Experiments on building a career without a degree.
Study hard, get good grades, get a degree, and you’ll get a job. We’ve heard this story for decades, and it’s no longer true. Degrees are overpriced and they don’t match up to real-world experience.
We need a better story.
In this podcast, I show you that better story. Every week, I interview explorers, creators, and dropouts who are taking the leap into the real world and building a life and career on their own terms. Most of them are not wildly successful household names (yet). They are human. They have the same insecurities that you and I have, and they fail just as often, if not more.
Take a listen as we discuss self-education, entrepreneurship, building a career from scratch, dropping out of college, and tons more with some of the most innovative young people out there. Hopefully you can learn as much from them as I have.
On my flight today, I observed man and woman bickering at each other. They were finding their seats and frankly acting quite childish. Every time I thought the argument had ended, one of them threw in another snarky comment at the other to escalate it out of pride. We’ve all been there.
Then I noticed a big sparkly wedding band on her left hand. It all made sense.
This was a married couple who had probably been together for a while and perhaps lost their spark. From my point of view, the only thing they had in common was the wedding ring. It really seemed like they weren’t happy together.
They gave up everything for each other when they were young. They rode the honeymoon phase of the relationship straight into a wedding, after only knowing each other for a year. Gradually, they got to know each other more and got to know themselves less. They developed a rut in their communication, and everything started to stagnate. These communication habits among other things prevented each of them from growing in their own way, so they both held each other back unknowingly. They now resent each other for it. Now, despite their unhappiness, they refuse to be one of those couples who get divorced for any number of reasons.
OK… I’m clearly generalizing here. Obviously I don’t know enough about this relationship to make an accurate judgement call. They could be very happy together, and this could be just how they interact. The bitterness also could have been a rare occurrence since it was a 6 am flight.
But for argument’s sake, let’s assume my generalization is correct. After all – if not here, this scenario surely exists somewhere.
What’s holding them together?
Is it the wedding ring? This is a symbol for love, and at one point it accurately represented their relationship. But people change, relationships grow, and it no longer fits. Yet the ring is still on her finger.
Is it the fear of being labeled as “divorced”? This is a symbol for failed love. It carries embarrassment, shame, and heartbreak. Those feelings are here, yet the label is not.
What if those symbols never existed? Would it be easier to act rationally in accordance with the present situation? Have the symbols hindered their ability to look past them?
For starters, they wouldn’t be married. They would merely be two separate people who used to love each other, but don’t anymore, though they still live together and they share a fair amount of habits and family relationships.
I’m convinced that even the most glamorous of wedding rings doesn’t have the power to hold together a dead relationship. It must be deeper than that.
Is it the unwillingness to break comfort of the habits they’ve developed over years? Is it the fear of being alone? Is it indecisiveness stemmed from sheer uncertainty?
It could be any combination of these.
Because she still wears the ring it on her finger, she examines the symbol itself; not what it was created to represent.
It doesn’t take much thought to look at the symbol and be reminded of what it stands for. It takes a lot more thought, energy, and emotion to look past the symbol and depict the objective reality of the situation.
They did that once when they got married.
Symbols blind us from reality. They are shortcuts. In this ever-changing life, it is impossible to wrap something up into a nice label that always fits.
They are useful tools, but we must consistently reexamine the substance behind the symbol.
The only reason symbols exist is to represent what’s behind them. It’s the changing reality that gives the symbol its value, and to rely on it without examination is to ignore reality.
When we default to relying on symbols instead of assessing reality, we lose touch with what the label once represented.
A college degree is a symbol. It says “this person is good enough to work in a job in X field.” Once upon a time, that symbol was accurate. But we have evolved and a college degree no longer accurately represents competence, just like the relationship evolved, rendering the wedding ring meaningless.
A job title is a symbol, when really it represents the certain actions someone does in order to accomplish certain tasks. It is not always uniform, and these tasks and actions evolves as the business does.
We call ourselves Christians, Atheists, Republicans, and Democrats without really knowing what they mean.
Symbols are here to represent something that innately cannot be represented. Use them with caution, and think.
When you’re having trouble creating, try consuming.
Consume blog posts, articles, podcasts, audiobooks, and videos. Read, listen and watch. Observe the world around you.
Once you’ve started consuming, you will hit a point. At this point, the new information in your brain will come together to form an original idea. This idea will have components of your recent consumptions, but it won’t be the same. It’ll be new. It’ll be worth sharing.
Then, create. Write a blog post, write an article, have a conversation, write a book, or make a video. Write, speak, and build. Use the idea to create something through action.
We must consume. It is the fuel of creation.
We consume creations, then we apply our own perspective and create again. This is how we grow.
We must choose to create.
Creating is what gives consuming its value. Without creating, consuming is like learning a language but never speaking it with someone.
