Left school at 15, dropped in-to life, now billionaire

Business Man of the YearGovernment schooling is not the only road to success. Plenty of people go to non-government schools (aka private schools). Some home school themselves. A few “unschool” via DIY (do-it-yourself) project-based education. The lucky few? They drop in. They drop out of school, and drop in-to working life.

Richard Elman, featured on the cover of Forbes magazine quit left school at age 15 and has earned $2.2 billion through his thriving commodities trading firm.

Elman grew up in Brighton and quit school at 15. His father, a barrister, found him work “as a coolie in a scrap yard,” Elman says. He worked his way up, and within a few years the steel scrap business had taken him to San Francisco, then to Tokyo, then to Thailand and India. Later he became Asian regional director for the renowned commodities trader Philipp Brothers.

Elman learned how to make a living by … making a living. He learned a business by working in the business, not studying a “real-world” example in the margin of a used textbook. When he knew enough, he started his own business and it grew beyond his expectations, and likely the expectations of his government school teachers who probably labeled him a drop-out. They didn’t realize, he had a dropped-in. By the time his peers graduated high school, Elman has working throughout Asia.

Dropping out of school, by default, means dropping into something else. The conventional wisdom makes it seems like there is some science-fiction void between government education and working. Not so. The day after leaving school, a person wakes up in real life, and one that might be more real than school since life doesn’t have an alarm bell indicating when to switch topics and a paycheck not a report card judges your work.

Those who stay in school won’t necessarily prosper. There are plenty of people who don’t have a job and return to living with their parents, yet they completed 16 years of conventional education—from first grade to twelfth, plus four years of college, all to return to their suburban bedroom and evening dinners with the fam, and likely a part-time job as a substitute teacher at the local government school that started their dystopia.

Some who drop into life will make billions, like Richard Elman, some will lead a simple life. Some might even return to a government school, after not findding their footing. A person can drop-in to life, and return to get some schooling, based on experiences in the real world.

Slang phrases like “the real world” exist for a reason. Many people realize that structured education for anyone over 12 is not necessarily real. Dropping in-to life might be more natural than staying in school.

What is the real goal of high school? To learn. Well there are many ways to do that, and ones with a lot more freedom. And there are hybrid approaches that might combine some structured schooling with a job.

If someone has the means, one could get a GED high school diploma, then embark on a home-schooled curriculum completely free from government oversight. The GED keeps away the home-school inspectors. With a curriculum found online, start spending your days at nearby libraries. Write to synthesize your thoughts.

To go further, a possible zen outlook would be that no one has to do anything to lead a correct life. A person could watch a river go by and find happiness. All a person needs is shelter, water, and food. They don’t need AP History or Algebra, subjects that some bureaucrat dreamed up to rationalize warehousing people for another “grade.”

Leaving school does not mean shirking responsibility. In fact, one’s responsibilities increase. The rent–not homework–might be due on Monday, and your manager is expecting new production ideas on Tuesday.  Goofing off can mean dismissal from a job, not just after-school detention. There won’t be any more summer vacations and the day won’t end at 3 pm (but it will start later).

Some people fought to overthrow the dictatorships like the one in East Germany. Others escaped and found a new life in West Germany or beyond. Protesting your government school’s locker searches or strip-searches can have an impact. Filing a lawsuit can get justice for you, and save others from enduring what you experienced. Leaving school, or dropping in to start a new life elsewhere, is also an option.

When you find yourself in physics class thinking it would be cool to make the things you’re learning about, consider dropping in-to life and finding an entry-level position at a nearby company. Then you can focus all your time on the subjects that interest you, both through your work and by reading books that will explain what you need to know and use tomorrow, on the job, in life.


Read about Richard Elman on Forbes.com

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2 comments on “Left school at 15, dropped in-to life, now billionaire

  1. How about posting some more generalizable statistics on educational attainment and income, and happiness, on social network size, etc.?  Do you really expect people to believe that dropping out of school is generally a ticket to a better life?

    1. One must have a plan. If one leaves the common contemporary schools, one must have a plan on how to pursue a career. It’s not dropping out, it’s more like switching tactics, going for work experience and learning knowledge while working, rather than general studies.

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