Is College the New High School?

collegeOnce upon a time, only the academic and cultural elite went on to higher education — the rest of the pack simply went out and got jobs. I won’t argue whether things were better back then, but it’s clear that something big changed.

  • In 1967, about 25% of all 18 to 24 year-olds were actively attending college.
  • By 2012, that percentage grew to 41%.

Perhaps more tellingly, the vast majority of young people nowadays attend at least some sort of college:

  • 68.4% of 2014 high school graduates enrolled this past fall.
  • With the national high school graduation rate sitting at 81%, that means somewhere around 55% of all 18 to 19 year-old Americans are attending college.

This mass push to higher education has had huge ramifications on the job market. Increasingly, companies are requiring — or at least highly favoring — college degrees for jobs that traditionally didn’t need them (for example, most police forces now require a four-year criminal justice degree). What’s more, due to a shrinking pool of middle-class jobs, those with college degrees are competing for gigs that were normally reserved for those who weren’t college educated.

Thirty years ago, a high school diploma was all a kid needed to get most any decent entry level position. Nowadays, all that gets you is a McJob.

Of course, there are some exceptions to this trend. If a job seeker possesses highly specialized skills like computer programming, then the world is her oyster, regardless of her educational background. Trade schools, too, are a viable alternative to college, and just knowing how to fix things can lead to great opportunities. These, as noted, are exceptions, however. Most kids can’t code and have no idea how to fix a leaky sink.

So when almost everyone attends college, how much is a college degree worth? Is it simply the 2015 equivalent of a high school diploma in 1960? Is a bachelor’s degree the new bare minimum needed to get any sort of decent job?

The question then becomes, is college the new high school?

The Will to Prepare

Maybe if I researched plate spinning and practiced it for thousands of hours, I wouldn't suck at it.
Maybe if I researched plate spinning and practiced it for thousands of hours, I wouldn’t suck at it.
I don’t know about you, but every success I’ve had in my life has come as a result of preparation. This quote has always resonated with me accordingly:

“It’s not the will to win that matters — everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”
–Paul “Bear” Bryant

The times I haven’t prepared correctly have mostly led to disasters, both personally and professionally. I used to think I could “wing it.” But as I get older, I realize that winging it really means you aren’t trying.

If you don’t care enough to prepare, then you don’t care enough to succeed.

Have You Tried Shutting Up?

shut-up-and-listenToday, I have a challenge for you. It’s really easy.

Just shut up.

That’s it. Shut up and listen.

Listen to your family. Listen to your friends. Listen to the sounds of nature, or your favorite music.

Listen to people who actually know what they’re talking about.

You can even listen to yourself. What is your conscience telling you?

Shut up and listen.

You might learn something.

The Difference Between Critics and Haters

Sometimes criticism can lead to fights, but that can be healthy too.
Sometimes criticism can lead to fights, but that can be healthy too.

Much of the time, criticism is good. After all, the only way to continually improve yourself — and your work — is to accept input from people.

Other times, however, criticism is worthless. Some people just want to bring you down, which means you can safely ignore just about everything they say.

The key, of course, is knowing the difference. Good criticism can sometimes seem too harsh, and bad criticism can be disguised disguised as trying to help. So here’s my quick guide to separating the good from the bad, so you know who to accept input from.

Good Critics Bad Critics (AKA Haters)
They care about you, your work, your cause, etc., and want to see you succeed. They don’t give a shit about you, or anyone else but themselves.
They tend to be close to you, or at least know you fairly well. They probably don’t know you, and certainly don’t understand you.
Their criticism is meant to help you. Their criticism is meant to hurt you.
Their criticism is based on their experiences, knowledge, and wisdom. Their criticism is based mostly upon their own shortcomings.
Their criticism is honest, straightforward, and constructive. Their criticism is mean, unfounded, and non-constructive.
You should seek advice from these people. You should completely ignore these people.

Does Your Work Matter?

Vivienne wakes up every morning groaning at her alarm, and counts the minutes until her work day is over.
Vivienne wakes up every morning groaning at her alarm, and counts the minutes until her work day is over.

Most people work simply to make money. For them, it’s a means to an end.

Indeed, work is a modern imperative. (While I know some people who have survived without earning any money over the past few years, they are few and far between. They’re also lonely and depressed.)

Most people don’t really care about what they do for work. They applied to a bunch of jobs, and eventually got one. Or maybe a family member thrust a job upon them. Still others bought or started an unremarkable business because they thought it’d be a good or easy way to make money.

Sooner or later, these people realize they’re unfulfilled. Their work doesn’t matter to them, which means it won’t matter to anyone else, either.

Odds are, their work doesn’t involve helping people, or making a difference. They aren’t working on new and exciting things. They’re stuck doing the same crap every day. Nothing ever changes.

Most people are just going through the motions each day at work. There’s no creativity, no spark. No collaboration. No advancement. No hope.

Remember, if it doesn’t matter to you, it won’t matter to others.

Each day, tell yourself you’re going to make a difference, and odds are, you will. Help a coworker out. Go the extra mile to fix something. Suggest a new project to your boss. Start a side project. Learn a new skill. When your work matters to you, it will matter to others, and you’ll no longer be working just to earn a paycheck. You’ll be earning happiness, fulfillment, and respect.

I Am Here to Tell You That Your Life Matters

your-life-has-meaningThe world is an amazing place. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Life is an incredible gift. Somehow you came from space dust. Tiny particles, floating aimlessly around the universe. Then an unknowable confluence of events led to the beginning of life.

First tiny, single-celled organisms. Eventually, more complex ones. Since all life originated in the sea, you probably have weird fish blood and guts in you somewhere.

