Higher Learning | Skillshare Projects

Higher Learning

Name: Zachary Strong

Who I Am: An educator, writer, speaker, entrepreneur, and engineering student from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I believe that a true education is self-driven, priceless, and takes a lifetime to achieve.

Business/Project: Higher Learning, a blog about how to achieve success within the Canadian university system.

Commandment: "You can be your dreams come true; Let imagination lead, reality will follow through." - Michael Hedges, "Follow Through"

Part 1 - The DNA


After five years of pursuing a double major in Engineering Physics and Business with a minor in Mathematics, I was pretty fed up. Not with my own education, but with everyone else's. Read textbook. Bullshit essay, write midterm, get mark. Spare time filled with TV, booze, video games, and Facebook. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

In my fourth year of school, I participated in a competition called MARS Apprentice, where I was part of a student team that developed marketing solutions for some of Canada's top companies (Canadian Tire, Maple Leaf Foods, PepsiCo, Sears) and presented them to their top decision-makers. I was spending 60 hours a week on the challenges on top of my schoolwork. ACTION. I was getting a crash course in business beyond anything I had ever imagined was possible, and I realized that all it took was some effort.

After the competition, I couldn't settle back down into a normal student life. I devoured business books, self-help books, and bought a website domain to launch myself as a marketing consultant for small businesses. My participation in the program landed me not one job, but six employment opportunities over the course of a year. All my classmates remarked that I was able to 'do so much', but none seemed interested in finding out how or why. They didn't seem to share the thirst for knowledge that I had acquired.

Read textbook. Bullshit essay, write midterm, get mark. Spare time filled with TV, booze, video games, and Facebook. 

Wash, rinse, repeat.

TRUTHFULNESS = [ What You Do / What You Say ]

From my perspective, the truth is that most students are wasting their time and money at universities in Canada, and it's not because the institutions are flawed. Unlike the United States, university degrees up here have quite a bit of value. The number-one concern of university students is employment, and many students attend post-secondary education to gain credentials for a specific job.

The problem is that students will go to class, get their credits, get their degree, and then head out in the workforce expecting their dream job. Career Development to them is getting a resume critiqued. How could I show them that by taking charge of their education, they could have the time of their lives while becoming more employable?

I realized that I had an opportunity to blaze a trail that other students could follow. WHAT YOU DO. I decided to extend my education by a year (from five to six) by spacing out my courses, which would leave me more room for 'extracurriculars'.

In August 2013, I launched my blog, and I'm in the process of sharing everything I've learned outside of the classroom for other students to learn from. WHAT YOU SAY. I've got thousands of readers from across the country. Growing an online following is a learning experience in and of itself, and the act of writing keeps me thoughtful and accountable in my day-to-day life.


I've made more and bigger mistakes than most people I know, and that's something I'm proud of. Although I don't always discuss them in my writing, my failures drive a lot of my writing and activity. From train-wrecking friendships to nearly getting kicked out of school for a prank gone awry, I've done a lot of stupid things. HUMAN FACTOR.

I've realized that a lot of people in my life let their failures define them. I make sure my failures redefine me. I'm a relentless perfectionist, but I don't beat myself up if I mess something up. I just figure out how to do better. KNOWLEDGE.

EMOTIONAL IMPACT = f [ How you make people FEEL / What you MAKE ]

One of the adages I live by is 'Do more, do better'. I'm always conscious of how I can scale what I'm doing to affect more people. The best way for me to do this (for now) is writing. WHAT YOU MAKE.

In March 2013, before I started my blog, I wrote a manifesto on student leadership which I sent out to a bunch of friends and acquaintences. It ended up in front of about twenty thousand people, and I've received countless messages and well wishes from people (many tearful) who have said it inspired them to become a better leader. HOW YOU MAKE  PEOPLE FEEL.

After starting my blog, I've been a little bold about how I promote it, going so far as to pitch ideas to major news outlets. The efforts have paid off, and I've been featured on three major Canadian news outlets (CBC, Maclean's, The Globe And Mail) in the past eight weeks.

IMAGINE FACTOR = [ Vision of FUTURE / Loyalty to NOSTALGIA ]

Luckily, I'm not able to revel in nostalgia for much longer. I graduate in April, and either I'm able to make something work or get a 'real job'. I have a book in the works, and a new company I would like to launch in March, time permitting. I'm pretty much entirely future-focused at this point, and figuring out how I can pursue my passions, live a comfortable lifestyle, and have a major impact on Canadian university education.

Every great company, every killer app, every game-changing product, every best-selling book, and every hit song started out as an idea. However, society tends to romanticize the act of creation, and forgets about all the hard work that lies between dreams and reality.

My business commandment is a song lyric from one of my favorite musicians of all time, a composer named Michael Hedges. His unique style of guitar playing influenced people like Andy McKee and Kaki King, and his body of work is some of the finest music you’ll ever hear. Unfortunately, his life was cut short by a car crash in 1997, but the art remains:

“You can be your dreams come true; let imagination lead, reality will follow through.”

One of the things that I have found to be true in my life is that great things happen when someone commits to a dream – LET IMAGINATION LEAD. Part of commitment is sacrifice – free time, grades, social acceptance, relationships, video games, whatever. I’ve given up all of these things at one point or another in order to accomplish some greater goals of mine. Looking back on the work I’ve done over the past few years, I realize that the things I gave up weren’t really sacrifices in the long run. 

The real sacrifice in life is forgoing commitment to a personal mission for a plethora of cheap distractions. By pursuing my dreams, I have stumbled across opportunities that I couldn’t possibly have foreseen. REALITY WILL FOLLOW THROUGH. This business mantra is not only an inspiring quote for people involved in creation, it is my guiding philosophy for inspiring students to attempt something greater than a life of midterms, tests, Facebook, and résumés.


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