Society tells us that in order to succeed we need to go to school. We are told that the more educated you are, the more attractive you are to employers, and the more money you can demand in a salary. For so many of us, graduate school seems inevitable and undeniable.

Our society is well-intentioned in its focus on education. I am a firm believer that continued learning and curiosity are key for true growth--both professional and personal.

But we have to remember that formal education is just one of many ways to reach new levels of success. Science even tells us that the best predictor of success is not formal education: it's grit and having a growth mindset. It's all about having the perseverance and open-mindedness to push through and find learning experiences in everything we do. It's about believing that we can become even better versions of ourselves each and every moment.

Despite all this evidence, the emphasis on the importance of formal education is still so deeply ingrained in our culture. It is such a strong social norm that most people still believe that formal education is an absolute. What we really need to emphasize is that formal education is right only for those who thrive in that type of environment and for those that absolutely need advanced degrees to practice their professions, such as the medical and legal industries to name a few.

There are so many other ways to learn and grow. So don't go to graduate school. These 5 career moves will make you instantly smarter and more valuable to your companies.

1. Take individual classes.
Think critically about the skills you want to build. Do you need a whole new degree to get them? Are there individual or online classes that you could take that would help you build your expertise in a particular field? Explore what the world of online learning and local certificate programs have to offer. You'd be surprised how affordable and fast it is to get a great education without putting a hold on your career.

2. Get a mentor or become someone's apprentice.
This isn't news: people learn best from people. Think about the people in your network whom you admire, or a person in your desired industry or department you'd like to get to know. Develop a stronger relationship with them--whether you meet up to pick their brain or develop a mentor relationship with them, they can help you on your way to greatness. Mentors offer great advice, push your boundaries, and will advocate for you in the workplace. If you're looking to step into the next stage of your career, what better way to start than to get to know someone who is already there?

3. Go to a conference.
Attend a major conference about the field you'd like to learn more about. A conference is the ultimate crash course: you get to hear top industry thought leaders speak, engage with the latest ideas and conversations, and network with other professionals who can show you the ropes and help you find the opportunity you've been looking for. You'll leave the event brimming with new ideas and industry savvy, and you'll have a concrete idea about some next steps for propelling your career.

4. Consider in-house career development.
If you are employed, ask your employer what they offer in terms of career development. Or build a case for what you need. Do they have leadership training? Will they pay for you to take a class, hire a coach or participate in a certificate program? Do they offer a rotational program? Now that we are entering an age of people-first management, employers are more than happy to help their employees reach new heights and fulfill their own desired career destiny. You might be surprised how easy it is to get support, if you ask.

5. Shift horizontally--not vertically.
You might think that the true path to success is straight up, but it could actually be a step to the side. With a lateral career move, you move into a department that better fits your interests and passions,. You gain a new set of skills, and you can use your experience from both past and present departments to do exceptional work. A horizontal shift demonstrates to your company that you are agile and excited about your work. You gain much more hands-on experience within the company, and this makes you a great candidate for promotions and upper-level management positions.

Published on: Oct 1, 2015