A Conversation About Ecuador

I joined the wonderful World Wanderers Podcast (hosted by Amanda Kingsmith and Praxis participant Ryan Ferguson!) to talk about our family trip to Ecuador.

I haven’t listened to the episode yet, but we recorded it less than a week after we got back from the trip and I remember wondering if I’d even been able to process the experience enough to talk about it sensibly.  I did talk about it (a lot…I think I probably rambled at length…sorry!) and give a sort of quick take on the good, bad, and ugly and some lessons learned.  Still, I’m sure as time goes on we’ll form more ideas about our experience.

It was really awesome and also really hard.  It didn’t go to plan, but I wouldn’t trade it.  A great adventure I don’t think any of us will forget!

Anyway, take a listen to the episode if you’re interested in hearing one person’s take on international travel with kids.  Oh, and listen to other episodes of WWP.  It’s a great show!

Here’s the episode.

Public Speaking Workshop is Live

*This workshop is not primarily about tips and techniques (though they are offered).  It’s about you giving a speech and getting individualized feedback and ways to improve.

We’ve been doing a public speaking workshop for Praxis participants for a few years, and now for the first time I’m opening it up to the public.  It’s a process I learned from an amazing public speaking coach years ago when I was running a summer fellowship program at IHS.

I’ll only be accepting 10 people in this course since it demands individual time and attention for each participant to watch your speeches and provide feedback.

Check out the course here.

The course is $149, as cheap as I could get it considering the time required.

The layout is pretty straightforward.  There are a series of ten short videos with tips and best practices for your preparation, props, eyes, mouth, hands, feet, and a few final odds and ends.

After watching the videos you’ll record yourself giving a 3-minute speech in front of at least one other person, submit it between May 1-3, I’ll respond with feedback within 24 hours, and you’ll do a second take and submit between May 4-6, and again I’ll deliver final feedback within 24 hours.

The course videos can be watched anytime, as many times as you like, but submissions will only be taken and feedback provided between May 1-7.

This is a pretty awesome workshop I’ve been through myself, and I think you’ll find it valuable.  This open online version is new, and I’m excited to see how it goes!

You can sign up here.

The Secret Weapon Young People Have on the Job Market…

Nothing better to do.

The only things that matter when it comes to succeeding in the marketplace are:

  1. The ability to create value for others.
  2. The ability to persuade others of your value creation potential.

It’s not your school, your grades, your network, your knowledge or anything else you may have been told.  Those things are only useful insofar as they help you do #1 or #2.

This should be an empowering revelation.  Value creation opportunities abound.  Yet it often makes young people feel intimidated.  After years in classrooms acquiring few real-world skills and gaining knowledge that is basically an inferior version of what experts possess, how are they supposed to create value for anyone?

Here’s where the secret weapon comes in.

Value creation is not about having an absolute advantage over others at some activity.  It’s about having a comparative advantage.  This concept, popularized by David Ricardo a few hundred years ago, is a powerful tool to understand and seize opportunity as a young person.  It reveals the secret weapon called ‘nothing better to do.’

To have a comparative advantage at something simply requires that your opportunity cost is lower than others.  What you have to give up to engage in that activity is less valuable than what they have to give up.

Young people with few skills and little experience don’t have a lot of high value options for how to use their time, so their opportunity cost tends to be very low.  This makes their value creation potential high.

How does it work?

Imagine a CEO who is incredibly organized, detail-oriented, and something of a wizard at scheduling, logistics, travel planning, and utilizing all the best productivity apps and tools.  She’s many times better at this than an aspiring 18-year-old.  Yet for every hour she spends planning her travel and meetings, she gives up the ability to spend that hour selling a new client or planning the marketing expansion.  Those are high-value activities, say with the potential to bring in another $30,000 in revenue.  How much is excellent travel planning worth?  Something, but less than that.  Her opportunity cost is very high.

That 18-year-old, on the other hand, has nothing better to do.  Even if it took him three hours to do the travel planning she could do in one, he would be giving up a lot less.  He could no longer browse Facebook, read a textbook, watch Netflix, or play basketball.  There is nothing bad about those activities, but none of them likely have the potential to create $30,000 worth of value for him.

If our 18-year-old realizes this, he has a powerful weapon.  He can offer to take over scheduling for the CEO and free her up to do more valuable work.  She might be reticent because it’s possible that he could actually create more work if he’s really bad.  To reduce risk further, he can go all in and offer to do it for free and demonstrate his ability by planning one mock trip to show her.

