A Degree Won’t Make You Rich(er).

Across the country right now many students are being duped into believing myths of a causal relationship existing between higher education and upward mobility. It’s long past time purveyors of this perverse notion carefully reassess their commentary.

At best, it is an inaccurate assessment of reality. At worst, it is a fatal error. It’s naive to assume a degree determines equity or value in the marketplace. A degree, much like a driver’s license, is no more than a signal. Just as a license does not indicate ability to drive, a college degree indicates no special aptitude for performing tasks necessary to earn a wage. Each serves as an emblem, neither as a guarantee.

Unfortunately, many young people are marinated in this unhealthy distortion of reality for 15,000+ hours before being released into the great big world to investigate for themselves. It’s hardly a surprise so many choose to pursue a college degree. From a young age, I too heard the fiery sermons about going to college to ensure landing a good job. I heard all about how degree holders, on aggregate, make over $1M more than non-degree holders.

Sadly, I bought into the lies…

I went off and I earned my college degree. Thankfully I only wasted four years. During this prison sentence I realized how inadequate institutions of higher education are at determining a person’s ability to earn an income.

I’m not one who sits still and classrooms are the bane of my existence. So I skipped most of my classes while there. I still did well on the homework and was an ace at examinations, but my poor attendance cost me many top marks.  No skin off my nose. My real education while at college was hard-earned on my own beyond the confines of cinderblock cells. It’s outside the classroom where I learned to create value for others.

My senior year of college, I might as well have dropped out. Looking back I wish I had. I wasted a lot of time trying to skate by as the end neared. My periphery compliance prevented me from giving more attention to my interests. I could’ve gained more from that time.

For instance, I launched my freelance career that year. I also bartered with a handful of other students to complete their assignments or take entire courses for them. Each moment I spent in the classroom withdrew time and effort I could have better spent growing these businesses. I learned far more from both of these activities than I ever did in a classroom.

I also learned from these transactions that many people don’t give a shit about the education element of higher education. Most inherently recognize that it’s only a signal, not an indicator of skill. They’d be content simply purchasing the signal if it was possible. But heaven forbid they forego four years of revelry. What’s sadder yet is that many young people can’t formulate a decent response as to why they’ve chosen to pursue a degree. They’ve never flipped the burden of proof. Many of the reasons, if challenged, would better justify simply moving to a college town for four years, finding a job, and foregoing school altogether.

Challenging the Narrative.

While the reasons for seeking a degree are as many and varied as are the institutions ready to provide one, the number of young people amassing crippling debt burdens is even greater. Young people are being cheated. Not [only] by lenders and the government. But also by a fraudulent education system. The product these institutions market is not what it claims to be. In most cases, I’d even argue the product is harmful to the wellbeing of its consumers. Sadly, it’s more a feature of the system than a flaw of it.

The folklore of the institution of education pretends otherwise: “Attend school as long as possible. Make stellar grades. Listen to the teachers and professors. Get a good job. Don’t worry about what it costs. Your education is the best investment you could ever make.”

This narrative is bullshit.

For one, it’s blanket statement applied gratuitously to every student in every circumstance. Rarely would you ever hear a guidance counselor tell a student he or she should consider making different plans after high school. This isn’t unfair. It’s unrealistic. Some people are not cut out for the classroom–I might even argue that most aren’t.

For those who can manage to learn inside the borders of a class, assuming that college is always the best option is dishonest. In many cases the cost of obtaining a higher degree comes at much too high a toll. The debt can be paralyzing and the incessant ranking against peers demoralizing. Furthermore, the authoritarian exposition in which most formal education is set harmfully stifles creativity and originality of many of its brightest pupils. Some young people would be best to pursue learning on their own terms.

Speaking of learning. The institution of education presumes good grades and obedience to the pedagogy equates to an understanding of subject matter. Again, this is erroneous. In some cases it might be true. But it is certainly not true of every student in every case. Speak not of cheating, but the academic system as structured encourages rote memorization and rewards those who best regurgitate material. This diminishes the incentives of developing sound logic skills, of challenging the status quo, and of discovering answers for oneself.

With all this emphasis on grades and obedience and little demand for providing real social proof of an attained skill or prowess in an area of study, the school releases these young, barren minds into the world on the job hunt. Saturated with lofty ideals and a sense of entitlement cultivated by years of promise that arriving at that this moment would pay dividends, receiving a diploma often marks the pride before the fall.

It’s no wonder many young people walk around jaded and plagued by despair. They’re not much different than many millions who have lost it all in the stock market on speculation. Except in most circumstances every adversary the young people ever had egged them on to push all their chips in on college. At least with the stock market there’s an air of skepticism that goes with the territory.

The narrative of college also fails to critically engage young people in thinking about what they could do instead. This is perhaps the most grotesque error. The advent of technology has put an instruction manual on any possible skill in the pocket of every young person. What young people need instead of college is experience. College takes away time and focus from gaining meaningful experience. It also presumes that the degree is a more valuable signal than the experience that could have been gained in the same amount of time. I caution this thinking.

There are also many other classic arguments like: “You need college because you’re no Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Mark Zuckerberg.”

