Your Resume is Boring, Do These Five Things Instead

The resume is supposed to be a relatively quick way for someone to get to know your personal and professional accomplishments, skills, interests, and the potential you have to create value in a given setting.  The thing is, it’s pretty outdated.  In fact, it never worked all that well, evidenced by the fact that most people do not get jobs because of a great resume but because of a personal connection.  Resumes have always been a poor substitute for other, more robust ways to get to know someone.  There just weren’t too many other ways once upon a time.  But things change.

Today we have so many ways to paint a picture of who we are, what we love, and what we can do than we ever did before.  It’s time to stop leaning on a sheet of paper with boring bullet points and begin building better ways for people to see what you’re all about.  When I get resumes now I barely look at them.  A quick scan, then I immediately jump on Google to find the things that give me better signals.  Here are five of them.

1. Create a personal website.

This might sound daunting, but it’s doesn’t have to be.  Go to WordPress, get a domain with your name in it if you can, pick a basic theme, complete an “about” page with a few photos and a bio, and write a few blog posts that update what you care about and what you do.  Update it at least once a month so it doesn’t look dead.  Don’t feel too much pressure if you’re not a great writer.  The content is less important than that you have a site.  Someone who has taken the time and developed the basic skills to set one up has already set themself well above the crowd.

2. Have a LinkedIn profile

Most young people hate LinkedIn.  So do most of the adults they spend most of their time with – teachers and professors.  But in the professional world outside of academia, LinkedIn is gold.  It is everything your resume is, but far less boring and with several added benefits.  You need to have a profile there.  It can house all your basic experience and skills and other stuff that goes on a resume, but it also has some color, endorsements, and a way for people to see shared connections, what kind of articles you’ve liked, and more.  When you send a resume to someone they are going to look for you on LinkedIn whether you like it or not.  If you’re not there, or if you have a shabby, out of date profile, your stock will drop.

3. Make use of Facebook and other social profiles

Everyone uses at least one social platform.  Most are on Facebook, or Twitter, or Pinterest, or others.  My advice here is controversial but I stand by it.  Make your social media pages publicly viewable.  Look, if you have something really incriminating on there someone could find it anyway if they were motivated enough.  Making your profile public is a good way to keep a check in your mind on what kinds of things you may and may not want to share.  This doesn’t mean your entire Facebook presence needs to become whitewashed of anything personal or fun.  Far from it.  That’s good stuff, even to a potential employer, and a completely polished presence is slightly disconcerting.  But if you’re constantly in name-calling flame wars over political issues on Facebook, for example, that’s probably not good for most jobs and probably not good for you.  Let the world see a little bit of the real you, and let that be a you you’re proud of.  Again, when you send your resume people are going to look for you on social platforms anyway.  They tend to get frustrated when they can see that you exist but can’t view any details without a friend request.  Let them in.  They’ll get a flavor for so much of the richness that a resume simply cannot provide.

4. Review books on Amazon

This is an underutilized gem.  Amazon has a wonderful reviewing community, and reviews you post there under your real name have pretty decent search engine results.  One thing that’s hard to gauge from a static list of activities is a person’s intellectual depth and passion for learning new things.  Curious, interested people are people employers want to hire.  Everyone does a few classes and clubs, but how many people read interesting books and take the time to write a review?  It’s a good practice in general for your writing and thinking skills, and it really gives you an edge in demonstrating your interests and abilities.

5. Build something

Anything.  Outcomes are more valuable than inputs.  Products are more valuable than paper.  Everyone can list activities they’ve done from date X to date Y.  But what did it result in?  What did you create?  The ability to build and “ship” something is rare and valuable.  Most people get stuck thinking about the article they want to write, the app they want to build, the event they want to run, the group they want to launch, or the painting they want to do.  It takes guts, discipline, humility, and grit to actually finish it.  Think of projects you care about that have a tangible, demonstrable result you can put out there for the world to see (another great use of your personal website).  Saying, “I worked here” is so much less powerful than showing, “I built this”.  Showing beats telling, so find more things you can show.

If these sound like interesting ideas but you’re a little overwhelmed, take them one at a time.  And, of course, you can join Praxis where we have one-on-one coaching and an intensive educational experience focused on helping you learn how to do these things and do them well.

How My Son Learned to Read When We Stopped Trying to Teach Him

alejandroescamilla-book

We were homeschooling and our son was six years old.  He had a good vocabulary and comprehension of ideas beyond many kids his age.  We knew reading would open up the world to him, we knew he’d like it, and we knew he was very capable of doing it.  But he didn’t.

We tried flashcards.  We tried read-alongs.  We tried playing hardball and we tried being fun and exciting.  We tried restricting activities until he’d done his reading lessons, and we tried giving rewards.  All these efforts had two things in common: they didn’t help him read one bit and they made our relationship with him worse.  Being a parent and being a child cease to be fun when you’re at odds all the time.

So, at an age when we were starting to worry about his lagging behind, we simply stopped trying.  We quit the whole effort.  He was nearly seven when we gave it up in favor of more peace and harmony in the house.

Daily life was a little easier, yet we still had this nagging worry about him.  What will happen if he’s behind where he’s supposed to be for his age?  Still, everything about our efforts to make him read felt wrong, so we simply ignored the fears.

I was reading a lot of great books on how kids learn and I knew intellectually that kids need no instruction to learn to read.  They will learn when they find it valuable and if they are in an environment where it’s possible – one with books and other readers.  Still the head and the heart are very different things.  I knew kids were better at self-teaching than being taught, but I had to watch my own son, sharp as he was, remain completely outside the wonderful world of the written word.

Then it happened, just like so many of the books said it would.  You believe it in stories, but it’s still a surprise when it happens in real life.  One night I overheard my son reading aloud to himself in his bed.  And the first thing he read wasn’t Dick and Jane, but Calvin & Hobbes.  Not light fare for a brand new reader.

Let me back up a bit.  We would often read to him for a few minutes before bed, and lately he had been in love with some old Calvin & Hobbes comics I had from my adolescence.  We’d read him a few pages and say goodnight.  One night it was later than usual and he asked me if I’d read.  I was a bit grumpy and tired, and I said no, I was going to bed.  He protested a bit but could see I wasn’t up for it so he let it go, seeming defeated.  Ten minutes later I heard him reading.

He later told me that he wasn’t actually reading it that night, nor the first several nights after when he spoke the words (and often laughed) aloud.  He had heard us read it so many times he had the words memorized.  He was looking at the pictures and reciting the words like lines to a familiar song.  I didn’t know this until long after he could clearly read without first memorizing, but it really doesn’t matter.  In fact, it’s probably better that my wife and I assumed he was reading it when we first heard him, or we might have been tempted to intervene and try to cajole him into reading it without the cheat of memory and illustrations.  I know too well the kind of unhappy outcome that would have created.

For a year or more we fought with a kid who clearly had all the tools to read and we got nowhere.  He wasn’t faking his inability, he really couldn’t read.  Reading was always an activity that interrupted his day and was associated with expectant and often visibly (despite attempts to hide it) stressed parents.  It was a concept as useless as it was foreign.  But once he had a strong desire – to enjoy his favorite comic strip – and his inability to read was the barrier, he overcame it in no time and never even celebrated or announced it to us.  It was utilitarian, not some lofty thing to perform for a gold star or a pat on the back.  His ability and interest in reading, then writing and spelling, only intensified as he found it indispensable for playing games like Minecraft and Scribblenauts.

We’ve since made a full transition from the imposed curriculum of homeschooling to the kid-created structure of unschooling.  Looking back I’m a little ashamed of the silly way we approached things before, but at the time it was so hard to let go, with all that crippling fear.  There are so many “shoulds” pumped into parents brains from the moment they conceive.  There are percentiles and averages and tests and rankings galore.  But these are useful only to the statisticians and none of them have your child’s interest or happiness in mind.  Aggregates aren’t individuals.  Living your life, or attempting to shape your child’s life, to conform to the average of some population is not a recipe for success.  At best it will produce blandness.  At worst a broken spirit.

