When I introduce myself as a Thiel Fellow people naturally want to know about the program. Since this is the first year of the fellowship, there are many questions to answer: Do you all live together? How many were awarded? How many people applied?
These questions are relatively easy: Fellows don’t live together; there are 24 fellows; more than 400 people applied.
Then people pop the hard the question, the question that is nearly impossible to answer because there’s no control experiment for life.
“What has the Thiel Fellowship done for you?” people ask.
I can’t answer this question definitively. It’s difficult to know where I would be today had I not received the fellowship. Certainly I’d be leading UnCollege, but would I be writing a book? Would I be speaking at events? Would I be writing this blog post?
Maybe. Probably. Probably not.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if life were a choose-your-ending picture book? You could relive events again and again, experimenting with different results to obtain the desired outcome.
But that’s not how life works. You get one chance, for a finite amount of time (though not if Laura Deming can help it), to change the world.
One thing the Thiel Fellowship has done is accelerate my journey through the world. Life moves at rocket speed today. I don’t know where I’ll be next week or next month, let alone next year — it could be Peru, South Africa, or Berlin.
The best part of the fellowship is that I now have five letters after my name — T-H-I-E-L — that serve as a stamp of approval in lieu of a college degree. For those fellows that left Harvard, this probably isn’t as big deal. While I also went to a college that starts with an “H,” when I say “I dropped out of Hendrix” people look at me quizzically, wonder momentarily whether Jimi started a college, and then dismiss me.
As a Hendrix dropout, I have no brand.
Then, when I mention that I’m Thiel Fellow, people are all ears.
Dale Stephens was homeschooled and then unschooled. Now he leads UnCollege.org. Perigee/Penguin will publish his first book about hacking your education in early 2013.