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.

 

 

Abstinence & Voting

I’m saving myself for a better world.
 
Someday when I find it I don’t want to have to explain how I gave myself up to George Bush. Then John McCain. Then to Donald Trump.
 
I want to be pure for it. So I took a vow of abstinence.
 

I stopped voting years ago. I’ve been frequently challenged to provide lengthy explanations for my decision. It never ceases to amaze me how affected others are by the news. Like I’ve betrayed them. Like I’ve committed some kind of Grand Treason.
 

Sometimes these conversations lead to realization that I share many of the same frustrations as voters. I hate taxes. I’m repulsed by war. I don’t trust politicians. Prohibitions and licensure laws are tyrannical. Government should stay out of ____________ (everything). Blah blah blah.
 
I participated in these conversations for years (as a non-voter and as a voter). I punched my ticket at each election. Which was maybe 3. I stopped voting not long after I was “of age.” One day I just got bored.
 
I started to see the whole thing as one giant circle jerk. A new guy would come up for election. He’d make promises. He’d secure some votes. He’d be stonewalled in office. Nothing would change. Repeat. That’s not progress. It’s madness.
 
When I began reading more broadly into political philosophy and economics I found I wasn’t alone. There were tons of theories about why voting isn’t particularly useful. There were as many about the incentives politicians face for acting in their own interests over the interest of ‘the people.’ None of this surprised me. It simply abhorred me.
 
I never stopped hoping for a better world. I just couldn’t buy into the fairy tale that voting would accomplish this any longer. I had new information. But my experiences and observations had confirmed the same.
 
It inspired me to empower myself to eliminate my frustrations. Voting seemed too passive. I wanted to be active about making my world better.
 
I started by educating myself. I wrote a lot about what I read. I engaged others. I challenged. I argued until I was blue in the face. It didn’t matter. Other people couldn’t envision the world as I saw it. They didn’t want to.
 
That no longer bothers me. Everyone should do what makes them happy I think. If voting has value to you, then vote. If it doesn’t, then don’t.
 
I think a greater issue is at the root. Every person is an individual actor in his or her own universe. We’re all just trying to go out and get what we want according to what we know and believe.
 
This idea was revolutionary to me. It made want to stop changing others and start by changing myself. Hoping 51 percent of people agree with me was disempowering. Voting for that world was just not enough. If there was a better world to be had and I wanted it, then I must take action.
 
A great explanation of this comes from Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action. To summarize he posited three requirements must be present for individuals to take action: 1) unease or dissatisfaction with the present state of affairs, 2) a vision of a better state, and 3) belief that they can reach the better state.
 
The three requirements are contingent upon one another. The first two conditions are nearly always satisfied for me. Yet, in the context of the political establishment the third criteria ceases to be satisfied for me.
 
I abstain from politics not [only] because I hate politics and not because I’m apathetic. One significant reason stems from the third criteria above. It would be illogical for me to cast a ballot knowing I don’t believe it will effect any desired change. Why should the burden of proof be on me anyway? Make the political system prove that it’s invaluable to social progress. It hasn’t yet.
 
My belief that a better state can be reached rests on the creation of that better state. Not by governmental mandates but by individuals who set their vision into motion in the world.
 
It is not through handmaidens of the political establishment with their waving pens and  crummy rhetoric that the standards of living across the globe have ever been raised. It’s by the sweat, blood, and commitment of men with a vision for a better world and a bias for action to create that world.
 
If you’re dissatisfied with the present conditions of the world; and you possess a vision of a better world; and you believe that world can be achieved…it’s time to act.
 
Don’t rely on the ballot box to create a better world. Just go build it.
 

 

On Personal Equity: Who Owns Shares of You?

Take-Home Message: Be smart about who you let influence you.

Motivation speaker Jim Rohn famously coined the phrase, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

If Jim is right, then you can probably get a glimpse of your identity by looking at your circle of confidants. However, I’ve also heard it remarked that this assessment falls short. It does not account for the other intellectual influences that might be quite prevalent in shaping your identity, like books or bloggers, or the websites you frequent.

I have a tendency to agree with Jim, that we do, to a degree, become the company we keep. Because of this, I think it’s quite important for the achievement of your goals to assess carefully the individuals to whom you grant a stake in your life and how their influences are shaping you.

In many ways, your life is a lot like a business. (Corporations are people, too, right?) Of course, there are many different types of businesses and varying facets according to each type. Let’s take a look at some of these similarities, and why the company you keep effects that.

