The Big Lie: Education=Financial Success

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  • Let’s go there.

    The big lie: education=financial success.

    Or does it?

    I have been in school since age six and am a tenured professor turned entrepreneur. It is safe to say I have been in school just about my whole life. As a social entrepreneur who really believes one can make money and make a significant difference in the world, I have been really dealing with myself as well as my clients—purpose-driven high-achieving black women experts, execs, entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional services providers who have walked through some sort of fire in their life—who are extraordinarily accomplished with credentials and experience out the wazoo, but have difficulty translating their expertise into big bucks.

    So I am interested in exploring the dissonance between education and success. My intention with this inquiry is to offer a new paradigm for success I am calling a Ph.D. in business for successful sisters.

    Let’s start here. In 1991, Chris Argyis published an article in the Harvard Review, Teaching Smart People How to Learn, where he notes how success is directly linked to a person’s ability to learn. Well, smart people, particularly leader types, suck at learning. Learning requires failing, and smart people identify their sense of self with winning. So if they fail, their behavior becomes defensive and they are not open to feedback, suggestions or help. To accept such overtures would signify to the smart leader that she or he is not enough.

    I think about my clients—smart, passionate, committed, beloved Type A personalities sisters with hearts as big as Texas—who limit their success because they can’t fail. A failure to them makes them a failure at the core level. My client base is diverse, yet we all have the same sort of experience. How? Why? Where did we get this sense of ‘failure/I’m a failure’ propensity as a culture of high achieving sisters? The answer is obvious: school.

    I know there are many other factors involved in identity theory—trust me; it’s my area of expertise as a theorist and philosopher—but walk with me for a moment on this one. North American education is rooted in an Enlightenment notion of learning:  deductive logic and repeating facts. Meaning, if you work hard and do well, you can expect to be rewarded with a good job, which leads to success. Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk, How Education is Killing Creativity, explains how traditional education is obsolete in the 21st century because the old Enlightenment Period model of education is completely outdated for a globalized economy and a hyper-connected world.
    Think back to your educational experience. In school, you were rewarded for getting the answers right. In school, you learned how to play by the rules or there were consequences. In school, you learned to work hard, be congenial, get along, not rock the boat and beat the competition.

    Can you see where this is going?

    All of those behaviors directly undermine your business success. If you want a sustainable and profitable business, you have to be willing to fail in order to succeed. You have to break the rules to be successful–especially the self-imposed rules that limit your performance. You have to work smart, not hard, to have your business grow. You have to be creative and flexible instead of trying to do it right.

    Let me say it like this: the traditional education paradigm teaches students how to land a ‘good job’ where your skills, talents, experience, and personality save the day. Yet most MBAs, marketing programs, and sales trainings didn’t account for the economy tanking. What do you do when you have spent a fortune on an education that is just about obsolete in a globalized, Internet-connected world?

    Even if you haven’t dropped bucket-loads of cash—or student loans—on your MBA, you have poured the equivalent in sweat equity into your business, career, or job, working countless hours and sacrificing health, family time, and peace of mind in order to ‘make it.’  But when you look at where you are, you realize you have gone no where fast. No traction. Just incremental movement at a snail’s pace.

    This dependency on ‘a good education’ puts a glass ceiling on one’s income, fighting for clients from the competition, and thousands and thousands of dollars poured down the drain into trainings, sales courses, and marketing programs that haven’t worked. The result for high achieving sisters is that they are so not where they thought they would be by now. The feeling of impending failure lurks just under the surface.

    Here’s the thing. It’s time to get into the 21st century by upgrading your most valuable asset—YOU. It’s time for you to go back to school— a different kind of school that offers a different kind of education.

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    54 thoughts on “The Big Lie: Education=Financial Success

    1. August 12,2013

      Please, Please Help us! In the February 14,2013 Wayne County Newspaper,( Front Page) It tells of the school violations and bullying and harassment my children have suffered in the WCSD,Mississippi. But, it did not mention that the latest of those threats were from the school KKK note. Now, this same girl where two knifes were found on her is back at school and sitting behind my child on their bus.
      This is not the first racial discrimination . My kids have a right to a safe school environment.
      The WCSD said they would handle it and they would prosecute and she would not be back on that campus. They would not tell me one court date no notification, just it’s been handled. 911 did not even send an officer at my request the day of.
      The children are shocked and scared. I beg for justice. I do not know why help for justice is so hard. They are not going back to school until they are represented. This is sad that anyone would think we are okay with this.

