What I Do When I Don’t Know What to Write

I just returned from a work+family road trip full of mini mishaps and adventures.  I’m behind on tasks, my inbox isn’t empty (which is like hell for me), I’ve come down with a cold, and I’m kind of grumpy.

But I have to write.  I have five writing projects now on my plate, plus my daily blog post.  I’m out of ideas.  And I love it.

I love it because I have learned what it means.  I know what it will do for me.  It will sharpen my mind, speed up my work, enhance my productivity, and overall make me feel like a badass who can do anything.  That’s what writing does for me and why I do it every day.  I know I can overcome this because I’ve done it before.

A little trick that helps me and came to my rescue today is the interview.  Ask other people to ask you questions and write in response to those.  It works wonders.

In fact, I was just asked to write a piece for a publication this morning (project #5) and I thought, “This is the worst time to be asked.  I’ve already got four other things to write and I’m not feeling it.”  I half punted.  I said if they really need me to give me some ideas.  I got an email response with three article ideas.  It worked.  Each one immediately filled my imagination to the point where the new challenge was writing just one article.

That also led indirectly to getting today’s blog post done.  Why not blog about this very process which has worked so many times to help me overcome creative blockage?

We all have tons of ideas floating around our brains.  The thing is, we’re not always the best equipped to extract them.  Sometimes we need someone else to tell us where to look.

If you get good enough you might eventually be able to pose good questions to yourself and not even need to reach out to a friend.

When Chasing Your Dream Ends Up Sucking

Join the other supporters of the KickStarter campaign to launch and publish the book!

One of the most interesting chapters in “Why Haven’t You Read This Book?” is by Courtney Derr about her adventure with her husband traveling the globe, primarily by motorcycle.

Courtney and H.J. had an itch they’d wanted to scratch for many years, but both were stuck in the 9-5 grind with jobs too good to give up.  The timing was never right.  Instead of waiting and hoping and delaying, or demanding a perfect list of justifications to go chase their traveling dream, they said, “Why not just do it now?”

So they did.

They saved up their money, quit their jobs, and set out to explore parts unknown.  Courtney’s a great writer and there’s no way to do justice to the narrative she shares in the chapter.  The ups, downs, twists, and turns are entertaining and inspiring.  But the thing that most sticks out about the chapter is this:  They didn’t enjoy probably the majority of their trip.

They ended it sooner than planned and had plenty of bad weather, motorcycle and emotional breakdowns, and all the other downsides experienced by anyone on a long road trip multiplied many times.  Rudeness, safety concerns, language barriers, food sickness, and many more travails.

This chapter was a really important one to include in the book because this is not a book about rose colored glasses and berainbowed cat poster motivation.  It’s about taking charge of your life.  One of the things that happens when you choose to “do you” instead of succumb to status quo pressure is that you reap the rewards.  One of the other things that happens is that you own the downsides too.

Despite the less than glamorous aspects of the story, Courtney and her husband do not regret their decision.  Part of self-exploration is realizing that you’re different than you assumed.  Your tastes, preferences, pain and risk tolerance may not be fully found out.  The thing is, you can’t really know yourself by reflection alone.  You’ve got to act on your desires, dreams, and hunches.

Had they not journeyed out into the wild they would have enjoyed life less back home.  They would always have a fallback to play the blame game and claim their struggles or unhappiness were because they were never able to travel like they wanted.  They would always wonder if they were missing something big.

Now they have a bunch of memories, some great, and some tough (though the tough ones begin to turn great over time too), and the clear knowledge of what the traveling experience is like and to what extent it can and cannot give them the life they desire.

You can’t trade that.

Check out the chapter, “Why Haven’t You Traveled the World” by supporting the campaign and claiming your copy of the book.

You won’t know until you try!

You can also learn more at their great website, www.wanderrlust.com

‘Will a Good School Accept Me?’

I answered a question on Quora (well, I guess I didn’t really answer the question, but spoke to the ideas behind it) about getting into a top university without straight A’s.  You can read the question here.


First and foremost, don’t stress.  This won’t make or break your life.

I don’t know what those institutions require for admission but I have another idea: don’t spend your time trying to get approval and acceptance from academic institutions but instead go create value for yourself and the world.

Our world is awash in official accolades and credentials and padded resumes.  You’ll realize when you get into the world outside the education bubble none of that matters much for value creation and personal fulfillment.

Identify what you want in life, identify the obstacles to getting it, and create challenges and habits to help you overcome those obstacles.  All of this can be done without the official sanction of formal institutions.