Similarity One: If you make an income, it’s likely from an exchange of your own skills or services to someone else who wants them. How well or how poorly you provide this exchange in accordance with your price will determine your perceived worth in the marketplace to others. Of course, you might not set your price, you might work for a wage that your employer offers you in exchange for your work. How well you demonstrate your proficiency at your current wage rate determines your value to your employer–it likely determines your opportunity for advancement and continued employment, among other things, as well.

Similarity Two: You both need a PR firm. Your reputation is usually up for negotiation. Just as when you’re working, the way you deal with others in your day-to-day relationships will play a role in what others think about you. In the marketplace as a business, consumers’ opinion  can make or break you. In life, it’s not quite as drastic, of course, but, a poor reputation can make it difficult to earn an income or go about the pursuit of your own interests hassle-free.

Similarity Three: Whoever makes decisions for either, is actually the boss. In most businesses, there is a “Decision Maker” who is calling the important shots. These decisions could be reliant on many different individuals providing support like analysts, a Board of Trustees, or even shareholders. Sometimes, [in business] the decision maker’s hands are tied by the influences or opinions of these other parties. It usually depends on the breakdown of equity held in the business by each party. In your own life–much like Rohn said about your five closest companions–how you’ve granted equity and to whom can play a significant role in your decisions. This is why I believe it so important to evaluate those roles carefully.

If you’re running around letting every person whom you come in contact with influence your mindset, goals, or opinions, you’ve effectively taken out an IPO on yourself and let the world buy up shares and call the shots for you. If you’re doing this, stop now and try to buy back as much of your equity as you can.

A little less drastic example, though, can be taken by assessing those five people–or however many it realistically is for you–you’re confiding in and the ideas you’re regularly contemplating. How much ownership of your life have you granted to these? If you can’t clearly see this, then consider a recent decision you’ve made and the process you went through to reach it.

Did you consult anyone before making a decision? If so, whom and what influence, if any, did their opinion have? Did you weigh your decision against a personal code of conduct or some guiding philosophy or information? Or did you reach your own, independent conclusion, free from consultation?

I think it’s important to be aware of this process you undergo in decision-making in your life. It’s not so important who these people are, so long as you’re aware and approve of their influences. However, if your personal Board of Trustees is the deciding factor for every choice you make, and you are unaware of it, you might be do yourself a world of good by taking a minute to figure this out.

Why? Because each of them is operating under his or her own self-interest. Their advice to you is an extension of the reality they live in. If in any way thier interests conflict with yours, then you’re doing a disservice to yourself by allowing their interests to compete with your own for title to your life.

The point of the matter is that you are the only one who has to live with the decisions you are making. So, if the company you are keeping is satisfactory to you and meshes well with your values, then perhaps you have nothing to worry about. The imperative part is that you’re aware of the role these influences play in your life.  Like business as in life, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” So, be sentient of these guiding forces and be cautious to grant equity only where it’s beneficial to the fulfillment of your own life’s goals.

How I Stopped Fearing Failure

Take-Home Message: Your past failures do not have to define you, nor should you let them shape who you are becoming.

We are all afraid of something and for our own reasons. There’s something about the object of our fears that gives rise to extreme vulnerability. This vulnerability stems from our expectations, I think. When we examine our experiences being vulnerable and tend to focus on the bad ones more than the good, we establish an avoidance to situations or events that resemble the bad experiences.

This is my story about how I let the fear of failure and the avoidance of vulnerability resulting from that fear control my life, and how I ultimately overcame it.


Back when I was a little tike, around four years old or so, my family had a massive chocolate labrador retriever named Beau. He was a dinosaur compared to the miniature person I was back then. His towering behemoth figure required more food than any beast I’ve ever before witnessed. So much so, in fact, that we used to keep a feeder for him inside of his outdoor pen.

One morning, the little devil of a four-year-old I was, went outside to play. For some mysterious reason, I meandered into Beau’s pen and thought it a good idea to kick his feeder. To my demise, the nest of wasps inhabiting the feeder took my rampant eviction notice to them as quite the threat. Responding like wasps notoriously respond to such behavior, four-year-old  me learned a rather abrupt less about cause and effect that’s never left me. I’m not sure what I had expected, but it definitely wasn’t a hundred sores from stings.

To this day, flying, stinging insects give me the chills. I vehemently despise all of them, even realizing the small likelihood of repeating that incident if I give them their space. Today, I think this fear is somewhat irrational. However, after much analysis of it, I’ve come to a conclusion that I think holds water for all fears.