    2. Are you serious? It is disingenuous at best to tell anyone to forget an education and you can make 6 or 7 figures in income.And for an educator I would have thought more of you. You
      are saying without an undergrad, grad or terminal degree you can earn what 1% of 1% of the population earns. I say this is a statistical impossibility without a few caveats in place: an
      already well off family, an inherited enterprise, or a job on wall street as a hedge fund manager. If one is not a professional athlete(of whom many have or were pursuing degrees) I advise people to formulate a plan of success while getting a higher degree. Jayz probably does have a dollar for every failed Jayz. But I guarantee he has an office full of accountants, agents, lawyers, and publicists with degrees.

    3. So, to cut to the chase, what do you propose as an alternative, Dr. Reese? As my late grandmother used to say, are you trying to sell us something or tell us something?

    4. Black women should look to Rachael Jeantel aka Diamond as a role model of a successful woman of color.

      Peace/out

    5. Please put out an article on how to do this: I propose that we purpose-driven, high-achieving sisters who want so badly to do well with our lives, stop trying to position our skills, talents, gifts, experience, pedigrees, affiliates, in the marketplace and start to elevate our worth.

    6. I was just having a similar conversation with sisters on Facebook recently. I am working hard to dig myself out of the trap of education = success. I got all the way up to doing over 30 credits in a doctoral program when I finally woke up. But never really tied my need for education to prove my self worth — a great AHA moment. I have been working to build a business for the last couple of years after years of building up the courage to finally do my own thing. Unfortunately I was forced into giving entrepreneurship a try due to losing my job. I have fallen flat on my face many times in the last year. But now I feel much more equipped to risk failure and ridicule each time I get up. Thanks, sis, for this message. I signed up for your email list and I look forward to hearing more from you.

    7. I say something very similar in the beginning of my eBook Red White AND Poor – Smart, is the “result” of Education, not the other way around…. In other words, Education does NOT Make you Smart. Education only gives you the tools and more confidence to achieve one’s goals. Does it “make” you – No!

      All you really need to know is,
      It’s not what you do… it’s how “legal” it is!

      You can invent/create/do anything you want in this world – so long as it’s legal, and doesn’t hurt anyone else.

      Unfortunately, we (as a race) don’t support our own! If anything we harbor a secret jealousy against one another, and a resentment of a (supposed) success! Instead of cheering each other on, forwarding each other’s links, using Social Media to promote our worth, we do just the opposite – Nothing!

      My legacy will be to change all of that, with or without your help! We need our own independence without depending on Mainstream Society to provide it to us!

      Here’s your Equal Opportunity – now use it…. But here are the rules… Once we learn those rules, we will succeed with or w/o a Degree!

      Also chronicled in Red White AND Poor, how Economics & Outsourcing have Racially Divided America, via, Amazon.com
      Despite the title – America needs to practice Americanism first and come together as the Human Race!

    8. What is a “social entrepreneur” ? Is getting that 1st degree really that worthless? Is getting (and keeping) a good job which supports your family NOT “worthy” ? What is the price of the program you are selling?

      • Hi C-Tech, great questions! Here is a definition of Social Entrepreneurship: “Social entrepreneurship is the process of pursuing innovative solutions to social problems. More specifically, social entrepreneurs adopt a mission to create and sustain social value. They relentlessly pursue opportunities to serve this mission, while continuously adapting and learning. Social entrepreneurs act boldly, not constrained by resources currently in hand. They hold themselves accountable for achieving the social mission and use resources wisely. They draw upon the best thinking in both the business and nonprofit worlds and operate in all kinds of organizations: large and small; new and old; religious and secular; nonprofit, for-profit, and hybrid” No, degrees are not worthless; but if you are getting degrees to prove your worth, that is a hard row to hoe. In terms of my pricing, presently I am offering a complementary training for Black Women who are hungry to grow a 6 or 7 figure business that is rooted in their worth. Thanks for taking the time to post. I appreciate your engagement. Dr. Venus

        • Dr. Venus, that is an excellent description. Are you offering this training for white women as well? If not, is that not the very definition of discrimination?

    9. Venus – Amen and I agree with your comments in the article. Women often look for one more certification to prove their worth. As I read your article I thought of a private client that I worked with that had taken a coaching certification course. Prior to the course, she was getting awesome results. After taking the certification, she believed she had had it all wrong. She changed her model and her clients were no longer thriving. Much of our work together was undoing the limiting beliefs the course had put into her mind! Once she let go of the education, she was able to see her full strength was processing differently and she was no less valuable, just different.

      I often think about what we can do to help our children and clients be ok with failure.

      Some of the best life experiences I’ve had have come from failing and regrouping. As a recovering perfectionist, this was a very hard thing for me to learn. For years I thought the only way I could earn love from others was to be “successful” in conventional terms. It wasn’t until I almost lost my life that I learned my truth. People are going to love you and hate you for their reasons. That is about them. Living your truth and taking risks to serve the world in your own glorious way is way more filling and effective.

