Steel Yourself


Take a breath, relax, enjoy the moment, and contemplate if you are ready for the next leap.

If you want more than incremental moves to add to the heap of accumulated stuff, it will cost you.  If you want to dive into something big, the outcome can't be predicted.  You will put an end to boredom, listlessness and slough; but you will also put an end to the illusion of security, and the feeling that you are slowly scraping together more things to add to your pile of comforts.  That pile will no longer be yours.  It's in the past.  All you'll have is the unknown future and the knowledge that you're going after something big, and something that is fully you.

If the cost is just too high, let it go.  Enjoy your present and the more bounded expectations of the future you will methodically build.  Let life move and come to you bit by bit, and be at peace.  Don't regret your choice.

If the potential payout and the effort itself are powerful enough for you to accept the costs, then steel yourself.  The costs will come.  It will be the hardest, most uncertain and wild ride you've ever been on.  You can't know how or in what way ahead of time, but you can know for certain it will be difficult, and many people will not understand.  They will feel you are throwing away all you've built, and all you could build if you continued stacking brick on brick.  You must be prepared for their offense and confusion.  Few will see that you want more than a pile of bricks or even a cathedral when all's said and done; that you would rather have nothing and have tried something other than stacking.

Neither path is right or wrong, but whatever you choose, be of one mind about it.  To choose one and wish you'd chosen the other is to tear yourself in two, diffuse your energy, and diminish your quality of life and creativity.

Five Assumptions About Fire Codes (why laws are less important than we think)


Originally posted here.

A friend and I were discussing the provision of fire services, and he made a comment in passing about how, thanks to government fire codes, fires have dramatically declined. It is true that fires have declined over the last 35 years (at least), but is it true that government fire codes are the reason?

There are at least five untested assumptions behind the idea that fire codes are the cause of a safer world.

Assumption 1: Cause and Effect

The most obvious assumption is that fire codes cause a reduction in fires. It is easy to see how unlikely this is when you perform a simple mental exercise: Imagine enacting US fire codes in, say, India. In India it is not uncommon for electricity to arc between two buildings or for people to pirate electricity by tapping in to an existing power line with a makeshift wire draped across the ground. Surely fire codes would prevent the dangerous electrical fires that sometimes result. The problem is, fire codes already exist in India, but nobody follows them. Why not? Because no one can afford to follow them.

Before government regulations can be broadly followed, they first have to be of limited consequence. Child labor laws only take effect once there are very few children in the work force, due to economic growth. It is well documented that OSHA regulations only came into effect after workplace accidents dramatically declined on their own. If you tried to impose the U.S. minimum wage on a very poor country, no one would follow it because if they did many would die for lack of work, income and food. You cannot wave a magic wand and demand that people take on major costs if the majority of people are not already able to bear the cost. Government regulations have a damaging effect to be sure, but it is primarily on people at the fringes of the economy—the poorest.

Government fire codes receive the credit for reducing fires, when in reality it is economic growth that makes people wealthy enough to spend money on safer construction. The codes come after the fact and claim the credit.

Assumption 2: Irrational Consumers

The idea that government fire codes reduce fires also assumes that, absent such codes, people would not protect themselves from fire. Are people so short-sighted that they would not think to protect their own property if the government didn't force them to?

It is in everyone's interest to protect their property from catastrophe like fire, and as such the vast majority of people do. Insurance is a common way to do so, but people also seek safe construction and other assurances against disaster. In fact, insurance companies have a tremendous incentive to only insure buildings with good fire prevention techniques in the first place (except when, as is not uncommon, the government interferes and prohibits insurers from placing stipulations on policies).

It can hardly be granted that people are too foolish to protect their own property from fire damage at all, so maybe it is assumed that people will merely protect their property at a minimum level and not "enough" without being forced to. But what is "enough?"

Assumption 3: Less Fire is Better

Fires are on the decline, and this is universally good, right? Not necessarily. Economist Steve Horwitz gives a question to his students that goes something like this: If a massive earthquake hit a city, what would be the economically optimal number of buildings destroyed? The answer: greater than zero.

How could that be? We all know destruction is not good for the economy (everyone, perhaps, except Paul Krugman). Consider that the cost of making the least valuable shanty in town entirely earthquake-proof is probably more than the value of the building itself. The same goes for fires. Not all structures are of equal value, and not all structures have equal risk of burning down. Because of this, it makes sense that people will have different risk preferences when it comes to protecting their property.