I’m not afraid of being stung. I’m not even really afraid of these members of the Order of Hymenoptera. My fear lies in something deeper, less tangible, and entirely out of my control. My fear of these flying creatures comes from the vulnerability I once felt as a result of an ill-begotten interaction with them. As a defense mechanism to this vulnerability, my fight-or-flight instinct has adapted to kick in when one of these flying, buzzing triggers is around, and put me on high alert.

It is my belief that this vulnerability is key to understanding the nature of all of my fears. I have found this to be the control in all of the fears I have examined which have passed in and out of my life throughout the years. It’s not so much the actual thing so much as this feeling of being exposed, vulnerable, and defenseless to the inevitable. And yet, today, I believe that this vulnerability is little more than a result of poorly devised expectations.

As I examine the biggest fear that was once prevalent in my life, I can see this deeply rooted avoidance of vulnerability as the source of this fear: The fear of failure. As I look a little closer, I can track the time and places of the experiences and instances that sowed this fear and the series of decisions that led to these circumstances. But more importantly, I see the absence of considering failure as a possibility, as I expected myself to be flawless. As a result, I was totally unprepared to deal with failure when it came knocking.

I think back to the time I told my dad I could manage skating down the 10-foot slide at the local park after someone gifted me a pair of roller blades for my eighth birthday. Pride dismantled.

I think back to the time I was up to bat in little league with two outs and the game on the line and struck out. And how I ended up riding the pine for game after game following this. Whif, I blew it. I let the team down.

I think back to the time in eighth grade when I participated in my first public speaking contest and forgot the words halfway through and cried in front of a panel of adult judges. Humiliated.

I think about the time freshman year of high school when I washed my blue socks with my white uniform, dying it blue and coach still made me wear it in the biggest tournament of the year. Distractingly embarrassed.

I think about the time that I ran for Student Council President and didn’t get elected. And the time I ran for FFA Chapter President and lost to someone younger. Overwhelmingly discouraged.

I think about the time I pleaded with the leadership in my church about keeping the younger and older students together and how they refused, and how I walked out on organized religion because of it. Utterly shaken and confused.

I think about the last game of baseball I played as a senior in high school that I pitched and walking off the field knowing I would hang it up forever. Goodbye, glory days. Distraught.

I think about the first time my heart was broken as an 18-year-old boy because I had tied my identity up in a relationship. Crushed. Lesson learned.

I consider the time that I won a statewide election and my reputation was put on display for nearly 24,000 students, thousands of parents and educators across Oklahoma. And how I threw it all away for a few good times and a handful of misguided decisions. That one stung worse than the wasps. Entirely exposed and despaired.

And I think about the day I was asked to move out of my fraternity house as chapter president because on my watch someone’s life had been put in danger and I hadn’t done anything to prevent it. Some lessons hurt worse than others. Ashamed and Abandoned.

There are many more situations and experiences that come to mind when I think about the thousands of branches of this root system to my vulnerabilities. I think about how each of these made me feel and how I responded in the face of these different adversities. I think about how I could have better handled these, too, had I simply set more realistic expectations for myself or even contemplated the what-ifs if failure arrived.

In many cases, I can see how earth-shattering these failures were to me and how they altered my focus looking forward in life. I grasp now how prevalent this fear of failure became in shaping the narrative of my life. Back then, even contemplating a decision that looked like it had the potentiality of failure would cause me to shutter, much like seeing a bee or wasp. And why? Not because I was scared of facing the actual event or hurdles that stood in the way. Instead, it was because I couldn’t bear to think about revisiting the vulnerabilities that had once consumed and shaken me so profoundly.

It wasn’t even fear of failure or fear of bees or wasps, ever. All of these fears boiled down to an avoidance of vulnerability, as if being detached and tough all the time could provide me security and also happiness.

I allowed the horror of vulnerability to live rent free in my mind, and in so doing ceded the authority of my life to this force that had erected itself only by the expectations of myself I had poorly constructed.

I believed that I could not fail. And as a result, any time I caught the scent of failure looming anywhere near a pathway, I briefly flashed back to a multiplicity of failures that caused me to lose sight of my own valuation of myself; these failures that had rendered me vulnerable. Each time I did this, I cautiously, almost absentmindedly flipped my blinker and changed lanes, refusing to consider where exactly it was I was rerouting to. I only knew I had to drive as far and fast away from the possibility of failure and the feelings of vulnerability, because, after all, I could not fail, not me.


And then I began reading…

I read Atlas Shrugged and I watched as the world crumbled around Dagny Taggart and Hank Rearden despite all of their efforts to keep it afloat.

And I read, too about how Ayn Rand’s works had been rejected by publishers before she ever made it.

