focus on your strengths

3 minute read

TLDR : Invest in your strengths


My sister is getting grief from parents, relatives and friends about ‘getting another degree.

This is intended to be some advice towards others, and also a reminder for myself. A degree is not the same as education.

Degree ≠ Education

For example, I think we all know some variation of this person. He/She was bad at school. But seemed to possess other skills like physical fitness, leadership, persuasion, sales skills etc.

They completely failed academically in school. Yet through educating themselves in their strengths, they became wildly more successful (than you).

What people seem to think is that having a degree means that you know about a topic. What it might mean is that you can pursue goal. But often people forget most of what they learn in a degree. It has become about signalling to employers that ‘I am the sort of person that can gain a degree’. That you can pursue goals.

This isn’t great. Pursuing goals doesn’t mean that they are the right goals for you.

The downsides of a degree

I don’t think everyone should get a degree. In Germany for example, apprenticeships are much more valued, and if they feel you can’t pursue A levels successfully, they push you towards apprenticeships.

In the UK, there are definitely plumbers/electricians making much more than white collar workers. Business owners don’t usually have a ‘business degree’, they just simply start.

I want to enumerate some of the pitfalls thinking about getting a degree.

  • It means you are smart. No, it means that you can do somewhat well in standardised testing. This attitude (can be very subtle) leads lack of learning. If you feel like you are intelligent and already know, you cease to learn.
  • You forget most of what you ‘learn’ on your degree (Krebs cycle meme)
  • Most of what you learn to get the degree is useless. That time could have been spent on useful ‘life’ skills. How to be happy, how to manage money, how to find good relationships, how to be creative etc.
  • Jumping through hoops
  • Bankrupt your self/parents. Especially if doing a non vocational degree.

That said, there are obviously benefits

What is the value of a degree/university?

  • Signalling to employers that you can pursue hard goals. Demonstrates long term thinking and delayed gratification
  • Socialising (most important): being surrounded by a peer network of equally smart people. Potentially meeting future spouse, forming lifelong friendships.
  • Independent living apart from your parents

Choose Fields that you find easy

I’ll talk a bit about my experience. I wish I had this advice in school.

I have particular strengths. I can focus single handedly on task, I can learn independently, I work well alone, I like to create and solve problems. Combined with the fact that I pretty much spent my childhood on computers, the logical option was to do Computer Science. A field that I actually find intuitive and ‘easy’.

Instead, I chose to study something that maybe didn’t suit my personality or inclination at the time. Didn’t get in to medical school the first time round.

I didn’t focus on my strengths.

Luckily, medicine is a broad field and I also realised the importance of educating yourself. I read widely outside of medicine, realising that most of what I was learning was minutiae. There were other important things to learn too.

And now, deciding on specialty applications, what you spent the next 25-30 years of your life to make a living : I’ve chosen based on my strengths and interests rather than any outside expectation or coercion.

Interest alone is not enough too. You have to be good at it. I am fascinated by psychology and the mind. Psychiatry seems interesting, yet I know that I would be a terrible psychiatrist. It doesn’t suit my strengths.

So find what you are good at. What you naturally find easy, and are also good at. Something that feels less like work and more like play.

TLDR: Advice

What everyone needs to do is :

Identify your strengths - read widely, try lots of different things and pick up things that you naturally find easy and are also good at. Then invest time into them.


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