      Glad you are here to play big and share the tough topics.

      • HI Stephanie–thanks for sharing. I too have learned more much from my failures. And love your insight about other people’s stuff being about them. I have been growing into relating as if NOTHING is personal. Thanks for sharing–and I am so happy you are alive and well. The world needs you!

    10. This article is amazing Venus and so right on point – I don’t think this myth is limited to the black sisterhood either! The educational system is badly broken – it is of no use in preparing intelligent beings to create a life that is based upon the unique and precious gifts they are here to deliver into the world. It failed me, and it failed my child as well. I have been looking for an educational reform voice to support for a long long time because I believe our present system is beyond dysfunctional and directly contributes to both cultural and societal depression. When your natural talents are suppressed in favor of the “A” or in favor of fitting into some sort of socially accepted, competition based, production control system that is designed to train people for manufacturing jobs and completely cuts them off from their own natural talents, evolution and growth, it becomes clear why the economy built on that system would eventually become depressed as well. Big and wonderful news for the manufacturers of depression medication but for everyone else??? Good on you for taking this conversation to the next level. Let’s find the solution to this problem before we cut off all possibility for having the energy to actualize it!

    11. This article is amazing Venus and so right on point – I don’t think this myth is limited to the black sisterhood either! The educational system is badly broken – it is of no use in preparing intelligent beings to create a life that is based upon the unique and precious gifts they are here to deliver into the world. It failed me, and it failed my child as well. I have been looking for an educational reform voice to support for a long long time because I believe our present system is beyond dysfunctional and directly contributes to both cultural and societal depression. When your natural talents are suppressed in favor of the “A” or in favor of fitting into some sort of socially accepted, competition based, production control system that is designed to train people for manufacturing jobs and completely cuts them off from their own natural talents, evolution and growth, it becomes clear why the economy built on that system would eventually become depressed as well. Big and wonderful news for the manufacturers of depression medication but for everyone else??? Good on you for taking this conversation to the next level. Let’s find the solution to this problem before we cut off all possibility for having the energy to actualize it!

      • Aman! Amethyst, my soul sister from another mister! Thanks for engaging in the conversation. And you are absolutely correct: sisters and children of all hues need to be taught to value themselves. Thanks!

    12. An important conversation indeed. We have an unspoken credo of “failure not being an option.” It is our amour, a mask and a travesty. Failure is feedback and the only true education of life.

      The pressure of proving worthiness is exhaustive and doesn’t work in the paradigm of the 21st century.

      Brava for you courage of having this delicious hard, thought provoking conversation. I feel us speaking on it at this very moment is perfection and glad to have this dialogue.

      • Thank you Fonda for taking the time to share and support. Worthiness versus worth in the market place are two very different things. My intention is to teach us how to leverage our worth so we walk in our own authority. BTW: your braids are beautiful…

    13. Powerful truth, Venus. Thank you for having the courage to share it. I, too, have amassed credentials, degrees, & position all to counter my dysfunctional, traumatic, & abusive upbringing. All to prove my worth. And even though I am an educator, I know what we are teaching our students isn’t necessarily going to best serve them. My mission now, is to break free of the lies that bind & do the work that truth demands. Mt authentic self was created to bolder things

    14. Thank you Dr. Reese for starting this important and much needed conversation. I’m a physician who retired my medical practice and has become a doctorpreneur. Early into my entrepreneurial experience I realized what you described. In order to succeed as an entrepreneur I had to unlearn many of the habits that helped me become successful as a physician. Giving myself permission to take risks, make mistakes, and even begin to share my story has relieved a lot of stress. It also helps me practice what I teach about releasing health sapping, toxic thoughts and beliefs.

    15. I hear you Venus! While I got the Master’s Degree many years ago “for my career” (in corporate America at the time), I learned more about business and how the world really works in my first two years as an entrepreneur than I did in the 20 years previous in school and in a corporate job! And most of that learning came from making mistakes, picking myself up, and trying something else. Keep the message going!

      • Thanks Sherri! I did major personal growth when I started my company. I hear you about the schooling and corporate America. Neither is designed or intended to make you rich. I am glad you flew the corporate coop! Thanks for posting!

    16. Thank you for this beautiful and heartfelt article, Venus! This ‘affliction’ is just as acute in many parts of Asia – I live in the US now, and was born and raised in an Asian city where the more degrees you had after your name, the better society perceived you to be, and the more ‘obedient’ you’d be for a structured & fairly predictable workplace.