I read about Lysander Spooner’s fight to provide cheaper mail to the United States in lieu of the postal monopoly and how he ultimately died a poor man, by the hands of thieves preventing his success at every turn.

I read about Henry David Thoreau’s withdrawing from society to be the arbiter of his own life and about the time he was thrown in jail for refusal to pay property taxes.

I revisited stories about Michael Jordan being cut from his high school basketball team.

I read about one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, dying in exile because of his sexual orientation.

I read about Thomas Paine, the man dubbed responsible for stirring the motivations for the American Revolution, being jailed in France and then being cast out in America upon his return for his ideas about religion, and how he died broke and despised.

I read about Socrates choosing to swallow hemlock rather than to defame his character.


I read story after story about people who looked directly into the face of failure and dared not quit. I read about them overcoming defeat and vulnerability and rejection to achieve greatness. I read about their resilience and drive. But most of all, I read about these individuals as people who lived life by their own terms and refused to take a second look for the opinions of others. They had made themselves entirely vulnerable, yet found so much strength in their own valuation that the opinions of others could not stop them…

And it all clicked. I saw these dozens of scenarios in my own life where dissatisfaction, disappointment, and defeat loomed over my head. I saw the vulnerability and fears I experienced as the response to my own disapproval of myself. I saw the unrealistic expectations I had been striving to reach for what they were, and that by keeping these in place, I was setting myself up.

And with it, I saw a light at the end of the tunnel. I saw a way to overcome these and learn to respect and love myself again. I saw, finally, the point of having courage as a motive, rather than fear. And with these revelations, I unlocked the chains that had been restraining me from my own freedom and happiness.

I would like to close with two quotes, because I think they summarize these lessons nicely. Both are contained in You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts: 

“Have the courage to live. Anyone can die.” –Robert Cody

It isn’t our deathbeds we’ve got to fear; hell, it’s over then. It’s the quiet moments of every single day that slip in and out of our consciousness; the ones at 3AM when our brains are finally quiet enough to turn their attention to the stuff the matters…the stuff we’ve been ignoring. It’s the slow, steady torture of our own thoughts; the thoughts that reflect the truth we’re most afraid to discover. You’re a pussy. A coward. A fraud. A two-bit has been. Your life means nothing, and all you can do is sit there with your dick in your hand, watching it pass you by.

Talk about regret.

Going out on a ledge and royally screwing up isn’t half as humiliating as not having the guts to get started in the first place.

You will screw it all up, you know. And that’s a good thing to know out of the gate, because now you can stop worrying about it. You can stop worrying you’ll make a fool out of yourself if you try and start your own business, because you can rest-assured that at some point, you will. What a relief! You can cross the fear of the unknown off the list, because now you know. You will screw up. You will suck. You will get angry. You will feel like a fool. You will fight battles. You will lose battles. And at some point, you will hate everything. And you will hate everyone.

But once you get past all that, you know what stops happening? You stop hating yourself. And that is worth its weight in 1,001 business flounders. You can look yourself in the eye again. –Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

And with that, I bid you to be fearless. I challenge you to ditch the victim mentality and to go out and own whatever it is that you feel led to do. Stop your worrying and letting your fears govern you. Stop being dismayed by your feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability. You’re going to fail. Expect it. And when it happens, you’ll be able to wipe the dust off and get back in the saddle. Go take life by the horns. You can do it.

The Conversation You Should Be Having

Take-Home Message: People love talking about themselves. Give them a chance.

“Hi, I’m Mitchell.”

“Hi, Mitchell, I’m [Insert Name]”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise. So, Mitchell, what do you do?”

That’s the script to each new interaction I’ve been programmed to rehearse. It happens on auto-pilot. On many occasions, I catch myself regurgitating these words like lines from a play. It’s not because I’m superficially interested, either. It’s something more Pavlovian than that. It’s the response I’ve been conditioned to recite for years, as if we’re all merely products defined by our roles in society, rather than humans with passions, a family, and a story.

It happens all around us, and it walks with us through each new stage in our lives. Questions about what you wanted to be morphed into questions about your major, or any other classifying information. Whatever the question, the result is the same, and I’m guilty of it, too.

I call it qualifying by classifying. It’s really an easy recipe. You take a glassful of notions you have about an individual, add two shots of answers to surface-level questions, maybe stir in a pinch of prejudice, garnish with a stereotype, stir, and then you drink this mind-numbing libation. Add rash judgment according to your preference.