This requires no special skills, just a touch of creativity, persistence, and Googling.  Yet if he lands the gig, even unpaid, he will be exposed to the world of a CEO and probably learn more in a month than he could in a year sitting in classrooms.  He can observe the company and identify other areas to create value – other areas where his opportunity cost is lower than others – and potentiall parlay this into a really cool role there or at another company.  Maybe he can even learn how to start his own.

So few young people try anything like this.  They’re stuck spending endless hours and countless dollars getting a piece of paper that makes them identical to every other young person.  They accumulate debt and expectations that make them feel the need to enter the professional world at a level of pay that, frankly, they can’t yet justify with their limited skill and experience.  They feel it would be beneath them, after getting an expensive degree, to work for free or low pay to get a foot in the door.  They are completely nuetralizing their greatest asset, their low opportunity cost.

If you’re young and have little in the way of monthly expenses or valuable opportunities in front of you, rejoice.  This means you can explore and test and try a great many things.  Your ability to create value is tremendous if you look for places where others have a high opportunity cost and you do not.

Get off the conveyor belt.  Break the mold.  Go do some cool stuff.

If you want a paid apprenticeship with an amazing entrepreneur + rigorous personal and professional development and coaching, check out discoverpraxis.com.

Ask Isaac: ‘Business Bores Me’, Ecuador, Blogging Tips, and Startup Stuff

Some questions have accumulated and it’s time for an Ask Isaac episode!  I really enjoy doing these because there’s no logistical stress with a guest, no prep work, and I get to talk directly to listeners, which feels kind of intimate (as weird as that sounds since I’m just talking into a mic in a room by myself).  Plus, the questions are always fun and I like wrestling with them verbally.

*If you love the show (or even can mildly tolerate it), please review it on iTunes!*

As you may know, I recently spent a couple of weeks in Ecuador with my family and there were a couple of questions regarding that adventure.  I was interviewed in depth about the trip on the (excellent) World Wanderers Podcast.  The episode should be live soon.

Other questions that were answered here:

  • Why ‘Ask Isaac’ episodes aren’t numbered?
  • A father asks about whether his daughter who is an average, B student who is not sure about her path and who was turned off from business by her econ class, would be a good candidate for Praxis?  (I cheated and had TK Coleman provide an answer which I echoed and emphasized the need to focus on creating value.)
  • Keri would like to start blogging every day and she wonders how do I do it.  Do you pick a niche to stick to?  Where does inspiration come from?
  • Another question on blogging comes from Peter who asks how I handle editing of my posts.   Do I edit immediately or do I post as soon as I write it down?  (Yes)
  • Philip wonders whether some people are unfit for a startup and what is the one characteristic needed in order to thrive in a startup?

(NOTE: For some reason, the sound is a little tinny on this episode.  It seems like my mic settings were a bit off.  Sorry!  Just pretend it’s more “authentic” that way, like a scratchy vinyl record.)

Send me questions anytime about anything.  I love to get them and will respond!

Sponsor Spot: If you want to spend a year apprenticing with an entrepreneur and building your own brand, skills, experience, confidence, network, and knowledge, apply to Praxis today.  The program cost nets out to $0.  What you earn equals what you pay.  Zero debt, zero BS, zero wasting away killing time.  One year will change your life.

This and all episodes are also available on SoundCloud, iTunes, YouTube, and Stitcher.

Being Me or Being Lazy?

So many days I don’t have it in me to write a really thorough post.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I’ve got drafts that could be really fleshed out almost always on hand.  It’s that doing more than a few paragraphs that quickly describe the core idea in those drafts is really hard work sometimes. 

I tell myself I’m just being true to my style.  I write about broad principles and simple observations in a single quick take.  I’m not Mr. Investigative Reporter or lengthy describer. I write every day so I can’t labor over every idea with thousands of words. 

Part of that is absolutely true. I’m just not sure how much.

The days I really push to add more meat to the bones of an idea are harder, but more rewarding. The content is better and I feel pretty damn good about it.

Still, I’m not a writer first and foremost. I write as therapy and a tool to enhance productivity, creativity, and happiness.  So why do I need to always go big?

I’m normally at peace with this tension, but sometimes I wonder. How often am I just being lazy when I think I’m being me?

Public Speaking Workshop

We run a public speaking workshop for Praxis participants where they gain some tips and advice, present a short speech, get specific feedback, do a second take, and leave with final ideas for continued improvement.