If I own a pole barn full of ice far away from any other buildings or woods, I am unlikely to invest in sophisticated fire prevention or suppression technology (unless compelled by the state), whereas a fancy condo owner in a downtown location is far more likely to pay for the best of the best. It's easy to see how silly it would be to mandate that every single structure be built to withstand F5 tornadoes, category five hurricanes, massive floods and epic earthquakes. The same principle applies to lesser degrees of protection. For many structures, government fire codes are not worth it and the risk of a fire is lower than the cost of prevention. For others, government codes are not nearly sufficient and much more stringent precautions are in order.

The problem with government codes is that they are blunt and uniform and force everyone into the same mold, squelching innovation and disallowing the kind of marginal risk assessment that conserves resources. Not only are less valuable structures forced to overprotect, but often government codes are so widely accepted that more valuable structures are perceived to be sufficiently protected if they meet government standards, when in fact they may be better off with more.

Assumption 4: Irrational Politicians and All-knowing Bureaucrats

For fire codes to be the cause of enhanced safety it would require irrational political actors. Elected officials and bureaucrats would have to act not in their own rational self-interest, but on behalf of the public at large. To choose just the right amount of fire protection and just the right technologies to supply it requires not only a denial of potential individual profit (by cozy deals with some companies, etc.), but also a superhuman knowledge of what kind of construction everyone needs in every situation.

In reality we see that "rent-seeking" is prevalent everywhere the government intervenes—indeed, it could not be otherwise. How is a politician to choose the physical properties that must be present in caulk used between drywall and copper piping in a commercial building? Without the expertise they—or a wide array of public agencies—must rely on the information provided by competing companies. If it all sounds the same, do you think the company that donates to the right political campaigns might get an advantage? It is a fairy tale to imagine political actors wise and selfless enough to pick exactly the right amount and type of fire protection for every application. Every time they do pick, it reduces the options available to consumers and stunts the discovery procedures of the market in finding the best methods.

Assumption 5: The Government Did It

A final assumption is that the codes and norms of fire safety are, in fact, created by the government. In our discussion my friend mentioned government fire codes but also added a, "Thanks to UL." UL is Underwriters Laboratory, a non-government organization that certifies goods for safety. They have built up quite a reputation in the marketplace and are highly trusted. (So much so that one professor has taken to chewing on UL certified power cords to prove how safe they are!)

It is often assumed that the order we see around us is the result of a government mandate—after all, mandates do exist for almost everything. But more often than people realize there are private entities and institutions doing the heavy lifting—UL is just one of them. There is a market demand for fire codes, and the market supply is far more complex, subtle, efficient and diverse than a government could ever be.

Conclusion

It is easy to assume government ought to get the credit for a great many life improvements. After all, government agents are constantly taking any opportunity to claim credit for everything under the sun, and to pass laws and regulations that demand certain improvements, whether or not they already exist. The existence of indecent exposure laws is not what keeps me from running naked through the shopping mall, and such laws shouldn't be credited with my propriety. It's naïve to assume that fire codes are the cause of a safer society, not merely a reflection of it.

Laws are less powerful than we think they are.

What if ‘The Least of These’ are Criminals?


Nearly every religious and ethical system places a high value on helping those who need it most - those who can do little to help themselves, and who have fewest opportunities, and fewest advocates.  But who are "the least of these"?

People who feel a calling to help the down-and-out often work in cancer research, the Red Cross, international humanitarian organizations, or soup kitchens.  These are all noble efforts.  But in a way, these are the easy targets, and the ones who get the most attention from charity workers.  There are other individuals who actually have significantly less access to assistance, and who are more consistently abused and taken advantage of.

Who are "the least of these"?  Illegal immigrants.  Drug dealers.  Prostitutes.  Felons.  Those accused of crimes who are assigned a public defender.  It is these members of society who are most consistently abused, and who have nowhere to turn and no one who thinks them worthy of assistance. They are in the most difficult position of all, precisely because they are not all wonderful, innocent people.  Some of them might be scoundrels, though innocent of whatever particular charges they face.  Some of them may be decent people.  No one knows, and they rarely get a chance at a fair hearing.  All the incentives are against them.  Law enforcement and prosecutors pad their stats and claim they're making the world safer by abusing and locking them up.  Public defenders have no incentive to prove them innocent.  The general public assumes that because they seem less than trustworthy in some things, or because they've broken the law, they're probably guilty of whatever they're accused of and deserving of whatever punishment.  Who would stick their neck out for them?

