A new book project is almost done! I’m pretty excited about this one.
Don’t Do Stuff You Hate is not just the title and theme of this book, it’s the philosophy I have striven to live by for the past decade.
Mitchell Earl, someone who has made bold, risky decisions to removed hated stuff from his life, joins me in putting this collection together. It’s a welcome relief for those who feel overwhelmed by the idea of “following your passion”, finding purpose, or carving out a calling. Forget all that. What makes you come alive might be unknown to you and it might not even exist yet.
Instead we argue that the best way to build a great life is to break down a bad one, piece by piece. What obligations, activities, relationships, and mindsets are draining the sense of life from your daily experience? How many things do you do that you don’t actually enjoy? Stop doing those and the rest will come into focus.
The best part about this approach is the mystery. It’s exciting to think that the best life is one you can’t yet imagine. You won’t find it by trying to plot a perfect path to some defined point called “success”. Remove the dross and be surprised every day by the cool stuff that emerges when you make space for it.
Thanks to Julia Patterson for the awesome cover design.
Get a free preview of the book and get updates as soon as it’s up in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.
I’m not kidding. I just watched my kid grasp basic marketing truths that took me years in the professional world to get. (I might be a bit daft, but that’s another story).
I didn’t end up graduating with a major in marketing, but it was my major for several semesters of useless university. The only things I remember from those classes are the words “target market” with no real context.
That’s just it. I needed a lived context.
So my son builds these levels on the WiiU game Mario Maker. He’s posted some of his favorites to the network so others can play them and, if they like them, give them a star. He checked in the other night only to find two of his favorite creations had been removed from the network because they did not get enough stars in a given time span.
Here comes the pain. And the learning.
I watched him go through all the stages of grief. “That can’t be right?!”…”How dare they!!”…”Maybe if I tweak it and change the name I can re-upload it?”…”It’s hopeless. What’s the point of building levels”…and finally, after a long grieving process lasting almost minutes, acceptance.
Unaware of how enthralled I was with watching this unfold (because I pretended to still be reading) he repeated the entire situation to me, making a point to vent his frustration because of how hard he worked.
“The worst part is, that’s the level I worked on the longest and it was my favorite! Some of my other levels are just silly and were easy to build, and they have more stars than this one. I wonder why?”
Big Important Marketing Lesson #1: The labor theory is bunk
Karl Marx and a lot of other confused social scientists with bad beards (Adam Smith gets a pass on this one…no beard) like to claim that value is derived from the cost of production – the amount and difficulty of the labor that goes into it. This is clearly false, and my son now knows it.
Even if you know this from a (rare) good economics teacher, you probably don’t really know it in your gut and know how to plan around it until you’ve experienced it. Some of my favorite, most labor intensive blog posts get no love, while some silly Haiku I tap into my phone in a few seconds might get…well, a little more love at least (I guess my example isn’t that dramatic after all, since my readership isn’t that huge…Hi mom!).
This is an important lesson. Sure, content is king. Yes, build a better mousetrap. The problem is that what you think great content and better mousetraps look like mightn’t be the same as what customers think.
There are two potential solutions: the product solution and the marketing solution (best used in tandem). The product solution is to learn from what people do like and make products more like that. The marketing solution is to learn what feelings people want to experience when using your product and do a better job of attaching those feelings to it, finding the niche of people who will “get it”, and getting the word out to them.
My son, a very stubborn and independent creative type not keen on compromising his design, immediately went with the marketing solution.
Big Important Marketing Lesson #2: 1,000 true fans, social proof, list building…
This is really a lot of lessons piled into one, but it all happened so fast it was like a single epiphany for my son. It took me a long time to understand the value of building a “tribe” of loyal fans or customers (Hi mom!). It took me a long time to see the value of capturing leads, doing personal one-on-one outreach to influencers and early adopters, and touting the real stories of happy customers to help draw in the more risk-averse with social proof.
My son had the epiphany less than ten minutes after his teary explosions during the second and fourth stages of grief. Here’s how it went down.
He jumped onto some sort of chatroom type thing in the game and posted a question asking if anyone else had been frustrated by having a level removed for too few stars. In minutes he was conversing with three or four others. He checked out their profiles and levels. He followed them. They followed him. Then they somehow came up with an agreement. They would give each other the name of their newest levels and all play each others and give them a star, ensuring three quick stars, pushing it nearer the top of the newly added levels, raising the profile and keeping it from getting removed.