I say great. The world might not need another Microsoft, Apple, or Facebook. Most people don’t have revolutionary ideas, but they do possess revolutionary points of view. It also might be intellectually lazy to set the status of ‘billionaire mogul’ as a standard of success of foregoing college or dropping out. Their stories still provide useful examples though, even if–especially if–you don’t have a revolutionary idea.

Here’s why. You don’t have to have a revolutionary idea to forego college. You just need to figure out what people want and how to deliver that to them. This is where your revolutionary point of view will come in handy. Whether those people you’re providing value for are potential employers, consumers, customers,  friends, or anyone. Create and sell what people want, and you’ll always have whatever you need. You don’t necessarily have to provide exceptional products. You have to provide products or services that people want, exceptionally. And this doesn’t require a degree.

Some other examples.

There are rappers, musicians, artists, athletes, writers, chefs, business owners, and even eight U.S. presidents who don’t (or didn’t) have college degrees. You don’t need one either. Learn to recognize what people want or could use. Figure out a way to get it to them at a price they’re willing to pay. That’s all. If you can figure that out then all of college and higher education is obsolete.

But what if I’m studying business?

You won’t get business acumen in the classroom. College as a prerequisite to business acumen is a myth MBA-types and elitists cower behind. They lurk behind their lofty suffixes because deep down they’re afraid of the truth. The truth that their time and effort was all for not. That it was wasted. That they could have obtained it better, cheaper, or faster. I pity those who entertain this mindset for their lack of intellectual depth. Somewhere in their pasts, someone must have eradicated their imaginations. They are no longer humans, but computers. They’ve traded in their outside-the-box thinking for algorithms and actuarial science. They’ve given up sentient thought.

If they had any imagination, they could fathom abstract like success and achievement as existing outside a vacuum. They could recognize that income potential and upward mobility are not static ideas, but fluid, ever-changing enigmas with subjectively calculated value. Degrees are no different.

A Degree’s Value is Subjective.

Just because the world says a degree is worth a lot doesn’t mean potential employers will care. It also doesn’t mean it will necessarily make a person feel more successful or happier. Much like a bottle of water is worth more than a diamond to a thirsty man in the desert, the ability to create value is worth immensely more to an employer than a degree–even an ivy league one.

Today, obtaining a college degree is easier than it ever has been. That’s what makes it so dangerous to tout its value and necessity. It’s simple supply and demand, or what I’ll call degree inflation. The more people that have a degree, the less value it holds to differentiate you in the marketplace. 

Because of the massive influx, the signal that a degree once held has dwindled from a flare to an ember. If you want to distinguish yourself, a degree is a poor mechanism for doing so. You could use some social proof or a value proposition instead. You could use experience or a skill set. You could use any number of things as a better signal–even if you want to use these in conjunction with a college education. But don’t fool yourself that the degree alone is sufficient.

So, say you feel like college is not for you. How do you go about creating a better signal?

Simple. Here’s one method I propose:

Make a short list of a handful of things that interest you. Whatever they are, write them down. Don’t be afraid to go big.

Next, make a short list of things you are good at. Not just things your mom tells you you’re good at. What things would everyone you know say you’re good at?

If any of the items on these two lists merge then congratulations. You’ve found a starting point. You are now equipped to find a business owner who has a need for a service that lives at the intersection of your interests and skills. When you find said business owner, ask if you can shadow him or her for a week or more. If this is granted, do it ASAP. Take notes. Learn everything you can and constantly assess ways your skills could add value to the operation.

At the end of the shadowing, first, draft a thank you note to the business owner. Along with it, draft a proposal on how your unique interests and skills could be engaged valuably to the business owner. From what you learned about the business in shadowing, detail what you witnessed. “The following areas could benefit from innovation, and I’m just the person to do it.” Why? Because you want to learn and improve his or her enterprise and at your age you need experience more than money. Do not pitch your skills. Do not pitch your financial situation. Meditate on the business owner’s vision and pitch your desire to help achieve it.

When you’re hired, as you most likely will be and begin working to fulfill this agreement, document your work. Build a portfolio as you go of the projects you create–if the info isn’t sensitive. Start a blog or build a quick website to host the things you learn and to feature the projects you create. Boom. You’ll never have to worry about a degree again.

To all the young people out there who have fallen victim to statistics and the social commentary about college, don’t fret. The same opportunity is open to you. While your limited availability might impact your prospect to gain real experience, openness to ideas, a strong work ethic, a hunger to learn and unswerving dependability can help you overcome that.

Ultimately, it’s your life.

Whether you choose to pursue a college education or not  is entirely up to you. Don’t make a blind decision. Be mindful of the opportunities you’re foregoing and the time, effort, and money you might be wasting. Don’t rely on a degree as a signal of your worth. Create a better one.

 

 

Break Free From Your Nest.

“Step away from that edge, young bird!” The teacher’s stark, reprimanding voice sent me catapulting from my  day dream. “You’ll fall to your death.”

“Oh! But what if I fly?” I boldly replied.

“That’s nonsense. Get your head out of the clouds,” she said. “No one’s ever done it before. You weren’t made to fly. Now sit down, you’re disturbing the class.”

I challenged her. I was not about to give up so easily. “How do you know I won’t soar?”

