That kid wasn’t me

Post by Better World Books’ Outlet Store Manager, Mary OlsonI’m sure that somewhere, there exists a textbook kid who lives a textbook life and went through a textbook school experience to get a textbook degree and a textbook job and now has a textbook family and is living happily ever after… by the book.That kid wasn’t me.

It took me 3 years of attending college to convince my recently Ph.D.-ed mother that it wasn’t the right time for me to be in college. I couldn’t have explained it well then, and I’m still not sure if I could explain it well now. But I didn’t feel like the school system was for me. School was a pivot table, and I was abstract art. Luckily, my parents are amazing people who understand the importance of being true to who you are.

My family prizes education. I think that’s probably why so many of them got intentionally involved in the educational system. My dad started a high school and was the administrator, as well as taught everything from maths to history for 17 years. My mom taught at the same high school while finishing her bachelor’s, earning her master’s, and then her Ph.D.. She’s now a professor at a university (the same university I attended while trying to convince her to let me quit, naturally). My grandmother started and ran an elementary school for years. My uncle took over as administrator when my grandmother retired; he also taught in the school. Another uncle taught music, an aunt taught piano, and the list goes on.

After I left college, degreeless, I worked as an administrative assistant in higher education. I took time to broaden my knowledge, hone my skills, strengthen my abilities, and find my passions. Then, I found a place where I could not only use my KSAs, but also was encouraged to have shared passion with my company and coworkers. The fact that I didn’t have a degree didn’t deter my hiring manager from seeing that customer service was my art and my passion.

Still, I almost never feel comfortable admitting the fact that I didn’t finish college. It makes me feel inferior, inadequate. I love knowledge. I’m an information junkie. And when I found out that a (degreed) guy said he wouldn’t want to date me because I was “too smart,” I laughed. And then I got to thinking: my level of formal education has nothing to do with how smart I am and has nothing to do with my value. I am a smart person! It was a revelation.

Before I read Out of Our Minds and The Element (both by Sir Ken Robinson), I would have been surprised to hear someone say they see a little of their own story in mine. Growing up, I felt like a fish out of water. I felt like everyone else was just sailing through college like they were meant to be there. And I was definitely the odd one out.

Reading Sir Ken Robinson’s books showed me that I wasn’t alone. There are plenty of people who don’t feel like the school system suits them, or is enough for them, or is helpful to them at all. It also showed me that I’m not the one who is wrong. The system is wrong. It’s imperfect.To me, Out of Our Minds is a call to action for educators and anyone who can influence the educational system. Regardless of your current career, however, it’s worth the read. If you have kids, read it. If you are an educator in any capacity, read it. If you talk to anyone–ever–read it.

The Element is full of stories: stories about people who thrived once they found where their passions and skills intersected, stories about people who believed in someone, stories that will resonate with you, stories about people you will recognize with backgrounds you’d never guess. Reading The Elementwill make you feel like it’s okay to be you. It should also make you want to mentor someone like you (and your version of someone like you might open quite broadly after reading it).
So I’ll leave you with this to ponder, and hope it spurs you on not only to read these books, but also to share them, and then to make a difference in whatever way you can, even if it’s just in one person’s small life.

“Mentors lead us to believe that we can achieve something that seemed improbable or impossible to us before we met them.” –Sir Ken Robinson in “The Element”

Sir Ken Robinson was a keynote speaker at the California Library Association Conference in November in Pasadena California. Better World Books was privileged to be the official bookseller for the conference.

What books and authors have greatly served your life like Sir Ken Robinson has for Mary? We invite you to share below… 




  1. This is such an important post, thanks for sharing your story! It is so true – our current educational system is designed as one size fits all, and when it doesn’t fit the student is made to feel that it is his or her fault, not a flaw in the system. You are SO not alone!

  2. Annie Olson (Mary's mom) says:

    I was also a fish out of water in the educational system, which is why I sat it out for sixteen years after just two years of college before going back to finish all those degrees. Even though I’m a professor now, I still find myself bucking the system, and I still feel that the most important and most significant teaching I do happens outside the classroom. Teaching is relational. Don’t get me wrong; the classroom is still important, but it’s not enough, and it needs a lot of reform to meet the needs of today’s students. Thanks for sharing your story, Mary. You are amazing, and I am so proud of you!

  3. Another problem with our “educational system” is that it is assumed that EVERYONE can/will/wants to go to college after high school. There are so many students in colleges everywhere who are not students; they don’t want to be there; they aren’t necessarily smart enough to be in college [or prepared enough, might be the better phrase]. (And don’t get me started on football “scholarships” — including for some students who can’t even READ.) But society expects these kids to get a degree [notice how too often it’s about the DEGREE and not the EDUCATION?], so they take up a place that could be filled by someone who wants to be there and will make the most of his college years by LEARNING.
    My sister never finished college, but she rose and rose and rose in her chosen field’s ranks from a secretarial position to a managerial one in a very short time — and she was amazing at her many jobs. She wasn’t a student, she’s not an intellectual, but she had excellent customer-service and organizational skills that served her well. Now, of course, anyone in her field who hopes to move up HAS to have the degree. But my sister had the EDUCATION — on-the-job training — necessary to get where she wanted to be and to do it well.
    I just wish colleges were still places of learning and not training.
    (Oh, and I’m a retired college-level French teacher.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *