I’m Not Qualified

I don’t have a high school diploma.  I’ve never taken the ACT, or SAT, or GRE.  I can’t even type properly – I used one finger on each hand.  Who do I think I am to write books and blog posts, give talks and podcasts, and run a business?

I don’t think I’m anybody.  The thing is, I don’t think anyone else is anybody either.

I’m not qualified.  Neither are you.  No one is.  That’s the big secret.

I’ll never forget the day I first realized that no one knows what they’re doing.  I was sitting in a classroom at Western Michigan University and feeling stressed about how I was going to get a job and figure out how to survive in the world.  I had imposter syndrome.  I’m a fraud!  I don’t know how to do anything.  I’ve faked my way through everything.  I BSed essay answers on tests.  I pretended I was reading music during my piano lessons when I was really playing from memory.  I took shortcuts and found the quickest ways to avoid pain and boredom.  How could I gain enough mastery of anything to navigate the world?

The professor droned on. (It was a particularly boring political science class where the professor, who must have been at least at old as the Declaration of Independence, wrote the $150 textbook and taught word for word from the chapters he had written.)  I looked up from my desk and around the classroom.  It looked like the biggest bunch of half-witted, half-sober, half-pajama’d, half-serious degenerates I’d ever seen.  Kids talked loudly to each other over the oblivious professor about how “schwasted” they were, where they puked the night before, and where to go do it again today.  They scrawled incoherent sentences on essay questions I had to decipher when it came time to “trade and grade”.  They chuckled and bragged about who they knew in the infamous “Crime Beats” section of the college newspaper.

If I’m worried about how I’ll cut it in the world, what will these kids do?  How will they survive?  I recall one of them said he wanted to be a dentist.  How could he possibly?

Then I remembered a dentist whose office I had worked in recently, installing a telephone system.  They guy made good money and ran his own little small town office, but he was a big goofball.  He snuck into the back room every few minutes, making patients wait mouth agape, to day trade stocks.  He was clearly an addict and a thrill junky without a serious bone in his body.  He joked constantly and loudly and always wanted to get lavish lunches with alcohol….

Holy crap, this kid is going to be a dentist!  And that girl is going to be a lawyer.  And that other guy will probably be a government bureaucrat.  Most of the rest will end up teaching middle school (Western had a lot of future public school teachers.  It was common after flunking out of majors like “Communications” to switch to elementary education).

I realized in that moment I was going to be fine.  More than fine.  Not because I had any special ability.  It hit me that everyone is making everything up.  The bar isn’t actually that high.  No one knows how to be a proper adult, or worker, or parent, or researcher.  There’s no magic permission slip or grant of expertise that makes you qualified for anything.  You just have to do it.

If you find a way to create value for people, you’ll be fine.  And there are a surprisingly vast array of ways to create value for people.  The demand for human minds and hands is so great that even these party-loving students would be gainfully employed.  They’d probably be doing my taxes or taking an X-Ray for me some day.

Don’t worry about your lack of qualification.  You’re not qualified for anything really.  Neither is anyone else.  You are, however,  more qualified than anyone else in the world to do the things that are uniquely you.  Go for it.

———————

*If you are a teen or you have a teen that’s interested in entrepreneurship, creative thinking, and out of the box living, check out the Praxis Teen Entrepreneurship Course!

Praxis Teen Entrepreneurship Course

2015: A Personal Year in Review

Four great reads!

 

Alright, my good friend and Praxis colleague TK Coleman convinced me to share this personal recap in a blog post after I shared it with him in an email.  It feels a little weird or narcissistic, but I guess a little reflection is permitted this time of year.  Besides, I had nothing to write today and I’m not going to miss my daily post!

Praxis is the main driver of my activities and goals, and our continued growth, amazing network of business partners, totally awesome alumni and participants, and expanded offerings (about to be announced!) make me proud of what we’ve done in 2015 and excited about 2016.  Beyond the business, I also have a few personal goals, all still very much related to my mission of freedom and progress.

What was my 2015 like?  Mostly laying groundwork and exploring new ways to create.  Here’s some of the stuff I accomplished that I’m most proud of:

  • Blogged every day.
  • Launched a podcast and released 64 episodes with 40 different guests.
  • Started writing on Medium and gained over 250,000 article views and more than 5,900 followers.
  • Did more than 30 (can’t remember exact number) of interviews on podcasts, news outlets, etc.
  • Gave more than 20 presentations in 15 cities.
  • Published two more books, bringing the total to four.
  • Recorded a song for the first time ever!
  • Read about 30 books.
  • Travelled with the family to Florida and Pittsburgh, and spent a week in Jamaica with my wife.
  • Published in more than 20 different outlets.
  • Launched a monthly newsletter.
  • Gained more than 2,000 new social media followers.
  • Ran a successful KickStarter campaign raising $5,379 for a $4,850 goal.
  • Booked a six-week trip to Ecuador for the family.
  • Ruthlessly removed even more stuff from my life leaving me less stressed and less crunched for time than I’ve ever been.
  • Had a total reach of 491,652 though the podcast, blog, and articles I have data for. (This one gets me.  My goal for the year was 500,000.)*

I certainly had some shortcomings in 2015.  I missed my goal to do one form of exercise a day probably 5% of the time (which is embarrassing when you realize I consider even a few pushups sufficient.)  Though I hit my daily blogging goal, too many days I churned out something less than what I think I could have in terms of quality.  I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, and almost no fiction, which I planned to read a lot of.

