Most of us have been told the same story about success: Graduate from high school, get a post-secondary education and land the job of your dreams.
But any graduate in the last few years knows this isn’t always the most practical route.
It is getting harder for Millennials to find jobs, the cost of education continues to be on the rise in Canada, and sometimes, you just don’t know what you want to do with the rest of your life in your 20s.
Below, we spoke with six Canadians who didn’t end up taking this traditional route. While they all attended some type of post-secondary institution in their careers, they knew right away it wasn’t right for them.
Lee attended Toronto’s York University for a year, majoring in HR management. But within the year, she needed change. “Toward the end of first year, I was looking to switch majors. But I was too young and impatient to weave through the layers of bureaucratic processes.” Working part-time for Greenpeace, she had an opportunity to travel to New Zealand for work. After a six-month span, she continued working for Greenpeace in Vancouver. At this point, school was on the back burner.
Eventually, Lee jumped ship again and became a certified yoga and Pilates instructor. She is currently working on attaining a licence to practice traditional Chinese medicine.
“I didn’t reflect back on my decision to leave school until my mid-twenties. By then, the process of re-enrolment was tediously lengthy.”
Pressures to finish school: “I felt more pressure to complete my bachelor’s degree as I got older and as the timeline to build a ‘proper career’ became more pressing. My family was very supportive of my life choices to follow my heart. But they too were encouraging me to get a degree as it opened up more options in the workforce.”
The most fulfilling thing about her job: “I love how my students always express how much better they feel after class! I’m grateful for the opportunity to keep meeting incredible people who inspire me. I also love how practicing yoga and, more recently, Pilates have helped me grow stronger and more confident. My work excites me and I’m always keen to further develop skills that can help people manage physical and psycho-emotional pain.”
After high school, Wasiuk went to a two-year college program to become a firefighter. But realizing it wasn’t his passion, he ended up dropping out and taking on a job in his current field.
“I was given a job offer as soon as I decided to leave college and I haven’t looked back. I’ve been working for myself for about five years and currently have one full-time employee. I’ve never advertised and don’t even have a website. I work completely from word of mouth and quality of work.”
What he loves about his work: “The most fulfilling thing about my job is when you get to see your customers or clients excited to be given their keys to their new house or when their new custom piece of furniture has been dropped off and installed. Also, there is a wonderful sense of pride when you can stand back and look at what you’ve built with your own two hands.”
Thoughts on dropping out: “I definitely experience some negativity when people find out I didn’t finish college. People often see me as a baby in this industry since it is such an ‘old boys’ club.’ However, once they have a chance to talk to me, they start to realize that there is more to this college dropout.”
READ MORE: 5 careers you can have without a college diploma or university degree
Brachaniec wasn’t sure what she wanted to do when she finished high school, but she initially thought it would be difficult to get a job without a post-secondary degree. She worked in customer service for almost three years and enrolled in a private college in Moncton, N.B. She left after three months.
“My program focused on counselling young people at risk. I soon realized that this career path was not for me, as the course instructors were frank and open with us regarding hardships of the job and high burnout rates.”
Getting more hands-on experiences: “As a hands-on learner, I have worked very hard in a variety of fields since graduating from high school, and they have prepared me for my current career path. I feel that the skills I am using today would have been difficult to learn in a classroom setting without prior work experience. In terms of education versus experience – there is no one answer for success. Hard work and determination has led me to where I am today and I feel that anyone with a similar work ethic can also be successful.”
Working in this field: “I am an international freight coordinator for a small customs broker and supply chain management firm based in Halifax. We service Canada-wide and specialize in international trade consulting, domestic freight, international freight forwarding and Canadian customs brokerage. I’ve always loved jobs requiring problem-solving and planning, but I did not imagine that I would be working in supply chain and logistics. Now that I am 11 years out from high school graduation, I have finally found a job that is both challenging and rewarding. I have achieved this success without spending thousands of dollars on tuition and accumulating a large student debt.”
A 22-year-old real estate sales representative from Mississauga, Ont.
He eventually attended Ryerson University for a business technology management degree but ended up dropping out after a year. And with real estate in the family, it was an easy transition for him to focus on his new career.
What he loves about his job: “It’s definitely a challenging career, you work ridiculous hours at times and stress levels get high. When you’re working with Toronto’s top developers, you have no choice but to perform. But that’s what makes it fulfilling. Every project we work on is different and it challenges us to get out there and make things happen.”
For those not interested in post-secondary education: “Just ask yourself what you want your life to be like and if it requires post-secondary education. If it doesn’t, are you willing to give up that experience for it? Besides the formal education itself, I think university and college have a lot more value, and it’s something I missed out on. It’s being in that learning environment, it’s making new friends and building relationships, it’s coming across opportunities you may have not otherwise come across.”
READ MORE: The cheapest and most expensive degree programs in Canada: StatsCan
She told her professor she was going to be a full-time blogger, and did just that. Registering as a dietitian and starting her own site, she launched a nutrition and food communication business called Abbey’s Kitchen.
Thoughts on dropping out: “I felt incredibly guilty about dropping out. I was the star student. I had a full scholarship to a very difficult program. Every professor I ever knew expected me to get my PhD and make them proud. I felt like a total failure, but in retrospect, it was the absolute best decision I ever made.”
Most fulfilling thing about the job: “I think the feedback I get from fans, viewers and followers is so inspiring. Knowing that I am helping someone else improve their relationship with food and get excited about eating is a real gift.”
READ MORE: 10 well-paying jobs in Canada you can score without a university degree
Today, Loschiavo works for Conversation Agency, one of Canada’s leading public relations and events agencies. In addition to his job, he has been able to also create his own brand for himself, focusing on fashion and lifestyle.
The importance of a degree: “I’ve never had negative reactions or feedback in my career on my decision to complete a portion of my degree. I have found my extensive and impressive resume of work and experience has always spoken for itself, along with the connections and network I’ve built over the years. Someone’s network and resume of work are just as much considered credentials as a degree.”
Advice for those interested in public relations: “My best piece of advice would be to seek the advice from those in the field of work you’re looking to pursue. If it’s PR, talk to someone in the industry, like myself. Ask questions, and do your research. Everyone’s path is different and what works for one person, won’t work for all. Do what’s best for you and more importantly, what makes you happy.”