I’ve run versions of this workshop for hundreds of people over the last seven years and been through it several times myself.  It really works, and quickly.  You absolutely improve by going through it, and you leave with two or three key things to work on specific to your unique strengths and weaknesses.

We’re creating an online version of the workshop and I’m going to open it up to a limited number of people outside of Praxis as a kind of experiment.  The full course should be up next week with more details, but the basic structure is:

  • Watch 10 short videos with tips on voice, hand gestures, stance, props, etc.
  • Submit a video of yourself delivering a 3-minute speech
  • Within 24 hours receive feedback on the speech
  • Give the speech again incorporating feedback and submit second video
  • Within 24 hours get final feedback and tips

The workshop is self-paced but will take place within a week long time frame.  The entire thing will be done – all videos submitted and all feedback received – within 72 hours.  It’s a great way to improve your speaking skills quickly.

Sign up if you’re interested and want to be added to the list when the course opens.  There will be a limit of probably 10-15 spots.  The cost is going to be around $149.

Put Your Education and Life In Good Hands…Yours

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.”

Check out her blog.

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!

Taking a Walk as a Revolutionary Act

Here’s a really fun article TK Coleman and I wrote for a new publication called Design 4 Emergence.  Check out the beautiful layout on the original!

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Isaac’s Take: The Mind a Blender

It was cliché. I took a walk on the beach and my life changed forever.

I like to imagine ideas as tiny physical objects sloshing around in my skull. The heavier ones sink to the bottom and the rest separate based on weight and viscosity. They mostly find their resting place and stay put, or at least in the same stratum.

Yet in order to create, make personal progress, discover who we are, and do what makes us most alive we need ideas to bump into each other. We need more than prefabricated plans and processes. We need disparate concepts to pair in unlikely, unpredictable ways. We need ideas to not stay in their place.

The rhythmic jostling of a good walk is like a blender. All the layers of ideas begin to move and shake and mix and mash. Walking is like a stirring up of the brain and the soul. Just 20 minutes into a quiet walk and you’ll begin to notice weird things happening. Seemingly random thoughts and thoughts about thoughts will move up and down, side to side, from the back to the front of the mind.

Back to my story.

I was frustrated, restless, and in a rut. Even though it was inconvenient and disruptive to my busy day, I made myself drive 15 minutes to the beach and go for a walk. I needed that endless horizon. I had no specific goal for my walk, which is kind of the point.

Five minutes in and I looked up at the horizon and saw in my mind’s eye a word floating in all caps just above the water.

PRAXIS

The bouncing of my steps had shaken this word loose and on its way to the front of my mind it had bumped into a bunch of other ideas long dormant. My decade-long dissatisfaction with the higher education system. My personal knowledge of dozens of entrepreneurs who were hungry for young talent. Recognition of my own skillset and network. It was too perfect. How could I have failed to see this for so long?

Within minutes an entire business model came into view, crisp and clear. I ran to my car, drove home, sat at my laptop and typed for a few hours straight. What is now my business and my passion was born.

Looking back, it all makes sense. I disliked my own college experience and envisioned a radical new model some 12 years earlier. I didn’t know where to go next with my idea so I put it on the shelf and pursued other things. In the dozen years that followed, I mostly pursued whatever was interesting to me personally and professionally with no long term plans. I managed to accidentally accumulate a near perfect mix of knowledge, skill, experience, outlook, and a network to launch what eventually became the higher ed. alternative I once dreamed about.

But I didn’t know any of this stuff was in there. It was all hiding in its own layer. Some nestled deep in the subconscious. Some associated with entirely different aspects of myself. I could never have purposefully made the connections necessary to see what I was capable of building. It had to emerge.

I took a walk. It’s the best way I know of to create the space for emergence in your own life.

You live much of life on a conveyor belt. It’s a structure created by others beginning with school and following you even onto the Internet as your newsfeed is curated based on assumptions about what’s important to you. But you’re hatching ideas and ideas about ideas all the time, whether you know it or not. The trick is accessing them and giving them space to mingle.

All the networks and technology at our fingertips is amazing. But it cannot on its own bring about the great epiphanies and acts of creation.

You can’t deliberately plan emergence. But you can remove obstacles. You can create conditions conducive to it. For me, that’s the simple act of walking. An act as old as our species.

Let your steps stir up your soul.


T.K.’s Take: The Mind an Ocean

One of the concepts that radically changed my life is an idea called “noble boredom.”

According to Rabbi Jonathan Omer-Man noble boredom means, “No anticipation of action. It means having the ability to be present without needing something to happen.”

