The Counter-Signal of a College Degree

A degree is a signal.

It became a useful artifact for hiring managers working with limited information to separate candidates likely to have greater conformity, persistence, and willingness to invest in themselves.

But times have changed. A degree no longer does a good job of signaling persistence and willingness to invest in oneself, while conformity isn’t a very desirable trait in the best modern jobs.

In fact, not having a degree is becoming a better signal of value than having one.

Let’s break down the attributes above one at a time.

Conformity

The ability to follow rules and plans and programs has been traditionally valued by employers, especially in factory-like settings or bureaucratic corporate structures.

In an age of nimble startups, creative tech companies, remote work, gig-work, and ever-shifting forms of collaboration, conformity is more of a red flag than desirable trait.

Those who must be handed a clear script and constantly directed struggle in this more dynamic world. Those unafraid to try, fail, explore, experiment, and problem-solve excel.

A degree signals that you can sit in classes and complete arbitrary assignments without deviating or innovating. It also signals that you took the easy path. Since all of society pushes relentlessly towards college, it takes little courage or creativity to do it.

Opting out, on the other hand, is bold. It requires confidence, willingness to endure questions and scorn, and it demands you create your own structure and plan. These are desirable traits for the best companies.

Persistence

Persistence is valuable to those hiring because they want to know that when the going gets tough, you won’t quit and require them to train someone new.

Though still a valuable trait, persistence means something different than it used to. The average employee spends a little less than a year in their first job. Companies can only fight this so much. Most don’t expect you to stick with them for life, or even half a decade. But they do expect you to not quit at the first sign of struggle.

A degree has limited and declining ability to signal persistence. For one, the average grad takes 6 years to get a 4-year degree, so the idea of a gritty grinder pushing through to the finish means less. For another, the college experience is less rigorous than once imagined. It doesn’t take much to get a degree in most programs, and employers have limited ability to see whether that degree was earned through persistence or was granted just cause you paid and sat in class.

More importantly, there are much more valuable ways to signal persistence.

I saw a LinkedIn post where a manager asked whether people would rather hire someone with a degree or someone who had run a marathon. Hundreds responded and it was a landslide for the marathoner.

Even committing to and completing a daily blogging challenge for 30 days signals more of the kind of persistence companies crave than sitting in a classroom for a few hours a day for four years.

Those who opt-out of college and instead intern, apprentice, or complete self-guided learning or projects have a stronger signal of persistence.

Willingness to invest in yourself

Employers want team members who gain value every day. Relentless learners. A willingness to think longer-term, and endure some short-term cost for longer-term payout is important.

College is costly, and has thus served as a proxy for willingness to invest in oneself. But the equation is shifting dramatically.

The availability of artificially easy credit for college means little short-term sacrifice is required of most students. In fact, they often have luxury dorms, fancy facilities, and all kinds of perks wrapped in to the un-spartan experience. They also get nothing but praise from society just for going, even if they goof off the whole time.

It is difficult to determine whether someone is willing to invest in themselves just because they went to college.

An opt-out who paid for a seminar, read books without being assigned them, did free-work as a means to shadow and learn, or spun up a personal website or created a podcast strongly signals self-investment.

The counter-signal

There is a reason top startup investors started explicitly looking for people who dropped out of college to invest in. The signal sent by a degree became negatively correlated with the traits needed to succeed as an entrepreneur, while the willingness to buck the trend and dropout signaled the right things.

Entrepreneurship is expanding. It’s not an approach only valuable to company founders anymore. It’s increasingly valued across every role and opportunity at the fastest growing companies.

Those who choose to do something better than college send a strong signal highly valued in the market.

They refuse to simply follow the crowd and hope for the best. They want more.

They are getting it.

Programs like Praxis, where young people learn professional skills then get placed in startups to apprentice, see 95% of graduates fully employed at the end of the program.

Meanwhile, only about half of degreed students are employed within six months of graduation, and over half of those in service jobs they could’ve gotten right out of high school.

Right now, the best way to stand out is to opt-out.