You can read any number of thinkers like John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, or Peter Gray on why our son’s experience is not exceptional, but normal.  You can look at studies that show kids who learn to read at age four and kids who learn at age nine have the same reading comprehension by age 11.  You can get story after story from places like the Sudbury Valley school about kids who taught themselves to read in a few short weeks once they got the interest, and even one girl who didn’t become interested until age 13 and then went on to win a literary prize.  But it’s all theory and myth until you experience it with your own child.

Read the books.  Look into the unschooling movement and literature.  But above all, take a step back from your own kids and realize that they are only young once and for such a short time.  Do you really want your memories with them to consist of fights and forced lessons?  Enjoy them.  Let them go their own way and navigate the world.  There are few things more exciting than when they come to you to ask for your help or insight because they really want it, or when they never do because they figure it out on their own and gain a confidence that cannot be won any other way.

The world we live in does not lack for natural incentives to learn to read.  The rewards are massive, as are the costs of illiteracy.  We don’t need to artificially incentivize reading the way a poor farmer might have a few hundred years ago.  When we do we do more harm than good, if not to our children’s ability to read then at least to our enjoyment of our time with them.  They figured out how to speak – the most difficult, nuanced, and complex skill a human can master – without any formal instruction.  They can learn to read too.

Episode 19: Michael Malice on Writing, Batman, and North Korea

Author, TV personality, and rabble-rouser Michael Malice joins me to discuss what it was like to have award winning graphic novelist Harvey Pekar write a book about him, why he quit a lucrative career to be a writer (even though he doesn’t love writing), the experience of self-publishing a “true” unauthorized autobiography of Kim Jong Il, and why he’s like Batman.

You can find Michael’s work at michaelmalice.com.

All episodes are available on SoundCloud, iTunes, and Stitcher.

On Dismissing Ideas Out of Hand

I fully believe some ideas, arguments, and propositions are not worth spending time on.  I don’t think it makes a person more noble or a better intellect to entertain all ideas with equal weight and never dismiss any.  Primarily because it’s not possible.  We all have limited time and mental resources, and we must choose where to apply it.  Equal seriousness on every idea is not an option.  If we pretend it is we are lying to ourselves and everyone else.

The way in which the decision gets made to not give further consideration to an argument is more important than whether or not it gets made.  There is no shame in simply acknowledging the limited resources at our disposal and being honest about which ideas simply do not intrigue us enough to investigate, or areas on which we are content to let our assumptions remain largely untested, or trust in someone else we respect.  There is shame in lying about what we’re doing.  Refusing to investigate an idea for any reason other than an honest acknowledgement that we do not believe it ranks high enough to bump other things down is a bad habit, and does not breed intellectual integrity.

I suspect we’ve all done it.  For some reason we feel embarrassed to simply say, “I’m not going to take the time to look into your argument because I just don’t care that much”.  So we invent other reasons.  We appeal to authority, or lack authority on the part of the person proposing the idea.  We say vague condescending things like, “They need to engage the literature”, without ever risking anything to explain exactly where we think they’re wrong or what “literature” they need to engage.  We want to ignore the idea without admitting that’s what we’re doing.  We need to pretend we never write off anything.  That would be closed minded!  Instead we do worse than ignore it.  We pretend we’ve refuted it while ignoring it.

There are a great many topics we are ignorant on.  Many of those we’ll never take the time to investigate.  That’s a reality we can’t escape, and we don’t need to.  It’s refreshing when someone forcefully presents an argument to be able to say, “I don’t find that credible, but to be honest I’ve never really investigated it and I probably never will.”  We’re better off acknowledging our areas of ignorance and apathy then pretending we have some other reason besides lack of interest to dismiss an idea.

Writing and I Might Need to Get Counseling

I’ve developed a complicated relationship with writing.

I’ve been blogging every day since February, and prior to that had been blogging anywhere from 2-7 times per week over the past three years.  The surprising thing about writing regularly as a discipline is how much my relationship to the practice has changed.  It’s like a marriage, with honeymoons, dips, plateaus, and every other vicissitude imaginable.

So where do things stand now?

I like writing.  In fact, I love writing.  I need it.  It’s still hard, but I have this unshakable faith that I never had before.  I know when I sit down and start typing, something will come.  I never fear for lack of content.  The knowledge that as long as I sit down, face the page, and hit that first keystroke I will get something written is wonderful.  So as an inward-focused self-development project, writing and I have a good thing going.  It’s when third parties get involved that things get complicated.