Working with cancer patients or the innocent poor of the third world is not only fulfilling for many people, but it also makes them look good in the eyes of the public.  But helping accused criminals, drug dealers, prostitutes or illegal immigrants might destroy your reputation.  It's relatively easy to help people who are seen as good people on hard times.  But what about risking your reputation to help the seedier members of society who are on the wrong side of the law?

What if you told me your one passion in life was to help those least able to help themselves: What if I told you the way to do the most good for those that most need it was to help illegal immigrants avoid harassment by state officials, or to fund legal defense for those accused of crimes who are given a public defender?  Would you do it?

I don't think anyone is obligated to take a career helping others.  Nor do I think charity efforts are the only or best way to help others.  Indeed, producing, creating and exchanging in the free market, and cultivating the ideas of freedom to do so are more powerful in the long run than all these efforts.  But for those who feel the most fulfillment helping the least of these in the short term, it may be worthwhile to consider deeply who the least are.  Yes, it is a subjective evaluation - a rich and famous person without a friend may be desperately needy.  I am not claiming we can know in any objective sense who are the least.  But we might try expanding our paradigm.

Consider those labelled scoundrels.  Consider those called criminals.  Jesus risked his reputation by hanging out with the unclean riff-raff of society.  Not just the noble poor, but the prostitutes.  He didn't care that the law condemned them to death.  He dealt with them on their merits as human beings, not their status in the man-made legal system.

Most assistance efforts have a non-criminal record as a precondition to receiving help.  Maybe that blocks the very people who need the most help from getting it.  The laws of man do not determine who is and is not worthy of help.  Don't let them distract you from offering it.

The Seduction of Guarantees


We want guarantees in life.  We are risk-reducing creatures who want to plan and plot and know as much in advance as possible.  We want tight and definite parameters around the possible outcomes of our actions and our world.  Whether we like it or not, they don't exist.  Still, we persist in fabricating them and acting offended when people acknowledge the impossibility of our desired guarantees.

I recently heard two libertarian philosophers discussing social justice.  One made the case that social justice is a good goal, and that it is congruent with liberty because a truly free society results in the best-case scenario for the least well-off; something even John Rawls would approve of.  He said free-marketers should proudly fight for social justice and remind the world that a free economy will improve the absolute conditions of the poor more than anything else.

The other philosopher responded by saying the world is awash in guarantees   We are not suffering for want of guarantees, but for want of opportunity.  He said guarantees create expectations; when these are not met, they result in complaints, frustration, blame and disillusionment.  We needn't coddle the unrealistic desire for a sure thing, but encourage an embrace of the risk and uncertainty in life and the courage to create and try even when the end results are unknown.

Even if it is true that free-markets result in better lives for the poor, is it really helpful to make the case for freedom to specific individuals as one that promises this?  To say that freedom will make you better off is appealing to everyone, because everyone wants a guarantee.  And it is correct in a general sense.  But the truth is no system - not a free society or a totalitarian one - can guarantee a specific outcome to specific individuals.  Will markets produce better results than interventionism?  You bet.  But can either system promise what will happen to each individual?  No way.  To hinge the case for liberty on guarantees is to utilize the same false advertising tyrants have been using since time immemorial.

Liberty is beautiful.  It promises nothing but the freedom to be, to act, to try, to create, to produce.  It does not promise what effects will follow cause, only that cause will be unimpeded so long as it does not impede anyone else.  The desire for a guarantee is the very desire that causes people to tolerate and advocate their own enslavement.  This desire itself is dangerous.  Better to disabuse oneself of the myth of a guarantee.

Anyone who's done sales knows the danger of relying on expected results instead of actual results.  Don't count the money until the check clears.  If you cultivate a guarantee loving mindset, you'll find yourself bitter at all the unrealized expectations in life.  You will feel as though everyone, society, the system, or reality itself is your enemy.  Really, by choosing to accept the unreality of guarantees, it is you who have made yourself the enemy of what is.  Why?  It accomplishes nothing but to stunt your own creative and cooperative capacity and replace it with an adversarial outlook towards your fellow man.

The world is uncertain.  We seek to make the most out of it and eliminate hardships, but every course of action only brings probabilities of success, not guarantees.  That's OK.  In fact, it's wonderful once we make our peace with it.  Stop debating which ideas can guarantee what, and embrace the fact that guarantees are a serum that slows us down from acting to achieve our ends.  After all, it is the process of seeking just as much as the ends we seek that brings fulfillment   Guarantees put all the emphasis on the sought, and none on the seeking.  Even if our ends are realized, this mindset deprives us of half the joy.