This isn’t healthy. All this does is continue a broken narrative that our existence is pointless. It adds to this group-think mentality that our own intrinsic, individual characteristics don’t matter. It adds to the propagation of society as a swarm of worker bees, beholden to the hive. It grants us each a label according to our role–rather than our personality–as if it’s our duty–rather than our choice.

But, there is still hope.

It happens by working on our delivery. Instead of asking someone what they do, ask, “What’s your story?” or “What keeps you up at night?” or even, “What are you passionate about?”

Watch the fire light in their eyes. Why? Because people love talking about themselves, detailing their passions, and telling their stories. What they likely don’t get often is someone eager to listen. This is not mere conjecture. Research has proven that the areas of the brain that respond to self-disclosure are also associated with reward. People really, truly, love talking about themselves.

Here’s the beauty of this, though. When you engage someone else this way and set them into motion about their story, you will learn more about them than you would by asking them what they do or about their major. Why? Because when you show interest, it allows others to let down their guard and make way for a friendly conversation. Before you know it, you’ll be figuring out how your aunts went to high school together or planning a cookout.

But why does it even matter?

Here’s why. Because a lot of people haven’t thought out what makes them happy or evaluated what they would do differently if they could. They’re just like you and me, moving through life, searching for answers, only to find more questions. But something happens when someone engages us and we get to talking. The wheels start turning and it awakens these feelings and inspirations that we’ve either repressed or forgotten about. Sometimes, all someone needs is to feel like they have the permission to let it all out. We can do that for other people, and it doesn’t even cost a thing.

But why do I care or why should I?

Here’s why I care. Not long ago, someone asked me what made me come alive. He asked me about my goals and my ideal life, where I envisioned myself in a few years, and why it all mattered to me. It floored me. I thought this guy was the most impressive person I’d ever spoken to. Why? Because he made me feel like a rockstar. He challenged me to provide answers to questions I had not even articulated for myself.

I walked away from that conversation remembering him. I remembered how he made me feel, too. And I couldn’t shake the questions. They stuck with me. So, over the course of several weeks following that conversation, I hashed out answers to a lot of those questions. All of this from just a simple conversation, that only took a few minutes of a stranger’s time.

Now, I’m not  proposing you do this as charity. You can approach it from a motive of self-interest. You can even look at it as a key for networking better and making people remember you. You can do it from the joy you’ll likely receive from witnessing someone light up as they describe their story to you. You can do it to feel like a good person.

It doesn’t really matter why you choose to, or even if you choose to at all. But, I assure you, you’re leaving value on the table in every interaction you have if you’re continuing to engage people solely based upon their occupation or education.

I dare you capitalize on that missed value and to join me in making this change. It’s no easy one. It requires a process of undoing years of socially-cultivated colloquial. No matter how I look at it, though, all I see are opportunities–and years of missed opportunities from just scratching the surface. The ripple effects of those opportunities turned into action are impossible to know without trying.

So, will you join me?

Please Offend Me.

Take-Home Message: Whatever it is, stand for your brand.

Writer’s Note: This post was inspired from an entrepreneurship e-course. The following is a quote from this text:

“everything you put out there in the world needs to clearly stand for something. Because when you stand for something, others can stand with you. But when you hesitate; when you try to appeal to as many people as possible with your message, your business offerings, your services, your products, your website, your copy, your blog posts, your social media updates…you cockblock people from being able to decide if you’re for them, or not. And if they can’t tell, the answer will always be no.” –Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts


Have you ever met a real-life metamorphagus? In muggle-speak, the closest thing I can equate this to is a chameleon or shape-shifter. The type of person to whom I’m referring is the one who will, in the matter of one conversation, effectively change his or her mind about any matter so as to appease you or the audience. I think this is not only intellectually dishonest, but I think it’s lazy.

I’ve always been puzzled by it. I understand the incentive structure of it, I think. People want to be well-liked, so they project a false image of themselves onto others. Or, they might not even know it’s a false image. They simply project whichever image they think would satisfy their interlocutor. The short-term gains of doing this seem to be more inviting than the long-term gains of standing their ground on issues and potentially risking the loss of a friendship or offending a new acquaintance. It’s an interesting strategy, I think. However, I  propose operating by a different one.

I’m more of a believer in the words of Dewey Cox: “Walk Hard.” You’re going to encounter people with whom you disagree. In fact, you might even meet people who resent you for disagreeing with the way they see the world. When that happens,  I think you’ve gotta take it in the face and walk as hard as you can. At least, I believe if you want to be true to yourself this is how you should operate.