You don’t need to live very long to discover that busyness is the bearer of many luxuries. Being busy makes you look important. It gives you a good excuse for avoiding unwanted commitments and helps you deal with guilt, inadequacy, and the belief that you’re not working hard enough. Busyness protects from messy confrontations with the thing you fear the most: boredom.

When you consider the primary form of expressing boredom (“I don’t have anything to do”), it’s no wonder that we seek salvation in the experience of perpetual preoccupation. We dread running up against the fact that we often have no idea where we’re going and why we’re traveling in relation to all the stuff we do. If we stop being busy we’ll be bored. And if we become bored, we’ll see how uninteresting and uncreative our lives really are.

But inactivity need not be boring. The stillness and solitude that we look at as evidence of us not being creative enough is the very source of creativity.

Our subconscious mind is like the ocean. Our everyday waking-state consciousness is like the surface of that ocean. The activities of the mind and the external events that demand our attention are like the wind and the waves. Go to the shore of an ocean on a windy day and what do you see? You see the waves on the surface but what lies beneath is invisible.

The ocean is teeming with life, filled with all sorts of exotic and interesting forms waiting to be discovered. But as long as the wind is blowing and the waves are doing their dance such things remain hidden to the observer.

What if you return to the ocean on a quiet and calm day? The ocean doesn’t change but your experience of the ocean would be profoundly different. When the surface waters are still you see into the depths. You encounter astonishing things. You can reach for things that you previously didn’t know were there.

This is a metaphor for the relationship we have to our own  interior depths. As much as we hail the marvelous powers of imagination, that power is often drowned out by all the external noise and busyness of day-to-day life. Our souls are not empty. They only seem to be because we haven’t learned how to look beyond the surface.

The simple act of taking a walk creates a bridge from busyness to stillness that allows us to penetrate the depths of our mind without completely disregarding our strongly conditioned need to “do something.” Some teachers of meditation describe walking as a mantra for the body. The purpose of a mantra is to get our reactive thinking and the incessant activities of the reptilian brain out of the way. It’s like giving a dog a bone. The dog ceases to make noise and it has something to do. This allows you to get on with your work.

Walking allows you to get into a rhythm or a groove that makes it easier for your reactive mind to settle down and open itself up to deeper insights and creative ideas. Many people try various forms of meditation only to find themselves uncomfortable, bored out of their minds, or quickly falling asleep. This is often the case because we’ve come to associate meditation with making the body still. The essence of meditating isn’t, however, about being in the lotus position or bragging about your ability to close your eyes and sit still for an hour. The true purpose of meditation is interior stillness.

You could say that walking is nature’s meditation hack. By involving your body in the act of meditation through casual walking you create a gentle transition to inner stillness. This kind of walking is different from the kind of walking you do when you’re trying to get somewhere. This is the walk of noble boredom. It’s a form of boredom because you’re not doing anything in the typical sense, yet it’s noble because this simple act of non-doing holds the promise of offering greater meaning, creativity, efficiency, and substance to all you do.

I’ve spent many years studying and practicing various forms of meditation. From Osho’s First & Last Freedom to Jean Houston’s The Possible Human, I’ve experimented with many different ways of exploring my own consciousness. All of the methods I’ve tried have been useful to some degree. As a student of philosophy, I love approaches to contemplation that emphasize the importance of taking a break from the world and sitting in silence. As an entrepreneur who enjoys the pressures and challenges of creative life, however, nothing has provided a better balance of satisfying both my need to relax and my impulse to be on the move than the fine art of walking.

When I played basketball in grade school my coach would often say “walk it off” in response to one of the players catching a leg cramp. That advice stills rings true. When I have a problem or puzzle I need to resolve, I walk it off. When my thinking is cramped, I walk it off. It’s never failed me yet.

The Ridiculousness of the “I’m Not Impressed” Facebook Comment

Facebook can be a…uh…special place.  People behave in ways I cannot imagine them behaving in the flesh.  I don’t think this is good or bad, it just is.  Still, it makes for some rather odd and entertaining moments.

The other day I shared a quote from a young college opt-out with whom I was emailing:

“I dropped out of university when I was 19. I had lots of friends there. My grades were great. My future was bright. But I was unhappy and restless. Most of all, I was feeling unfulfilled. So instead of taking out student loans and finishing my degree, I quit.