It was late and I was going to bed. He doesn’t like to be the last one up, so he begged me to wait a few minutes while he dutifully played and starred some of their levels. He double checked and verified that his new coalition had done the same for him.
He went out and talked with people, built a tribe around a shared frustration, collaborated to find a solution, and engaged in what MBA douchebags might call “synergistic strategic partnerships” (I don’t know if MBA’s would actually say that, but I imagine they would and this is my article). He added them to his followers so that there could be accountability, followup, and future collaboration.
As a dad one of my solemn duties is to always think my kid too quickly plays the victim and doesn’t take things into his own hands. It’s the kind of self-righteous worry a parent feels entitled to. Except this time he robbed me of the opportunity to start waxing about how in my day we had to pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and mustached plumbers didn’t get any stars from anybody.
After a brief moment of feeling a victim of the system and being angry with idiot consumers who don’t appreciate good product, he saw his frustration as an opportunity. Surely someone else felt the same? Surely there was a way to work around it? And he did.
He realized that intentions don’t matter, value creation does. But value creation is not just in the product, but the feeling people have about it, the reasons they have to care, the connection you build with them. Now even before building a level he preps his loyal allies to reduce the risk and boost the ratings when it is released to the network. This is what authors do with their emails lists (sign up for mine here, I have another book coming out and you can be one of the early reviewers…you too mom!).
Teachers Aren’t Very Good Teachers
My kid isn’t some kind of special genius. The world we live in is the most resource, information, and opportunity rich in human history. If kids freely engage the world and follow their curiosity and intrinsic goals they will encounter a more diverse range of ideas and experiences than we can imagine. When I try to directly teach my kids this stuff they scoff or sigh or roll their eyes or play dead hoping I’ll go for help so they can finally escape my words of wisdom.
In fact, unless we actively work to suppress it our kids urge to learn, experiment, innovate, create, and adapt will blossom. That suppression often takes well-meaning forms like direct, mandated instruction from adult “experts” who know almost nothing about Mario Maker or other contexts kids actually care about. It takes the form of classrooms and textbooks and tests and pressure to careerify interests. It takes the form of parental worry that if their kid doesn’t learn the same bunch of arbitrary, mostly useless facts they were forced to memorize at the same age they did everything will fall apart and society will crumble.
Relax. Your kid is going to be fine. Even if they play a lot of video games.
Here are a few other examples of learning by doing from my own life:
There’s a lot of discussion about whether particular policies or outcomes are just or moral. Often the terms are used synonymously or never really defined or distinguished.
I have written about what I see as crucial and fundamental differences between justice and morality in this post. I claim that justice is public and subjective – an emergent phenomena to deal with conflict and coordinate peace – while morality is private and objective – and internal compass to deal with self-regulation and coordinate peace of mind.
“Justice is about living with other people, while morality is about living with yourself. Justice is about right relation to others as measured against the mores of society, while morality is about right relation to right itself, as measured against your own beliefs”
To further illustrate what I mean by this, here’s a matrix showing four actions and where they might stand in relation to justice and morality:
Just-Moral is pretty easy to accept and needs little clarification. No parties are harmed and the actor feels no guilt. We’re assuming this action was not in violation to any belief or commitment to abstain from boat-buying on the part of the buyer.
Just-Immoral depends more on your own beliefs about right and wrong, but regardless of belief systems or acceptance/rejection of any divine or natural morality, all humans have a sense of guilt. The just-immoral quadrant is for those actions that cause no one else any harm, but harm the actor by giving him/her a sense of guilt and wrongdoing, regardless of its origin. The point is that the act feels wrong to the actor, and they in fact believe it to be wrong.
Moral-Unjust is when an act clearly causes harm to someone even though the actor feels complete confidence it was the right thing to do. Justice, in service to maintaining cooperation and peace, might demand recompense, but no guilty feelings are associated with the action. Third parties observing may be inspired by the morality of the action, but to conflate that with justice is unfair to the harmed party.
Immoral-Unjust is pretty easy as well. A party was wronged and the actor violated conscience or belief in right/wrong.
These examples may be flawed, but I think the fact that justice and morality are not the same thing is incredibly important. When they become conflated, and far worse when either become conflated with government edict, moral atrocities and grave injustices unfold on small and large scales.
The key for both is an open, spontaneous, evolving system of give and take – a market for norms and institutions – rather than a tightly defined universal and centralized enforcement. Common law and basic manners are good examples of this, whereas criminal law and legislation are the opposite.