It is learning without applying. It is gaining knowledge in vain.
Start by creating. If you’re having trouble, go back to the top of this article.
When you can’t think of what to do, stop thinking.
You will put yourself in motion, which will result in displacement. From this new spot you will have a new vantage point.
Then, you can think again, with a new perspective.
And when you get stuck, go back to doing.
Doing and thinking are mutually exclusive. If you’re doing, you can’t be thinking. If you’re thinking, you can’t be doing. It’s one or the other.
When you think too much, your body will know it’s time to get moving. When you do too much, you’ll need to step back and think.
There is a happy balance.
Without thinking, doing is ineffective.
Without doing, thinking is unproductive.
I get asked this question a lot. This is a pretty serious topic for most people. Parents play such a huge role in our lives, so when they disapprove of our decisions, it’s hard to ignore.
This happens so often because of the nature of the shift our generation is going through.
Our parents grew up seeking a degree because they knew it would provide the safety and stability that their parents didn’t have, and thus valued so much.
Instead of safety and security, young people now value freedom. This is a result of the outdated school system paired with the global interconnectedness that technology has brought.
As freedom becomes more valued, it also becomes more within our grasp.
Digital entrepreneurship has replaced a college degree as the most efficient way to start a career. It is now more of a risk to go to college than it is to start an online business. Taylor Pearson dives into this topic in his book, The End of Jobs. I highly recommend reading that.
The sad truth is that many parents simply don’t understand this, or don’t accept it. They spent a large portion of their careers saving up money so you could go to college and have the safety and security.
I don’t hold anything against them – it must be hard to have your kids tell you that the decisions you based your entire career and lifestyle on for 40+ years don’t make sense for you. To hear, “Thanks for saving 18 years for my college, but I really don’t think college is worth it.”
Understand that your parents want what’s best for you. They want you to be safe, because it’s their job to protect you. They naturally want you to make safer decisions to minimize risk. And for their entire lives, college has been the safest, default option.
It’s not about convincing your parents they’re wrong. It’s about helping them to understand why you’re making the decision you’re making.
The first thing to keep in mind is that you want to avoid an argument at all costs. You want them to know you value their opinion and their insight. This is the first step in getting them to understand, or at least accept your decision.
The best way to get into a yelling match is to openly reject their opinion. Your parents usually have an explainable reason for why they disapprove. If you respect that, the chances are higher that they will respect yours too.
Welcome their opinions with genuine curiosity. Show them that you value their feedback. Thank them for weighing in with their opinions, but when you disagree with what they say, be polite and honest, telling them that you respectfully disagree. Explain your reasoning.
While you want to understand and be grateful for their input, that doesn’t mean you have to agree with them.
Realize that you don’t need your parents’ approval to live your life. They are your parents. They created you. But they are not you. You’re the one who gets to make your own decisions with your own life, just like they do with theirs.
Have confidence in your decision. Don’t let their opinions make you second-guess yourself.
If you hear them out, thank them for their input, and rationally explain yourself with unwavering confidence in a way that makes sense, they will notice. They will see that you’re driven. They will see that you have thought through the options and come to a rational decision. It might take a while because of the shocking difference in culture and values, but they will come around eventually.
Every situation is different. I’d like to offer up my time to help you if you’re struggling with breaking the news to your parents. Email me at email@example.com for some 1-on-1 help with this.
Ben is back – this week on Thursday.
It’s hard to commit. During transitions, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking, planning and strategizing. The more time you spend doing this, the less time you can spend doing something meaningful. Thinking and doing are mutually exclusive.
In this episode we talk about what it takes to fully commit to something, switch off your thinking brain to avoid second-guessing yourself, and push through the inevitably unenjoyable portions of the journey.
We mention Don’t Do Stuff You Hate (which is free until Dec. 3rd)!
Once upon a time, I was an International Baccalaureate student. This was an elite group of students within my high school. We had more homework, read more advanced books, and were held to a higher academic standard than the rest of the students.
While I despised the schoolwork, I quite enjoyed the social atmosphere of it – this was ultimately what made it bearable.
In high school, I got to goof off with my friends during the day. In college, the dorm experience is unmatched when it comes to socializing and making new friends. It was fun.
I had fun in school because I put most of my energy during the day towards things other than schoolwork. I would study social dynamics and behavior of the people around me for fun, something that is very transparent in a high school. I observed, and learned a lot about how people interact, why drama is created, and what to do about it. I would talk my friends through their problems and I enjoyed giving rational advice because I understood the situation from an objective point of view.
I remember the day I stopped trying in school.
It was 8th grade, and I had a crush on a girl. We were in math class together. As a 13 year-old, it got me a lot of attention when I pretended like I didn’t care about school, and that’s one thing I cared about: getting that girl’s attention.
