Story 9: Should You Go Back to School or See Where Life Takes You?

Here’s how to know for sure

Based on a true story

I can’t say whether your late twenties will be the hardest years for you or not, but they were for me…especially from an emotional perspective. I went from having a “real job and a stable career,” to waiting tables where I was barely making a living wage. I had wasted 8 years of my life getting my degree, yet I still felt like I wasn’t going anywhere in life. Partly, because I was doing the same job I was doing before I graduated college. I saw no value in having received a college education. Each month I fell further and further behind on my student loan payments. Meanwhile, all my friends from college seemed to be happy and thriving in their careers. I know because I read all their Facebook comments and updates. I was happy for them, I just felt I should be further along than I was. A disappointment is what some saw from the outside looking in, but what they didn’t see is that I was slowly putting myself back on track.

Learn A New Skill On Your Own

Not only did I come up with an entirely new idea (“The T-wrap Sleeve”) that had viable potential to elevate my side hustle (my t-shirt line) to another level, but I had also managed to unlock some new skills I never knew I had. Skills like creativity: turns out I was really good at coming up with graphic designs, new product ideas, and also finding anything, about anyone, online. I took an even deeper interest in “inventing products”, so I decided to postpone my t-shirt line to find out how far my ideas would take me.

Right away, I started surfing the internet for the best industrial design programs across the country. I triggered the same hunger for knowledge as I had attained in previous months when I was searching for the meaning of passion. My curiosity was budding, and all I wanted to do was ingest more knowledge.

Of course I was a little hesitant about going back to school. After all, I hadn’t had the best experiences in my past. It seemed ridiculous to return back-to-school…Yet, I suspended my thoughts and kept a fresh outlook since I believed I would be pursuing a subject I was deeply interested in.

Do The Math: Can You Afford College?

I eventually compiled a list of 10 design schools. One of the schools on my list was the Art Institute of Dallas, which was a mile in half north of Downtown Dallas and where I resided. I called them the very next day and scheduled a campus tour. A week later I met up with an admission counselor who gave me a tour around the campus. To this day, I still remember how beautiful the library was. At the end of the tour, my advisor and I sat down and she handed me a small brochure that explained the breakdown of all the tuition fees and costs. I nearly made a scene as I coughed out loud, almost choking on my split. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was to learn art! I just shook my head in disbelief. I didn’t want to embarrass myself by saying something like “I can’t afford it” so I took her business card, thanked her and drove home.

I was still hopeful about my plan to return to school to study industrial design… that’s until I expanded my research. The more schools I researched, the higher the tuition fees seemed to rise above what I could afford. I knew that the book was closed on my plan to go back-to-school. I didn’t think getting another degree was worth getting into more debt. I had made that mistake before and I wasn’t going to let it happen again. I was done hoping and wishing my education would lead me to my passion. I decided to see where my life would take me on my own. I decided to teach myself how to invent products. I can assure you that my decision not to go back to school might have been reevaluated if my mother had forked out a ton of money for me. Thank God, we had empty pockets.

The Habit of Being Resourceful

At the time, I didn’t have the slightest clue where to get started on my new self-taught journey. I decided to do a search on Google using the keywords “inventor communities in Dallas, Texas” which lead me to Texas Inventors’ Association: a community that helped inventors with their invention ideas. The meeting was held inside of a small public library and lasted only an hour and a half. After the meeting was over, I went up to the coordinator and introduced myself. Our conversation wound up leading me to the North Texas Small Business Development Center (SBA) for additional help. By now, I was on a wild-goose chase. I befriended one of the in-house patent attorney with the SBA. A white guy, probably in his mid-forties and very helpful. He answered all my questions, despite the fact I had about a million of them.

Our initial meeting was supposed to only last one hour, but we exceeded our time limit for another thirty minutes before either one of us noticed. I captured a lot of good advice. I sensed he saw some potential in my idea because he thought I might be able to make some real money licensing out my idea to companies as a promotional item. My eyes widened. Then, he asked me: have you ever thought about inventing a new laptop covers since book covers are becoming obsolete due to iPads? CaBoom! My mind was racing with a tons of other idea. I knew I was on the right path. If you’re not familiar with licensing, licensing is when you authorize a company to use your idea in exchange for something like a royalty fee.

Strategic Planning

I became obsessed with the idea that I could make money licensing out my ideas to other companies. That sounded exactly like the life I was looking for. Except, there was only one problem, I didn’t know anything about licensing ideas. What did I do next? I started reading books about licensing my ideas. Eventually, I stumble across a book called “One Simple Idea” by Stephen Key, which taught me the fundamentals on how to create and license new ideas. After I finished the book, my mental gears were turning on all six cylinders.

My Next Blog Story…

I’m happy to say my SBA experience went better than I expected. I came out of the meeting feeling even more confident about my idea. The information I received from the SBA was exactly what I needed to hear to take another step forward. I started planning to file a design patent, but before I did so, I wanted to get someone else’s opinion on whether my idea was really any good. I decided to show my idea to a friend of mine who also waited tables with me. Let me just say… some people were excited and happy for me, while others said my idea was dumbest thing they had ever seen in their life…

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