Very few people know this about me.
But, despite me being 37 years old, I actually have a little sister who recently turned 18 and just graduated from high school.
Technically she’s my half-sister– after my parents got divorced, my father remarried and had another child when I was 19.
We have a great relationship, and I visited her last week when I was in the US to discuss the inevitable dilemma that all young people face: what’s next?
Naturally, the dominant expectation for her is to go to university where the average young person in the Land of the Free walks away with $50,000 in debt.
And, by the way, that student debt is almost impossible to discharge.
So even if you’re forced to declare bankruptcy later in life, your student debt will continue to haunt you forever.
Student debt is really nothing more than a fancier form of indentured servitude.
It keeps people chained to jobs they hate where they have little prospect of personal or professional growth all so that they can keep making those monthly payments.
What’s really ironic is how many of these student loans are owned by the US government.
In fact, according to the Treasury Department’s annual financial statements, the US government’s #1 financial asset is student debt.
That’s really sad.
Now, clearly there are instances where university education can generate a fantastic return on investment, or at least get a foot in the door.
And there are certain professions (like medicine) where it’s absolutely vital.
But expensive degrees and success in life don’t always go hand-in-hand.
Real success depends almost invariably on one’s ability to create value, whether as an employee, business owner, artist, humanitarian, etc.
And in order to create value, it’s critical to have the necessary skills. Execution. Managing people. The ability to sell. Investment management. Etc.
Many of these vital skills simply aren’t taught in a university environment.
I’ve long felt that the best way to learn critical skills is the traditional way: mentorship.
In the past, young people would become apprentices to established merchants, craftsmen, and professionals, and they would learn the trade on the job directly from people who had mastered it.
This system worked for thousands of years until our society apparently ‘evolved’.
So instead of what worked so well in the past, today we expect an 18-year old kid to know exactly what s/he wants to do for the next fifty years, and then make a life-altering financial decision to take on debilitating, non-dischargable debt in exchange for a piece of paper doesn’t actually confer any tangible skills.
This seems like a raw deal. So, I offered a bit of advice to my little sister:
Get out of your comfort zone and travel. For a few thousand dollars you can generate an exceptionally high return on investment—you’ll learn so much about the world and its opportunities.
Only when you can truly see what’s out there with your own eyes will you be educated enough to make a decision about which direction to take your life.
More importantly, travel and exploration will help develop two of the most important attributes that are critical to success: persistence, and the ability to cope with uncertain outcomes.
2) Seek mentorship.
Find someone who inspires you and who you aspire to be. Then, make yourself indispensable to that person and do whatever it takes to learn.
Sleep on the floor. Offer to carry their suitcase. Work for free. Whatever it takes to spend some time around them and learn.
Be willing to pay the price with your time and energy. But the return on investment will be enormous.
Increase your chances of success by finding other people who are one to two degrees away personally or professionally from your target.
For example, maybe you aspire to be like Warren Buffett.
But if you can’t land Uncle Warren as a mentor, research other successful value investors who are in Buffett’s concentric circles.
This would be people like Prem Watsa, Howard Marks, Jean-Marie Eveillard, etc.
3) Look abroad.
Part of being a Sovereign Man is expanding your thinking beyond borders and making the whole world your oyster.
So if you absolutely, positively feel the need for a university environment, then look overseas for lower cost options.
For example, you can attend one of the best universities in Europe (where Albert Einstein went to school in Switzerland) for less than $600 per semester.
There are dozens of fantastic options overseas.
You’ll receive a fantastic education, great international experience, develop critical language skills, AND save a LOT of money.
Even if you’re terrified of having a degree from a foreign university, then at least try it for a year or two.
Then, if you really feel compelled to have a piece of paper from your home country, you can always transfer your credits and complete your degree back home.
4) Time is your most valuable asset.
You’re only young once. This is the only time in your life where you don’t have any obligations– no mouths to feed, no mortgage to pay, no employees to look after.
Don’t waste your time and freedom indulging in endless leisure activities or posting pictures of your latest dessert on Instagram.
This is the time to truly learn… to put your heart and soul into building the knowledge, skills, and character that can set you up for the rest of your life.
Make it count.