Most of all, I feel like my efforts at being a good, peaceful, calm unschooling dad fell short in everything but theory.  I now know clearly what kind of parent I want to be and why (both huge improvements over the last few years trying to figure it out), but I still struggle every single day to translate that head knowledge into daily habits and behaviors.  Hopefully my kids are as resilient as I suspect they are.

Again in 2016 Praxis is the focus.  Outside of my family, it’s what I live and breathe and I’ll be focusing even more tightly on our goals for the business and everything we stand for.  I do have a few personal goals I’m thinking about for the year ahead as well.  Possibly another book, growing the podcast, perhaps changing up my writing routine to do longer pieces weekly instead of shorter posts daily (still trying to decide on this one), etc.

Regardless, thanks to every single one of you who has read, clicked, liked, shared, listened, commented, loved, critiqued, and even openly hated what I’ve been creating.  I’ve always said I do this for me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels great to connect with people over the ideas I love!

(In case you’re wondering, by far the most popular piece in 2015 was this article on why playing LEGO is better than learning algebra.  The most popular podcast episode was this interview with my son on being unschooled.)

*UPDATE: 12/31/15 – For unknown reasons, a few old posts of mine got picked up again and generated a ton of views right after I wrote this.  Just after noon on December 31, I broke the 500,000 mark.  Here’s to a goal being met!

Interview on the Free Cities Podcast

I popped in (virtually) to the Free Cities Podcast to talk Praxis and the ideas behind it.  FCP is all about decentralized alternatives to top-down command and control institutions.  Education is obviously full of standardized, cartelized, centralized institutions and part of our mission at Praxis is to break that down and bring the power back to the individual.

Don’t Give Up Your Power for Attention

My friend has a theory.  He thinks when people ask unbelievably dumb questions it’s not because they don’t know the answer or couldn’t find it themselves.  They’re capable.  It’s that they want the attention that comes from being answered more than they want their own power to independently get the answer.

There are a lot of examples of playing dumb as a way to get attention.  Emailing questions that are already answered on a website.  Asking how to listen to a podcast that’s already linked in the post being commented on.  Pretending to not notice when someone does something nice for you just so you can demontrate your surprise later in a more attention-grabbing way.

It’s a weird thing, and disempowering.  It’s actually kind of gross to observe.  I think a big part of it comes from the schooled mindset.  When you spend the first twenty or so years in a system based on pats on the back and ribbons and Dean’s lists and other forms of manufactured recognition by authority figures you learn to seek that kind of psychic and emotional reward.  There are few things teachers and experts and authorities with official sounding titles like more than being reminded that they know more than you.  They love an eager, pliable pupil.  When you ask them how to do things, raise your hand for clarification, ask them to expand on a point, or request a refresher on their material, you get positive attention.  So you develop a kind of learned helplessness.

It’s stupid and you should identify and shed it right away.  Operate at full power.  If you can discover or do something without anyone else’s assitance, do it.  If you can achieve goals without appealing to experts and authorities, all the better.  If you can create your product, start your business, write your song, or publish your book, do it.  You don’t need to focus group your supposed betters or ask every person you look up to to coffee for feedback.

It’s great if people like you and what you create.  It’s great to learn from others.  But get their attention by being the most you you can be.  Create something new and powerful, don’t pretend to be powerless in hopes of luring them in for a quick hit of, “She talked to me!”.  This is why mentorship can be dangerous.  Spend all your time seeking awesome mentors and you’ll forget to master what’s uniquely you and just build things.

Don’t play dumb.  The attention isn’t worth the loss of power.

Why My Wife and I (and Our Three Kids) are Spending Six Weeks in Ecuador

Sticking with an important theme in my life the better question might be, “Why not?

Still, given our stage in life, our kids ages, and our work and financial situation, it does raise some eyebrows when we tell people of our Ecuadorian excursion planned for early 2016.  There are several reasons we chose to do this, not least of which is the fact that there are far, far more reasons we can come up with not to do this.

