By success, let me use an arbitrary (and pardon me, superficial) definition, as a person’s net worth that is a magnitude greater than his peers of the same age group.

The first person I knew who qualified that criteria was a classmate of mine many years ago. He was someone who frequently skipped school, and eventually got himself held back for a year because of his failing grades. The reason, was that he was out and about, starting his own mobile phone business, initially by buying up used phones and reselling them, and later ‘modding’ them for resale at substantially marked-up prices.

I had a pretty bad impression of him, not just because of his truant behaviour, but of his cut-throat attitude, even towards friends. But in all fairness, he had always been upfront about it, telling us not to seek him for deals, because business was all about making profits, not friends.

Back in those days, I had a staunch but naive belief that success only comes from the books. But he proved me wrong, big time.

When he first started out, it was just running about the campus as a middleman, buying and selling phones from people and making small profits on the side. By the time I graduated, he had earned enough to start his own store, and proudly declared that he was raking sufficient money to pay for his own car upfront.

Which was no mean feat even for an adult, considering that a modest car in Singapore those days would have costed up of $100,000. My net worth was no more than $1000 then, making him the first person I know who got successful independently.

Since those days, I’ve gotten to know many other successful people, and those who did attain success through the education route. Many of them have reached the pinnacle of their careers, one of them who is a Vice-President of a Fortune 500 company, while another is an executive who holds directorship in a number of publicly listed companies.

But what fascinates me is not about them, but the stories that they tell of their bosses: One did not complete his high school education and the other was a university dropout. Surprisingly, even from my limited sample of the most successful people I’ve personally met, this trend holds, where the majority of them came from a background where education is not the decisive factor for their success.

I have met many people who have this misguided belief that education is a ‘be all and end all’. In fact, I was one myself too. But that isn’t really so. There are some who blindly pursuit the paper chase without considering the implications of their actions, only to end up without a purpose after graduation and laden with huge debt of student loan to repay.

Truth be told, education does not even guarantee you a job, let alone success in life.

I have known people that had graduated in my field who ended up becoming tele-marketers, insurance agents and even one who now works in a fast food outlet. They may be the few cases that I personally know of, but I believe they can’t be the only ones who buck the maxim.

But don’t mistake me for trying to lambast the value of education. I’m not.

Education is important, if you have the passion to learn. But we must be aware that a piece of academic qualification will only help to open that first door of opportunity for you, but it is certainly no guarantee of an automatic success in life. That is ultimately decided by factors like personal motivation, aptitude, and opportunities when they present themselves to you.

While we do not have a choice in deciding our smarts, or when lady luck will smile on us, but one thing that we’re able to influence, that is how determined we are to achieve success. My philosophy on success is easily summed up by Margret Thatcher’s quote:

“I do not know anyone who has got to the top without hard work. That is the recipe. It will not always get you to the top, but should get you pretty near."

Those who are motivated, will be the ones who make the most out of their education, or excel in whatever they do. But the reverse is almost never true.