Your Student Debt Isn’t Fair

Get good grades. You must!

Why?

To get into a good college, of course!

What happens if I get into a good college?

You’ll be able to get a good job, naturally!

What if I don’t want to go to college? Isn’t there another way?

That’s nonsense! College is the way.

Sound familiar?

A Narrative Trap

College owns the narrative. For so long college has been the de facto next step, people take for granted there are other options.

It’s so embedded in our social paradigm it’s become an almost expected conversation topic. If you’re under 25, chances are somebody’s going to ask about it – and not even who you’d expect.

Where are you planning to go to college?

What are you studying?

Where did you go to college?

What are you going do after college?

But you know who’s not asking – employers.

That’s right. Fewer employers care each day. Instead of a degree, they want to know you have skills, the ability to show up, and the willingness to dive in and work hard.

Still, the barrage of questions from your parents, friends, relatives, and guidance counselor can make it feel like your option set includes college or bust.

Information Costs

The cost of all information – except bad information – is rapidly on the decline. Today, you carry around more knowledge in your pocket than the combined intellect of every previous generation.

Whatever you want to learn, you can access with the proper Google search. In this age, asking good questions is actually a more valuable skill than going to college.

The decrease in cost of information also means knowledge is no longer esoteric in nature. To paraphrase wise words from my good friend T.K. Coleman – “The age of the school of mystery is over.”

You don’t have to pay some institution for secret information that unlocks some parallel universe where you’re successful. Why would you pay for what you can access cheaper, faster, and more personalized to your goals?

Today, you can design the universe of your own success deliberately and at a low-cost.

Choose Social Debt, Not Student Debt

If you’re dying to go into debt at a young age, then go into social capital debt. Go ask people for advice. Offer to buy them a coffee or lunch. Then ask all your burning questions about life and take notes. (Pro Tip: always send a handwritten thank you note after)

If you have ambitions about a particular type of role, then seek an expert out. Be respectful of their time and come up with good questions. But don’t be afraid to approach them.

No one starts out with all the answers. Everyone starts somewhere.

Even if you’re contemplating college, do yourself a favor and do some due diligence on what opportunities might interest you.

After you’ve done your research, be honest with yourself: is college the best way to get to where you’re trying to go?

If it is, then power to you. If not, then don’t put up a bunch of hurdles for your future. Serious.

It may seem like a great idea now, but when you graduate and the jobs in the industry you thought you wanted to go into have disappeared, and you’re making $35k per year…$350 per month in student loan payments becomes A LOT OF MONEY FAST.

It’s Your Story

The world wants you to believe you need college to live a successful story. But that narrative is bullshit.

Your story isn’t dependent on some third-party riding in with a silver bullet to save the day.

It’s not fair and it’s not honest to say your success depends on some other institution.  It doesn’t.

Your success depends on your makeup.

Are you willing to do the hard things?

Can you get up early, show up on time, and stay late?

Will you give up some nights and weekends to be successful?

In a world where everyone else walks one way, take hold of the advantage of going a different direction.

You owe it to yourself to at least consider your options first.

 

Decisions By Proxy

I got a new pair of roller blades for my 8th birthday.

Immediately, I begged dad to take me to the park. The street no longer presented a challenge.

Marching directly to the playground, I climbed up the steps to the tallest slide, slipped on my blades and stared toward the bottom.

“Should I do it?” I asked my dad.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea, Mitch,” he replied.

That’s all the encouragement I needed. I jumped to my feet and lurched forward.

The moment ended as quickly as it began. I ate it – hard. But at least I tried.

The experiment earned me several scrapes and an important lesson: bad outcomes hurt less when they result from your own decisions.

My dad and I laugh about that incident to this day. Still, I can’t help feeling a little pride. Yes – I made a reckless decision. But I made the decision.

Outsourcing Your Decision-Making

Contrast my example above with another story.

Several years ago, I worked in an office next to a warehouse. We shared street parking. Signs clearly marked the tow away zones. But we rarely saw them enforced.

On one occasion, a few new employees asked others if they ran a risk parking in the tow away zones. Some tenured employee told them they’d never seen a car towed – so the new folks parked there.

That afternoon the city towed their cars. The new employees acted outraged. What an injustice!

