Devote time to un-schooling

Divya Pahwa
4 min readSep 16, 2013


When I went to university I ended up in a discipline (Sociology) that I surprisingly loved. I read the most fascinating books (such as this one, this, this, and this), my perspective on the world changed, and I got advice from some really smart people.

But I realized early on that the credentials I was going to graduate with were probably worth little in the real world.

Two years ago I read something that stuck with me:

If you get creative in the informal job market (and outside of legally licensed fields like law and medicine), the notion of “job requirements” is—as we’ve seen—negotiable.

On that account, I am not dismissing the necessity for credentials in certain areas (legal/medical). But, if you’re in the boat that I was in, that is, majoring in something a little more “soft,” you have to be a bit more proactive and aware of what’s going on. If you want to break into another field (ex. programming, design, writing, sales, photography, multimedia, the arts, entrepreneurialism), what you’ve created and done in the past sometimes holds more value than what is written on your degree.

Here are some of the things I did and few things I wish I knew earlier:

Solicit feedback ruthlessly

Get feedback from everyone you can. Ask your professors, also your peers, and try extra hard to get feedback from people that are not in university and/or have been out of the system for a while.

Get feedback on everything. On your writing, the way you made your most recent decision, your side projects, your schedule, social situations,etc.

Getting feedback is probably the best way to improve yourself. There are just some things that we can’t see in ourselves that other people can point out fast. Prioritize this and you’ll be way ahead the rest of your peers.

How do you do this? It’s mustering up a small amount of courage and just saying “Hey, can I ask you a question?” And then ask it.

Most people are honoured you’d ask them.

Some people might be vague with their feedback, which might not help out all that much. But every once in a while you’ll find someone who is brutally honest. These are the people you need more feedback from. Be thankful, put the advice in to practice, and then pay it forward. When someone asks you for advice, be honest.

Solve problems and add value

The one thing that made me most hirable came from emailing someone I admired and offering to help them out.

This is something I learned in the Recession-Proof Grad by Charlie Hoehn.

Quick summary of his process: reach out to someone you’d like to work for. Offer to work on a mini project that would be useful to them, for free to start. Then blow them out of the water with your work. Nurture that relationship and develop yourself.

Everyone is struggling with something, and everyone’s too busy. Use that to your advantage, offer to help.

Develop a Skill

If you take anything away from this piece it’s this: while you’re at university make something else a big part of your life (Read: actively avoid trying to make your world revolve only around school). You have control over who you become. Develop a skill on the side.

For instance (and inspiration):

  • While Marie Curie completed her studies, she quietly fostered her interest in radioactivity by researching/experimenting in her spare time.
  • The Marketing Director of American Apparel doesn’t have a degree in marketing, business, or engineering. He taught himself how to “market”.
  • American author, John Green, encourages people to mess about with things on their own and create “gifts for people.”
  • One of the most coveted personal finance gurus today, Ramit Sethi, majored in Science, Technology, Society with a minor in Psychology. Personal finance was a side interest that he developed by starting an educational blog.

So how do you go about doing this? For starters:

Find someone outside of the university world to work under. Research them. Try to understand what sort of problems they have and might be too busy to deal with. Offer to help them with those problems. Here’s a good guide on figuring out who to approach and how to approach them. Don’t worry about coming off as annoying. Young people have an advantage; we can be annoyingly persistent without necessarily coming off as annoying.

Develop a sellable skill. Break down what skills your ideal job requires. For instance if you want a marketing job, do you know how to write well? Do you know how to make people feel good? Do you know basic photoshop? Do you know how to write copy for a website that converts? Learn each specific skill. Then pitch it to someone who needs it. Education is essentially accessible to anyone with wifi. You can teach yourself nearly anything for free or for cheap. Check out M.I.T’s free online courses, Khan Academy, Udemy, and Skillscrush. Here’s a complete list of massive open online courses.

Do your thing, of course, study and while you’re at it develop a skill on the side. Reach out to someone, apprentice, and get feedback on everything. Solve problems, provide value, and try to find meaningful work.

It’s up to you to create the life you want.

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