As part of my self-reflection series, we’ll start off with higher education since that is what I was pursuing when I started off my 20s. Thanks to AP classes in high school, a summer in Italy, and my drive to finish university as fast as possible, I was able to complete my Bachelor of Arts in 3 years. When I turned 21, I was 2 months away from graduating and already starting graduate courses. At the time, this all seemed extremely important and I guess it was for helping me get the thing I wanted most: complete freedom. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do at this point in my life, but a career as a university professor seemed pretty appealing, so I pursued my Master’s immediately following my BA and felt I was one step closer to being in complete control of all aspects of my life.
I was an all-A student and involved with several university activities, including the speech team. This was the best part of my undergraduate career. It not only allowed me to practice writing and delivering speeches, but it also gave me the opportunity to travel and see more of the world. Not to mention the scholarships it offered that covered nearly 100% of my tuition costs. All of this helped me to secure a full scholarship and assistantship to graduate school. During this time, I also began working in local television. My schedule was busy, but I loved it. Life seemed pretty good and the possibilities of what could happen next seemed limitless. I completed my MA within one year with a 3.8 GPA and 0 debt. Mission accomplished.
What I loved most about university was being away from home and on my own to express myself. I was free to explore new thoughts and ideas, meet new people, and figure out who I was. I could come and go as I pleased. And as long as I took care of my grades and tuition, I had a certain amount of freedom – which meant, and still means, more to me than anything else.
Before I decided I would pursue a career in entertainment, I really gave life in academia some serious consideration. I also thought about the other opportunities a 22-year old with a Master’s degree might have, but nothing really charmed me the way acting did. By August of 2006, I knew I wanted to work towards moving to LA or NYC. I gave myself one year to get a plan together. Seven months later, I moved to Los Angeles. I move quickly when I know what I want.
Did my higher education prepare me for what I would do next? Yes and no. Would I recommend going to university immediately following high school? It all depends on what you want to do. At the time I thought my degrees would be necessary, but for a career in Hollywood, I probably could have moved to LA at 18 instead of 22 and had more success. I never really considered this at the time, as my family was rather strict and the expectation was that I would go to university and then I could do whatever I wanted. You see why I wanted to finish so quickly.
My pursuit of Hollywood led me to new media. I’ll write a separate post about that, but for now my focus is on education. There is one thing FOR SURE that my higher education did not prepare me for which was the technological revolution that was happening on the coasts. I felt like the entire midwest had been sleeping under a rock, while LA and NYC were bustling with new media and tech start-ups. I didn’t know anything about blogging or coding or why I should use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. Unfortunately, the only solution to that problem would have been moving to the coasts sooner. Oh, well. I was thrown into the new media fire not even knowing what an html tag was and had to post our video content to share with our followers. There were many late nights in LA where I couldn’t get the embed code to work from YouTube onto our blog. This is funny in retrospect because it’s so freakin’ basic. But it seemed so advanced to me at the time. Eventually, I learned the basics of new media and changed my career goals completely.
Once I took my career down a few different paths, my degrees seemed to come in handy along with my ability to improvise and learn quickly. I’d say the combination of all that helped me stay on my feet and succeed. So I have no regrets about my two 8.5 x 11 tickets that have permitted me to work on other people’s dreams while pursuing my own. But I’ll never tell anyone they need to go to university. It really does depend on what you want to do. There are so many resources online for self-learning that if you are driven and disciplined enough, you can educate yourself and build a portfolio or business to get exactly what you want – minus 4 (or more) extra years in traditional school and the risk of unnecessary debt.
What I discovered along the way between my time in LA, NYC, Europe, Phoenix – and now, Montréal – is that degrees (unless you are practicing medicine, law, etc) – don’t really matter compared to your experiences and an impressive portfolio. Show, don’t just tell. Teach yourself the skills that will allow you to create things that are far more valuable than a university education.
My recommendations for a personal higher education?
- Take an improv class or two
- Learn how to do basic coding and design
- Learn a second language
- Learn how to cook 10 great meals
- Know how to take great photos…and videos
- Learn how to listen
- Learn not to care what others think of you
- Your mind is more important than your looks or charm in the long run. Keep it sharp.
- Enjoy every moment: the simple and the complex.