One requested reimbursement from the company for the incident. This confused me at first, but the longer I thought about it, the more it sank in.

This individual wasn’t mad just because of the car towing – he was also mad because he’d relied on someone else’s judgment to inform his decision. He saw the tow-away signs. But he made a calculated risk based on the information from what seemed like a credible source.

In short – he allowed someone else to make his decision for him. On that day, his proxy turned out wrong.

The individual felt justified in his outrage because he had a scapegoat upon whom he could blame-shift. Had he never asked anyone and chosen to park in the tow away zone, he would’ve bore full culpability.

Instead, by outsourcing his decision, he relived himself of responsibility for his poor decision.

Stuck Holding the Bag

We all rely on proxies to inform our decisions from time to time.

Consider product reviews as a small case and point. Or referrals from friends about the best dentist or auto-shop.

Still, we ultimately bear the cost if we act on the information and the choice turns out poorly.

What about the bigger decisions?

Like who to marry, whether or not to go to college, which company to work for, or which city to live in.

We all know people who’ve made decisions like this by proxy. Sometimes it works out. But when things go poorly, the person who provided information is rarely stuck holding the bag.

No – we have to live with the choices we make, even if we relied on information from someone else.

Skin in the Game

For big life decisions, I try to avoid advice from people without skin in the game. Sure, I’ll ask for movie referrals. But for the big stuff, I do my best to own my decisions.

If the choices blow up in my face, I have no on else to blame but myself.

Still, occasionally it’s useful to seek out third-party opinions – if even just to shock-test your ideas.

I’ve found over time that people who have no skin in the game as to the outcome tend to give advice based solely off their own experience. They don’t account for the arbitrage of their experience adjusted to yours.

People who have an actual investment in your outcomes, on the contrary, bear some of the risk if shit goes awry. I think something about that risk makes them simultaneously more affected, and more level-headed. They have to live with the weight of their opinion.

No – this does not mean you should fully outsource your decisions to them. But it does increase the odds that their advice is better suited for an outcome that’s good for you (not just them).

Proxies Don’t Pay

Whether you heed others’ advice or not rests on your own shoulders. When you request advice, you still get to choose what to do with it.

You’re never obligated to make decisions you don’t agree with. Don’t forget, you own the final say.

But, if and when you make a poor decision, if you relied on someone else’s faculties, remember: it’s you who has to bear the full cost.

Though they may “feel” guilty – you have to live the decision, not them.

So don’t be flippant. Proxies provide additional points of view. But they don’t have the power to make the call – you do.

Own your decisions. Even when you make bad ones. Don’t cede responsibility to anyone else.

Don’t Live Like a Victim

The world pretends everything is outside of the control of young people.

Can’t get a job? It’s college’s fault.

Student loans? It’s dubious lenders’ faults.

Don’t know how to pay your taxes? It’s school’s fault for not teaching you.

Don’t know how to save money? It’s your parents’ fault.

It paints young people as powerless. As victims of their circumstances. As incapable of ownership of their lives. Of their decisions. Of their destinies. This is all bullshit.

But becoming “an adult” does involve a lot of bullshit. Sometimes it downright sucks.

It sucks because many things about it are outside of our control. It’s easy to get lost focusing on all those things. But it doesn’t have to mean you can’t hope for better circumstances. In fact, we think you should.

The best way to start making things better is by getting started on all the things that are within your control, and fast.

Acknowledge Your Power

You have more power to deliberately design the life you want than the world would lead you to believe. Every day someone’s preaching about how more opportunities will open up if only XYZ happened.

If only:

…college were cheaper, more young people could get a good education.

…loans were easier to come by, more people could start a business.

…mortgages were better subsidized, more people could have a home.

All of this is a bunch of whiny victim speak.

You don’t need those things to go out and create your own life. Yes – you will need to work hard. You will have to challenge the assumptions most people live their lives by. And, you’ll need to take courage to go chase after the things you want in spite of what other people say and believe.

But you don’t need cheaper education. Nor more handouts. And you don’t need more pity from other people.

What you need is the acknowledgement of the power you have – and to embrace it.

The sooner you do that, the sooner you unlock your freedom to design the life you want.

…more on this forthcoming.

The Temptations of Burnout

The lights were off. It’s how I liked to work.

