Education versus Experience

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An imperative tool versus an elusive necessity 

Keabetswe Mabe
Age : 24
Credentials: BA Law; LLB [University of the Witwatersrand]


A few weeks ago, while updating my online profile I came across the following quote…. “Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t” by Pete Seeger.

Suffice to say, it got me thinking about the gap between education and experience. I’d like to think of myself as a young graduate who strives to attain excellence in all that I do, one who is quickly finding herself in the world of Corporate South Africa. However, if I am to be extremely honest with myself, the transition from “student” to “young professional” has felt much like a giant leap for mankind; somewhat resembling that daunting feeling most of us felt on our first day at school…Who could ever forget that vivid scene where Mommy walked away from you, and gave you room to manage yourself? All you could do was cry inconsolably, hoping your efforts would force her to reconsider this decision, particularly since you had somewhat convinced yourself that this was the Apocalypse and you would not survive to tell the tale. Every time I revisit that scene, it makes me realise that it was a mere microcosm in preparation for the real world- because when you are thrown into the deep end, you have no choice but to swim and emerge victorious…Although… there is the option to SINK! But that is for the faint hearted! Simply put, having been within Corporate SA for the past few months, I must admit that most of my days have been a test of my faith, strength and capabilities. Most importantly, I have come to recognize that education is the vehicle, while experience and skill are the destination.

Like everything else in our lives, experience is about trial and error – it’s about the determination to succeed despite adversity. When you embark on the journey of obtaining experience, you often open yourself up to critique and opinions, and more often than not, you are likely to get it wrong. However, it’s the ability to learn from these very attempts that builds the skills to succeed within the corporate environment. Nothing truly great was ever accomplished without hard work and perseverance through trials. The only way we learn how to do something, and do it incredibly well, is through attempting numerous times and letting go of the fear of failure.

What cripples us is the fear of ‘doing’, yet in the process we actually deprive ourselves of so many opportunities! As much as I value education, there comes a time where one must dare to venture to do the unknown – and usually the things that are highly rewarding require a little bravery, and throwing some caution to the wind.

In Law school we were always taught that ‘lawyers act on instruction’. This is a simple principle that was drilled into us, and technically, it is one you can apply to almost any professional field. Let’s say you are in Marketing; it is imperative that you know your target market and what appeals to them, right? And the only way to figure that out is by knowing which question(s) to ask and who to pose them to, so as to conduct effective market research and perform adequately as per the company’s instruction. The same principle applies when you are in a meeting with a client, and they require advice on something related to your field of expertise. The ability to take accurate instructions is one that is pivotal to almost any sector. What experience does, is that it gives you the skills to apply the principle effectively and accurately, and it equips you to exercise effective judgement. Let us take an easier example: you can teach everyone the theory behind walking. It is as easy as…left foot forward, right foot forward. However, the real test is in the application of the theory. I guess the old saying, “the proof of the pudding is in the taste” has some truth to it.

In the past few months, I have learnt so much by merely daring to go outside my comfort zone and have resultantly found that there is more to the corporate world than I had known. I have come to find that people are always willing to share their knowledge if you ask, but most importantly, I have further learnt that my education gave me an invaluable skill: the ability to make sound judgements, think critically and apply my mind to the facts at hand. On the other hand, experience teaches you that the facts are always distinguishable, and there is no general application. I have observed countless graduates getting stuck in the comfort of spending numerous years in Universities, and attaining multiple degrees under their belts. However, at some point one has to get their hands dirty and discover that, contrary to University, life has no general application and, ultimately, there is more to life than the hard facts. After all, as per the words of modern philosopher, Immanuel Kant – “experience without theory is blind, but theory without experience is mere intellectual play.

Keabetswe Mabe
Age 24
Credentials: BA Law; LLB [University of the Witwatersrand]

Images provided by The Corporate Canvas

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