Education or Ignorance

I’ve been very fortunate to have spoken to audiences on more college and university campuses from coast to coast than I can recount. I’ve spoken to high school students, college students, administrators, business groups, and public groups. I’ve spoken to audiences with advanced degrees as well as those who were thrilled to have achieved their GED.

I am and always have been an advocate of life-long learning. I’m proud to have passed that philosophy on to my children and grandchildren and I hope to tens of thousands who have attended my seminars and keynotes over the decades. Anyone who’s familiar with our web site and/or blog is aware of the fact that I strive to learn at least one new fact every single day of my life.

I recently learned another apparent truth, which I believe I’ve suspected for years but have finally resigned to accept as a reality: Education DOES NOT necessarily equate to intelligence or wisdom.  The acquisition of wisdom requires a person to be open to input and feedback in their daily lives. As Henry Ford said, “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

Over the years I have met a large number of people who have earned more degrees than I can comprehend. I envy their accomplishment. I respect them for their efforts. However, I feel sorry for them IF they become closed to input and feedback in their daily work lives because they’ve learned so little. I say that because of what I have observed of these people in the reality of the workplace. They are not open to change. They feel no need to continue their education as technology enhancements continue to bombard us daily, new techniques and strategies are introduced regularly, new products and services are continually updated, and the world becomes flatter as reflected in our daily newspapers and emphasized in The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman. However, these people apparently think they already learned all there is to learn. They scorn ideas and concepts that have stood the test of time as being outdated, and they close their minds to anything that might appear as new and/or different. They don’t read books, magazines, or newspapers and don’t even bother to monitor television or the Internet from time to time in search of new discoveries. They’re very closed-minded and often attempt to intimidate those who may disagree with them.

Don’t misunderstand. I’m not describing everyone who has achieved educational excellence. Not by any means. I have also worked with individuals with advanced degrees who thrive on and take pride in their efforts to continue their education in as many arenas as possible. I know people with Ph.D.s who have invested a great deal of time, energy and money to attain this lofty goal that so many aspire to achieve. Upon achieving this objective, they have no inclination to abandon their desire for life-long learning. They encourage and assist others to do the same. They may not always agree with but are always open to new information involving any development. They view life as a learning experience and love every moment of it.

In either case, success has little to do with education or the academic degree that reflects that accomplishment. It has everything to do with the philosophy of the person involved and how they chose to utilize that education. In the first scenario, I question if the person has learned anything other than facts and figures. In the second scenario, this person has developed the ability to rise above his/her circumstances to view the larger picture. They have obviously converted their education into the wisdom it takes to lead their organization, country, family, team, church, neighborhood and themselves to the greatest heights of success. They don’t view life-long learning as a burden but rather an exciting and challenging opportunity they eagerly seek out. They stand head and shoulders above the first scenario participants who are not open to input and feedback in their daily lives

Then there are those on the lower end of the educational spectrum: high school dropouts, those with nothing more than a GED, those who barely graduated from high school, college drop-outs, and those who barely made it through the lowest levels of higher education. Many of these people have accomplished nothing and will continue on that disastrous path.

Even more of those in that group have overcome their lack of education to climb to great heights of achievement. Today they’re demonstrating great leadership in military services, Fortune 500 companies, politics, various entrepreneurial areas, communities across the nation, and any number of other leadership roles. Leadership authority John Maxwell recently revealed:

  • More than 50% of all CEOs of Fortune 500 companies had C or C- averages in college!
  • 65% of all U.S. senators came from the bottom half of their school classes.
  • 75% of U.S. Presidents were in the Lower-Half Club in school.
  • More than 50% of millionaire entrepreneurs never finished college!

Members of this group are always open to new ideas, respect age-old concepts that continue to prove viable, are open to change, read as much as they can, question those who have more experience, seek out mentors, welcome new technology, monitor news resources constantly, take risks, leap from their current comfort zone, and continue to smile in satisfaction as they strive for life-long learning.

In short, it’s not education that is so important. There are many highly educated homeless people, prisoners, and unemployed in this country today. On the other hand, there are many uneducated people in these same categories.

Conversely, some of the most successful people in every area of achievement would not be there if it weren’t for their excellent educational history. A good education is invaluable today and should be supported and promoted to every young person in the nation as an essential step to achieve their aspirations.

Then there are those who have not been fortunate enough to have acquired a higher education for any number of various reasons. However, they have enjoyed tremendous success by capitalizing on so many other valuable assets at their fingertips … the most obvious being that of life-long learning.

So again it’s quite obvious that an education is nowhere near as crucial as what you choose to do with it. I proudly salute those individuals with advanced degees who choose to use their education as a stepping stone to a life-long crusade of learning. Sharing that praise are all those who have overcome their lack of education to reach great heights while continuing their informal educational pursuits.

When you go to work tomorrow, survey those within your work environment. You’ll quickly recognize each of the personalities I described above. Which are you pleased to work with? Which are you proud to call a teammate? Which contributes to a positive work climate, productivity, and results? Which will help your organization grow and compete? Which are you?

For those of you with children today, please plant that seed of life-long education deep in the psyche of their minds and hearts. It is truly the key to their success.

About Harry K. Jones

Harry K. Jones is a motivational speaker and consultant for AchieveMax®, Inc., a company of professional speakers who provide custom-designed seminars, keynote presentations, and consulting services. Harry's top requested topics include change management, customer service, creativity, employee retention, goal setting, leadership, stress management, teamwork, and time management. For more information on Harry's presentations, please call 800-886-2629 or fill out our contact form.

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