In fact, I think we detract value from the world–where we otherwise could have created value–by seeking only to appease others. When we delicately tiptoe within the boundary lines of allowable opinion, we are not doing anyone any favors. More importantly, though, I think we miss out on meaningful conversations and opportunities to learn about how someone else experiences the world differently than us. That information is invaluable.

Now, I do not think the goal should be to offend others. There are definitely some  methods to go about sharing your beliefs and ideas that are more harmful and less well-received than others. However, this does not mean you should be afraid to.

You should also dismiss and banish from your mind’s eye myths like “political correctness.” In a world of politics, anything disagreeable to the government is heresy. For instance, when I was in college, I once heard an administrator give a speech on hazing. They defined it as “Anything that makes someone uncomfortable is hazing.” How shameful. I think that’s some bullshit attempt at creating a society of victims.

If something offends you, maybe you should broaden your horizons. If you’ve offended someone, then maybe you’ve done them some good. I know that when I interact with someone who offends me by their beliefs they stick in the back of my mind more than someone who attempts to appease me. It sits there and dwells, and I chew on it like cud.

And what ends up happening as I replay those conversations in my head is that I stumble upon some nugget of truth either about that person or their beliefs that I previously didn’t know. They taught me something, even if it wasn’t some grand philosophical truth, their defense of their beliefs gave me something I didn’t before have. In so doing, they showed me into their head and revealed to me not only what they believe to be true, but also, they showed me how my beliefs are being received.

The latter part is the more important part to me. It’s another valuable reason for having conversations without fear of offending others: it allows us to sharpen and refine our own beliefs, our own conversations skills, and our ability to persuade and argue effectively. It makes us think critically and it makes us face some oftentimes harsh realities about the ways others are perceiving us. Next time you offend someone, keep this in mind: they might have done you a favor; they gave you a free signal that you’re either shitty at selling your ideas or they’re too narrow-minded for you to want them to be your friend.

However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes people get so caught up in their ideas of what’s unacceptable table talk that they refuse to even participate or grant you an audience. Well, a huge fuck you to them too for being so obtuse. Those are the type of people with whom I wish I could go back in time and watch a George Carlin show live. I would piss my pants laughing at how uncomfortable it made them to be exposed to ideas that conflicted with their shallow worldview.

And here’s why: I think the essence of learning involves bringing new knowledge into our heads. New knowledge always accomplishes one or more of a handful of tasks. It reaffirms what we already know, it disproves what we thought we knew, or it blows our minds by introducing something we’ve never before encountered.

That means every transaction of learning involves bringing something into our mind that was not previously there. If we are always walking around being so damned easily offended by new information or hyper-sensitive to knowledge that contradicts our current views and beliefs, then we’re equivalently anesthetizing ourselves to knowledge.

And so we’ve come full-circle back to the shape-shifters and chameleons, because that’s exactly what I think seeking to appease people does. It’s like condemning a whole generation to go without books, or like putting your brain inside a jar of fluid and placing it on a shelf to collect dust. You’re wasting opportunities to participate in one of the most beautiful miracles we as human beings can possibly partake in: experiential learning. And for what, to save face?

Here are some hard facts about life:

  1. The people who actually love you will get over it. Whatever it is, if they’re really worth having in your life, they will not hate you for your ideas or beliefs, nor patronize you to the point you can’t stand it.
  2. The people who don’t matter will remove themselves from your life. They’re all sweethearts like that. If they can’t get over your ideas or beliefs, they’ll hit the road, Jack.
  3. What you say about your character isn’t necessarily voiced by what you believe, so much as is said by how you believe it and how you defend it when challenged. If you’re abandoning your beliefs because of the way other people make you feel, then you probably never really believed it.
  4. Get tough. The world is full of non-believers in your ideas.

So, next time you find yourself cornered at a bar with the greasy dude who wants to impress you with how much you guys have in common, throw him a curve-ball. Make him dance by bringing up something you believe to be true that you know he won’t. And then just watch. I dare you.

You’re not hurting your brand by offending others. Others are hurting your brand by keeping you afraid of being yourself. Don’t let your brand be that of a coward or a shmoozer. If anything, be labeled an extremist. Embrace your ideas, beliefs, and the facts you know to be true, and go out into the world boldly, unafraid, and eager to learn and face whatever comes your way.

Let Your Stuff Burn, Save Yourself.

Take-Home Message: Don’t get too worked up over stuff.

This week trying to clean up my hard-drive, I deleted 10 years of music by accident. Oops! Before I knew what I had done, I emptied my Trashcan, and sent it walking forever. (Or so I thought, I found a way to recover it, but that’s for a different post.) This accident reignited an ongoing thought-experiment about the importance–or rather, lack of importance–of stuff.