I am not making the case that freedom ought only to be embraced because it's "right"; far from it.  Freedom will produce better outcomes than statism, and this is the best reason to advocate it.  But what those outcomes are specifically, and how the manifest in each individual's life is unknown, just as the results of statisms deprivations and favors are unknown.  What is knowable is the fact that freedom produces an outcome for every individual that no system of control and dependency ever could; but it is not an external or material outcome.  It is a sense of pride, of life, of self-worth that is impossible in a system built on false guarantees and dispensations from authorities.  The freedom to experience the effects of one's cause, regardless of whether it is for good or ill, produces a sturdiness and fullness that humans need to be fully human.  The dignity of uncertain freedom is orders of magnitude greater for the human soul than the patronizing promises of central planning.

Everything as a Joke


Sometimes things get too serious.  Subtle stresses build up, multiple to-do lists compound in the back of the mind, over-analysis creeps in, and the smallest misunderstandings or miscommunications cause deep consternation.

Most of us aren't working our fingers to the bone in the field anymore. Most of us have thinking jobs.  Sounds easy.  In many ways it is; I wouldn't trade it for a life of hard labor.  But it is taxing to think through every idea you encounter in a day, decide what's worth while and what needs to be discarded or altered, reformat it, repackage it, and transmit it to the appropriate party in the right tone.

If you work in a field all day, you know that you need to give your body sufficient rest between shifts.  You also need to give your body other forms of activity like sports or recreations.  It's not so different when your work is mental.  Your mind needs rest.  Your mind also needs other forms of recreation.  It needs to be engaged with the world in a way that is entirely different than what your daily work demands.

Humor is the best medicine for a worn-down mind that needs more than rest.  It allows you to fully engage your mind, but from a completely different angle.  It's like changing the view, or putting on a new pair of lenses that reveal an entirely different world in front of you.  It's a shock of fresh, cool water for a dehydrated brain.

Take a chunk of time to deliberately see everything as a joke.  Go scan your Facebook feed, the headlines, your RSS reader, your inbox, or your neighborhood.  Think of it all as hilarious.  You'll be surprised how often it actually is hilarious, but you failed to notice in serious mode.  Make fun of everything, laugh at everything, take nothing seriously.  It's a very powerful catharsis, and you might make some healthy discoveries in the process.

Reset Expectations


Think of a person you care about who perpetually frustrates you.  Now imagine you are just meeting them for the first time, right now, just as they are and just as you are.  Given what you learn about them - their strengths, weaknesses and peculiarities - and what you know about your own proclivities, what would your expectations be for the relationship?  I suspect it would differ greatly from the expectations to which you currently hold it.

We have different expectations for each relationship.  Oddly, those we care most about and those we've known the longest tend to be those who fail to meet our relational expectations most frequently.  We drag in a lot of our previous desires, their previous tendencies, and preferences and feelings we've grown beyond, but cling to because that's how we used to relate to those people.  It's helpful sometimes to release ourselves from this baggage.

Whatever efforts we've expended getting people to do what we want and be who we wish they were; whatever past disappointments we've met can be shed.  They are sunk costs.  They are irretrievable.  Don't color your present expectations with what's past.  Take a realistic look at those close to you and asses what they are capable of and what you are capable of in the relationship going forward.  Make that the expectation.

It's easy to get pulled in to the sunk cost fallacy in gambling and economic decisions.  Relationships aren't so different.

The Paradox of Survival


People who live the fullest lives have a loose grip on everything. They don't cling too tightly to relationships, possessions, health or life itself. They are free from mood-controlling fear and worry. They take the prospect of terminal illness or the loss of a job with ease, because they don't find their solace in their present material position relative to others, but in something deeper and more unshakable.

The ability to let go of things is useful in every arena of life. Let go of your kids rather than lamenting their choice of hobbies, or the fact that they grow and change. Let go of your fear of losing and put yourself into your sport with abandon. Let go of the desperation to be loved or else you are likely scare others away; to be less lovable. Let go of fear of death, and what life you have is richer.

All this freedom found in letting go, yet humans are programmed to seek their own survival above all else and against all odds. Are we to fight our own hard-wiring? And why are humans so universally inspired by stories of fighting cancer, fighting the odds, resisting the inertia of world, not giving up, not letting go? There is something noble and heroic about refusing to roll with the punches.

How can we square these competing approaches? If suffering from a serious sickness, is it best to let go of our fear of pain and death and find our zen, or should we fight the degradation of our bodies with every fiber?