Dan Sanchez was kind enough to invite me to coauthor a little piece for FEE.org about mindsets inculcated by the schooling process and how a key step toward personal freedom and growth is recognizing and obliterating them. This is what my friend Zak Slayback would call “deschooling yourself”.
Check out the article here. The seven mindsets we outline are:
“The first step toward self-emancipation is certainly not supporting or opposing a presidential candidate. Neither need it be civil disobedience, evasion of government directives, or resistance to the authorities. There is much lower hanging fruit to be had than that.”
“Only a people who first free themselves spiritually and individually can hope to free themselves physically and as a society. It is impossible to liberate people, as Voltaire said, “from the chains they revere.” And the first order of business in improving society is, as Albert Jay Nock said, “to present society with one improved unit.””
The idea that you should spend four years and six figures in classrooms, shielded from the real world of opportunity, and cross your fingers and hope it gets you some kind of job is absurd.It’s time for a new era in education and career. If you’re good you can prove it in the market without going into debt or dying of boredom.
That’s why we created Praxis, and that’s why we’re making it better every day.
Over at the Praxis blog is a description of current opportunities with business partners in Austin, Atlanta, Charleston, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and San Francisco where we’re placing participants. If you get in, you not only get paid to apprentice there, you get a job at $40k+ when you graduate.
“Participants accepted into the Praxis program get an intense bootcamp where they gain the skills needed to succeed in their careers. After the bootcamp they begin a paid apprenticeship with one of our business partners. These aren’t dull corporate internships. These are dynamic startups and small businesses where participants get a chance to create real value and do real work. Entrepreneurship is the most valuable skill in the emerging economy, and there’s no better classroom than alongside entrepreneurs in the real world to learn it.
While apprenticing, participants get weekly coaching, access to a rich resource library, tailored modules to improve hard and soft skills, a world-class network, and a portfolio to showcase their work.
Upon completion of the program, graduates get hired full time with their business partner at a minimum of $40k/year.
That means in less than a year and at zero cost you begin your career. No debt. No wasted time. No blasting out resumes to jobs you’d hate. No fretting over GPA’s for four years just hoping it results in a job. You join an amazing team doing meaningful work immediately.
Here are some of our current business partner opportunities, and we’re adding all the time…”
A great career won’t come from classrooms or generic resume blasts. It will come from you taking charge and going out and building the mix of experience, knowledge, network, skills, and confidence that can only come from working with dynamic people in real companies.
It’s really hard to break free from your past definitions of success. I’ve met a lot of unhappy people who are doing exactly what they used to want to do. The problem is, we change. If you shackle yourself to the form of success envisioned by your past self, you’re a slave to a person that doesn’t even exist.
Contrary to the absurdly naive belief that monopolizing an industry will produce “efficiencies”, it has the opposite effect. All the wrong things are incentivized and no one has any clear signal of what creates value. (See “Socialist Calculation Problem“)
Antony Davies shared this depressing graph with me last week. If you’ve been to a health care provider in the last few years, you’ve felt the pain this causes in the realm of customer experience.
People argue for tenure as a way to allow risk taking, bold explorations into controversial ideas, and new frontiers in academia. Without knowing their job can never be lost, how would professors have the incentive to take risks? And after all, even if many don’t pay off, the most important advances come from big risks.
Any time you’re in a non-market or highly distorted market, it’s hard to know what really works and what doesn’t since genuine signals are absent. Higher education is not even close to a functioning free market industry, so in order to assess the merit of claims about the value of tenure we ought to look elsewhere.
If tenure is really effective we should see it in other areas where risk taking and controversial advocacy are necessary.
It turns out we don’t really see it anywhere. In a genuine market, it’s not used as a mechanism for incentivizing risk-taking behavior, even where such behavior is arguably far more valuable even than it is an academia.
Entrepreneurs do not have tenure. Their risk has no subsidy or backstop except the safety net of their own skill and ability to earn a living elsewhere if the venture fails. Raising capital from an investor is one way to create the space necessary to experiment with bold ideas, but investors fight to ensure the opposite of tenure. They want seats on the board and the freedom to vote the founder out.
Inventors and artists need to explore wild, crazy, unthinkable ideas. Yet tenure is not common in any private sector research labs or the entertainment industry and certainly not in the garages and basements of individual creators. Intellectual property laws can provide a kind of hedge against risk for the tiny percentage of creators with the means to gain and defend IP, but on net IP actually increases the risk to inventors and artists (when other people gain patents and sue). Even if IP is gained, it protects the creation, which still has to sell to consumers, it doesn’t ensure an income for the creator.