Like me, you’ve likely encountered some variety of the “burning house” scenario at a point in your life. Throughout the years, your answer to that question has likely evolved with you, too, much like it has for me. The more I grow, the easier that question becomes to answer. For one simple reason: Stuff doesn’t matter (it’s how you use it).

So, contemplate this famous question for a moment: “If your house were burning to the ground, and you could escape only with what you can carry, what would you grab?”

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been contemplating the underlying life lessons about questions like this–go figure. But specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time in deep thought over minimalism. I’ve been thinking about this not as some sort of strike against civilization or mark against consumerism. I don’t really care about that angle. It’s intrigued me because waking up tomorrow without any of my stuff sounds entirely liberating. It sounds like a new kind of freedom.

It’s made me think that I could walk out the house without anything and rebuild my life, being cautious to only include the most important things. I don’t know if it’s realistic or not, because in the moment, there’s no telling how I would respond. I might be concerned only about making it out with my life, or ensuring that everyone makes it out alive. Who really knows?

The purpose of this thought experiment though, is not to condemn material things. I enjoy the material possessions I have quite a lot, and many of them greatly improve my standard of living. Rather, the point is to identify the most important things in life, so as to remove any of the idle attachments I’ve made with inanimate shit.

Most of your stuff can be replaced easily. And some of it can’t. But even the stuff that can’t be replaced is likely more valuable intrinsically than for any other reason. The intrinsic value is merely a product of your mind, anyway, so you don’t need to carry any of this with you, the value is all inside your head. As for all the other things, they are not as important as you think, really. They are just things, and you might be letting them control your life.

I really think things often can become barriers to our own greatness. When we place an unhealthy attachment on things, we tarnish our faculties for valuation. I think this is one of the most important things a rational, mature adult can possess: the ability to distinguish priority among the pointless.

Among these possible priorities, the most important one is your life. Your own life matters more than any of the shit in it. Your own life, that force of your existence, is more important than any of the things attached to it.

If your house is burning down, it doesn’t matter what you grab if you never make it out. Think about that. All of the shit is pointless without you. So, in essence, you are the thing that determines the value of all the rest of the stuff. Without you, it’s pointless. I repeat. Without YOU, all of the shit is pointless!

So, as I conclude rambling about this thought experiment, I’d challenge you to weigh the value you find in your own life. If you can properly determine this, then you’ve arrived at a good starting point to make incredible personal growth. If you know your own value first, then the value of everything else, big and small, becomes a lot easier to determine.

If you know what you’re worth, then in contrast, you can see how unimportant all of these things are without you. If you can do this, you’ve uncovered a path to self liberation.

Hating The Other Team Isn’t Fandom

Take-Home Message: Don’t be a fantagonist. Let love fuel your passions, not hatred.

Wasn't I just a lady-killer?
Wasn’t I just a lady-killer?

I remember the first shirt my parents ever put on me with the logo. I was just a little tike at the time and had no concept of fandom, let alone team loyalty. At two years old, I rocked that tiny crop-top Oklahoma State outfit like it was my job. It paired nicely with the boots, chaps, and cowboy hat I wore a few years later, the Halloween costume turned outfit of choice on any given day. Still years later, for my 13th birthday, when my mom and sister decorated my bedroom in the colors of my future alma mater, I possessed little understanding of the qualities indicative of a true supporter. I was still in the phase where insults about the rivaling Oklahoma Sooners equaled confirmation in my eyes. Little did I know I was missing the entire point of being a fan, of wearing the colors of my team win or lose, and of simply enjoying the game for the beautiful thing it is.

Throughout the years I have explored the meaning of fandom and observed the definition in action from various capacities, through different lenses, and by vast numbers of unique personalities.

My conclusion is simple: Being a true fan requires love for your team. Riding the bandwagon does not. Rightly so, a significant difference separates the two, though it may take a trained eye to identify these differences when you are out tailgating on game day. Against the crowd, everyone wearing the team colors may appear to be a fan, but the truth is simple: real fans love their team, fake fans hate the opponent.

Think for a moment about any number of the outings in which you have participated, be it a sporting event, a political rally, a religious conference, an organization meeting, or any scenario for which you have been present where the ultimate goal rested on the advancement of some agenda, be it winning, voting, promoting, raising awareness, evangelizing, and so forth, ad infinitum. Whatever the matter may be, we naturally, when coming together for such a cause, assume that an opposition to our cause exists somewhere among society. In many cases, this opposition is readily identifiable: you can judge it by the colors worn or the flags waived, the words spoken or the rhetoric invoked. However, this process becomes greatly muddied when the people standing on the same side of the aisle as us are not at all satisfied working toward the same agendas.

