Free agency

In February, ASU hosted TEDxAshokaU, a conference dedicated to “ideas worth spreading.” One of the presenters was 20-year-old Dale Stephens, a grade-school dropout who is building a career out of attacking the premise of formal education. After self-schooling through grade 12, he went to college for one year, then dropped back out to speak and write on why others should do the same.

In his forthcoming book “Hacking Your Education,” Stephens writes about real-life examples of successful people who skip college. In his presentation of the same title at TEDx, he described dropping out as an act of taking agency over his own life.

“I think the reason people have a mid-life crisis by the time they’re 40,” Stephens remarked, “is because it takes people 40 years to figure out that they have agency, that they can make decisions in their own life without getting a grade on it.”

To say that we should all drop out of school would go too far, and I doubt Stephens believes that himself. But it is probably a fair claim that in doing so, Stephens took control of his own life in a way most of us never do. And so far, his self-forged path seems to be taking him places.

There may be something to his point that college isn’t for everyone — an argument that recently made its way into our presidential politics. But his much more profound point was about self-reliance.

The agency he championed is all about controlling your own destiny. It’s not always about the choices you end up making. In many cases, the process matters most.

That process could hardly be more valuable than it’s become today. Whether you’re still in college, graduating or dropping out, you’ll live your next few years in a contracted world. The traditional paths are still out there in work and in education, but they’re getting very crowded and some may be reaching their dead ends.

Today becomes a time of incredible opportunity for free agents. Riding dramatic social and technological revolutions, today’s greatest success stories come from people who did not follow their parents. They’re changing the way we communicate, reorganizing our businesses and reshaping our social consciousness.

Free agents don’t just sit around waiting for somebody to tell them what to do. They innovate, invent, inspire and most of all just do.

Step one is learning to rely on your own judgment.

In journalism, architecture, healthcare, engineering, economics, law and education, the established wisdom has hit a brick wall. Our politics are begging for a new perspective and our industries are ripe for innovation.

Dropping out of school like Stephens may not work for you, but take his cue and manage your own learning. Maximize your knowledge, and apply it in a new way. Take a new job no one has done before or do an old job differently.

The possibilities are endless if you trust your own decisions.

Whatever you do, please just stay out of law school.

 

Reach the columnist at john.a.gaylord@asu.edu

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