That day, we were all supposed to be quietly working on our math problems. Instead, I would give her looks and mess around, showing that I don’t care about working on my math problems even though that’s what the teacher said we were supposed to do. I really felt like a badass.
Over time, avoiding schoolwork became a habit, even after the girl was gone.
But I’m convinced this habit wasn’t a product of the girl. It was inevitable. I never really tried in school up to this point. I had been a straight-A student because the assignments were easy and I was generally a bright kid.
Eventually it was clear to me that I couldn’t stand it. Most of the time I either didn’t do the work and accepted a 0 on the assignment, or found a way to complete it without actually doing it.
I remember one time I had a 4000-word extended-essay that I had known about for over a year. Some kids started a year early. Some started 6 months early. I started 2 days before it was due, and stayed up all night cranking it out. This was the biggest writing assignment of my high school career. I honestly couldn’t tell you the topic. That’s how little I cared about that assignment.
Deep down I never cared about school. The stuff I was supposed to be learning didn’t matter to me. It didn’t excite me in the slightest. Out of the 20+ books I was supposed to read in high school, I probably actually read 4 or 5. And I look back on those ones fondly, because I was genuinely interested in them. I wasn’t able to bring myself to spend my time reading the other ones because I didn’t care.
No teacher could make me care. My parents couldn’t make my care. The threat of not getting into a good college couldn’t make me care (I was confident I could figure that out when I got there).
Sometimes I was able to will myself to give a solid effort, but only out of respect for the teachers I liked, and the effort came in rare, short bursts.
Having the drive to excel is completely unsustainable when the thing you’re putting your energy into isn’t returning excitement or motivation.
My modus operandi in school was not learning my subjects, but figuring out how to get good enough grades to pass. That’s the goal, right? I was pretty good at it.
I even got my IB diploma, something not everybody earns even after going through the program. I barely got it based off my test scores, but scraping by had worked for me up until this point. It was a game.
A’s are better than B’s which are better than C’s, right? But why? If I got a C, I still passed the class. My life went on as normal. Sure, my GPA would drop, but I didn’t feel any immediate effects from that, and quite frankly, I was totally content with having 2.something.
I went through the motions for the entirety of high school feeling like an imposter every day. I never brought this up to anyone. My own self-confidence was damaged because of it.
Every day I felt like I was digging myself into a deeper hole. Every day it got harder to bring it up to anyone. Suggesting the idea that school was hurting me more than helping me would be utterly ridiculous. So I kept quiet and plugged along, treating my entire life the same way as I treated my school assignments – the only way I knew how to treat anything: half-heartedly.
I was a smart kid. I had a lot of common sense. I was well-spoken, well-written, and I had big aspirations. I had a strong work ethic, just like the other elite International Baccalaureate students. But my attitude towards academia was the same as that of the druggies who smoked cigs in the corner of the school parking lot.
In either group I was an imposter.
This attitude was wrong by all the standards I had grown up with, and those of everyone around me, so I had a looming sense of guilt for it. But this didn’t change the way I acted. No amount of guilt could change my true inner values.
School told me that I should be studying math, science, reading, government, history, and writing. School told me that I can pick from electives like psychology or economics. School told me what I should like. How I should act. What goals to have, and what I’m supposed to do to get there.
School never asked me what I wanted. School encouraged me to do something exciting. It only made me feel guilty for not being excited about what everyone else was supposed to be excited about.
This ultimately lasted 3 semesters into college, where, yet again, I had a blast with the social scene, and avoided schoolwork at all costs. I skipped class most days because there wasn’t a point in me going. I knew that even if I went, I would find a way to be distracted and I wouldn’t really gain value out of it, so why waste the time walking there when I could read a book I enjoy or hang out with my friends?
The 3rd semester, I failed 3 out of my 5 classes. The only ones I passed were Psychology and Philosophy, with a C in both.
This was the last straw. My student loans were piling up, and it seemed like I was getting worse and worse at school. I had a lot of ground to make up if I was going to stick with it.
I had finally found something that excited me – entrepreneurship. I ran a house painting business over the summer and felt the highs of making sales, the lows of screwing up the production of those deals, and I made it out alive with a valuable skillset backed by an exciting story.
I finally got to apply my mind to something real, in a practical way. I felt my own success, and for the first time in my life I didn’t feel like an imposter.
So I went back to college for a 4th semester, and resolved to put that new-found energy back into my college courses.
Remember what I said earlier?
“Having the drive to excel is completely unsustainable when the thing you’re putting your energy into isn’t returning excitement or motivation.”
I lasted 3 days, then I dropped out. This was undoubtedly the most liberating decision I’ve ever made, and it’s lead to my proudest moments as a leader, author, and entrepreneur.
I really don’t.
Does a part of me hope you read this?
Do I hope you gain value when you read it?