Both.

There is a way to reconcile a loose grip on life with a refusal to let go of our dreams. I haven't mastered it. Few have. The space between freedom from worry over the vicissitudes of life, and intense focus on how to overcome them, is the place where greatness emerges. I've seen it in sports. Think about Michael Jordan playfully taunting his opponent at the free throw line. He was so free from the worry of missing the shot, or of embarrassment that he closed his eyes while shooting - a loose grip on the game. At the same time, he was so focused on dominating the game, being the best, and making the shot. Greatness.

The key is to hold on to what we have and keep climbing the obstacles that impede us to obtain what we want. The key is also to let go of what we have and be free from the fear of not obtaining what we want. Now all you have to do is both at the same time.

Happy Easter


Whether or not you follow any of the various religions that celebrate Easter, or other celebrations of rebirth and new life this time of year, there is beauty and power in the symbols that accompany the season.  The emergence from winter's death and dormancy; the wild, erratic, uneven surge of growth; the sights and sounds and smells are impossible to ignore.  Breath in the Spring air, let it fill your lungs, and contemplate the power of life, creativity and change over death, repression and stasis.

If you are so inclined, enjoy this post about the Christian tradition around this holiday, and what it has to remind about the life-giving power of freedom vs. the violence of political power.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the CEO of Crash, the career launch platform, and the founder of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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Football is Not a Physical Game


If I asked you to describe the essential features of football, I bet you'd say something about the physical, sometimes violent nature of the game.  I think you'd be wrong.

I'm (slowly) reading Chuck Klosterman's book, "But What If We're Wrong?" and thoroughly enjoying it.  There is much to say about the book and I hope to get into more of it in the next podcast episode.  But today I'm thinking about football.

I read a chapter last night about the future, or non-future, of football.  It's a great bit of analysis/speculation by Klosterman vs. Malcolm Gladwell on the probability of football existing 25 years from now.  I don't pretend to know the fate of football and find it equally likely that it dies off as thrives.  But there was one assumption embedded in the chapter that I think was wrong, and that might affect the way we analyze the future of the sport.

Football is not a physical game.

The book explores the sport's potential under the assumption that the key ingredient is a physical showcase and that's what people either love or hate about it.  I have no doubt that's what people hate about football, but I am highly skeptical that's what people love about it.

If viewers were in it for the physical aspects of the game then track & field would be hugely popular.  I can't think of a more purely physical spectacle than a foot race.  But no one watches foot races.  No one really watches power lifting or standing high jump either.  These are neat physical feats that might gain an occasional YouTube breakout if really extraordinary.  If football were essentially about the physical aspect we'd expect these other, often more extreme, physical activities to be equally beloved.  They're not because the physical is not the essential part of football.

The essential part of football is mental.

It's mental in two ways.  The most obvious is strategy.  Football fans love the complex, chess-like strategies in each play, possession, game, and season.  Every match-up involves coaches and players trying to outsmart each other with X's and O's.  It's a really nerdy game when you start to get into the strategy of it.

But that's just the first mental part, and I think the less important.  If this was the only way in which football was a mental game it would be fairly easy for software or robots or chess to replace it.  But strategy is only a small part of the essential mental aspect of football.

The other, less acknowledged way that football is a predominantly mental game is the individual and collective mental strength, emotional control, adaptability, and creativity required.  How to perform under high expectations vs. no expectations.  How to handle off-the-field distractions.  How to play when you're hated by fans or teammates.  How to succeed on a play after failing at it the previous three times.  How to battle a choker reputation.

That this mental aspect of the game is the essential feature is revealed in the way we talk about football.  Listen to the in-game commentators or sports radio the day after.  We say things like, "How will they respond to that touchdown drive?"  That's not a question of a physical response.  We know exactly what they'll do physically.  Run really fast in a slant pattern and put up their hands.  "Respond" is a mental word.  We're asking how they will handle the emotional toll of a turnover.  We discuss whether the QB has a short enough memory to not let it get to him.  We discuss whether or not a player can "win the locker room" not by physical prowess, but leadership qualities.  We love the game because it is an incredibly rich environment in which every conceivable emotional and mental state is experienced and each player must determine how to navigate the challenges inside their own heads.  We don't spend hours after the game discussing exactly how many inches a DB jumped to make an interception, but we do spend hours discussing how his constant trash talk got in the head of the slot receiver causing him to pull up short on his route.

