RESILIENT LIVING: Should I get an education or a degree? – By John Robb

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– I’m often asked by young people either on the cusp or already in college:  should I get a degree?   What’s the resilient choice?

That’s a tough question.

In 2008 some economists demonstrated that a college degree was typically worth $300,000 over a lifetime of work.

Unfortunately, 2008 was a lifetime ago.  In 2012, the big bureaucratic conveyor belt of industrial education that led to a lifetime of white collar employment is cooked.  Done.  Toast.  Dead.  Stick a fork in it if you don’t believe me!

This gets us back to the original question:  should I get a degree?

My answer?

  1. For those of you that want a bureaucratic job in some global company, agency or institution, pursue a degree.  The bureaucratic methods of hiring and promotion used by those organizations uses a degree as a gating factor.  However, you should be aware that there will be few of these jobs available (particularly for people that aren’t connected).
  2. For those of you that want to manufacture your own income:  you need an education and not a degree.
  3. For those of you that already have a degree, but want to move forward in a new direction:  you need an education.

Here’s the good news:  If education is your answer, your future is looking bright.  Resilient Education is already here and it is getting better, broader, and richer fast.  Best of all, it’s inexpensive (and in most cases, free).

Where can I find it?  There are lots of efforts underway, but the best is Khan Academy.  Take a look at the course catalog.   It’s rich.  Amazing.  Many of the people I know are already using Khan Academy for all of their continuing education.

Thing is, if life without the protection of a degree sounds scary, then you aren’t resilient.

How do you fix that?  To become resilient you need to:

  • Take responsibility for your education.  You are in charge of your own education.  It’s not “given” to you.
  • Treat education as a lifelong activity and not something you do only while you are young.  It’s continuous.
  • The final part is the most difficult to do.  The highest value of a degree is its use as a way to “signal” others that you are relatively smart and competent.   I’ll give you ways to signal that you are smart, competent, and trustworthy in this month’s newsletter.


Last week, I read a story about long-term unemployment.  It was an emotionally depressing read.

Here’s an example of why:

” ~Californian Byron Reeves has sent out 1,600 résumés since he lost his job in accounting nearly four years ago which resulted in only 10 unsuccessful interviews….”

Why was I depressed?

It wasn’t because Byron couldn’t find another job in accounting after four years of looking for one.

Instead, it was because Byron wasn’t resilient.  He was fragile when it came to earning the living he needs to support his family.

Byron, like millions of others currently unemployed or underemployed in the US and the EU, are living in a fantasy-land.

Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, they are convinced that good jobs, good salaries, and generous benefits are just around the corner, and that big government and big business will soon start hiring people to fill their bureaucracies again.

The depressing aspect of this, to me at least, is that many, many people are like Byron.  They can’t imagine a working life that isn’t defined by the walls of a bureaucratic cubicle, and this limitation is going to cause them an incredible amount of pain as the global economy starts to contract again (the economic collapse we’re seeing Greece and Spain are very clear warnings of what is ahead).

The Resilient Alternative

What should Byron be doing?

The correct approach, as we’re seeing in Greece and Spain as their government and business bureaucracies shrivel, is to create your own future.  To give up sending out resumes and make yourself your next job.   Or, if you still have a good job, build some alternative sources of income that can support you when you lose it.

Fortunately, for people willing to do that, there is a large and growing opportunity at the local level.

Jobs, incomes, and in some cases lifestyles that are much better and more meaningful than minimum wage shift work at McDonald’s in a failing economy.

How do you get started?

Start with something small.

A small product that you build in your garage and sell on the Web.  A small service you can offer your neighbors in town.  Jobs producing food, energy, water, and products locally and helping others to do the same.

Jobs building tool libraries, fix-it workshops, community compost systems, and solar co-ops.  Some will pay more than others, but every flow of income matters, particularly if it is recurring.

Looking for ideas?  Get together with people at co-working or maker spaces (if you are lucky enough to have one nearby) to float ideas.  Talk to friends and family.   Use your hobbies and passions for inspiration.

There are lots and lots of great examples available.  From resilient people successfully growing food locally to those helping customers harvest rainwater to those building artisanal products they ship globally to those designing new products and finding support for them online.

Here’s a recent example of a design local and get support online effort (the result is a product that may be of interest of the resilient people in our community).

Don Cayelli, a former sales engineer, combined a love of sailing and a passion for solar power to generate an idea for a high-speed solar charging system called the SunVolt.  A system he’s currently pre-selling on Kickstarter with some success (picture to the right).

He’s not in a big bureaucratic company.  He doesn’t have financing from the middlemen on Wall Street.  He’s doing this on his own.  He came up with an idea for a product he wanted to own, he built a prototype for it, and he took the idea of the product directly to potential customers for support.

He’s making his future.  Are you?

Resilient Ideas?

Here are a couple of ideas that I’ve found interesting.  I’ve included the pictures below (two of them are in collages that I’ve found useful for working through an idea).  Click them to get larger versions.

The first idea uses solar cells fused to glass as shade for a deck (featured on a Frank Gehry designed home in New Orleans).  Initial feedback when I posted this idea to Facebook was negative since it appears that the roof supports are too flimsy to secure the roof.

The second idea uses stock tubs for raised gardens.  Initial feedback was great (they can be bought inexpensively), although if you live in Texas and other hot southern climates, these tubs can get so hot they fry your roots.

The final idea is the use of smoothed corrugated piping for raised beds.  General feedback was that these were hideous.

Hope you like the ideas section.


Resiliently Yours,

John Robb

One thought on “RESILIENT LIVING: Should I get an education or a degree? – By John Robb

  1. Pingback: RESILIENT LIVING: Should I get an education or a degree? – By John Robb – A Hole in the Wall

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