If what you want is to be a professor or to work within academia, then of course that’s the way to go.  Or if you simply wish to enjoy college as a very costly consumption good, go for it.  But the notion that you must jump through the right hoops to earn the approval of X or Y university is backwards.  You want skills and experiences and knowledge and a network.  You’re the customer.  See if you can think of the best, most effective, quickest, least expensive, and most enjoyable way to get them.  The question isn’t whether those universities will take you, the question is whether you’ll deem them worthy of your time and money.

Whatever path you take, good luck!

How to Ensure Your Professional Mistakes Are Always Forgiven

You’re going to tell me I shouldn’t advocate making mistakes in the first place.  Don’t be silly.  I’m not advocating mistakes.

The reality of life is that you’ll make mistakes and deliver sub-excellent results sometimes.  In fact, the more you push yourself and venture into new territory (good), the more common imperfection will be (not good).  Beyond the obvious, “Just try harder to be perfect”, there’s something you can do that will give you the leeway you need to get away with imperfection and recover quickly.

Here’s the thing.  You’re not gonna like it.  Especially those of you who are perfectionists and understand the tremendous value of high-quality work.

But remember, this is not a way to reduce mistakes and come closer to flawless.  This is just a way to earn the respect, trust, and grace that will keep your mistakes from killing your professional relationships.  This is a way to earn a second or third chance.


Never be late for anything ever and respond to all emails within 24 hours.

Some of you are mad, some of you are laughing, and some of you are nodding your head and patting yourself on the back as you gaze at your inbox tab that says (0).

Let me defend my claim.

Imagine you’re new at a job.  Think of the hardest, scariest, riskiest part of your role.  The part you are most likely to screw up a little bit.  The part that makes you worry you could lose trust and maybe your job if you don’t learn to master pretty quickly.

There’s a whole lot that goes into what your coworkers or customers feel about you and how much grace they’ll have for you as you learn through trial and error.  It’s not just a matter of whether you do that thing well.  It’s not about what you do right now as much as what they believe you are capable of doing in time and what kind of person they think you are.

To earn maximum room for error and correction you’ve got to have a pretty decent deposit of ‘social capital‘ in your account.  You’ll need to draw down without going into the red.

The easiest way to do this – a way that not a single person is incapable of – is to completely crush it on the simplest parts of your job.  Consider that again for a minute.

Earn the freedom to make mistakes in the hardest parts of your job by being perfect in the easiest parts.

What are the easiest parts?  Always being on time and responding to all emails within 24 hours.  It requires no special knowledge, skill, or experience.

If you’ve been somewhere for a month and everyone has come to rely on your punctuality and lightening fast response time, they’ll feel a glow just thinking of you (Somewhere there’s a crooner inside me, struggling to escape).  They’ll never have to dedicate mental space worrying about you, and they’ll have a default belief in your ability to handle things.

When you respond to 10 emails perfectly on time every time and meet your deadlines, people will want you to win.  When one of those 10 responses has a mistake, they’ll cut you a break and give you a chance to improve for next time.

Contrast this to the perfectionist who is sometimes late (‘I was putting on the finishing touches!’), even if just a few minutes, and makes people wait around to get a meeting started or causes mental stress because no one is positive when they’ll reply to an important email.  When they come back with a mistake the already thin ice gets thinner.  Tension mounts, the pressure to be perfect increases.  If you’re at all unreliable with the small, easy things, you’d better be damn-near perfect quality with the big, hard things.

Don’t put yourself under that much pressure.  Give yourself some wiggle room so you can learn by making and fixing errors.

Never be late.  Always respond within 24 hours.  You’ll be glad you did next time you make a mistake and someone says, “No problem, let’s improve for next time.”

The Futility of Reform

Don’t run for class president.  Don’t go to HOA meetings.  Don’t join a committee.  Don’t get involved in political campaigns.

All of these activities are about reform.  Get into the institution, play by its rules, and try to make it behave differently than it wants to.

Forget this approach.  It sucks.  Here are four reasons why.

It makes you less happy

Have you ever been to a town hall meeting?  Life’s too short to endure such horrors.  The worst life to live is a boring one.  The machinations of every political institution are stale and boring and full of self-serious processes, procedures, and practitioners.  Your every moment is too valuable to suffer through it.  It’s inhumane.  If Roberts Rules of Order are relevant to any effort you’re involved in, get out and go build something new.

You can’t change the game by playing

Political institutions do one thing best: restrict individual fun and freedom.  It’s natural to want to reduce the role of these rule-happy entities.  But you can’t win playing by their rules.  You can’t vote your way to a system where votes no longer curtail progress.

Trying to reduce the role of the state by engaging in politics is like trying to put a casino out of business by playing blackjack there.  “Oh, I have it figured out.  I’ll beat the house!”  No.  You won’t.  They want you to think that.  They want you to keep playing.  Abiding by house rules is no way to protest or change them.  Especially when the house gets a little richer every time you do.

