engage yourself and constantly improve your work ethics. Always determine the best ways by which you can contribute to the stakeholders in your life. Don’t give up when things do not work out the first time round. Try and try again and if. after several attempts, you still do not succeed in what you are doing then consider a paradigm shift and do something different!

Always remember the famed words of Michael Jordan:

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

In my book ‘Gravitating towards Success’ I mention the three ‘W’s that a person needs to achieve success in his/her life and I would like to leave you with them in closing this brief article, because in the end, it does not matter whether you have a degree or not, it does not matter the station in your life you find yourself – these are mere excuses and you must be better than those that allow excuses to make them settle!

The power to change is within your DNA and it is up to you to unleash it and relish its evanescence. So, whatever you want to achieve: wish for it, will it and work for it – and you will obtain the stuff of your dreams!

Article contributed by Daniel Theyagu

About the author
lateral-logoDaniel Theyagu has been a keynote speaker at seminars and conferences and, as a corporate trainer, has designed and customised specialised training for more than 300 companies and organisations. Since 1989, more than 200,000 people have attended Daniel’s training sessions. As an author, Daniel has written five books and his articles on self-improvement and personal success are regularly featured in newspapers, magazines and electronic media. Daniel is also regularly invited by MediaCorp 938 Live to conduct radio talk shows.

A highly inspiring and motivating trainer, Daniel is best known for his light-hearted and humorous delivery style and for being able to connect effectively. Many of his participants leave his training programmes rejuvenated and feeling enabled to realise their returns on investment almost immediately.

Daniel is the managing partner of Lateral Solutions Consulting LLP and a consulting facilitator with Ek-Legein Connections. Daniel can be contacted via www.lateralsc.com.

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