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Tiny Payments are a Big Deal

I’ve been interested in the possibilities of micro and nanopayments for several years, and recently have been diving deeper.

I’ve always found huge benefits in learning out loud, so I started sharing my thoughts in weekly videos and posts.

You can subscribe to Nanopay to join me on the journey!

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College is a Story; Tell a Better One

I’ve watched hundreds of young people launch incredible careers in top jobs at top companies making great money and loving what they do. I’ve seen them move to cities they love, build a life of meaning and independence, and become total rock stars in their field.

They’ve done this with no college degree; many times winning jobs that “require” one, and going on to hire and manage indebted, degreed peers who are four to five years behind them in the professional world and struggling.

Despite this success and self-actualization, there is one area they struggle with for the first few years, sometimes longer: explaining themselves to their family.

Friends and family rarely have the attention to learn what Product Management is, what your company does, why you’re so good at it, or the future opportunities your network is making possible. Those are individual pieces of your life and they don’t know how to put them together.

They want a story. A quick, easy to understand story.

In fact, an incorrect, inaccurate story told about a person who’s struggling will usually make them more comfortable than disparate facts about your success if not packaged neatly into a story they can understand.

College is a story.

It’s an accepted story. It’s an easy story. It’s a story that makes people feel good about you. The story goes, you went to college, so you are doing well. You’re succeeding, you’re a good person, you are happy, you are OK.

This story is so embedded in the subconscious of the culture that people will ignore any number of facts that fly in its face.

You can be depressed, aimless, angry, in debt, clueless, frustrated, unemployed, unhappy, and sleepwalking through a life you barely tolerate. That doesn’t matter. If you went to college, that simple story is all people see.

“Good for you!”

“Congrats!”

“So proud!”

No one has an answer for, “Now what?”, nor a reason why they are so happy about the college story. They are programmed to be, and it’s very difficult to question or rewrite that programming.

If you deviate from the story, they wonder and worry. They can’t easily check the mental “success” box.

The solution isn’t to fight with them and try to convince them out of it, the solution is to package the path you took into a better story!

And it IS a better story. If for no other reason than that you wrote it yourself, instead of accepting a stodgy story society foisted on you and simply playing out the script.

Your story is uniquely you, full of purpose, adventure, challenges overcome, battles won, confidence gained, and successes earned.

It’s not always easy to package your path into a neat, easily digestible story. But the process will not only help others, it will help you see things and appreciate your own life more.

Instead of, “I’m not going to college” (heard as, “I have no story”), try, “I’m going into an apprenticeship”, or, “I went to the pros straight out of high school, like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James”, or, “I’m doing an elite bootcamp to fast-track me into a startup“, or, “I’ve crafted an intensive curriculum to go directly into what I want to do”.

If you can label or name your story something quick and catchy, it helps. But in the very least, put together a basic pitch that conveys you are not merely opting out of the dominant story, you are actively creating a better one.

Oh, and even if you went to college, you’d better start building a better story. Your parents may be satisfied with it, but the college story doesn’t do much for you on the job market these days.

If your degree is the most interesting thing about you, you’re gonna struggle, even if your mom is proud.

Go start writing a great story and learning how to tell it!

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Interview with Tucker Carlson

Tucker Carlson brought me on for a full hour interview about the value of college, my own life story, the companies I’ve built, and a lot more.

It was really fun! It can be viewed in it’s entirety on Fox Nation, but it requires a subscription. Link here.

Below is a short 2 min clip from the interview that someone shared on Twitter.

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Replacing the College Social Scene

It has become more understood in the last decade that college is not a single good, but a bundle of goods. The bundle includes:

  • Conveyance of information
  • Social experience
  • Signal of employability
  • Guidance on starting a career
  • Sports and clubs and activities
  • Low-stakes environment to begin life away from home

Many of these are an awkward fit, and being served up by the same bureaucratic, subsidized, ideologically crazy institutions results in some pretty strange things. Not to mention absurdly high costs.

Only one item in this bundle drives the cost and keeps college alive: the signal of employability.