As a poster child for the violent physical nature of the sport the book references fanatical coach Jim Harbaugh and his comments about football being the last bastion of masculine physicality.  But even Harbaugh is really all about the mental game.  Whether or not he believes football's real essence is physical, his success or failure as a coach will not be determined by how much his front line can bench press.  That's going to be roughly the same as his competitors.  It will be determined by how well they respond to his wild antics and tough guy persona.  Will it inspire them and create the conditions for mental toughness, or will it patronize and annoy them and create mutiny?  That's what everyone is watching Harbaugh to see.  That's what his fans and detractors are discussing.

All physical activities have a mental component, but the degree can differ greatly.  We love football because of its astronomically high degree of mental complexity.  This is why soccer, though vastly more accessible, cannot replace football.  It involves strategy (though much less) and mental challenges, but far less diversity and complexity in its situations.  This is why golf is more popular than power-lifting.  The former has a more complex set of mental challenges because it's not just a single feat repeated, but a series of diverse shots in different conditions with different expectations.

If you accept my argument that football's essence is mental, not physical, and its core value to consumers is the mental game rather than the speed or violence, what does it mean for the future of the sport?  I'm not sure.  But I think it can help separate the popularity of the sport as a whole from the increasing worry about the violent aspects of it.  It should help us gain clarity as we speculate about what, if anything, might replace football as we know it.  Whatever it is, it can't just be simulated physical play, or pure strategy.  The demand for a complex combination of strategy and mental agility is large, and if football is to die off some day something equally mentally and emotionally challenging has to fill the void.


PS - The book cites an overall decline in rates of youth participation not just in football, but in all the major organized sports and attributes this to changing values and interests and the emergence of video games.  That may be the cause, but another possible contributor I've not heard mentioned is increased specialization.  As these sports grow in money and sophistication, players become more specialized.  That means by age 10 if you're not pretty serious about a sport it's harder to join a league than it used to be.  It could be that the casual, recreational participation in sports leagues has fallen while the number of serious specialists has grown.

75 – How to Learn Anything, with Chuck Grimmett


To specialize or to generalize, that is the question - which I asked Chuck Grimmett, a web developer during the day and solver of interesting problems in creative ways during the night.

Chuck likes to dabble in many things while searching for might be interesting, and has an unique approach to learning which entails the importance of projects wih quick, tangible turnaround.

Check out Chuck's projects at cagrimmett.com and his awesome food and drink recipes at cooklikechuck.com.

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

Here’s What We’ve Done in the First Three Years of Praxis


In just two weeks it will mark three years from the day the first Praxis website went live and the first person applied for the program.  It seemed a good time to give a longish recap on what we’re all about, what we’ve been building, and what it’s resulted in so far.

This includes bits of blog posts and updates written over the past few years that reflect the deepest, most important and enduring reasons why we do what we do.

We started with nothing but an idea so powerful it demanded action.  Action is scary.  Action is unknown.  Action is prone to failure and accountable to results.  Action can be nitpicked and potshotted.  Action is also the only way to turn ideas into a powerful force for change.

We didn't start with a pristine plan or perfect path to execution.  We started with a dogged, enthusiastic commitment to create something new and bold and big to change lives and life itself.

We didn’t start Praxis because we think college is bad, or because we want to convince people it is.  We didn’t start it to be hip and trendy and “disruptive”.  We didn’t start it because we want to point out problems with the world.  We started it because we want to create value for individuals.

There are a lot of young people hungry for valuable experiences and not finding them.  There are a lot of young people unhappy with the education, career, and life options they see before them, searching for something more.  Praxis exists for you.

Praxis is more than a program or a company to me.  It’s the embodiment of a mindset and a way of life.  It is a tangible way to help people live free, self-directed lives.  It’s a community and a set of resources and ideas and businesses and participants built around the understanding that no conveyor belt can lead you to the life you want, and no structure you don’t choose and create yourself will bring you fulfillment.

Praxis is a concrete opportunity, not a vague notion.  It offers an interesting, challenging, amazing job and an interesting, challenging, amazing self-guided educational experience, all with a relentless focus on deliverable results.  It’s a recognition that your life will be determined by the quality of your product more than the pedigree of your paper.  It’s a way to remove the fear and doubt and strictures of the linear ladder to imagined success.  It’s a way to reveal and fan into flame the deep human love of adventure, play, possibility, and experimentation.