I’ve posted before and I still maintain that I write primarily for myself.  Still, I love it when my stuff gets a lot of traction, shares, and views.  I’m a slow learner, but I’ve recently hit on a few elements that dramatically increase the level of attention a piece can get.  That’s the source of the complication between writing and me.  Do I just sit down, hammer away at the keys, and wait for the Muses to reward my discipline with inspiration, or do I deliberately construct content to include elements that will gain wider reach?

I have no ethical worries about “selling out” and don’t look down on marketing or even those who’ve mastered the art of click-baiting.  I don’t think there’s anything more or less pure about writing to get read, as long as you’re honest with yourself about your intentions and don’t feel shame over it.  I love the constant give-and-take game that creators and consumers of content play, trying to understand and anticipate each other.  I think good marketing does not harm a product, but actually creates value.  I am impressed by those who really grasp that the game is less about creating content than it is about structuring it.

Still, writing for reach doesn’t come as naturally to me and I only occasionally enjoy it.  I hate posts that have images attached to them for no reason.  Why does a stock photo of people on an escalator make the ideas better?  Most people prefer images with everything, and I don’t look down on that.  I like titles that are a bit ambiguous, but most people want a big, clear “pop” up top.  I vaguely understand it and oscillate between stubbornly refusing to try and happily playing around with small tweaks that appeal to would-be readers.

When I first began blogging no one read any of my stuff.  That was the second hurdle to overcome.  Before I started writing I had to overcome the fear of being misunderstood or disliked for my sometimes radical views, but I quickly learned the more common and more difficult reality is that no one is offended because no one is reading.  I came to terms with a small audience and writing and I really focused on our relationship in private.  I do not pretend to have a massive audience today, but readership has steadily grown and with increasing frequency I write a piece that gets widely shared.  The thing that makes this hard on my relationship with writing is that the most popular pieces are rarely the ones I care most about or think are my best stuff.

I’m beginning to be able to penetrate the mystery a bit and see what makes some pieces more popular than others, but most of those characteristics aren’t elements of my writing that I find most fundamental or unique to me.  If I allowed myself to indulge in artistic self-pity it would feel like the world is telling me, “Just be less like yourself and you’re work will get more attention”.  It’s not nearly that simple, nor do I think that I could magically master massive reach by “selling out” or any such nonsense.  It ain’t easy to get traction even if you’re trying.  There is just a tiny tug-of-war going on between me and writing about how to proceed in our partnership.

Do I continue to use our encounters in co-creation as a form of therapy and self-reflection, or do we agree to turn toward the wider world and produce things that connect?  Not that I can flip a switch and do the latter easily.  But how much should I try?

For now I’m going to try to have my cake and eat it.  I’ll write for myself every day.  But I’ll also try once or twice a week to let audience-consciousness guide a few of my choices.  Call it an experiment.  I need to know if I’m avoiding writing with the audience in mind because it’s really not me, or if I’m avoiding it for the same reason I used to avoid writing altogether, because it’s hard and scary.

Time for Entrepreneurship to Replace Schooling

Software is eating the world.

Those words, popularized by the creator of the first web browser and now venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, describe the present and foretell the future. First it was industry and ever more advanced machines. Once machines became programmable, software became the most powerful force for progress.

This scares a lot of people. It shouldn’t. Shovels are an improvement over human hands for digging a ditch. Software is an improvement over human minds for solving equations and handling transactions. The future belongs to those who master the uniquely human, not those who fight with software and hardware over rote tasks.

What is the uniquely human?  Creativity. Machines can perform but humans are relentlessly creative. We adapt, mimic, adjust, experiment, fail, try again, and reshape our conceptions of the world without any external programmer making it happen. We are the most complex combo of hardware and software on the planet and we can program and reprogram ourselves.

Embracing the future without fear means becoming more human than ever before. It means leaving the grunt work to the tools we make. It means coordinating those tools like a conductor does a symphony. It means, in a word, entrepreneurship.

No longer relegated to those who start a business, entrepreneurship is becoming a necessary way of life. It’s an outlook. You must be the President and CEO of your own firm. You must be the creative force in your world and coordinate with the resources around you.