If you don’t want the casino to keep luring people in don’t go in yourself.  Build something better that people want to go to instead.

Progress always comes from without

Political institutions are reactive.  They wait until the world forces them and then they change.  If humanity is a car these institutions are the brakes, able to stop progress but never create it.  If you want to get to a new destination you need the accelerator.

Accelerators are new ideas and products and services that forge ahead, paying no mind to the consensus-seeking bureaucrats nested in the status quo.  Accelerators don’t care about argument, nor protest.  They care about creation.  They build the world they want to live in instead of hoping to prevent its decay.

There is no permanence

The great thing about innovation is that it only needs to happen once.  That painful, gruelling, child-birth like experience of the creative act or eureka moment is born out of imagination, hard work, and courage.  If the result is of any value to the world it lasts forever and serves as the stepping stone to still greater innovations.

The wheel was invented once.  No one has to re-invent it.  It’s world-improving powers are permanent and irreversible.

Any apparent victory within a political structure is fleeting by definition and design.  You align all the powers and elites and interests just so after years of butt-numbing meetings and pompous proclamations from people you’d never want to have a beer with but now you must woo and coddle.  You have your mandate or constituency or whatever other serious sounding label you slap on the gaggle of interests vying for a win within the house rules.  You get your way.  Hooray!

Until the next month or year or election cycle when the new interests group outmaneuvers you and the tables turn in an instant.  Everything you created in your coalition vanishes, along with all the money you convinced people to throw at it.  The same tiny sliver of ground must be re-won, each time as if from scratch.  Only then do you realize that broader social forces created by the outsiders accelerating humanity are the master, not the servant, to these stale political institutions that apply their rusty brakes against all odds.

Go out and build something

Build something instead.  Exit.  Go your own way.  Forget the suits and speeches and posturing and canvassing and internal climbing and deal-making.  Go build your wildest dream.  Imagine and create things that excite you.  Move to a place that doesn’t suck.  Create a job that’s not boring.  Live a life you want to live.

Don’t wait for the world to change or beg for permission to let it evolve.  Go change your own world.  The rest will follow.

Humility Also Means Ignoring Input

Humility is a weird concept.  It’s easily associated with things like meekness, deferential behavior, lack of confidence, and wishy-washiness.  But these are not genuine humility.

Humility is the willingness to see yourself as you truly are.

Valuable humility is simply a recognition of your position in the vast universe.  It is a recognition of your identity separate from your roles or relative ranking to others.

Sometimes that means seeing that you are incorrect, and you’re not a big deal.

Of course, you’re not unimportant to you or those around you or even to the world.  But on the cosmic scene what you eat for breakfast isn’t a big deal.  Neither is who you’re dating or what you’re wearing.  But what’s especially unimportant is what others think of you.  Humility reminds you of this.

Sometimes humility means seeing that you are correct, and you are a big deal.

Humility is not about taking everyone else’s view of you seriously or trusting your own ideas less than others.  Paradoxically, that’s pride (in one of the few ways pride can be negative).  It’s pride because it’s concerned with how you appear to others.  It’s concerned with saving face.  It moves the locus of control and the definition of success from you to external forces and slavishly adapts to those.

Pride wants you to please everyone.  Pride wants you to come off looking good.  Pride always looks for an excuse to hide behind.  “I did it because I had to”, or, “I was giving my customers what they wanted”, or, “I was just following the expert’s advice”.

Humility recognizes that you might be wrong and look a fool, but it doesn’t care.  When you see that you’re not that important, being right or looking cool suddenly don’t much matter.

Humility recognizes that you’re sometimes right and other’s advice could be wrong.  It takes humility to ignore advice or common wisdom and do what you know to be true.  You’re exposed.  You have no fallback and no one to blame.

Humility is knowing who you are and owning it when it’s easy and when it’s not.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re practicing the virtue of humility because you’re denying yourself and your ideas and responding to everyone else’s.  That’s fear.

Be humble enough to see yourself as you truly are, both when you are right and when you are wrong.  Be humble enough to take advice when it’s good and ignore it when it’s not.

Why I Don’t Read the Comments

Because it makes me less happy.

That’s it. There’s no other deep principle or reason. This is also why I occasionally do read them. It (rarely) can be enjoyable. 

I don’t dislike commenters or discussion. For some reason it detracts from my enjoyment of life to read comments. Maybe that’s a shortcoming of mine. Who knows. All I know is that my life is better and I get more done and am happier when I completely ignore them.

It’s freeing to remind myself that I don’t owe responses to critics or commenters. Realizing I can ignore them actually makes me a little more likely to occasionally engage them.  But it’s still a rare occasion. 