A faint glow from two 27” monitors and a MacBook Pro reflected off my glasses. Beneath my hoodie, the steady mind-numbing pulse of screamo bass outpaced the tap-tap-tapping from my keyboard.

I forgot how long I’d been there. I’d woken up around 4:30 am and I’d be there well until the evening hours.

Half a dozen years into my career, this was a typical day.

At least, until the day I had my first major health scare…

I stacked 80–100 hour work weeks regularly. No one made me. There was no formal “work hours” policy. Success was about results. But in the breakneck pace of a hyper growth company, there is never a shortage of problems or projects to get lost in.

That kind of environment is addicting, dangerous even. There’s an almost pornographic appeal to putting in long hours. Even when you tell yourself you’re having fun – which I was – eventually your faculties erode. The warning voice of conscience “you’re overdoing it” fades the longer you allow workaholism to prevail.

It doesn’t have to be this way. And probably it shouldn’t be. But it’s a picture of what life had become for me.

I ate like sh*t. Burgers. Pizza. Tacos. Fast food.

I rarely exercised anymore. Unless switching from standing to sitting or pacing on calls counts.

Not to mention the excessive intake – coffee to kickstart the day and alcohol to shut the mind off most nights.

Health took a back seat to work – both mental and physical health.

Then one day it went too far.

Not unlike any day, I rose early and slammed several coffees before anyone else made it to the office. But I remember it was a particularly stressful day.

That’s what set it into motion, I told myself: the stress.

It started as a small ache in my side. It slowly intensified through the morning. By 11 am, I was doubled over in pin, clutching my left side.

By 11:30, my entire chest felt tight and I was gasping to breath. Fearing the worst, I called for help.

I spent the rest of the day in the emergency room, doctors running tests. Fortunately, they determined it was not a heart issue. But it was clear my lifestyle had created the conditions for this scare.

Not even 30 years of age, my extremist workaholic lifestyle finally reared it’s ugly head…

When a doctor warns you that your work lifestyle is putting your life at risk, it’s sort of a wake up call that’s hard to ignore.

I felt the only real choice I had was to reevaluate everything.

Starting with my diet, exercise, and sleep routines – like cutting back from 12+ cups of coffee per day to 1–2 max, and prioritizing healthy eating. Then prioritizing regular exercise and 8 hours of sleep. These all made big impacts quick.

But they weren’t sustainable alone. I had to set boundaries and get mentally fit, too.

It was not easy.

I began weekly counseling and engaged with my boss. This was no way to live. I needed help and accountability.

Over the subsequent year, I experimented. I tried a number of different schedules and routines. I iterated often.

I fought a guilt trap – where working less made me feel paranoid, or like I was underperforming. It took consciously combatting this to overcome it.

The withdrawal from working aggressive hours also sent me into a minor state of depression. Because I had centered my life around my work, it was extremely difficult to begin finding meaning in other areas of my life again. But I made myself explore things outside of work. Eventually, this worked, too.

The countless experiments ultimately resulted in my removing a bunch of bad habits and replacing them with intentional decisions.

In time, I discovered how much power I had in deliberately designing my life – where I could find fulfillment in and out of work and everything else.

I don’t regret a single hour I put into the work I did – that ultimately pushed me to burnout. I truly loved my work. Instead, I just wish I’d have realized how important it is to have more than just work going.

The surest way to burnout is by not allowing room for any other meaningful activities in your life.

It happened to me. May you be wiser.

*This was originally published on Quora in response to the question What is your advice for avoiding burnout in a high stress career?

 

Don’t Be Precious

You’re cheating yourself if you’re waiting for the perfect conditions to do your best work.

You don’t need four monitors to work. Maybe they help. But you don’t need them.

You don’t need the fanciest outfit to go to the party.

You don’t need the sharpest sword to fight.

You don’t need the suit and tie to impress investors.

All of these things may “help” but really they distract from the core thing.

You.

You are what makes all those other things assets. Don’t let them get in the way of your best work.

Interviews, First Dates, and Red Flags

Bob is excited.

He hasn’t been on a date in a while and Alice was pretty enough he told himself.

Bob’s mom had told him to just keep being himself and eventually the perfect “one” would come along. Is this the night she’s right?