I don’t believe doing things you don’t like and hoping it leads to unspecified things you do like is a recipe for success.  Praxis pushes you to define what you don’t like and what you do, to learn what you’re good at and what you’re not, to identify definite outcomes you wish to achieve and definite causality between those outcomes and your desired next step.  Praxis does not ask you to learn things or perform tasks in the hope that it will get you work experience, we give you that work experience from the start.  You cannot separate learning from doing.

Praxis is a recognition that, wherever you get your paycheck, you are your own firm.  The future does not belong to those who follow orders, but those who solve problems with creativity.  The future belongs to entrepreneurs, whether founders or builders within firms.  Entrepreneurial thinking and acting cannot be learned from study, but must be practiced.  Praxis exists to put those eager to learn it into environments right now – not tomorrow, not after more study and certification – where they can be around and become entrepreneurs.

Praxis exists to offer a valuable service to young people who are searching for a way to build their confidence, skills, experience, network, and knowledge.  Praxis is built upon questions like, “Why not now?”, and “Why not me?”

Praxis is about that powerful combination of big picture dreamers and blue-collar doers.  It’s all the imagination of Silicon Valley startups with all the work-ethic of Midwestern small businesses.  It’s grit plus grind plus greatness.  Praxis is the realization that the most radical thing you can do is often the most practical, and that the most practical thing you can do is sometimes be radical.

Praxis is an idea.  The idea is simple.  Find the best way to get from where you are to where you want to be.  If we can help you do that better and faster with a great job that comes with a great education and community, jump in.  If not, we’ll still be rooting for you every step of the way.

We didn’t start Praxis to make enemies or to make friends.  We started it to create value.  We started it because the idea was so powerful we had no choice but to bring it into the world.  We started it because theorizing about ways young people could build their lives wasn’t enough.  We started it because it’s fun, fulfilling, and harder than anything I’ve ever done.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When we created Praxis we did it to fill a large and growing gap in the option set facing young people.  So many smart, ambitious, curious individuals are languishing in fluorescently-lit cinder-block classrooms.  Bored.  Racking up debt.  For no clear purpose.

The myth they are steeped in is that they have to do this.  There is no choice.  The options are presented: Be a loser, or sit around for 4-6 years at a cost of tens of thousands.

But the myth goes deeper.

The myth is that learning itself, and by extension self-improvement, are terrible, boring, passionless and must necessarily be enforced by bureaucrats and self-proclaimed authorities.  Your job, if you want to succeed in life (by who’s definition anyway?) is to follow the rules, memorize the disconnected facts, take the tests, pad the resume, apply for the jobs, and wait for the conveyor belt to drop you off at ‘normal’.

How depressing and frustrating this is to so many of the best and brightest.

We set out to cut through the crap.  We wanted these talented young people to stop waiting for real life and to jump into amazing work experiences at amazing companies eager for their help.  We wanted them to shatter the old paradigm of education and start fresh, like newborns do, exploring questions that matter to them, creating their own challenges and structure, diving into a rigorous self-improvement project.

The mindset is simple and powerful.  Awaken your inner entrepreneur.  You own your life.  You own your education.  You own your career.  You are the driving force in your own process of creation.  Do things for the results you value, not the hoops arbitrarily placed before you.

We wanted this entire life-shifting experience to take place in the span of a single year and for a net cost of zero.

I received this email from current Praxis participant Mitchell Earl.  It beautifully illustrates the mindset shift.

“If I had to estimate, I’d say I skipped class 2/3 of the time in college. I don’t sit still well. I couldn’t learn in that type of environment. I need to be stimulated. When I did go to class, I used to take the daily puzzles; either crosswords or sudokus because I needed something to direct my nervous energy toward if I was going to be forced to sit and listen to someone talk at me. I can’t even count the number of times I had a professor yank my newspaper away from me IN COLLEGE.

In my web design class, the syllabus alone put a burr under my saddle reading, “One absence is considered excessive for the course.” I redefined excessive. I turned in my work on time, but I refused to go sit in a classroom and be told how or what to code, design, or write. That’s not how I learn.

I didn’t and don’t want my work to be like grocery store milk, micro-filtered, ultra-pasteurized, standardized, and homogenized. For me to do my best work, I need to have the freedom to explore my creativity. Praxis has shown me that. It’s given me the freedom to explore my own needs as a learner. No one is yanking my puzzle away telling me to pay attention. No one is telling me how to learn. No one is shaming my individuality. With Praxis, I’m free to be me.”

Yes.  That’s exactly it Mitchell.  We set out to create more freedom.  To help you carve out a space, to break the other-imposed mold, and plot your own path to fulfillment as you define it.