What about CEOs? Especially in large publicly traded companies, CEOs need to be free to take major risks. They need to alter the brand, company culture, product lines, production processes, and anything else that might be inhibiting growth. CEOs need to advocate crazy ideas and bring bold new visions to fruition, with no guarantee whatsoever they will work or be well received by customers, employees, or investors. Billions of dollars and thousands of careers are on the line. Do boards offer them tenure as a way to ensure they are properly incentivized to make unpopular decisions or advance bold ideas?
But the need for such protection is real. An incentive structure too hard on failed risk-taking would be hugely detrimental. Instead of the beloved tenure, something else has emerged in the market. The despised “Golden Parachute”.
CEOs of large companies get really nice compensation packages, even if they get fired or the company tanks. This is a hugely valuable tool. Without it, the CEO role would be undesirable, and bold changes would almost never occur. If they know they won’t be left out in the cold after a risky idea fails, they’re more likely to try it. Additionally, if the previous CEO wasn’t impoverished for failure it will make the search for a high-quality new CEO far easier. No one wants to work for a place that might destroy them if things don’t work out.
The huge advantage the golden parachute has over tenure is that it protects the individual risk taker without letting them bring down the quality of the institution. Tenure for CEOs would be a disaster. Boards would be stuck with bad CEOs for life, embarrassing the company and making everyone suffer. Golden Parachutes, in contrast, allow for a speedy dismissal of a bad executive before they bring down the firm, but still create an incentive structure for risk-taking on the part of CEOs.
While some level of protection from catastrophic failure or public opinion is valuable for encouraging risk-taking and innovation in some fields, tenure seems an inferior method than what emerges in the market.
I’ve met a lot of bright young people planning on law school or in law school.
I’ve also met a lot of unhappy lawyers.
I suspect lots of these young people will end up unhappy lawyers too, and I’ve got a theory as to why.
Lawyers are often “successful” in terms of external indicators and cultural prestige. They tend to make good money and are held in esteem (lawyer jokes notwithstanding). And, of course, lawyering is a perfect fit for some people. I know some very happy lawyers.
But it seems a large percentage of the profession consists of unhappy people. People who don’t particularly enjoy doing divorce or merger and acquisition paperwork. Many who wish they could escape.
How did they end up there in the first place?
Because the educational conveyor belt doesn’t know what else to do with truth-seekers.
Everyone is motivated by a lot of things. But most of us have one core value that, when push comes to shove, trumps the rest. For some it may be freedom, for others security, adventure, or in the case of many an unhappy lawyer, truth.
Those whose dominant core value is truth are rather relentless. They’re smart. They like to argue, and they tend to argue well. They want to get to the bottom of things. They want to find the right answers. They want correct facts and knowledge of right and wrong. They are willing to examine and explore multiple sides of issues and ideas in the process.
Similar to those whose highest value is independence, they’re comfortable questioning authority. But the freedom-seekers tend to be more willing to disobey or ignore the rewards and punishments of the education system. They might rebel against assignments or good grades. Truth-seekers on the other hand, though happy to question the status quo, are typically comfortable following basic rules and getting good grades as well. They see winning at the grade system as a way of finding whatever truth is to be found there.
Herein lies the problem, and the beginning of their disproportionate and often unfortunate pursuit of careers in law. The school system doesn’t know what else to do with them.
There are few ways to channel their truth-seeking desires in school. There’s little in the way of philosophy, history doesn’t do as much debating as fact-spitting, and even the sciences pre-graduate level don’t really spend time questioning anything fundamental.
What’s left? Debate and forensics. Truth-seekers do well here. They love it. Most high school debaters will tell you it was the absolute highlight of their educational experience. They finally got to question everything, look at all sides of issues, argue without being offensive or reprimanded. And they got to “win”.
Parents and teachers of young truth-seekers are so conditioned with the conveyor belt mindset that they struggle to see beyond an easily identifiable handful of job titles. The work/identity trap is also strong, so whatever junior likes must immediately be mapped onto a business card. A focus on external indicators of success furthers the tendency. The common refrain for young debaters is, “You’re always arguing. You should be a lawyer!” What other possible avenues for all this truth-seeking could there be?