“Sit down and shut up,” the teacher, not in the mood for a debate, exclaimed. “You’re putting ideas in the other students’ heads. Do you want them growing up believing myths?”

“What if staying nested is a myth?” I asked. Her lectures could not stifle my inspiration.

“Class, listen up,” she started in–the teacher did love an audience, “Let me make this explicity clear once and for all. You were not made to fly. The stories you’ve heard are simply tall tales passed down for ages. Make believe fables. There is no flying. If you leave the nest, there is only dying. Nest life is the best life. What lies beyond the edge of this kingdom is not suited for birds. One foot over the nest’s wall and you will plummet to the earth, meeting a most dissatisfying doom. You must stay here and learn. That is your only hope for survival.”

I could not take it anymore. No teacher would stifle my dreams.

“But I don’t want to survive! I want to glide! I want to feel the wind rushing beneath my wings, to sit atop clouds, to chase lightning bugs on the breeze, and to greet the morning sun with a song from the heights! I must fly! I just must!”

I ran to the edge and threw myself over, hearing gasps followed by an uproar. Then, only the violent rush of wind filling my sinuses and ears.

I hurtled downward picking up speed. Everything around me, a blur. “I might not make it!” The thought rushed to the forefront of my mind. “What if the teacher was right? What if I die?”

“NO!” A roar unlike anything ever produced from my lungs erupted. I don’t even know where it came from. The startling noise ushered from my beak caused me to flinch and toss my arms out beside me.

Everything slowed. I could see. Was I not to die after all?

“Wait a second…I’m flying!” I chirped as loudly as a young bird could chirp. Today was not my day to die. Today surely was my day to fly!

 


When a bird flees its nest for the first time, it has no backup plan. It doesn’t slink to the edge and assess how far away the ground might be. It doesn’t fall from the nest.

It jumps. It spreads its wings. It becomes what it was meant to be.

It flies.

You were meant for more than the safety of your nest.

Take flight today.

 

 

My Librarian, The Drug Czar.

I didn’t get really into drugs until I was about six or seven years old. During the summers, I used to visit the Enid Public Library and wander about the shelves, carte blanche. It was there, cloaked from the public eye behind numerous texts, where I would be administered dosage upon dosage of fresh, new, enlightening psychotropic devices. Even so, this freedom to binge diminished as I relocated during the school year to a more cautiously monitored environment: the public school library.

Potent substances of epidemic proportions, if you look carefully enough, can be found littering the shelves of most libraries, though, and I was determined to find the most satiating of these. This, in my opinion, must have been why I was banned from visiting certain “Dark Arts” sections as an elementary student. It must have been that look in my eyes. Perhaps they were too red, or maybe the librarian had begun to take notice of that slight change in my disposition each time I made a new visit to this wonder emporium. Either way, I had to proceed with caution most days, if I was, after all, going to get my fix.

One day, in fact, the librarian caught me perusing around this “off-limits” section of the bookshelves. There I was at 11 or 12 years of age, Atlas Shrugged in hand, when that user’s itch overtook me. I dropped the book immediately and began frantically convulsing, part from fear of being caught in the act, part from knowing my stash was about to be flushed. All the while I knew if I did not administer soon, I would surely die.

It was no use, however, the ruse was up. At that age, I was hardly tall enough to see over the counter to check a book out, let alone hide a 1,200-paged manifesto behind my wimpy little back. So, I picked the book back up from the floor, replaced it on the shelf, and obediently followed the orders, promising myself I would find a way to unlock the potency of its contents at a later date.

That memory seems so long ago; I oftentimes wonder if it happened at all or if it was no more than the birth of some intense trip. After all, I have been using most of my life, and, it is not uncommon for me to drift entirely from all tethers to reality into fantasies tucked deep away in the darkest crevices of my mind, readily awakening to the inspiration I find in each new literary drug.

Subsequently, even if the instance with the librarian did not occur, I am certain the restrictions to prevent me from self-medicating or overdosing at such a young age were, in fact, in place. I despise that truth even to this day, but realize it did not stop me from introducing myself to those much harder drugs, so much as it merely delayed me.

However, what I know now is that had I simply been allowed to satisfy my craving when it initially had sprung, perhaps I would not have been so receptive to its effects or so keen to discover even harder, more illicit scholarly substances to fill the void such a prolonged introduction had created.

Furthermore, perhaps under the cautious supervision of the librarian or some other pedagogue dealer of dalliances, I would not have—once self-prescribing—been so keen to consume far above the recommended dosages. Perhaps given the opportunity at self-discovery—though this might be a stretch—I would have even hated the drugs, and rejected altogether any such interferences with my worldview as it then existed.

Even so, such was not the case, and it was made clear that such voyages into the unknown were impermissible for such a young, budding mind. This created nothing but contempt and inspired in me a sense of rebellion, a sense of courage to gallivant off into uncharted waters as a freelance pharmacist for myself, eager to indulge in every new available banned product I could find. So, too, did it make me more receptive to the mind-altering nature of these unapproved commodities. I found in these not merely a delightful escape, but more importantly, I discovered truth. I felt alive and aware, as if my eyes had at last been opened to all that was around me. I saw the world not as I thought it to be, but for what it truly was. I saw myself juxtaposed to the universe as a finite entity, both free and powerfully awestruck by the magnitude of what I had previously not only not known, but dismissed as impossible.