It’s easier than ever before. The tools are there. All that stops you is an outdated mindset. The key is to break free from old modes of thought and realize the beauty, power, and boundlessness of technology-plus-human enabled progress. What is software but the expression of human ideas in digital form?  If we open our minds and engage reality as possibility and play the fear dissipates.

The opening sentence could be restated: Imagination is eating the world. The problem is that few have learned to dream. Or it might be more accurate to say that the natural human propensity to dream has been suppressed. It’s time to unlock it. It’s time for an un-education.

The role of education in society

Prior to the mass schooling movement education was used broadly to describe the acquisition of knowledge and skill useful in achieving goals. Education is a highly cooperative endeavor and critical to the life of any community. We learn how to navigate the world from observing those around us, copying them, getting results and feedback, adjusting, and trying again. In isolation humans are mediocre learners at best. In a vibrant community humans can master almost anything if given the freedom to try.

Observe the first few years of life and it’s easy to see a natural thirst for learning and an entrepreneurial approach to self-education. Babies are wide eyed. They take in everything. Then they test. They try to crawl and talk and play. They repeat over and over. They adapt and try again. They watch those around them and model their successful actions. This process can be called education, but note that no one needs to deliberately plan or structure it. No external incentive or impetus is required for children to acquire the most fundamental and important skills. They want to and they won’t stop trying.

A vibrant community is rich with examples of what to do and what not to do across a variety of ages and levels of expertise. Learners are constantly bumping into new ideas and methods. Ideas are non-scarce goods that fly freely, articulated and unarticulated. Patterns and norms emerge not from the minds of elites but from constant trial and error and observation by each member of the community. What works for one is repeated by another. Paths are worn by walking.

This is not to say no deliberate or planned education takes place. When someone discovers something they love it’s natural to want to learn everything possible about it. Those with particular skill and knowledge and the ability to impart it specialize and exchange what they know for something they value. Teachers and institutions for learning play a role. In a vibrant community they are part of the same trial and error marketplace as everything else. That means no one is forced to engage in any particular form of education, and educators aren’t guaranteed pupils or funding for their efforts.

What is commonly considered education today is really just one very narrow delivery mechanism for learning. This mechanism, called school, has so dominated the education landscape that many have come to completely conflate the two terms. If we are to boldly seize the opportunities of the future, we’ve got to start by rethinking our forms of education. We need to allow for the cultivation of entrepreneurs, not the mechanization we ask of machines.

How school kills entrepreneurship

The dominance of school as education is dangerous. It’s not only that the method of conveying skills and ideas is itself ineffective and inflexible. It’s the effectiveness of school at generating a particular mindset that’s cause for greatest concern. I call it the conveyor belt mindset.

You are plopped onto a production line at whatever stage you’re supposed to be based on arbitrary things like your age, class, and gender. Then you let the belt do the work. By essentially doing nothing but what you’re told, you get handed certificates at each next stage. 18? Unless you did something truly outrageous, here’s your diploma. 22? Here’s your degree. Degree? Here’s your job.

Most people believe this and live it. It’s revealed in the kinds of questions we ask strangers. “What grade are you in?” “What’s your major?” “What kind of job do you have?” If your answer is not the appropriate one for your age and assumed station in life, people worry. “I dropped out of school to do X” is cause for concern to almost everybody, no matter what X is. “I’m a sophomore at university Y” is cause for comfort to almost everybody, no matter what you’re actually doing with your time at Y. So long as you’re at your station, no one much cares if you’re productive, happy, successful, fulfilled, or free.

Parents obsessively check their child against a list of averages on everything from height to reading ability and stress if junior is not “on track.” No one really ever asks who built the track, where it’s going, or whether junior has any interest in arriving there.

Schools are the factories within which the conveyor belt mindset operates. They are structured to breed conformity and obedience. Students don’t even have control over their own schedules or basic necessities like bathroom and meal times. Schools were intended to be and still operate as places that restrict rather than expand the quantity of education in the community. Too many diverse ideas are a threat to efficiency obsessed do-gooders and social planners. Schools produce a more uniform product that can be plugged in like a machine to any part of the stagnant world once imagined by its creators. The conveyor belt produces the very thing that humans can’t compete with machines and software on: rule-following. If your primary skill is repeating known processes and adhering to protocols, you’ll lose to technology every time. Why are we educating humans out of their greatest strength?

