Education comes in many forms, and sometimes the informal education we receive in our careers serves as a valuable supplement to what we learn in school. Maybe the learning happens by reading, traveling, or working, or maybe it manifests as a person; a mentor who encourages you to think outside the box, push your boundaries, and honor your dreams. In my continuing quest to discover inspiring stories about people’s educational journeys (more here), I found real estate entrepreneur Brad Van Hull. A casual, articulate guy, Brad told me how the tutelage of a great mentor inspired him to make a major career change.
When he graduated college with a bachelor’s in industrial engineering, Brad’s top priority was to do what his peers were doing: nab a job at a top U.S. consulting firm. This was the “carrot” everyone was after. We can probably all relate to this. It’s common to look toward an ideal job post diploma. He was successful in his job search and was thrilled when he landed a position with a firm in San Francisco.
But then the reality set it, and it didn’t appeal to him. “My colleagues were working their lives away,” he said. It wasn’t uncommon for people to work 70 or more hours a week. As a guy who works hard, but doesn’t define himself by his job—Brad lives to travel, boat, and play outdoors—he knew this wasn’t what he wanted out of his career. So, he took a risk that many of us only ponder. He bailed.
He wound up finding a job at a start-up, which was a good experience, but after a couple of years the owner sold the company, and it seemed he’d hit another crossroads. But then, he landed in the office of a man who would ultimately inspire him to completely change careers.
Brad still vividly remembers that first day he walked into his soon-to-be mentor’s office. He sat down at a conference table, and his mentor stood up and drew a diagram on the chalkboard. It was a simple but powerful strategy for approaching debt and equity in real estate; his proven method of success.
“It made so much sense,” he said. “Deep down, I really got what this guy was talking about, and I was intrigued.” Math and science were things he already understood well from school, and this was just a whole new way to apply the skills. A new light bulb was burning bright.
Brad was sold. He decided to take a major pay cut to work with this “real estate genius,” did a lot of listening and watching, and ended up gleaning enough knowledge to have what he considered “an MBA in real estate.” He was so struck by this experience that he encourages everyone to find a mentor in an area that interests them. “Look around for the right person to connect with,” he said, “it may be one of the most important things you’ll ever do.”
Brad eventually founded his own real estate company, and he’s now a million miles away professionally from where he thought he’d be when he graduated college. But it just goes to show that continuing to learn—whether in school, on your own, or from a mentor—can facilitate some pretty rewarding career moves.
Have you considered continuing your education with the aim of changing careers? Perhaps it’s time to seek out a mentor of your own, or explore other educational avenues like a degree program. It’s never too late to pursue your passion; what are you waiting for?