Those substances freed me from the restrictions imposed not only by coercive authorities, but of the inhibiting limitations I had enforced on myself through ignorance. Upon discovering this newfound, vast expanse of intellectual wealth, I gained a new appreciation for life, for learning, and for contemplating axiomatic truths.

I discovered how to listen rather than talk, how to humbly promote myself rather than boast, how to speak sincerely rather than with grandiosity. But far and above more imperative than all, I came to know how to love myself and as a result, how to love others. The ideas resulting from of all these trips and highs in prose and poetry unlocked all of these things for me, and I think they can for anybody courageous enough to give them a try.

So forget about prohibitions, censorships, or coercive deterrents. Why don’t you give the unknown a shot? Why not explore the limits of your own vast cognitive abilities?

Go pick up a book today, who knows? Your gateway drug could be waiting for you.

 

 

Three Reads That Made Me Think

Take-Home Message: Do not simply read books that reaffirm your beliefs. Expose yourself to things that challenge your way of thinking.

Writer’s Note: Each of these texts made me scratch my head and think. They each provided me the service of tackling many notions I had about the world, thus forcing me to devise my own conclusions. Each of these challenged me to look beyond my purview for answers of my own.

Life Without Principle, Henry David Thoreau (Published in 1862)

Thoreau advances an argument for withdrawing from the norms of society. He suggests to live a life of fulfillment we must find a way to abolish our slavery to the dollar and rather seek to live life according to the value we find in our own labor.

This essay made me contemplate my purpose in life, and what living for it would look like as opposed to not.

Resist Not Evil, Clarence Darrow (Published in 1902)

Darrow, an early-1900s attorney most famous for his defense of John T. Scopes in the “Monkey Trial, eloquently outlines the role of the state in administering justice in the United States. He provides a compelling argument against the death penalty and imprisonment. Darrow, sounding much like Ghandi, describes through analysis of the courts’ operations that an eye for an eye does society at large more harm than good. The book gains its title from the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 5, verse 39: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”

This book motivated me to explore my own thoughts and stance on the nature of justice and how best to seek it. 

The Law, Frederic Bastiat (Published in 1850)

This seminal text of Bastiat’s profoundly influenced my understanding of what it means to live freely. Though written over 160 years ago, Bastiat’s words sound  truer than ever today. This book challenges many of the ideas about the roles of both the government and society at large in relation to the individual. Bastiat praises America for the experiment of liberty it has begun, cautioning about its appetite for slavery and protectionist tariffs. I highly recommend this prophetic text to anyone interest in restoring individual liberty to the world.

This book stoked an intellectual fire in me to seek out answers about many of the problems plaguing the world today. 

An Exercise.

Take-Home Message: General thoughts regarding my competitive edge as an entrepreneur.

Writer’s Note: This is a different type of post than the ones I have been doing. It is drawn from the challenges of Chapter 9 of You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts.

“Today, I want you to think about your edge as it relates to your thing. And once you find that edge, how can you use that to help you name your business? Or your project? Or your organization?”

–Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

This post is my own personal exercise for identifying my edge in the world. I had to get the words out. It hurt.

One-word Descriptors of Me. How I View Myself (Positive):
Eccentric. Confident. Strategic. Intuitive. Learner. Reader. Observer. Bold. Daring. Relentless. Achiever. Personal. Open-minded. Enthusiastic. Inspired. Bored. Eager. Hungry. Hustler. Persuasive. Resilient. Spiritual. Intrigued. Passionate. Fearless.

One-Word Descriptors of Me. How I View Myself (Negative):
Critical. Rash. Dramatic. Affected. Insensitive. Unsympathetic. Skeptical. Cynical. Sarcastic. Pushy. Aggressive.

How I Think Others View Me:
Determined. Cocky. Judgmental. Too critical of self. A bit cheesy, but somewhat inspiring. Sometimes-shy. Sometimes too loud. Troubled. Different. Anti-authoritarian. Well-meaning, generally. Argumentative. Unrealistic/Idealistic. Outside of the box. Contrarian. Hipster-ish. Artistic. Challenging. Driven. Wordy.

Important Background Details (Short-hand version, chronologically/Each of these is a story of its own):
Small town. Middle child (complex). Independent. Well-read. Imaginative. Agricultural. Athletic. Over-achiever. Arrogant. Grandiose. Subject to peer-pressure. Challenging of authority. Paying for my sins (I still have the receipts). Depressed. Determined to overcome. Humbled. Quiet. Reaffirmed. Inspired. Courageous. Motivated. Goal-oriented. Searching for answers. Fearless.

Ideal Lifestyle:
I will work from anywhere/My office will be the world. I will travel regularly. I will work with people from all walks of life. I will spend time with my family and prioritize them (someday when I have one). I will have and maintain a minimum of 3-5 sources of income. I will have a cabin in a mountainous region. I will work no more than 50 hours per week. I will feel a sense of community where I live and be involved as a contributor to that community. I will invest in businesses I believe in regularly. I will mentor less-experienced or younger men throughout the course of my life. I will work with [a] mentor(s) throughout the course of my life. I will write and publish regularly. I will read regularly. I will be engaged philanthropically and charitably. I will coach my son’s or daughter’s baseball/softball team (someday when I have kid(s)). I will work at least an hour every day for myself, be it for business or for self-improvement. I will live within my means.