Then some bizarre sea creatures wound up surviving on land. They evolved. Then those new creatures evolved some more.

The cycle continued over billions of years until modern human beings took shape.

Your distant human ancestors were lucky to survive past infancy. Up until about a hundred years ago, the average life expectancy for a human was 30.

Against all odds, humanity not only survived, but thrived. Your grandparents met. Then your parents did.

Then finally, you came along.

You.

A person with thoughts, feelings, ambitions. A person who loves and is loved. A real human being with real value.

Your life matters. It has meaning. You are important.

You.

You should be excited every day to be alive. You should be pursuing with reckless abandon the handful of things that make you happy.

You should be ecstatic to be you.

You.

Remember, it’s a miracle that you even exist. Yet it’s so easy to forget where you came from.

It’s even easier to forget how much you mean to other people.

I am here to tell you that your life matters.

You matter to me. You’re reading this right now, and I’m humbled by it. You have so little time in this world, and you’ve chosen to read this.

You.

Thank you.

Thank you for allowing me into your life in this small way.

Your life matters, and you’re helping mine to matter, too.

Your Biggest Risk: Doing Nothing

You'll never know how high you can go without taking risks.
You’ll never know how high you can go without taking risks.

Teddy Roosevelt once opined, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Most people would probably agree with this sage advice, but few are willing to act upon it. That’s because they’re paralyzed with fear of taking risks. What’s more, they don’t even understand risk to begin with.

Let’s say you’re thinking of leaving your traditional 9-to-5 job to start your own business. Sounds risky, right? You’re giving up a “guaranteed” income to venture into the unknown. Your new business could fail. You could lose money. And perhaps worst of all, you open yourself up to criticism.

On the other hand, no one ever faces criticism for staying the course of traditional employment. It seems the safest path, after all. It’s the least risky way to earn a living and provide for your family — or so we’ve been led to believe.

In reality, you’re simply ignoring the inherent risks of working for someone else. Remember, you could get laid off, fired, replaced, or demoted at any time, for almost any reason. The company you work for could go even out of business. Thus, you have almost no control over your employment situation. Isn’t that really just a whole lot of risk disguised as security?

Of course, you don’t have to take the drastic step of leaving your job to take a risk. It can be as simple as sharing a new idea with your boss. Even better, you could start a new project on the side without even asking. Even simpler, you could choose to document an important work process that only you know how to do. All of these things are clearly better than doing nothing, and carry some small amount of risk.

It’s natural to fear risk, but be sure your fears are directed towards the biggest risk: doing nothing.

Always Keep Several Irons on the Fire

Think like a blacksmith if you want to maximize your potential.
Think like a blacksmith if you want to maximize your potential.

If your goal is to constantly improve your life — be it your career, relationships, investing, or anything else — you need to keep many irons on the fire.

Back when blacksmiths were important, the best blacksmiths could work on several pieces of metal at the same time. This resulted in big productivity gains, more money for the blacksmith, and more happy customers that could put their shiny new tools to good use.

Nowadays, we use the term to describe the act of considering many opportunities at once. Note that this doesn’t mean we should pursue several things at once. Our time is precious, so we should only follow through on the very best opportunities.

Some Real World Examples

  • If you’re looking for a new job like my friend Shauna is, you should be considering several prospective employers. Tailor your resumè specifically for each company you apply to, and make sure it’s a place you actually want to work before you put time into applying.
  • If you’re a small business owner, you should be constantly on the lookout for new ways to grow your business. Think about better marketing angles, new niches you can serve, or even potential buyouts or partnerships with competitors.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, you should always be looking for underserved niches that you can create businesses around. Opportunity abounds both in disrupting old industries and being the face of an entirely new industry.
  • If you’re an investor, keep scanning the landscape for new stocks or other assets you can invest in. Consider the current investment cycle, what’s working now, what no longer works, and what might work in five or ten years.

When we keep several irons on the fire, we significantly increase our chances of landing a dream job, hitting a big new growth cycle in our business, pinpointing the next hot stock that’s set to surge in value. In contrast, no irons on the fire means zero chance of improving our position.

Why I’ll Never Retire

I don't have to retire to golf a couple times a week.
I don’t have to retire to golf a couple times a week.

When I was growing up, I had dreams of retiring at age 40.

I had a very clear vision of how it would happen. I’d make a bunch of money running my own businesses, sell them off one by one, and retire early. Then I’d never work again.

Nowadays, I have a very different idea of retirement: I simply will not retire. Ever.

Instead, my new goal is to create multiple income streams and maintain them indefinitely. I will build the flexibility to work as much or as little as I want in a given day into all of my ventures. I’ll figure out ways to extract myself from the businesses as much as possible. I’ll keep plenty of irons on the fire at all times.

I want to keep earning money well into my golden years. Why let all the skills I spent my life acquiring go to waste?

Smile at a Dime and It’ll Look Like a Dollar

I can't tell if this is genius or stupid.
I can’t tell if this is genius or stupid.

I recently stumbled upon this weird vintage poster as I was wasting time online. Amid the cheeky hobo artwork is a bit of folksy wisdom:

Smile at a dime and it will look like a dollar!

I still can’t tell if it’s genius or stupid. Maybe a bit of both?

I think what it means is that it’s your perspective that matters. Be happy with what you have, and the amount becomes meaningless.

The problem is, almost everyone wants more. I know poor people who complain about never having any money. I also know wealthy people that are bummed if they don’t hit a certain number in a given year. Meanwhile, they have a massive home, luxury cars, etc. — essentially all the things that non-wealthy people dream of.

Maybe they need to “Smile at a million and it will look like a billion?”