One Size Fits No One

I ran across an interesting statement in my reading this morning: “…school was taking up a lot of the time I would have spent on learning.

The knee-jerk reaction to that statement is that it feels somewhat like an oxymoron — school is all about learning, isn’t it?

That very reaction, though, illustrates that even in this ever-personalized world we look for one-size-fits-all.

School’s a great example: in the U.S. at least the system is pretty much optimized with the assumption that all children need roughly the same education, and that education has the goal of being completed at a college or university.

And I can see how that came to be.

Certainly my attending college was an extremely high priority for my mother when I was young. She took additional work outside the home in order to ensure that there would be enough money to pay for my attending a university. Her desire was simple: she wanted me to “do better” than she and my father had done. “Doing better” typically meant being better educated, having more opportunity, and ultimately more financial success.

That goal was realized, and I remain incredibly grateful for the push (more of an assumption, actually) to go to college, as doing so has defined my career and more aspects of my life than I can count. I can site here some 106 days before my 60th birthday and state unequivocally that it was a total success.

Success by virtue of attending college has been the dream goal of parents for decades, hence that’s what the system has been designed for.

But it’s not the only path. Sure, it worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it works — or even should work — for everyone.

Indeed, there’s an entire movement around the fact that higher education often leaves individuals with staggering debt, and few job prospects, all while millions of skilled jobs go wanting. Learning a trade hasn’t been sexy, but it’s a valid and valuable alternative to the one-size-fits-all thinking that leads most high-school graduates to at least attempting college.

To be clear, this isn’t about whether or not higher education is a good or a bad thing, nor is it about the same relating to skilled trades. They are both appropriate for some and not for others.

And that’s the point.

It’s ironic that in a world where I can go online just about anything customized to my needs and tastes, we still desire the easy answers afforded by one-size-fits-all.

And that’s the problem: one-size-fits-all thinking is easy, in part because it isn’t thinking, it’s assuming.

Whether it be for the education path you choose, the career path that calls to you, or even the lifestyle you choose, taking the time to think for yourself, and think deeply for yourself, so as to make your own choices and decisions is what truly leads to success.

Sadly, many avoid thinking for themselves, or in some cases at all, it seems. Following the crowd or calling it “conventional wisdom” is so much easier. Problem is that it’s often wrong — conventional wisdom is often unwise.

The quote at the beginning of this post comes from a blog post by Tynan entitled “Analyzing Risk.” Risk, or our perception of it, is what drives many follow-the-crowd decisions. The reality is that even risk is personalized and depends highly on individual circumstances and values.