Freedom isn’t easy.  It’s much harder work than just doing what everyone else wants and expects.  It takes a lot of deep, philosophical thinking.  It takes self-knowledge and self-honesty.  It takes discipline and hard work.  It takes tolerance of failure and the courage to put yourself in new situations, often over your head, and learn on the fly.  It takes the humility to be in environments where you’re not the smartest person in the room.  Your desire for personal growth must be strong enough to sustain these challenges.

Mitchell is tasting it.  So are our other participants and grads.  This is what we set out to do.  And we’re doing it.  One life at a time.

If you know anyone who sounds a lot like Mitchell was in school, give ’em a little nudge of encouragement to be free.  Remind them the dominant path isn’t the only one, and the best paths are the ones they’ll blaze themselves.  You can even send them my way and I’ll gladly talk with them about taking creative control of their education, career, and life, with or without Praxis.

Let’s awaken people’s dreams and increase the number of those who are truly living free.

Here’s the cool thing.  Praxis grads are kicking ass.  We have story after story of 17, 18, 20, 22, 25 year olds creating amazing results getting awesome jobs and blowing away their classroom bound peers.

What kind of results?

  • Praxis grads are all employed.
  • Their average salary is $50,287.
  • 100% said Praxis helped them achieve a better career and life.

Now entering our third year, we’ve taken an even more dramatic and direct approach to creating value.  We guarantee our graduates job offers at the startup where they get paid to apprentice.

We're growing every month in applications, participants, business partners, graduates, and most of all young people with an unleashed approach to life.

It’s about individuals, not aggregates and average data.  Still, if you want numbers, put it side by side with the typical path taken by most young people, pressured by parents and teachers who don’t bear the burden themselves:

Praxis

  • Length: 9 months
  • Cost: $12k tuition – $14,400 earnings during the program = ($2,400)
  • Debt: $0
  • Job after graduation: 100%
  • Min. starting salary: $40k ($50k is the average)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: $2,400 (in program) + $170,000 (min. pay, no raises for 4.25 years after graduation) = $172,400

College

  • Length: 5+ years on average
  • Cost: $100k (minimum)
  • Debt: $37k average
  • Job after graduation: ??? (82% of grads do not have a job lined up. 62% of degree holders have no job or a job that does not require a degree)
  • Opportunity cost: $172,400 (assuming you had done Praxis instead)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: -$37k debt -$172,400 opportunity cost = ($209,400)

We’re not done but just getting started.  We are relentlessly committed to creating value for our young customers.  We have to.  We are directly, immediately accountable to them.  That’s what the market does.  We wouldn’t want to be shielded from it.

You can love us or hate us or ignore us or join us.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters and what will always matter to us is helping those who want to act on their dreams and gain a massive head start on building a life they love.

That’s why we took this risk and created Praxis nearly three years ago.  That’s why we’ve weathered the storms and criticism and risk and pain.  That’s why we get excited about every amazing story and accomplishment by our participants and alumni.

Break the mold.

Isaac

74 – FwTK: This is a Shit Test


Sometimes you just have to realize what it is to pass it.

TK and I discuss the concept of "shit tests" and how interpreting disagreement and hate through this lens can keep you in your "zone of power" (TK's cheesy phrase).

Recommendations from the episode: Pulling Your Own Strings by Wayne Dyer, How to Deal With Nasty People by Jay Carter, Ego & Hubris: The Michael Malice Story by Harvey Pekar.

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

What If Someone Could Read You Articles Anytime?


I always have a backlog of posts and articles I want to read, but my eyes and my schedule can only fit so much screen-staring.

This is one of the reasons podcasts and audiobooks are so awesome.  I can get in a walk, a workout, or some other activity while listening to great ideas without needing to be at a screen or book in hand.

But lots of the content I love isn't in audiobook or podcast format.

What if it could be?  Instantly, cheaply, and read by real humans in an app or feed that lets me listen now or store for later?

It's called AudioThat and it's gearing up for a beta test.

My friends Zak Slayback and Chuck Grimmett are working on this project with me and we want some beta users to try the service for free so we can see what we've got here.

You can sign up at AudioThat.com or learn more in this Medium article.

Isaac Morehouse


Isaac Morehouse is the founder and CEO of Praxis, a startup apprenticeship program making degrees irrelevant for careers. Isaac is dedicated to the relentless pursuit of freedom. He’s written some books, done some podcasting, and is always experimenting with self-directed living and learning.

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