No. Bob’s mom is wrong again.

Alice is nervous.

Alice gave Bob her number after meeting him at a bar last week. He seemed nice enough – and nothing looked too creepy on his instagram.

Alice has been on so many bad dates she stopped getting her hopes up.

In other words, the bar for a good date in Alice’s book is REALLY low.

But Alice is about to be disappointed again.


RED FLAG NUMBER 1*

When Bob first saw Alice, he was half-buzzed at the local sports bar. He elbowed his buddy Jim, “Hey, Jimbo, smoke show at 5 o’clock, checker out!” Before Jim could stop him, Bob made a beeline for Alice.

Only God and Alice know what he said, but to Jim’s surprise, Bob came back with her number.

A few days later, Bob told Jim he and Alice were going to dinner.*


RED FLAG NUMBER 2**

Instead of offering to pick Alice up, Bob tells her to meet him at the restaurant. Bob chose a local dive bar that has great burgers. Alice has never been, but decides maybe it could be fun.

Bob has already been there for a couple hours. He’s sitting at a table with several other guys. Alice walks in and Bob does one of those awkward hand gestures in the air to motion her over. When Alice walks up, Bob tells his friends, “This is the girl I was telling you about.” When Alice walks up, Bob high fives her.

Alice, polite, plays along.


RED FLAG NUMBER 3***

Alice tries to make polite conversation with Bob. She figures she’ll give it a chance. But Bob doesn’t get it. Instead of reciprocating questions, Bob talks. And talks. And talks.

Bob drones on about everything from his ex girlfriend and his fantasy football roster to how much money he makes and how cool his friends think he is.

Bob doesn’t ask Alice any questions. Instead, he tries to impress her by talking the entire time.


RED FLAG NUMBER 4****

After an hour and a half nonstop soliloquy, Alice interrupts Bob to attempt an exit. Bob hardly takes notice at first and keeps talking. Alice has to stand up from the table for Bob to break his stream of consciousness.

Bob – thinking the date went great – invites Alice over for a night cap. She politely declines.

Bob: “We should do this again sometime.”

Alice: “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea.”

Bob: “Really? I thought we had a great time.”

Alice: “Thanks for dinner, Bob. I really better be going.”


Assuming the candidate isn’t an axe murderer and brings it up in the interview – the above scenarios cover a number of the most common red flags to run away from. If you’re a hiring manager and have ever felt like Alice, God bless you.

*RED FLAG NUMBER 1:

Let’s pretend Bob is the candidate. He doesn’t know anything about the company – but he heard it sounded cool. He does no research before showing up. He took no notes on his initial phone screen call. Bob treats this role and company as if it’s no different than any other company.

Bob’s approach to the job hunt is like a drunk guy on a bar hitting on girls – with a quantity over quality approach. If Bob just hits on enough girls, surely one will talk to him.

This often comes out in the interview quickly. Look for key phrases from the candidate like, “What do you all do here?” or “I just thought the company sounded cool.”

**RED FLAG NUMBER 2:

Bob shows up to the interview unprepared. It looks like he rolled out of bed and made no effort to present himself. Plus, he’s behaving way too informally – acting chummy like everyone is an old college buddy.

He talks about the position as if it’s already a foregone conclusion. He’s not making any extra effort to stand out.

***RED FLAG NUMBER 3:

During the interview, Bob drones on and on. He takes 5 minutes or more to answer every question. He talks only about himself. He overshares information. He talks poorly about former employers and co-workers. He blames other people for mistakes. His best examples of experience are things that don’t indicate he has a depth of knowledge or expertise in.

Bob also asks no relevant questions himself. Bob takes no interest in the interviewer, the company’s mission, or the results that drive the role he’s applying for.

Bob does not reference how he can create value for the company – and seems entirely unconcerned with value creation. Instead, Bob focuses solely on himself.

***RED FLAG NUMBER 4:

Bob demonstrates he is socially unaware. Both from his interactions with the people he’s encountered while on site and the way he phrases some questions.

Bob borders on inappropriate with some comments. Something strange about Bob just gives you a creepy feeling, too. Bob tries to extend the conversation beyond the point it has clearly ended – suggesting he’s not aware nor respectful of others’ time.