Desired Fields My Business Would Fall Into. Into What Industries Would My Business Be Categorized (If someone else were describing it’s place):
Marketing. Communications. Consulting. Technology. Law. Media. Management. Organizational/Efficiency Specialty. Leadership. Self-Improvement. Education.

Components I would like to include in My Business for me to find it fulfilling. What I must do to feel like my skills are being utilized:
Writing. Speaking. Photography. Social Media. Marketing. Strategic problem solving. Networking. Sales. Planning. Inspiring. Improving efficiency. Utilizing technology. Brainstorming. Design. Leadership. Self-Improvement.

My Demographic/Criteria for clients (Whom I would love to and believe I can help most): People. Small-businesses. Middle-class. Entrepreneurial types. People who were once inspired, but have lost it. People who want more but don’t know how to get there. People who have lost their vision. People who want to add value with their labor. Hard-workers. People who work with their hands for a living. People who feel like there is not enough time in the day. People who have an inclination toward optimism, but are uncertain and indefinite about why. Natural problem solvers. People who share my vision for making the world a better place.

Why Does this Matter To Me?:
I want to see others succeed, especially the underdog. I have a passion for working with people who feel overlooked, under-appreciated, undervalued, disregarded, or underestimated. I feel a connection with people who have felt this in their life because I can relate. I want to empower others. I want my work to improve the quality of lives of others and myself. I envision a better world; I want to help others do this, too. I want to live freely; I want others to, as well. I want to have flexibility. I want to innovate. I want to constantly learn. I want to push myself and everyone around me. I want to incorporate as many, if not all, of my passions, hobbies, and skills into my business. I want to find better ways to do things. I want to be financially independent. I want others to be financially independent, too. I want my work to be built upon a platform that allows me to educate others about the things about which I am passionate–namely, individual and economic liberty, entrepreneurship, self-improvement and innovative technology. I want my work to be an extension of my belief system. I want to live virtuously. I want my work to create value at every move. I want to make the world a better place.


This was an incredibly difficult exercise. I will edit and add to this regularly as I continue to refine my ideas for entrepreneurial ventures. As I continue to work through the course, “You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts,” I will shape the ideas I have into a tangible business idea, and from there, work to develop a business plan from it for self-employment. Anticipated completion date of course: October 31, 2015. Deadline for completion of business plan: October 1, 2016.

Sentiment Sells.

Take-Home Message: We all like to feel special, connected, seen, relevant, and important. Accomplish this with your business, and never work another day.

Writer’s Note: These are my personal reflections upon completing Chapter 8 of Ash Ambirge’s You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts.

Let’s do a quick experiment.

Tell me about the first time you fell in love. Think about how you felt. What did the object of your affections say or do to make you feel the way you did? How did you respond? Contemplate on that for a moment.

I recently reflected on one of my own personal love stories: with writing (See For The Love of Words). I became enamored, nay consumed in my love affair with words and written language as a means of reaffirming my identity. It allowed me to discover things about myself–and it still does each time I make love with the words. It makes me feel relevant in this great big world.

Now, your experience with your loved one, or “soul mate,” if you’ve found him/her, is likely a much more passionate affair. It probably reaches much more deeply into your soul, reaffirming your identity, bringing out the best in you, and complementing your worldview in a way that brings you immense delight.

What else?

Now, imagine if you could develop a business model that made someone feel all of those things.


This is a good marketing example of a simple product whose message captures this concept.


The goal of this thought experiment is to think about this individual whom would be the likely consumer of your product or idea. It’s to think about the characteristics your product or service can offer to reaffirm what he or she already knows about himself or herself, and saturating this product or service with that message.

Business, after all, does not exist simply to provide things people need. It’s about giving people what they want, when they want it, where they want it, and at a price they can afford. But, it’s still deeper than that, too. It’s about providing something that does more than its intended use. It’s about adding value to lives.

So, when you can identify this individual, your intended consumer, and find out what makes him or her tick, you can begin to feel out what things reaffirm his or her identity. In so doing, you create the opportunity to add new, meaningful value to their lives through your product or service.

Once you’ve done this, you no longer have to sell anything. You merely have to be the friend who introduces two perfectly compatible people, and then let the magic happen on its own.

Business is about people. But not all people, it’s about finding THE people, the ones who can benefit most from what you’re offering and crafting the entire business to make them feel seen, relevant, important, and whole.

Here are the questions Ash posed which spurred my thoughts on these matters:

And so I ask you now: Who’s your business soulmate? Who’s the person doing the searching? What are their unique perspectives, ideas, and opinions as it relates to your thing? And, most importantly, what will you say to them that they’ll hear?– Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

So, who is your business soulmate?

Free the Hostages. Or Else.

Take-Home Message: If you are not pursuing your valuable idea, you are keeping your standard of living and the worlds’ lower than it has to be. Become the hero in your own story.