The conveyor belt saps creativity and freedom. It is anti-entrepreneurial in every way. It’s not taking you where you want to go. Aggregates are not individuals and your goals and abilities are not definable by summing the abilities and behaviors of everyone your age and dividing by the population size. It’s time to get off.

The way forward

How to create an entrepreneurial education?  It’s actually a lot easier than it may seem. Start by quitting. Opt out of the activities and mindsets that are killing you. Take yourself or your kids out of school and let them do and learn whatever they want to in a safe environment. You don’t need anyone’s permission.

Step up and out into the world in which you want to live. Work with interesting people, read interesting books, do interesting things. No need to pay for someone else’s stamp on someone else’s set of activities just because everyone else does. You don’t need a external validation to do what you want. You may choose to get degrees and certificates. You may decide it’s worth the trade-offs. You may enjoy it. Do it if you do, but don’t ever do it, “because you have to.” You don’t have to. Create a way to do what you want without it. It’s harder, but freedom is always harder than the comfort of captivity.

The reason many people fear opting out is because of that paradigm of linear, externally-defined progress. It’s the conveyor belt. It’s time to jump off.

Yes, you want an entire community of free-thinking unschooling entrepreneurs. But you don’t need to wait for society to get there. You can jump off the conveyor belt immediately and create a better way for yourself. Not only do you immediately gain more freedom, doing so is the most likely way for a broader social movement to follow.

It’s scary at first, because your mind is trained to think that progress is defined by moving on the conveyor belt in the only direction it goes. Maybe really special or hard working people go faster, like the people who run up an escalator instead of letting the machine do all the work, but everyone is channeled in the same narrow corral moving in the same direction. That’s not progress.

Progress is moving towards your own goals and desires and becoming more fulfilled as you grow and overcome challenges. There are as many directions as there are people. Once you jump off the conveyor belt, the hardest part is actually discovering what makes you come alive, then being honest and unashamed of what you discover. It’s worth it. You can never start too soon.

The thing is, the mold-breakers who jump the belt don’t struggle any more or less than those who stay on. They have a hard time too. But it’s a different kind of pain. It’s the pain of working to achieve a goal they’re passionate about that has huge rewards when won, not the pain of subjugation to a monotony that brings you nothing in return.

Once you’re off the conveyor belt and seeing a world of possibility you can begin to create the kind of education you want. Education, like entrepreneurship, is not a stage in life but a way of living. You’ve got to become a lifelong learner. Cultivate questions and curiosity. Get comfortable with failure and restarting. Think big thoughts but don’t relegate your creativity to the realm of ideas alone. Test them. Thought experiments are great, but the best philosophers engage in field experiments. Those are the entrepreneurs. The only thing keeping you from joining them is an outdated mindset someone sold you. It works to suffocate the entrepreneurial embers deep within your nature. Fan them back into flame. You’ll light your own way and maybe start a brush fire that spreads to your community and beyond.

If you do, we’ll soon be saying that entrepreneurship is eating the world.

5 Reasons to Take a Crappy Job

If you want to be really good at whatever you do I recommend getting some crappy* work experience while you are young.  Mop floors, work a cash register, haul junk, install drywall, dig ditches, clean bathrooms, or some kind of job that has no pre-existing skill requirement.

Let’s not get too romantic.  I don’t look down on people who haven’t ever had a crappy job, nor do I look up to people who don’t like it but have never moved on from one.  Still, there are some take-aways a crappy job provides that are just hard to get any other way.  Here are a few things you’ll gain.