Bob is also over-assuming. He behaves as if the interview is nothing more than a formality to get the job.

Don’t be like Bob.

*This post was originally published on Quora in response to the question What is the biggest red flag to hear when being interviewed?

When Ideas are Most Vulnerable

Ideas are most vulnerable when they’re first conceived.

If you don’t take immediate action to move them forward, they’ll most likely die.

That’s not to say good ideas become bad ideas the longer they remain dormant. Rather, that advancing them forward immediately increases the likelihood of bringing them to life.

Consider some of the ideas you’ve had in your life. How many have come to pass? What’s different between the ones that survived and those that died?

For me, it all depends on how quickly I took action. The longer I go without taking a step forward with an idea, the more likely I am to abandon it.

Ideas don’t count as progress. Execution does. I never want to be that guy at the bar wearing his letterman jacket yelling about how he had the idea for Amazon back in his day. The difference is that guy never takes steps toward fulfilling his ideas…

You won’t make the world a better place with ideas. You’ve got to bring them into reality for them to matter.

 

 

To Keep A Streak Alive You Just Need One

Joe DiMaggio stills holds the record longest streak for consecutive games with a hit.

To keep his streak alive, he didn’t need multiple hits each game. He didn’t need home runs. He just needed one good at bat and one good pitch.

It’s a good reminder – progress doesn’t have to be monumental each day. Just keep showing up and make one pitch count. Consistency compounds.

*In honor of keeping my one post per day streak alive, I’m typing this while pumping gas somewhere in Arkansas. Sophie, my Bernese Mountain doggo and I are well into a 1,200 mile road trip across country. But, that’s no excuse to let pitches go by.

 

What is the best way to get a job easily?

This is a story about Jack.

Jack wants a job. Any job. He needs money because allowance from his parents isn’t paying the bills anymore.

But Jack has never had to apply for a job before. So he did what most people do. Jack Googled “How do I get a job?”

After getting lost reading several dozen how-tos and subreddits Jack got worried. None of the advice told him what he could do today.

Jack was sad, confused, and still broke.

Jack doesn’t have any experience. He doesn’t have a resume – let alone a “good” resume. He still needs a job and his online reading made him feel like an unqualified loser.

But Jack wasn’t going to give up that easy. He decided he’d go visit some local businesses in-person to see what he could do.

The first place he visits is the grocery store, where he’s greeted by a manager. Jack asks him about the now hiring sign he saw outside – “How could I work for you?”

The manager tells him that he’s looking for people who will work hard and show up on time. He asks Jack if he can do that.

Jack tells him he’s never had a job before. “I’m willing to give it my best try.”

The manager tells him he’s leery of anyone who has never worked before. “I’ve had a lot of people applying for this job, son,” he tells Jack, “Why should I hire you?”

Jack doesn’t know, so he tells the manager the only answer he can think of – the truth.

“Honestly, sir, I don’t know why you should pick me over anyone else, but I’m willing to do whatever it takes to learn.”

The manager tells Jack to come back Saturday for a test run. “You get one shot to prove yourself, don’t be late.”

On Saturday, Jack showed up early.

He got a new haircut the night before, and picked out clean clothes. His shirt is tucked in and he’s wearing a belt.

The manager greets him again. He tells him he’d like Jack to sweep the floor to start and points him to the back room where the brooms are kept.

Jack doesn’t wait for instructions. Jack races to the back room. He grabs the dust mop and he sets off around the store.

When he encounters guests, Jack politely waits for them to move.

One guest stopped Jack. “Sir, do you know which aisle I can find the grape jelly?”

Jack doesn’t know, so he tells her the only answer he can think of – the truth. “No, ma’am, I do not. But give me one second to find out and I’ll be right back.”

Jack races to the front of the store, reading the signs as he moves. There, on aisle two, he spots it: “Condiments.” And he tears down the aisle, grabs a jar of Smucker’s Grape, and hurries back to the customer.

“Ma’am, I went ahead and grabbed you a jar, but the grape jelly is on aisle two, so you know next time.”

The customer smiles and accepts the jelly. She tells Jack how nice it is to meet such a polite young lad, and that she’d have to put in a nice word with his boss.

When the manager heard the customer’s story, he found Jack and told him he’d like to give him a shot.