“I get to search for the truth? I get to debate it? I get to make everyone proud of a prestigious career? I get to make good money? Yeah, I guess I do need to go to law school!”
So lots of them do.
And lots of them end up wishing they hadn’t. They find out too late that most lawyer jobs have little to do with truth-seeking. The law itself isn’t primarily about truth, and most law jobs are even less so. They’re about navigating bureaucracy and nearly impenetrable wordplay to help people do very simple tasks like buy and sell things, move money, end or begin professional or personal relationships, or draft up “just in case” language. It’s a fundamentally conservative endeavor, concerned with protection from liability more than the caution-to-the-wind pursuit of truth that landed them there.
Law requires attention to detail, a high degree of literacy, and plenty of patience and problem solving. Those things are perfect for some people. But those whose core value is truth aren’t often among them.
Because their desire for truth was so quickly tracked and careerified, they never had the chance to explore. Law school is particularly problematic then, because of its astronomical price tag. Upon completion, more doors have been closed than opened. There are only so many jobs that pay enough to service the debt. And by now they’re closer to marriage, kids, and other financial obligations that make lower starting pay gigs tougher. After law school, they kind of feel like they have to be a lawyer, even if it doesn’t scratch the itch for truth.
A decade later and the debt burden might be gone, but the golden handcuffs replace it. Quality of life seems locked in. Mortgages, cars, schools, and prestige can’t easily be downgraded, even if they are unhappy most of the day most days. It’s lifestyle slavery, and it kind of sucks.
Where else might these truth-seekers have gone with their passion? Perhaps philosophy. Not just in the academic sense, which often comes with its own bureaucracy and BS, but more generally. It’s true, you can be a philosopher and a lawyer or a philosopher and a great many other things. Your source of income and who you are need not be the same. Seeking, writing, researching, fact-finding, and questioning are such general and generally valuable traits that a true philosopher can apply them in myriad careers. But law is a career that makes being defined by anything else particularly hard.
How many authors, podcasters, coaches, mentors, counselors, investigative reporters, or entrepreneurs are at bottom truth-seekers? Truth as a core value is applicable in a great many areas. Most of all, someone with the freedom to follow their passion for truth is likely to discover or create a career we can’t even yet imagine. Sadly, the school conveyor belt tends to corral more than its fair share into law.
So here’s the takeaway: Stop telling good arguers to become lawyers.
Let them explore the world fully and freely. Let them try a lot of stuff. Let them follow their questions. If after real exposure to the day to day reality a career in law appeals to them, great. They’ll choose law school. But don’t obsess about placing them on a list of predefined career categories and channeling their core values into it before they know what’s what.
I’m a parent. I get it. We worry how our kids will feed themselves and build a life. If they love something, our mind immediately tries to formalize and monetize it. My son loves video games and comics and superheroes, and more than once I’ve begun formulating ways to turn this interest into a career as a video game designer or illustrator and set him on that path now.
Fight that urge. Open the world up to them, not just the few aspects of it that come with a title and salary today. But everything that it is and could be tomorrow.
This leads to another good question…what are some other career tracks that young people with other core values get placed on too early?…
I had an awesome email conversation with a young lady named Hannah who’s busy building the life she wants and realized there is no prefabricated, standardized educational path that will cut it. Here’s an excerpt:
“I originally thought I was on a college path, because I loved academics so much and because everybody told me college was the obvious choice for me, but when I started actively exploring schools I was really unimpressed. I knew from my homeschooling experience that, academically, I could learn pretty much anything I wanted to on my own. I also feel pretty sure that I can learn it better, because I can follow my own instinct and interest and learn it in the way that perfectly suits me, not the one-size-fits-all system. I was horrified by the price tag, felt like four years was a long time to waste in school, and I didn’t have a formulaic career path picked out for which a degree would be a logical first step. I didn’t want the life of any young college graduate I knew, definitely wanted to avoid the college culture, and felt underwhelmed by the curriculum and unimpressed by every professor I’d ever met. At this point in my life, I can’t think of anything I really want to do for which I actually need a college education. The icing on the cake was the moment when I realized: right now I’m free. The moment I commit to a semester of college I become shackled in debt — something I’ll have to shape my life around paying off, rather than exploring interesting projects and developing and growing, which is what I’d rather be doing.”
If this resonates with you, check out Praxis. It’s for people like you and Hannah. And whether or not Praxis is a fit, you can email me anytime if you’re itching to do your own thing but need someone to talk to!