Life experience vs. the classroom Print
Youth Column
Written by Erick Rommel, Catholic News Service   
Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016 -- 12:00 AM

My freshman year of college, I answered a question for the campus newspaper. I was asked who was more important: a professor with a doctorate or one with real-world experience? My answer was a professor with real-world experience.

My father was less than thrilled with my answer. He wasn't a professor, but he held a doctorate. Even though he also had real-world experience, he felt I was underestimating the importance of higher education.

Perhaps. But today, I look back at the question and I would give the same answer . It's not that I don't value education. Some of the most important lessons I learned in college, lessons I use daily, were taught by professors who gained knowledge through higher education. Without their guidance, I'd lack many of the critical thinking skills I have today.

At the same time, I wouldn't be the person I am today without the real-world experiences that guided and molded me. The painful lessons and thrilling triumphs I've encountered created the perspective through which I view the world.

My answer remains the same, but I think the reason for my answer has drastically changed. At the time, I was a teenager at college taking my first steps into adulthood. I admired those who had done something with their lives. I saw them as adventurers who had explored the world and returned to share their knowledge with those like me, who dreamed of following in their footsteps.

When I saw professors who spent most of their lives on campus, I believed their thoughts on the world were from a perspective disconnected from reality. To me, despite their vast quantities of knowledge, they were observers, not participants, in life.

I now realize I may have been too harsh. Experiencing the world is incredible, but stepping back and observing is often the only way to gain complete perspective. There are some fields where my answer is entirely invalid. I can appreciate that. I even agree.

If you're entering surgery or a courtroom, you don't want a doctor or lawyer with only real-world experience. You want that experience to be built on a solid foundation of classroom learning gained from experts with advanced degrees.

No matter how you answer the question, I can share one piece of critical advice. Get out of your own way. Don't stand on formality. Don't let perception affect your reality. It's easy to dream about where you'll be in 30 years, but if you don't start taking steps toward that goal today, you'll look back in three decades and wonder where things went wrong.

Today, we wouldn't have Facebook if Mark Zuckerberg hadn't dropped out of Harvard at age 21 to start a business. We wouldn't have television if Philo Farnsworth hadn't first imagined the necessary schematics as a 14-year-old. Those who use Braille wouldn't have a reading language without the innovations of 15-year-old Louis Braille.

Follow their lead toward your dreams. Stop waiting. Stop waiting for the weekend, for a rainy day, for summer. Stop waiting for someone to fall in love with you. Fall in love with someone first. Whether they love you back is irrelevant to the feelings you hold in your heart.

In the end, whether you think real-world or classroom experience is more important, success comes the same way. It appears when you stop waiting and start seeking.

Once you're successful, it doesn't matter how you got there. But take time to look back. You'll see people looking ahead with your footsteps leading their way.

Erick Rommel is a former staff writer for The Catholic Spirit in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J. His column is syndicated through Catholic News Service.


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