You’ll learn that attitude is everything

Benefits of Bad Jobs

These guys were onto something

There literally is nothing else.  When you’re working a crappy job you can’t expect things to suddenly get more exciting or rewarding on their own.  Without the faintest hope of a fortunate change in external circumstances, you are forced to come to terms with what’s true for every job: attitude trumps everything.  The difference in a good day cutting 2×4 studs and a bad day cutting 2×4 studs is whether or not you begin with a smile and a whistle.  I’m not kidding.  Try not being happy while whistling!  Customers will be rude, things you just swept will get dirty again, it will rain while you’re trying to read the smudged instructions on the rented Ditch-Witch.  Your laughter might be the only thing that saves you.  This lesson will serve you well when you’re doing work that’s not crappy, because then the stakes only get higher and bad days can seem catastrophic if you don’t know how to deal.

You’ll learn to focus on product

Titles and family income and educational attainment and physical beauty don’t mean much on the clean-up crew.  When you’re bagging groceries nobody gives a hoot how good you are at tennis or how many extracurriculars you have.  There is little scope for unearned favor and politicking in a crappy job.  You shut up and produce.  Want a raise?  Get more done.  Make more customers happy.  Be faster than your coworkers.  Never show up late or miss a day.  Work overtime.  It’s too easy in some of the more complex and interesting jobs, many of which are several steps removed from the end customer, to forget what it is that actually generates the money to make the place go.  You can slip into a mindset that overvalues cleverness and social gamesmanship and overlooks value creation.  That won’t happen when you’re stocking shelves or emptying sticky beer bottles into the dump truck.  You want to move up, you’d better create more value.

You’ll learn that you can be great

There are a lot of people who have mastered the techniques of crappy jobs and can really fly through.  There are even some who genuinely love the jobs.  But let’s be honest, most of the people you’ll work with at the landscaping company aren’t the type you’d want to work with later in life.  In crappy jobs the majority of people you’re surrounded by are always looking for the path of least resistance, being sneaky about hours, indulging in fruitless gossip, pilfering snacks from the break room, and sometimes worse.  When the skill bar is low, you get some unsavory characters who come in and out.  The best part about this is that it won’t take you long to realize that, with a little effort, dedication, and basic people skills and integrity, you can rise to the top and be one of the best employees.  This is a good feeling.  I’m convinced that the path to greatness for most people comes not when they suddenly realize how much potential they have, but when they realize how little everyone else seems to try.  Here’s the secret: this doesn’t change when you move from the grocery store to the Fortune 500 company.

You’ll learn what you want to avoid

The Benefits of Crappy Jobs

If only your work days were this glorious

If you’ve always been in the officer’s quarters and never with the enlisted men and women, you won’t know exactly what you’ve got.  In fact, you may even long for the romantic ideal of menial work in your weaker, more stressed out moments.  “If only my biggest concern was the blister on my heel”, you’ll think to yourself, imagining working the chain gang with Cool Hand Luke.  Everyone who has ever worked a crappy job and moved on will laugh at you.  Sure, they can reminisce about it, but they would never trade intellectually engaging, creative work for it.  They see it as what it is, the first rung on a ladder of personal development.  Working a crappy job helps you realize that you’ve got bigger dreams than just earning enough money to live.  It will motivate you to do more, to build your skill, knowledge, and network outside of work so you can jump into something better.

You’ll learn that the worst case isn’t so bad

Yes, this post is about crappy jobs.  Yes, I just said there’s nothing romantic about it and if you work one you’ll probably want out.  All true.  But it’s also true that these jobs aren’t so bad.  You can only really know this if you’ve had one.  This knowledge will come in handy when you are about to launch your startup and you have no idea if it will fail.  Failure will loom as a haunting spectre, crippling you with indecision.  What will happen if I’m wrong and this thing fails?  That’s when the memory of your crappy job will be like a warm blanket.  You’ll smile and realize that the worst case isn’t so bad.  So what if your business fails?  So what if no one will hire you afterwards?  The worst that can happen is you’ll downgrade to a small apartment and mow lawns or ring up customers.  You’ve been there.  It’s not death.  That’s as far as the fall can go.  There’s comfort and courage in that.

*I’m painting with a broad brush here.  I realize that these jobs are not crappy at all to some people.  I do not mean to insult.  I quite enjoyed most of my crappy jobs while they lasted.  My goal is for you to imagine a job that you think would be crappy.  Something you know you don’t want to do for the rest of your life, something that doesn’t require much skill to start with, and something that no one will be impressed by at cocktail hour.