That’s the thing.  The reasons not to will only ever pile up.  Screw that.  Perfect timing is a myth.  If we waited for the right time we never would have gotten married, had kids, adopted, taken new jobs, moved, moved again, started a business, unschooled, and all the other things we cherish most about our life.

The Idea

It began a little less than a year ago.  I was flying home from a business trip and listening to an episode of the Tim Ferriss Podcast.  It was an excerpt from a book called Vagabonding by Rolf Potts.  I knew in my gut I wanted to get out into the broader world with my family.  Not out of nowhere.  The podcast was just a nudge.  My own experience had me jonesing for international adventure for me and my kids already.

Between ages 12-20 I spent at least a few weeks, sometimes a few months, every summer in another country.  Mexico, Peru, Kenya, Honduras.  These were the most important and formative experiences of my youth.  I loved it.  It was really hard sometimes.  I learned so much and gained so much perspective.  Perhaps I’ll write more another time about what these trips did for me, but one of the things was to teach me forward orientation.  The first few times it was crushing to make deep connections to dear friends across the world then leave, never to see them again (and pre-Facebook, never to talk to them in most cases).  It made me learn to live in the moment and not hold on too tightly to past experiences.

My wife and I have always wanted to travel with our kids and let them experience the world outside the suburbs.  Not because we think it’s somehow morally superior or because we want to be international do-gooders.  Just because it’s really fun, and the best kind of challenge.  We both know how hard it was for us to move from the small-town Midwest just a few states away, and how good it was.  It’s too easy to assume your current geography is the best fit for you simply because you’ve never ventured out.  We want our kids to feel like the world is small and not be afraid of exploring all of their options.  We don’t want the exit option to feel so daunting to them.

The Decision

I got back from that trip and told my wife to listen to the podcast episode.  She did.  She knew right away what I was going to suggest and she wholeheartedly agreed.  Let’s spend some time abroad with the kids.  Not a vacation.  Not as visitors touring the sites.  Just normal, day to day life in a different place.  We knew this required more than a few weeks and a location that wasn’t just for popular attractions.  Don’t get me wrong, I love popular touristy stuff and we aren’t the type to go searching for the “too cool for the travel guide” spots when we travel.  But this wasn’t about travel.  It was about living.

I wanted two months, she wanted one, we settled on six weeks.  It seemed long enough to make us both uncomfortable and wonder if we’d get bored and restless and homesick.  We couldn’t just distract ourselves with novelty for six weeks.  We’d have to establish a daily routine.  Perfect.

The Timing

It seems weird to try to spend time abroad at this point in our lives.  Our kids are 4, 6, and 10.  That’s still pretty young.  We are not in a place to put money into anything besides day-to-day expenses.  I launched my company, Praxis, just two years ago and every ounce of material and mental resources go into building it.  We moved here to the Charleston, SC area just four years ago and we love it.  It’s beautiful, we’re not bored, and we’re beginning to make very deep and rewarding social bonds.  My wife and I are young, so it’s not like the clock is running out on us.

But we don’t want perfection.  We don’t want some experience that’s been planned and built up for years or decades.  We don’t want to overthink it.  We don’t want it to be that big of a deal.  We just want to try living somewhere else for a bit.  That’s it.  When will we be in a better situation?  Realistically, never.  There will always be something more pressing to spend our energy on.

Besides, there are several ways in which we’re in a perfect position to do this.  I own my own business and all of my colleagues work remotely.  Besides travel season, all I need is WiFi.  I live and breathe Praxis, but where I live and breathe it from is of little relevance most of the time.  We unschool our kids.  We have no schedule or obligations.  One of the reasons we chose to unschool was so that we could do stuff just like this.  How many kids get to do that?  Our kid aren’t wasting away in cinder block cells all day, so why should we follow the same routine as those that are?

We know it will be really, really hard.  Especially for me in the most intense phase of growing a business and trying to revolutionize the world.  But everything we do at Praxis is about living life on your terms.  If we preach it, we can live it too.

The Details

We had several constraints and preferences, but a lot of play room.  I travel a lot to conferences and events to speak and promote my company and the ideas behind it.  We couldn’t go in late spring/early summer, or in the fall.  Speaking season.  We also needed this to be really, really affordable.  As in, all-in, this six weeks in Ecuador needs to cost the same or less as if we had stayed home for the same six weeks.  We also needed reliable, solid WiFi.  (One of the first things we did was have our AirBnB host run a test and verify the speed, which is the same as what Comcast gives me in SC.)

We weren’t ready to fly more than 4-5 hours with kids as young as four, so South  and Central America were the target.  We searched around on AirBnB for a few days and found a place that looked crazy cool.  A bamboo beach house like something out of Swiss Family Robinson.  It was gorgeous, large enough, and well-rated.  No A/C and open, so mosquito nets, but otherwise not primitive.  Good price, good WiFi.  Why not?