That is easily proven by the fact that you could move to a college town and do all the rest for free without registering or paying tuition. But nobody does. They are buying that piece of paper that is supposed to be a ticket to a job. The other items in the bundle are bonuses they enjoy, and ways to compare and choose between competing institutions, since all similar tiered schools offer the same paper signal.

For that reason, alternatives have popped up to address the employability signal in the bundle. Bootcamps and apprenticeships have proliferated, and met with great results. It turns out that job-specific learning, real world projects, and work in companies is a vastly superior signal of employability. Post-graduation employment rates prove this out. (Hovering at 50% for college, and 95% for programs like Praxis.)

They also gain vastly superior guidance on starting a career, and conveyance of information in the areas covered by the bootcamp.

Those who realize how poorly college sets them up for career success choose alternatives and win.

But what about the other items in the bundle?

Better career-prep programs are often remote. This doesn’t mean there is no social element. I know from my experience building Praxis that there is definitely a social experience – ask any participants or alumni – but it does not fully address that item in the bundle as compared to a physical campus and the sports, clubs, and living environment items that come with it.

How might those items in the bundle be better served, now that the main value prop of college has been replaced with something better?

I love to imagine and see things unfolding in this space.

Within the first year of Praxis, we began to see clusters of participants in certain cities. Many of them self-coalesced into communities complete with the clubs, hangouts, apartments, and other campus-like experiences. This has steadily grown and now there are a handful of cities with a sizable and vibrant Praxian community.

This kind of spontaneous cluster community happens for many programs and shared interests. Go find a Crossfit gym or Bitcoin meetup in any city and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s cool about it is that it is both geographically bound in real life, and flexible and mobile. If you’re plugged into these communities in one city, you can hop to another and stay plugged in with the group there. The activity isn’t bound to the academic calendar either.

I suspect the next step in the evolution of these communities is something of a hybrid between a college campus and a co-working space + apartment + gym membership.

In fact, I sometimes browse for failed colleges that are selling their campuses and envision community models for those smart enough to skip school.

Imagine a lovely campus from a defunct liberal arts school. You pay a monthly membership fee to have a dorm/apartment, access to rec center, food, wifi, library, work areas, rooms for activities or classes offered by community members, sports clubs, etc. Filled with students and young professionals (a horrible disservice to both to draw a stark line between them btw) who are enrolled in programs like Praxis or other bootcamps, code schools, interning, apprenticing, or working early in their career.

Imagine if that membership is good at the entire network of campuses, so you could spend two months in one city, three in the next, etc.

As learning and working become more flexible, remote, and tailored to the individual, it’s easy to feel we’re losing any sense of physical, in-person community. It needn’t be so!

The beauty of the unbundling is that these services can be much better, cheaper, and more diverse than when they are shackled to the university.

There’s no need to wait. You can begin building your own bundle even now!

Determine the best ways to learn things you want to learn. The best ways to become more employable and advance your career. The best ways to gain new friends and experiences. Create clubs and communities and tailor life to your needs. Don’t assume all of these things must come in the same package.

The more individuals do this and share this and find each other, the more new social experiences vastly superior to the old frat houses will emerge.

It has already begun.

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Tiny Payments

Gonna try to do a short video every week or so exploring the possibilities opened up by micro+nanopayments. Purely for my own fun, enjoyment, and education.

Here’s the first edition (also on the Isaac Morehouse Podcast):

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It’s Never Been More Important to Skip College

Universities are dying.

They have long ceased being the best way to gain knowledge.

More recently, the degrees they confer have ceased being the best way to signal employability; the only exception being jobs that legally require them. (Such jobs are increasingly stodgy, unattractive, bureaucratic, backwards, and subservient to tyrannical governments).

The final leg universities stand on is the mythology of social status. That’s it. That’s what gives them what waning power they have.

I can’t count the number of parents I’ve talked with who recognize that college is one of the worst places to learn and degrees are one of the weakest ways to try to get hired, but who still needlessly bite the bullet and send their kid anyway.

Often, they shackle themselves or their children to tens of thousands in debt along the way. They despise the infantilizing policies on campus and bitter ideas in the classroom. They see the waste, corruption, stupidity, warped worldview, and bad habits cultivated and rewarded by the system.