The most potent example of this in action depicts the conditional fan or supporter. Here are some of his most distinguishing characteristics:

  1. He is the guy that shows up to the game more buzzed than the rest of the crowd around him (except maybe the college frat guys).
  2. He’s usually wearing the colors of the team for whom he’s rooting, though it’s probably one of the only shirts or hats of this team’s which he owns.
  3. He yells more obnoxiously than those around him. He does not know all the words to the fight song—nor does this inhibit his invocation of his own remix. He usually spends most of the game belittling the referees and other team.
  4. His stake in the game is insignificant, if existent, at all.
  5. He HATES the opponents, and all supporters of them.
  6. His cheers for the team he is representing pale in comparison to his degradations of the opponent.
  7. He will not wear the colors the following day, regardless, but he will insult anyone wearing the other team’s.

The descriptors above are meant to paint into your mind a picture of the “fantagonist.” He is around us, everywhere, in every movement, cause or group with which we have stood in support of an idea or purpose. To our demise, his presence or portrayal as a member among our group is more often than not more harmful to our cause than most of the good we seek to advance. He is the bad apple in the bunch. He is the nail picked up by our tire. He does all of this with no idea of the significance of his action upon those individuals who live outside the world of our fandom. He is associated with our cause only on the fringe, but he is contrary to all we hope to promote in our own delighted support. He is the fan that everyone from the other side thinks of, however, when they envision doing battle with us. Among us loyal fans, he is the biggest imposter, a hollow pretense cloaked in team memorabilia, but to everyone on the outside, he’s got the goods.

Even for these fans, though, there exists in play a simple litmus test to identify this wolf in sheep’s clothing. Nudge them softly, though. All you must do is pinpoint the other team this fan would support over your team. Put your finger on these entities which hold more weight to this fraudulent fan, and you will have arrived at an understanding of his true degree of fandom. The more contingencies he possesses, the less a fan he is of your cause, team, or proposition. Made simple, this looks something like, “I support Oklahoma State, so long as they are not playing ________________.” The question can be reframed in any number of ways depending on the issue at hand, but the effect remains the same: People will always prioritize according to their highest preferences.

Too often in my own short life, I have embodied this same behavior. I have found myself rooting against things for all the wrong motives. I have been the loudest, most virulently hostile ringleader, at many points for causes in which, though I may have held an infinitesimal stake, my interest in said stake was birthed from ulterior motives. Most notably among these causes has been my hatred down to the cellular level of illegitimate authority imposed upon me. Until very recently, however, I viewed this hatred of authority through an opaque lens.

From my own seat in the nosebleed section, I was chanting at the top of my lungs for liberty to decimate the other team, and to do so at all costs. Meanwhile, I raged onward as a self-proclaimed fan, continually fueling my buzz and obnoxiously announcing flagrancies toward the political pundits above the cheers of my neighbors for each goal liberty scored. I was wearing a Ron Paul shirt in the 47th row of the stadium waving my picket sign, upon which, boldly emblazoned in bright letters visible to the entire crowed was the word “SECEDE!” This was not love of liberty. This was hatred of the state on display.

I was enraging the fans on both sides of the field, and I was finding little fulfillment in the cause, aside from the sick, twisted arousal I gleaned from starting forest fires of debate among the natives. I was not a true fan of liberty. I was a hate-fueled fraud. Instead of victory solely for victory’s sake, I sought victory for my own team only at the expense of all the other teams.

This hatred was equivalent to rooting for everyone to beat the Yankee’s solely because I was a Bo-Sox fan. Love of any cause, though, is standing tall during the ninth inning of a blowout at Wrigley Field, proudly smiling that I had the chance to watch my team, and making plans to come back again next week to do it all over again.

This epiphany has made all the difference to me, and it has drastically changed both my worldview and valuation of camaraderie. I want to be a Cubs fan of liberty. I want to be the Poke’s fan for freedom. Sadly, my team is not going to win this year. In fact, we might not even win next year, but I heard we are building the program from the ground up, and we have a great recruiting class the next few years.

So, in light of this, I think I’ll pack my poncho and maybe even an extra fleece in case there’s a chance of snow. I’ve even got my tent loaded up so I can camp outside the stadium and snag a front row seat. Hell, I might paint my face. It’s okay that you are cheering against my team, though; I’ll still save you a seat. Anyway, I hope to see you there, I hear it is going to be the matchup of a century.

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.