What if I told you I know your dirty little secret? What if I told you I knew how many hostages you’re holding right now? I know how you’re keeping them quiet. I know why nobody’s going to do anything about it.

So, what’s your number? Is it one? Two? Maybe more. How many dependents do you have? How many people do you interact with each day? How many neighbors, relatives or friends do you see regularly? Think about everywhere you frequent.

Now, think about the grocery store where you shop. Think if it wasn’t there. How much further would you have to drive? What about your favorite barbershop/salon, what if the stylist you always visit wasn’t there, where would you go, instead?

I want to paint a picture for you about what your standard of living would look like if someone else had not taken a risk, however small, to open their business in proximity to you. Your life would at least be different, right? I think so.

I think about where I would eat if the restaurants I frequently patron weren’t nearby. I think about how much more I would rely on Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and (God forbid it) USPS to deliver the things I might need in lieu of the entrepreneurs in my area.

And when I think about that, I also think about my portion of the exchange I take part in on a regular basis. I’m not talking specifically about the exchange of my money for someone else’s labor or service, though. I’m talking about the exchange that happens when someone else offers their service that makes my life better, and being able to only offer them money or a “thank you,” as payment. Something is missing. Where’s the value I’m creating, in return, for them?

This is what I mean when I ask how many people are you holding hostage. It’s a question I asked myself last week when I got my haircut. It’s a question I asked myself yesterday when I went to the coffee shop. It’s a question I asked myself today when I ate lunch. Where is the value I’m creating in return for all of the benefits to my lifestyle others have contributed around me?

So, when I ask you how many hostages you’re holding, I’d like you to take a moment and reflect on your own standard of living. Reflect, too, on all the people whose lives could and would be better if you turned one of your ideas into reality. Who would be stopping by your store to pick up one of the latest products you were offering? How would this change their lives? How could their standards of living be improved?

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned in the past year can be summarized in one word: alternatives. I could rant now about opportunity cost and foregone preferences, but I won’t. Let’s focus on the positive alternatives. After all, it’s the lack of these that holds the world hostage.

So, what positive alternatives do some of the ideas you’ve been contemplating hold? What are you working on that’s better than what the world already has? What’s your secret ingredient? What angle do you have that no one else does?

The answer is simple. It’s you. You are unique. You have your own background, story, experiences, and ideas. Without you, the product or idea you’ve been thinking of or you’re going to think of next could never come into existence the way that it has or will by your mind.

“Because there are people out there looking for you—your people—who need you to be you, and do things exactly how you would do them. (And will ultimately pay you to do them your way.) They need your experience. Your skills. Your stories. Your thoughts. Your visions. Your advice. Your opinion. Your recommendations. Your ideas. Your expertise. Your knowledge. Your fuck-ups. They need you. No matter what you’re selling, YOU are the main product.” –Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

So, when I ask you how many hostages you’ve taken, what I’m really asking is what kind of value could you add to your life if you pursued one of these ideas, made it a reality, and offered it to the world? By refusing to follow your dream, ambition, and vision for a better world you are effectively holding yourself hostage.

You’re holding your family hostage. You’re holding your neighbors, relatives, and friends hostage, too. You’re holding everyone in the world hostage, too, whose standard of living would be better off through your creative idea.

You’re holding them all hostage to the status quo. You’re holding them hostage to the “way things are, and the way they’ve been” mentality. You are the one holding them all hostage, though, because you are the only one who sees the world the way you do, and therefore, the only one who can imagine, design, create, and implement YOUR idea the way you could.

Now, I’m not condemning you for this. Neither am I attempting to say you should feel obligated to do this for others. You shouldn’t. I don’t like altruism. What I do like, though, is the idea of man as the hero in his own story. i.e. You are the hero in your own story. You’re the one living your life, after all. So, don’t make yourself out to be a villain by keeping your idea locked away, forever untested.

You have the ability to test out your own vision on the world if you’ll just try it. Just give it a try. What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail. That’s it. No shame in that. Plus, there’s something about taking that risk that will change you in the process.

It will yield confidence, self-assurance, and alertness. You’ll become sensitive to the needs, wants, and behaviors of others as you begin not only to look at them as acquaintances, friends, or family, but also as customers or potential customers. You’ll begin to care about bettering their lives through your labor.

You’ll come to appreciate the risk others have taken, too, in their own enterprises. You’ll begin to witness the whole world as a series of exchanges, not just the kind where money is traded for stuff, but where creativity and labor are transformed into value for others.

But, sadly, you’ll begin to see others who abuse this, too. And when you do, it will reinforce your drive to make the world better. It will make you want to accept your fate as the hero in your life. So, what’s stopping you?

Do you really want to make the world a better place? Good. Set the hostages free.

For the Love of Words

Take-Home Message: Writing moves me. Writing composes my love affair with words.

Writer’s Note: I dedicate this piece to addressing the first questions submitted on the Ask Me page. Here are those questions: What is your process or procedure for writing?  Do you begin with an outline in mind?  Do you sit in front of a blank screen and wait for inspiration?  Do you have goals as far as length?  Do you edit as you go?