But they still send their kids.

Why?

Because they value the decaying social status indicator of a degree. They want a shortcut to communicate to the world that they are good parents and their kids are better than most.

Even when they know the college experience is not good for their kids, many go through with it because they panic. They don’t know how to face other parents who ask what their kids are doing. They don’t know how to deal with the social expectation among the masses that college is somehow respectable.

I can think of few things less respectable than unthinkingly going into debt to spend half a decade drinking and begrudgingly completing meaningless assignments for professors detached from the world all so you can emerge with a piece of paper that does nothing to help you start a career and mindsets that make success harder.

This doesn’t mean it’s not possible for the college experience to be good or valuable or any of those things. The point is, almost no one seriously analyzes it. Almost no one sets out specific goals, examines the various ways to achieve them, and compares college to the relevant alternatives. Because only college confers the social praise of the self-appointed “important people”.

The priests of our cultural religion teach that you are not important without a degree. It’s the equivalent of a blue checkmark on Twitter. A self-serious symbol that turns out to be a better indicator of who is a fool or apologist for tyrants than who’s a serious person.

As easy as it is to see the foolishness of university degrees as a status symbol from a distance, the spell the priests have cast over the past half century remains powerful. Even for those who should know better.

A college degree does not make you serious, important, or special in any way. It only proves that you were willing to follow the crowd. A dangerous prospect, especially lately.

Now, universities are extending their absurdities to the bodily autonomy of their students. They are forcing students to cover their faces, swab their noses, present medical papers, or get injected with crony corporate concoctions they know little about. They are belittled and harassed in the process. The few social joys of campus life are reduced, while tuition is increased.

Now is the time to pull the last leg out from under the zombie corpse of college.

Now is the time to break the spell cast by its priests and reject the idea that degrees make you matter.

Now is the time to courageously unleash human creativity and imagination and engage in alternative educational, social, and career experiences.

There is a war for the mind. A war of information. A war for control of human societies and cultures. This war requires you to believe the priests and accept the idea that The Ivory Tower is more important than you, and those they slap a stamp of approval on more important than those who bypass the madness.

The tyrannical individuals, policies, and beliefs crippling the world today emanate from universities and the sphere of influence they enjoy. They continue to take your money and weaken young minds all while using their undue influence to make your life worse.

Don’t accept it. Don’t allow it.

You can overcome the pernicious influence of “experts” by simply ignoring them and refusing to give them your money, attention, and children.

Institutional paper doesn’t matter. The life, ideas, and actions of individuals humans do.

You are free to pursue life, learning, and career any way you choose, investing your time, money, and energy anywhere you wish. Do you want to empower the system that wishes to enslave you, or do you want to blaze a trail of freedom and show the world a better way?

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Always Anchoring in What Matters

It can be hard to keep connected to the purpose of your daily actions. For me, the reason we keep grinding at Crash.co is all about our mission:

To help people discover and do what makes them come alive.

This mission is near and dear to my heart, and animates both Praxis and Crash, the two companies I started around it.

It also anchors into an even deeper mission; that of my own life.

My personal mission is to make people free (starting with myself). Freedom has been my animating principle my entire life, and this mission became explicitly clear when I was around 20 or so.

I strive every day to make myself as free as possible and to help others live free. Freedom is not only a political concept, though that is a major part of it. It begins in the mind.

A mindset of freedom, ownership, and agency unshackles people from guilt, shame, fear, status-chasing, compliance, thoughtless following, and listlessness. That mindset is formed by experiences more than through ideas, though both matter. Most people have been conditioned into accepting an unfree world, starting with school and cementing itself in career.

I want to bust that to bits.

Praxis helps people escape the college debt and mindset trap and realize what they can do when they take charge instead of following norms.

Crash grew out of that as an effort to reach a much larger audience with a much smaller piece of the freedom puzzle. If we can help people realize just a little bit of the power they have at that crucial moment when they are trying to find a job, we can increase the freedom in the world.