Jack’s heart did cartwheels. He found a job! But he wanted to be sure why. So he asked.

“Sir, if you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to take a chance on me? After all, I don’t have any skills.”

The manager told Jack he passed the test with flying colors.

“You told me the truth. You showed up on time. You jumped to get to work when you first got here. You wore a smile. You put the customer’s needs over your task at hand. You’re just the kind of person we want to teach.”

Jack beamed all the way home that day. He knew he had learned a valuable lesson.

Getting a job wasn’t as difficult as he first feared.

It was okay he didn’t know how to get a job – because he was willing to ask what it took, and go out of his way to prove he could do it.

It was okay that he didn’t have skills – because he was honest about it.

It was okay that he didn’t have experience – because he was willing to prove he’d work hard to learn.

Jack’s story can teach us all a lot. Regardless of what job we’re trying to land.

Jack’s whatever-it-takes attitude, paired with his commitment to proving it paid off for him.

And next time you’re looking for a job, it could pay off for you, too.

*I originally published this post on Quora in response to the question What is the best way to get a job easily?

Optimizing Your Career for Income is Like a Dog Chasing His Tail

Meet Doug.

Doug is a good boy. Some have even called him the best of all the good boys. But that was a long, long time ago.

By all accounts, Doug was no ordinary show dog. He didn’t come from a champion pedigree. He didn’t have the best coat, nor the best markings.

But Doug had something few other dogs are born with: a willingness to work harder than any other dog.

Doug had never seen a show ring, let alone win a prize. But that all changed when Master rescued him.

The Master took Doug under his wing. He gave him a nice house. He fed him good food. But most importantly of all – the Master recognized Doug’s potential and he treated him with respect.

The Master told Doug stories about legendary show dogs – how they bounded across the arenas with grace and how they lifted the spirits of crowds.

Doug wanted nothing more than to be a champion someday, so he could inspire crowds. The Master warned Doug how hard he would have to work – still it did not deter him.

So the Master agreed to train that ordinary rescue pup into a champion show dog.

Doug’s work ethic served him well. When the Master said sit, Doug sat, and the Master rewarded him with a treat. When the Master said lay down, Doug laid, and he received a treat.

Occasionally, Doug would encounter an obstacle that didn’t come naturally – there were no treats for bad performance.

Still, the Master patiently instructed him through drills to improve his footwork – so Doug worked harder and harder until he got it.

After several months, Doug and the Master entered some contests. Doug performed well and earned third prize, but not well enough to win. Doug still had much to learn.

Master warned Doug they would need to work harder yet to win – but if Doug wanted to quit, they could. Doug refused. He said he wanted to become a champion.

So they continued to train.

Several months and contests later, Doug had developed quite the reputation for himself. He had taken home several modest winnings. But his attitude began to change. Doug became prideful.

Doug began to forget why he wanted to be a show dog. He liked the level of success he had attained, and he forgot about hard work. No longer did he dream of glory – instead he dreamed only of more and more treats.

One day, Doug confronted the Master. Doug demanded more treats. Doug warned the Master, if he didn’t pay up, he would find a new Master.

The Master didn’t want Doug to leave. But he didn’t want Doug to miss out on his potential, either. So he told Doug a hard truth…He told Doug the only way to get more treats was to win more.

But Doug refused to hear it. So Doug left the Master who had trained him behind and set out to find a new one.

And a new Master he found. The new Master gave Doug all the treats he wanted. He showered Doug with a regular treat allowance and bonus treats – even if Doug didn’t train. After a few months, Doug gave up training all together.

Then one day Doug woke up. He realized he had gotten fat. It had been years since he competed in a contest…and he felt empty. He had forgotten how to bound across the arena and longed for the applause of a crowd.

He even missed the old Master. The treats had made him too comfortable, and distracted him from his goal…

But now, Doug realized, he was too old to compete. He had missed his chance at glory…all for a few extra treats…

I was once Doug. I set out with high hopes and good intentions. Then I got distracted by money.

It made me forget all the people who helped push me to become better. But it was an easy way to keep score, so I chased it.

Until one day I realized that doing the kind of work that makes me happy is worth more than all the treats…

May you discover the same before it’s too late.

*I originally published this post on Quora in response to the question What career limiting moves have you seen people make?