When I turned 18, my father took me aside to talk about my future.
“I don’t care what you do for a living“, he said, “as long as you don’t go into education.”
I obeyed to a point. I never did go into academia; I didn’t become a schoolteacher or a professor.
But I currently run a business that teaches craftsmen and professionals how to master the fundamentals of business on their own terms, without spending years in school and without racking up six-figure debts.
My dad was a schoolteacher
And he was a damn good one.
His specialties were math and science. Instead of following the textbook or drilling for tests, his students learned by doing real experiments. Every outlet in his classroom was used to power some sort of gadget. Piranhas prowled his fishtanks. Model rockets in various stages of construction were a fixture — they were the tools he used to teach sixth graders physics, chemistry, and trigonometry.
When I was eight years old, my dad decided to stop teaching. Not because he wanted to, but because working as a teacher in a tiny Ohio township didn’t pay enough to support our family. Dad’s salary was so low that our family qualified for the free/reduced lunch program at the school where he taught.
So, instead of doing what he loved to do, Dad decided to switch from teaching to administration, and began a career as an elementary school principal.
The change dramatically improved the family budget, but it was a very real sacrifice. Instead of directly interacting with his students in the classroom, Dad spent most of his time filling out paperwork, handling school politics, disciplining the 5% of the student population that couldn’t behave, and managing the parents of those students, who (more often than not) were angry their children were being disciplined.
That job made my dad miserable for over twenty years. It’s little wonder he warned me away from education.
I honestly tried to take my dad’s advice
I enrolled in college as a computer engineering major, since I was good at working with computers. Engineering was a respected, high-paying profession, which sounded great to me as a young man with no experience in the world of work.
It didn’t take me long to learn the dangers of mystique — after a year’s worth of classes, it was clear that I’d be miserable as an engineer. I didn’t care very much about how to make a faster microprocessor — I cared far more about how people use technology.
Since engineering wasn’t right for me, I decided to try business. My computer skills led me into a job at a Fortune 50 corporation (Procter & Gamble), which was experimenting with using the internet to market household products. A few years later, I found myself in brand management, working for the company that invented the field.
I was in a high paying, management-track job, working for a prestigious, well-known company.
But I was miserable.
As much as I learned in my time at P&G, I couldn’t get over the nagging feeling that something was wrong — that if I continued on the path I was walking, I’d squander my life selling bottles of soap.
So I decided to disobey my father. I went into education.
A different kind of education
By education, I don’t mean credentialing — the process of handing someone a fancy certificate for completing an arbitrary set of criteria, which is what passes for “education” in most high schools and colleges today.
I mean education in the learning sense — helping people master useful skills that will improve their lives.
I started my website, PersonalMBA.com, as a side project when I graduated from college. Instead of spending an enormous sum of money on graduate school, I decided to educate myself, and share what I learned with other people interested in doing the same thing.
Two years ago, I quit my job at P&G to teach business full time. I’m essentially a business professor — but I don’t have an MBA, I don’t have a PhD, and I don’t work at a business school.
I teach craftsmen and professionals how to master the fundamentals of business on their own terms, without spending years in school and without racking up six-figure debts.
My teaching business is exploding. I make my living in a way that my dad would have found hard to foresee: teaching business skills to adult learners around the world (most of whom I’ve never met in person) using a few inexpensive tools, my hard-won knowledge, and my personal experience. My clients hail from over forty countries across six continents.
My initial investment in some basic digital publishing training and equipment has produced the highest ROI imaginable: a debt-free, global, six-figure teaching business. I’m making more than most college professors with a fraction of their schooling.
I can work from anywhere that has a stable internet connection and a phone line. I operated my business on a dialup connection in the mountains of Colorado for six months. And I could easily move anywhere in the world at any time.
I’m not saying this to brag. I’m saying this to emphasize an important point: the world has changed dramatically in favor of skilled teachers.
This is a golden age of teaching
My decision to disobey my father may prove to be the best I’ve ever made. Teaching for a living has brought me financial stability, an enormous amount of freedom and flexibility, and the satisfaction of improving my students’ lives for a living. Many of the methods and tools I use to teach my students didn’t exist when I graduated from college just five years ago.
That said, it’s important to realize that the new world of teaching has placed new demands on teachers.
Your authority and credibility no longer depend on credentials — it depends on mastering skills by practicing them in the real world. You must be sensitive to what your prospective students want to learn, instead of forcing them to learn whatever you decide to teach them. And there’s no such thing as tenure. You stay relevant and useful or you lose all your students.
Delivering quality training requires developing technical skills you may not yet possess. Above all, you must overcome your discomfort in charging what your services are worth, and learn to ask for the sale.
Four years ago, I dreamed of teaching for a living, but I didn’t know where to start. If you’re in the same position, you’re in the right place. Copyblogger helped me get started, and they’ll help you on your journey as well.
A few weeks ago, my wife Kelsey and I welcomed our first child into the world — Lela Christine. Eighteen short years from now, I expect Lela and I will have the same conversation I had with my father — only it’s very likely I’ll recommend becoming a teacher.