      I LOVE all the points you raised about the mismatch between traditional education and its (ir)relevance to the modern globalized economy. This is a deep passion of mine, and drives how I serve as a leadership and innovation culture expert for fast-growing organizations. Our inability to ‘fail forward’, so that we can grow and learn as individuals or organizations, is sabotaging ALL of our chances for a sustainable career and collective future.

      The world needs to hear this message as often are we’re ready to express it. Keep doing your great work via your tribe – I’m doing the same within organizations, to help them wake up before it’s too late.

      • Maya–you rock! I never considered the disregard for a globalized society. That’s an excellent point. It’s almost like a willed blindness to change. Thank you for sharing this and drawing this point out of the article–I myself just took for granted globalization. Thank you my friend for your genius. My tribe and your tribe should chat! Clearly we are on the same page… Thanks again.

    17. This article explains my background clearly and articulately – it may make sense to you too, male/female, black/white or any combination of these – the paradigm I grew up within, and probably you did too if you trained as an academic, constricts me/us and it’s possible to wake up!! Thank you Dr Venus for your work!!

    18. Finally, someone said it. Thank you! As an attorney turned social entrepreneur myself, I totally agree with you. I still believe that we need our credentials because like it or not we are often judged by our degrees and the schools from which those degrees were conferred, but our educational system is for training employees when the amount of jobs available is steadily shrinking. Everyone would be wise to take their skills – trade or professional – and use them for themselves instead of making other folks rich. This is a hard paradigm to shift, but eventually the masses will begin to see the light. Or else.

    19. Venus, you hit the nail on the head once again! Way back when, I was 1 out of 5 women in an MBA program. I thought that was a big deal. Now, MBA’s are a dime a dozen. I wished they would have taught us about entrepreneurship and finding our “Money Maker”. Instead, I learned about things I never, ever used. I later taught a college finance class as an adjunct professor and said the following: “Close your books. None of that happens in the real world.”

      • LOL! Really Dori? You closed the book? Now that is radical! Sweet! Education is a business first and a social tool second. I hear you about the dime a dozen MBA. Now there are people with PhDs who never had to do the 13 years I had to drop. Now they can do it online. It is a new world…

    20. FAIL means FIND ALL IMPORTANT LESSONS.
      Nobody can learn on a deeper level than when you’ve been knocked down once, and get the GUMPTION to keep going, to ever greater levels of success, as you define it for yourself.

      Perhaps you’ll take this article and make it into a syllabus for women entrepreneurship to be taught at universities world-wide? Maybe you’ll settle for a book called “FAIL yourself RICH – The High-Achievers’ Guide to Making Money Work For YOU”.

      The big lesson here is to stop buying into an archaic system based on post-industrial revolution schooling.

      You just create a curriculum that ROCKS, and empower everyone who desires to redefine self-worth and value to the world.

      I’m cheering you on while you do!!! Keep sparkling!

    21. Beautifully written my friend. Yes, education of the 21st Century is killing our children. By working together and helping each other we will succeed. Is my thought process.

      Like many, I believe school was helpful, yet, the things I’ve been learning since leaving the the ‘traditional’ school system has been much more beneficial to my growth.

      Thanks Dr. Venus, you are a light for so many women of all backgrounds.

      • Thanks Aime. I think school is helpful as well–but not as a tool for validation. At least that’s how I used it. Thanks for hearing and see the universal in the article. I appreciate the love, my sister from another mister…

    22. Dear Dr. Venus…I agree with you here as well and I’m staggered by the depth of your strength, vulnerability, honesty and passionate commitment to being truly effective. Your article makes me wonder what grades the University system would get in terms of actually helping people to become financially free. Knowing what I know now, I wish that I would have invested 100k in a financially relevant education with a focus on being a service oriented entrepreneur rather than getting a liberal arts degree. So, l look forward to the day when financial literacy is interwoven with every level of our educational quest beginning before pre-school (Sesame Street could be teaching all of us to have a lot more fun with money) and I pray that your article reaches millions of people around the world :0)

      • Joshua–you are great man. Thank you for baring witness to my growth and healing. Thank you for always sending me love and baring witness. Ashe my brother from another mother:-)

    23. Wow, can I relate! I call it the “trance of accomplishment” where we pile up the degrees and achievements to get validated as worthy. Best to awaken from this trance and forge a career that speaks to our authentic self, not the need to be OK in others’ eyes. Great, provocative article.

      • Thanks Nancy! I like the phrase, ‘trance of accomplishment.’ That is so true. I think as we value our selves the need to sleep walk through life falls away. Thanks again for taking the time to post…

    24. Extremely thought provoking article! Coming from both an academic and social background I can safely say that the points raised in this article is worth a mention in any and all circles! Self worth rules, well in the words of Dr Reese, it rocks!!

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