The Act

Never the type to dwell too long on a matter, we booked it.  Was there something better?  Probably.  Would it be worth the agonizing and the time and energy to find it?  Probably not.

Once our non-refundable house was booked, the rest had to happen as a matter of course.  We’ve been alternating between excitement and terror since then, but that’s exactly what we want.  Just a little fear to overcome, mixed with the thrill of overcoming it.

We’ll set out just after the Super Bowl (what, you think I’m going to miss the NFL season?) and return around the Ides of March.  If all goes to plan it won’t be noticeable from the outside.  I’ll be working most of the day most days of the week as usual.  The kids will be doing what unschoolers do, which is precisely what drives their curiosity and interest, and we’ll be grocery shopping, going for walks, cooking, cleaning, reading, meeting with people, and enjoying the beach.

We’ll also be sweating, struggling to communicate in a village of Spanish speakers, adapting to new foods and smells and sights, and probably in many moments fighting homesickness.

This may be the first of many experiences living abroad.  It may be the last we ever do.  That’s why we’re doing it.  We need to know.  Will we love or hate it?  No amount of analysis can answer the question.  We’ll go find out for ourselves.

Merry Christmas

When darkness descend upon the land
Its oppressive weight doth bend
Everything that dare to stand
Of beginnings it makes fast end

Layered thick, grief upon grief
Its claws make end of youth
Crushing new; this end its chief
Until it clash with Truth

Truth it came in hidden form
As ancient fables tell
A winter’s night, far from warm
On open ears it fell

Angelic chorus pierced the sky!
The simple shepherds knelt
Did pierce the dark a baby’s cry!
And dark a tremble felt

For all its effort toil and fear
This evil could not slay
A tiny babe great men revere
Whose light came Christmas Day

And with Him all true freedom spoke
All strength and grace and peace
The chains of men and devils broke
In His named oppression ceased

That Christmas Day a light was born!
In sky; upon the earth
By light that darkest curtain torn!
Men’s hearts were freed for mirth

Slaves we were with empty hearts
No evil dark could fill
And who shall darkness tear apart?
This baby Christ child will

This Christmas Day we fix upon
Our freedom’s source and light
And remember that forever long
His birth made all things right

The Quantity of Stuff in Your Life is More Important than Your System

Praxis grad James Walpole blogged today about the problems of too much focus on optimization and “life hacking”.

It got me thinking about those I know who struggle to keep their head above water.  People who are creative and productive, but perpetually behind and stressed and overwhelmed.  If you’re in that position, I’m going to share a belief that might be depressing, but it might also be heartening: there is no system that can fix it.

You can’t implement a new schedule, or tool, or plugin, or diet, or any other new way of organizing and executing on your stuff that will save you.  These systems may be better or worse, but they can’t address the fundamental thing keeping you buried.  It’s the quantity of stuff in your life that’s the problem.

I don’t mean physical possessions, though that can be part of it, I mean stuff that’s not core to your mission but that you do or pay attention to or simply keep around anyway.  It’s open tabs on your browser that you don’t need to read.  It’s emails in your inbox you don’t need to keep.  It’s events and engagements you can do without.

If your day is a pipeline transforming inputs to outcomes, no re-arrangement of the pipes can handle the fact that you’re flooding the system with three times the volume it can handle.  Or, to use another water analogy, if your progress is a body of water, compare the power of a highly concentrated, pressurized stream like a fire hose, vs. a flood plain sloppily sloshing around.

Cut the stuff out.  Focus only on the things that give and create energy.  That’s when your systems and life-hacks will begin to work.  Then they can improve things at the margin.  But until you reduce the overwhelming quantity of stuff in your life, no system can save you.

A Few Great Books That Shape My Thinking

Outwitting the Devil, by Napolean Hill

How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World, by Harry Browne

Finite and Infinite Games, by James P. Carse

Anything by C.S. Lewis

Anything by Mark Twain, especially short stories

Zero to One, by Peter Theil

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintanance, by Robert M. Pirsig

A Treatise on Political Economy, by Jean-Baptiste Say

Anything by Ludwig von Mises

The Fabric of the Cosmos, by Brian Greene

Anarchy Unbound, by Peter T. Leeson

How Free Are You? On Obligation and Duty

My good friend Jeff Till just released a phenomenal podcast episode exploring in depth the idea of obligation. Jeff gives both a practical and philosophical account of what personal freedom means. 

To him, alarm clocks, vacations, and other common fixtures are indications of your unfreedom.  I love Jeff’s take and agree strongly, though there’s still a good bit of nuance and personal exploration needed to tease out the difference between chosen obligations based on intrinsically motivated goals and those that are simply an unchosen chain.

As Seth Godin says, instead of planning your next vacation plan a life you don’t need to escape from.

Check out the episode.

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