But in the end, I’m not writing for you. I’m writing for myself. I’m being selfish.
I’ve been on a daily blog post streak for two weeks.
Yesterday, I released a podcast, but I didn’t write a blog post. All day, I tried to convince myself that releasing the podcast counts. But I couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt for not writing. I recorded that podcast a month ago and it was all set to release. All I had to do was add the intro/outro and upload it. I felt like I was using my podcast as a cop-out to not write because I didn’t feel like it.
So, I wrote two today. This one and that one.
I know that writing every day and putting my thoughts and ideas out there for the world to see is good for me.
Writing is creating. Creating is putting ideas into reality. Putting ideas into reality is paramount to having an impact on the world and the people around you.
Writing every day is a practice in discipline. I don’t always feel like writing, but I do it anyways because I previously decided that it would be good for me. I didn’t feel like writing tonight, but I sat down and forced myself to do it. Now I’m feeling great.
Publishing a post every day consistently puts me in the spotlight – a place where fear is abundant. Instead of avoiding this fear, I get to play with it every day. Now I’m comfortable with it. Putting my ideas out there for the world to see guarantees I will be judged, disagreed with, scrutinized, praised, commended, or any combination.
So I will continue to put my blinders on. I will create and ship every day, even when I don’t feel like it. I will continue to do this for myself because I know it’s good for me.
We humans naturally gravitate towards habits, comfort, and patterns. We also have the capability to consciously break our own patterns and instincts to create new ones based on our imagination. It’s fascinating.
Growth happens when we break these patterns and replace them.
Bringing yourself to start something new is hard. It’s an entirely different process than continuing to do something you’ve been doing. You’re doing something that is uncomfortable by nature, which goes against your human instincts.
When I think of changing my habits, I see an image of myself stopping a moving train. After it’s stopped (which is a hefty task in and of itself), I have to push the train in the other direction and get it moving again.
I’ve been blogging every day for 13 days. It was really hard for the first few days. It would take me hours but now it’s just part of my routine.
I’ve been on a ketogenic diet for 15 days now. It was hard to adjust, mentally and physically, for the first few days. Now it feels like part of my routine.
Starting is the hardest part. Keep that in mind when you’re starting something new. If you force yourself to be uncomfortable for 3 days, chances are it will start to feel comfortable on the 4th.
Mitchell kicks ass.
This was an engaging conversation with Mitchell Broderick, the first Praxis Participant.
Mitchell’s worldview is fascinating to me. He is able to look at situations objectively and act in a rational way while acknowledging emotions, but not submitting to them.
He offers insights on self-improvement, mindset, building a career path, and much more.
Topics we discuss:
Self-Esteem vs. Self-Confidence
How tough beginnings lead to strength
The reality of sales and cold calling
Why he got fired from Taco Bell
Hitting rock bottom
College as an investment
Being the first Praxis Participant
Reach out to Mitchell:
Artists and creatives are consistently under-paid, or expected to work for free. Though I have written previously about how offering free work can be a good strategy for starting up in a new field, it’s a pattern worth investigating.
It’s not that people aren’t willing to pay. And it’s not that art is undervalued. It’s just that art is seen in a different light than most other professions.
Have you ever seen a house painter do work for free just to get his name out there?
I know I haven’t. And I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t either. Painting sucks. It’s not enjoyable, and everyone knows that, including the customer.
That’s the difference between art and everything else. People create art because they love it. It’s a creative process that allows you to express emotions, thoughts, feelings, or whatever you want to express. It’s fun. It’s personal.
It can be a “trade”, much like house painting is a “trade”. The service is traded for money. House painting, however, is always a trade, while people do art for fun all the time.
So maybe this is why: everyone knows art isn’t necessarily a trade, thus it’s harder to pay somebody for something they would be doing for free anyways.
Let’s flip this scenario around.
Maybe it’s not that customers view it as harder to pay artists. Maybe it’s that artists know in their hearts they would do it for free, so they create a mental block that keeps them from confidently demanding a payment.
Think about something you really enjoy doing that produces value. For me, it’s photography. While I have gotten paid to do photography, I’ve done mostly free work because I enjoy it. Some of which I bet I could have gotten paid for if I pushed for it, but I didn’t, because I enjoyed it and didn’t feel like someone should pay me to have fun even though it was providing value for them and I could have used the money.
I’ve also done house painting, but never for free. Every time I approach a house-painting customer, my mindset is totally different from when I’m doing photography. There’s a rock solid mutual understanding that if I’m going to put in the work to complete a quality job, I’m going to get paid well for it.
I wonder what would happen if I approached a photography customer the same way. If I went in with certainty that my work was highly valued and is unquestionably worth trading for money.
Artists can, will, and do work for free. But art and creativity is unanimously valuable. Thus, people are willing to pay for it.
All you have to do is ask. Own it.