Back when I was a young freshman in high school, spending 20 hours a week on my company, a few city managers to whom I was pitching my product asked whether I was going to college. I hadn’t given it a second of thought. "Of course," I responded. Everyone in my immediate family had gone to college. My Mom’s side of the family tree is full of academics.
Some thought this was a good idea ("There’s so much to learn" or "The social life is amazing"). Some thought this was a bad idea ("It will hold you back, you need something better, and different")
I didn’t ask myself this question until my junior year in high school. I had been successful in the "real world" with my entrepreneurship. I had developed a curiosity about why the world works as it does that demanded different skills than the traditional classroom. My grades in school were poor — in part due to my intensive commitment to my company, in part because I wasn’t good at scoring high on tests (both the testing and recall). The kind of intellectual exposure I encountered in the business world — smart, high energy folks who challenged my ideas and provided new ways of thinking — seemed absent in the classroom. Despite top notch teachers and impressive students, so many of my classes in high school couldn’t engage me (or I couldn’t engage them). I wasn’t "above" the classes; our styles didn’t mesh.
For a long time I was simply ambivalent about whether college was in my future. I remember a reporter asked me this question and I said, "Yes" and then a second later added, "If it makes sense with where I’m going."
Then I met marketing author Seth Godin in New York and discussed where I was in the college process. He posed an idea I call "Real Life University." Seth questioned whether four years in a place that teaches how to be normal filled with students who are looking for a degree helps me. He wondered aloud whether two years on the road traveling in different cultures, and two years reading books and meeting mentors, would be a better experience.
From that point forward my opinion on the matter became clear: I want to spend four years of my life learning. I don’t want to graduate from high school and just start more businesses. After all, business is only kind of interesting. I want to learn. I want to explore.
"Real Life University" – four years of reading and exploration, guided by a "board of trustees" of advisors and mentors – became a real idea I refined and held in my back pocket.
I wanted to give myself options. I would pursue the traditional college admissions process and see what happens. If none of my college options suits my fancy, I thought to myself, I can always do Real Life U.