If we can wake people up just a little bit with a mindset of ownership, the compounding effect is massive. Going from feeling dead inside in your job or on your job hunt – assuming it’s all just luck and you live at the whims of some resume-scanning HR software – to feeling just a bit more alive has the power to change the workforce and the world.

Individuals who see, for the first time, that they can be alive and find work that makes them alive are individuals who are harder to shackle and enslave. A world full of such people is a freer world.

Drops on a rock, wearing away little by little.

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You Are the Answer to Every Problem

“How do we make the world a better place?”

Make yourself a better person.

“How do we expand freedom?”

Make yourself more free.

“How do we improve people’s habits and health?”

Kill your bad habits and get healthier every day.

“How do we spread truth and light?”

Always tell the truth and purge darkness from your life.

“How do we encourage courage and virtue?”

Pay the price for doing what’s right.

How do we improve education?”

Push yourself to learn every day.

“How can we improve families?”

Improve your family.

“How can we curb misinformation and programming?”

Never follow the news.

‘We’ is nothing. You are the only thing.

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Give It Away

I’ve never found a funk that doesn’t snap with giving.

Just giving away goodness, value, joy, or any part of myself without any need or expectation of return works a transformation in me. It pulls me out of myself. I pour myself out until empty.

Then guess what?

I get filled again.

Conserving what I have like a cup of stagnant water is absurd once I’m reminded that there’s a spring of life that refills everything I pour out.

Sounds so stupid and cliché. But it literally never fails for me. The key, however, is truly giving with an undivided heart.

Giving while holding something back, or telling yourself you’re giving all when you’re not, or giving while wishing you weren’t are recipes for destruction. (Ask Ananias and Sapphira.) Bette to not give at all if the giving is free, open, full, and genuine.

But giving with abandon – giving as a way of being – just blows the lid off all the self-pity, frustration, stagnation, and joylessness in life.

Why I have to consciously re-adopt this mindset every day even after learning so many times I’ll never know. But that’s why I write about stuff; to help cement it into my small brain!

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The Deep Magic

It breaks through every iron gate

And shackles of the law

It won’t be held by iron fist

Nor coaxed with velvet paw

No tide too great to stand against

Nor fire too hot to quell

It burns with fire the fire that burns

And floods out flood with swell

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Strength in Weakness

I remember when my good friend TK Coleman started his first daily blogging challenge. He had a medical emergency and was in a hospital bed but he still managed to publish a post that day.

Those are the most powerful posts. Not because the content or style are better. They’re usually worse. They are powerful because one of the greatest strengths is being able to act when you’re weak.

Each act has two sources of power: the strength of what the act is, and the strength in the fact that you acted at all.

Posting a few paragraphs to a blog is not a very powerful thing in itself. But keeping a commitment in the midst of physical illness is.

The fact that you are weak and unable to bring strength to an act only opens more opportunity to increase the power of the fact that you acted at all.

There’s what you do. When conditions are great you can do more. Then there’s what you do with what you have. You can always choose to do the most given the constraints.

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Sub-Creation

When creator’s block comes, it can be helpful to re-think what creating is.

J.R.R. Tolkien called all acts of creation, other than the initial one by God, ‘sub-creation’. Only the uncreated Creator brought something out of nothing. After that, all of our acts are utilizing things already in existence.

We are discovering, rethinking, using in new ways, re-arranging, combining, unbundling, and re-ordering bits of creation. Remembering this can take some of the cognitive burden off of creating.

Find some stuff that’s out there in the universe. Pick up little shards of reality and forge them into something new.

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Humans and Screens

Our relationship with screens is very young.

It’s only been a hundred years since we began using them. It’s only been a decade since we have them on ourselves 24/7 and most jobs require them at least many times a day.

We’re just learning the ways they change us. Blue light impacts our circadian rhythm. EMFs impact us in ways barely known. Dopamine addiction alters our psychology. Staring and typing affects our posture.

I suspect humans in the future will look at people in the first half of the twenty-first century as a bit crazy and unwise in their screen habits.

We’ll learn ways to better integrate our lives with this technology to maximize benefit and reduce harm.

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