It would be unfair to attempt to answer these questions without first telling you the greatest love story of my life. I enjoyed learning and using new words from a young age, but the manifestation of my love for these words did not take root until a few years down the road. I always crushed on them, but I played hard to get. When I fell, though…well, the rest is just history. Here’s my story.

There are two important details from this story. The first being that as a tike Webster’s Dictionary was my favorite book. I filled notebook after notebook with words I found as I scoured through it on numerous evenings throughout my childhood. (I still have many of these sacred symbols of our love, too.)

The second aspect sets the tone for the rest of the story. It happened in eighth grade English class. I had a teacher with whom I did not see eye-to-eye (go figure). Nearly every day of the year, she wrote a prompt on the board at the front of the classroom and told us to get to work. I felt like both these assignments and being forced to stay locked up in a room with someone who I felt was failing at her job were both complete wastes of my time. I was wrong on both accounts. Boy, was I blindsided.

Love always finds us when we’re not looking for it, though, I think. I chose to undertake each assignment from a place of contempt. I’d ask myself, how can I earn an A without actually writing about the prompt? This is where I learned about flirting and foreplay–to brainstorm a while before spilling my guts on the paper, and to do so without caution. 

It was at this point, though, that I began to develop feelings for my craft. It wasn’t actually ever contempt at all, but the humble beginnings of a romance. And a strange romance it was indeed. I wrote about the most bizarre things in order to touch the prompts as lightly as possible–some might even say deranged.

I wrote about squirrels eating human faces.  I wrote about feral children running the world. I wrote about animals breaking free from city zoos, stampeding, and trampling innocent by-standers. I wrote about school shootings. I wrote about the horrors of war and the evil of bombings. And the list goes on and on… This is where I learned to write without limits. Some might even say that my approach to these assignments turned me into a lunatic of my own merit.

I’ll happily accept these indictments, though, because I pursue writing the same way I pursue all things I love: aggressively. I come on too strong. I vomit words that sound great until they’re out in the open. When that idea comes, I run, not walk.  I sometimes send vibes that I need you (the reader or audience) to love me back, to make me feel wanted, or to give me your undivided attention. I don’t. I’m independent in my creation process.

In fact, if I felt like I had an expectation from you or as if I knew what you wanted, it would entirely transform my writing into something that it’s not. I would stray from the topic, and this knowledge would become an unwanted distraction. Distractions not only slow down my productivity, they flat out irritate me. While writing, I remove all distractions. When I’m wooing the piece I’m writing, if I truly love it, I am absolutely, unabashedly devoted to it and only it.

As for length, I never think about how much will go into a piece of writing until well after it’s over. I begin each new piece as if I’ll love it forever, and I just love it the best I can until it feels like it’s come to an end. Sometimes, the words break up with me and simply stop flowing. Other times, I call it off, because I’ve come to resent what I once found to be beautiful. This is the only time I edit structure.

When this happens, I stop writing completely and I begin back at the beginning with an axe. I read through everything and I delete anything I find ugly, negative, or clashing with the overall arc. Sometimes it’s just to substitute a word. Sometimes it’s whole paragraphs. (It’s like couple’s therapy, really.)

Unless I come to despise the writing, though, I only spell and grammar check. I leave the rest in tact, as is. If I’ve loved the piece all the way through, or I felt like I was genuine in pouring out my soul, then I know there’s nothing that needs to be changed. I know that I left nothing unsaid and that what I said was precisely what I had to let out. It’s all exactly how I would have said it. It’s authentic.

When I find myself uncertain about my feelings for a particular piece, though–and, this happens quite often–I abort the mission. I’ll have one topic in mind and realize she’s not the one for me only a page in. I find myself being a phony in the pursuit of these topics, usually. Hell, sometimes I’ve written half a dozen pages before I’ve even found real inspiration. Usually the inspiration I find at this, is to hit Control A + Delete. It’s fake. Start over. We don’t do fake, here.

Of course, sometimes I feel as if there’s no love left, as if my love for the words has gone stagnant. I can’t find even the slightest spark. It’s these times, when I force myself to work through the struggles, to fight for my love of the words, that the flowers smell the sweetest. This is when writing hurts. This is when I’m the most honest, because I have to write about myself. I have to dump my flaws, pains, sorrows, and feelings into a piece. It becomes personal. It becomes confessional.

But, when I finish those pieces, I feel the best. It’s like making up after a fight. Or embracing the words after they’ve hurt me. That’s when I know how much the words really mean to me, and that my love for the words is real. And the whole romance comes full circle, my love for the words awakens anew, in a different light, and in a later chapter…the words begin to flow once more, effortlessly, and the story goes on.

Ideas’ Lives Matter

Take-Home Message: Don’t add to the infant-mortality rate of newborn ideas. Record these. Hold them dearly. Use them to better your world.

Where do you record your ideas? Or, do you at all? I find this to be an important practice for me in my own life. For the most part, if I don’t empty the noggin’ every now and then with what I like to call a brain dump, I get all obfuscated and can’t focus on anything.