We talk a lot about “living intentionally.” But during my unfulfilling time at uni, I really came to understand what that means. Going to university right out of high school just because “that’s what you’re supposed to do” isn’t living intentionally. I had no idea who I was or what I wanted out of life, and it occurred to me that perhaps I would be just as clueless and lost upon graduation day.

I didn’t have a business idea or plan for what to do when I quit. I didn’t have a job lined up. I quit uni “the wrong way” according to most people. It was “the risky way,” “the stupid way.” But I survived. I made it work. And I’ve loved every second of the adventure so far.

We’re hardwired for thinking that taking risks and making changes will only end in disaster. We like certainty. We like predictability. We like routines. But there’s a certain danger in routine. Those things that we can “do in our sleep” run the risk of luring us into a slumber we may never wake up from. So I’ll take the discomfort of uncertainty over the slumber of routine each chance I get.”

Cool, right?  It seemed pretty self-evident that I shared this because I thought it was inspiring and some of the many other young people I know who are slowly decaying in college but are afraid to buck social and parental pressure might take heart in her story.

It got some likes and shares, and then this comment popped up:

“This sort of thing brings out the grumpy old man in me. She quit college at 19 and now she all of 20 and not dead yet. What an inspiration! Insert sardonic face here. How much of a risk is she taking? I bet she has parents backstopping her. And I’m supposed to be inspired by her and follow her on Twitter and soak up all her wisdom? Give me a break. I’ll change my tune when she actually, you know, does something.”

I couldn’t help but laugh.  So many hilarious thoughts went through my head.  I don’t normally respond to comments, but considering this girl was insulted by a stranger after I shared her story, I thought I’d post something to stick up for her just a bit.  I had a lot of ideas for responses, but opted to keep it simple with this:

“I think you underestimate just how much pressure young people face to unthinkingly go to college whether they gain anything from it or not. I share this not because this young lady has “arrived”, whatever that means, but because it takes a ton of courage to stop and think about your own life and live it on your terms instead of the conveyor belt you’re pressured into.

Anyone who’s not just bobbing in the current deserves respect.”

There was so much more to say about the comment though.  Here are some of the other responses I considered…

Thanks for your comment!  Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t the intended audience. Maybe you don’t need to follow her on Twitter for inspiration. Maybe middle-aged dudes who are not facing challenges similar to a 19-year-old aren’t supposed to be inspired by her.  Maybe somewhere, some other 19-year-old hates school and is scared to death to face the social pressure of doing something more tailored to her.  Or maybe she should be chastised for not doing something impressive to you yet…

Thanks for your comment!  I wonder what “done something” means?  Could you define what activities and achievements this young lady must complete before she is allowed to have a website or talk about her story in her about section?  What challenges are big enough that she should be allowed to talk about them?  To what authorities should she appeal before sharing her journey or posting a Tweet?

Thanks for your comment!  You’re right, no one is really inspiring who hasn’t succeeded.  Then again, what’s the definition of success if not living a fulfilling life with pride in your choices and accomplishments?  If she earned a million dollars and hated her life and felt shame for her choices, would she be inspiring?  She clearly said this was a big challenge for her to overcome, she did it, and now she’s happy.  Is that not success because you think that challenge would have been easy for someone else?

Thanks for your comment!  FWIW, this young lady is working at a business in Poland right now and started her own accent reduction service for non-native English speakers on the side.  But that’s not relevant.  What’s relevant is that you were offended by the fact that her story was not directly inspiring to you.  Sorry about that!  In the future I’ll make sure to ask if what I post is personally inspiring to you, even if you’re not the intended audience.  I’ll also advise this young woman to seek your permission before feeling proud or sharing her story in the future.

Thanks for your comment!  Let me see if I can boil down the heart of it in summary:  You’re upset because something someone posted to Facebook doesn’t inspire you.  Your post could be shortened a bit to, “I’m not impressed.”  Got it.

Thanks for your comment!  Though it does bring out the grumpy young man in me.  So you’re all of middle-aged-something, you shot down a young stranger’s story on Facebook, and you’re not dead yet.  What, you want me to follow you on Twitter now to soak up more of your dismissive derision?  Please.  Call me when you’ve, you know, done something that piques my interest.

I decided not to post any of those.  It seemed like it would have been mean.  Plus, the Facebook inspiration police might have swarmed and pointed out with deep insight and profound erudition that they’re not impressed anyway.  That would have been crushing.

Check out this podcast episode about call-out culture and the dangers of playing the critic:

Episode 2: TK Coleman on Comments, Critics, and Call-Out Culture

 

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