The ideas start to distract me from everything else I try to work on. They’re like little brain gnomes roaming around in the garden of my mind. So, sort of like that Mucinex commercial, I decided to send the gnomes a-packin’, and started eradicating them. Well, not completely, but I keep a physical notepad and a notepad in the cloud, too, filled with ideas I’ve been working through for years. I get them out of my head to be explored later and free myself up to focus on whatever task is at hand. This has immensely aided in my productivity.

Now, the reason I’m confiding in you about journaling my ideas is because I think it’s one of the most important steps toward freeing yourself. If you want to start a company, or you want to earn some money on the side, or write a book, or even research a topic later, write it down so you don’t forget. As they say, “The sharpest mind is duller than the dullest pencil.” Or however the phrase goes, you get the picture. If you’re not recording your ideas, you are cheating yourself out of your own creativity. It’s like you’re planting the fruit but never picking it.

Stop doing that. Stop doing it now. Write down an idea you had today before you go to bed tonight. Don’t worry about whether it’s a good idea or a bad idea. And then tomorrow, do it again. Keep a notepad by your bed when you sleep. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times I’ve awoken in the middle of the night with a story idea or some crazy thought I wanted to keep for later and didn’t have my notepad—or was too lazy to get out of bed to find one. It’s like I burned money every time I did that—even if it was only fiat currency, I could have been on the verge of a breakthrough or something.

More importantly than simply writing down the ideas, though, is developing a practice of revisiting these ideas on occasion, and cultivating them. If it’s a business idea, in particular, fleshing this out some more could be the first step toward breaking the chains that currently are keeping you chained to your cubicle. Your billion-dollar idea isn’t worth the time you took to write it down if you’re never going to take action with it.

The important part is to develop the habit of doing so now, so later, when you have your BIG idea, recording and reflecting on it is already second nature. Even if it’s just an intermediate idea standing between where you are and an even better idea down the road, if you don’t develop the practice of doing it, you might not ever get there.

So, once you have a basket-full of ideas, spend a couple hours some evening working through a few of them. Test them to see if they hold water. If it’s something you want to know about, do a Google search and find some info, or find an online forum and start asking questions. If it’s something you want to do, look at your calendar, or just book the trip.

Since the risk with ideas is minimal or nonexistent, you’re not committing to anything by reflecting on them. But, if it is a business idea, there is a potential huge risk of never exploring the feasibility of this idea being put into practice. Ask yourself, is that a risk you are willing to take?

And, if it’s an idea you’d like to monetize, there are tons of resources available via the internet to find out more details about putting your idea into motion. Or, you could start by writing up a mock business plan. Whatever it is, just get to cranking.

If you’ve refined your idea, and think it’s possible, though, go a step further, and identify if it’s more than just a good idea in theory. Spend some time thinking about if there’s an actual demand for your idea. Figure out if it’s something people want.

Here is a quick litmus test for answering those questions. It’s from Ash Ambrige’s You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts:

Make a chart that addresses these.

  1. What is your idea?
  2. Who does it target? Be specific with the demographic.
  3. Is your idea something your target market would actually want?
  4. If they want it, are they able to buy it?
  5. And finally, if they want it, and they’re able to buy it, are they willing to buy it?

I did this exercise with a couple of my ideas today, and figured out a lot of things through a few minutes of Google research that I hadn’t factored in. It was a helpful practice. It helped me sort through the reality distortion that usually takes place when I become passionate about a new idea I have. That’s important. You can love your idea and think it’s brilliant, but, if it’s A) Impossible to implement; or, B) Nobody is willing to pay for it, then scrap it, or attempt to refine it.

If you don’t ever spend the time recording or reflecting on your ideas, though, you’ll never even make it this far. So, we’ve discussed why you should record your ideas. We’ve discussed  why you should vet your ideas. Now, what are you waiting for? Join me today in living more freely. Grab a notepad and start scribbling away.

What To Expect From M.E.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember, but never publicly much on topics of any substantial importance. For some time now, however, I have been toying with the idea of a blog to achieve a specific purpose. That purpose, namely, is to identify through the use of colorful anecdotes and real life examples ways in which to break through the murk of a standardized culture’s expectations for our thoughts, actions, behavior, speech, preferences, ideology, religion, faith, or any derivative thereof and rather perform the delicate task of rebutting, “Why not?”

As long as I have been writing, however, for an even longer time I have been challenging the status quo. I am a contrarian by nature–it would seem–as much in my pattern of thinking as in my desire to buck authority for the sake of autonomy in my own life. I hope that the thoughts and words I express sometimes offend, sometimes inform, sometimes delight, sometimes intrigue, yet always challenge. I do not accept things as the way they are simply because that is the way they have been. I believe in the creativity and resilience of the human race to achieve new heights. I do not believe this to be possible, though, without the freedom to pursue our own rational self-interests. I hope to present these beliefs and many more in as compelling a manner as I am fit so to do.

In seeking to accomplish this purpose, I will frequently draw references from any number of literary and scholarly works of which I am an avid consumer. Additionally, I will include any thoughts, links, posts, tweets, comments, etc. I find relevant, intriguing, useful or even entertaining.

I welcome you to join me in an open dialogue regarding any topic of substance. In doing so, let’s challenge the status quo together. The power to advance the cause of liberty vastly increases when we chime in together.