Life’s too short to do things you don’t like doing.

Voice & Exit Interview

An interview I did for the Voice & Exit blog.

1. Isaac, you wrote an article on the V&E blog earlier this year about changing the world through creative entrepreneurship. Can you explain how this mindset informed your decision to start Praxis?

I was tired of talking. Don’t get me wrong, I like to talk. Probably too much. I had some big, radical ideas about the uselessness of the high school-college-career conveyor belt and what kind of alternatives could be better, faster, cheaper, and more fulfilling. Ideas are costless. Anyone can have ideas. If I really believed my theories about the huge opportunities for young people to do something different, why not put my money where my mouth is?

Who cares if professors or experts disagree with me? The market will determine if the idea is valuable. That’s the part I love the most. You don’t need to convince everyone about your theories of a better world in the realm of argument when you can create value for customers in the market. You can ignore the haters and focus on creating value for those who benefit from your idea.

I’m a happy person. I like being happy. I don’t like being grumpy. Arguing about what you want the world to look like is pretty depressing. You never win. Going out and creating it – putting those ideas into a business model – is exhilarating, informative, and has a real chance of changing things.

Entrepreneurship is philosophy in action.

2. How did you know “it was the right time” to launch Praxis? What were some of the risks and upsides involved for you?

I don’t think there’s ever a right time for any big move in life. At least not one that’s identifiable ahead of time. What made the time right for me was that I had an idea burning so intensely inside me I almost felt I didn’t have a choice.

Sure, I’d had ideas before, but none of them had the clarity or plan for execution that I had with Praxis. It was the sum of a decade of smaller ideas and observations, and it came to a head all at once. Without sounding too sensational, I just knew I had to build this thing. I needed to get my question answered by the market. Can this thing work?

I wanted to know the answer so bad that I was totally willing to fail in my effort to find it. I think the “willing to fail” test is good one. If you need some guarantee of success, it’s probably not a good time to launch a venture. It will test you, and have to accept and internalize the possibility of failure up front.

The biggest risk honestly was not the risk of failure. That didn’t scare me as much as the risk of not going after this thing. If I didn’t, I’d regret it.

The biggest upside? Keep an eye on Praxis. You’ll see soon.

3. Much of the buzz around Praxis focuses on education, but education is just a means to a certain end. What is the broader goal you’ve set for Praxis? What has Praxis “exited?”

Education is a boring and stale word. Yes, learning is crucial to any endeavor in life. But textbooks and tests and classrooms and schedules imposed by others and credentials conferred for hoop-jumping are just stupid in most cases.

What Praxis is really about is freedom on a very personal, individual level. We exist to help young people discover what makes them come alive and create a way to do it. We exist to help them find an environment, a mindset, a community, and a set of questions that will enable them to awaken their dreams. We know that for the world to be free and prosperous, individual humans must be. We want young people to take the reins of their own living, learning, working, and building. We want them to be the driving force in their own life. We want them to get a jump on the opportunities exploding around them to be entrepreneurs and innovators, and to live life on their terms.

Whether it’s freedom from the classroom, the cubicle, the expectations of others, or your own fears and doubts, we want to help you achieve it.

We weren’t content to criticize the conveyor belt of debt-fueled classroom credential chasing. We want to help people not just wake up to it, but leave. Praxis is exiting – and helping others exit – the ‘higher education’ industry and the debates about how to reform or improve it. Forget all that. Criticize by creating. And start with creating a tailor made life that you love.

4. What do you think is the single biggest force driving this awakening of thought in education?

Ideas are free. They can’t be chained up. You can’t dam up the stream of information that’s been unleashed by decentralized technology. Now that the information gatekeepers have no special power or privilege the credential gatekeepers will be the next to decline. The best ideas aren’t housed in a single place or owned by a group of elites, and next the signal to the world of an individual’s intelligence and ability won’t be conferred by some big central institution. It will be created and demonstrated by the individual him/herself.

People are realizing they now have the power to be their own credential and let their work speak for itself. That’s a power no one can stop.

5. You’re taking on a leviathan system. What are some of the barriers you’ve had to work around and what are some ways you’ve been able to succeed?

Everything from weird laws and regulations to the obvious financial challenges of a startup from scratch. But there are always workarounds if you’re impatient and determined enough to find or create them.

The biggest barrier to any entrepreneurial endeavor are the mental and emotional challenges. It takes a toll to fight every day for the thing you’re building and pouring your life into, and sometimes it’s easy to underestimate how much stress that can bring. You’ve got to really master your inner life and summon the strength and humility to keep at it.

And you have to ignore the critics who love nothing more than to sit on the sidelines while others create and take potshots or nitpick. Just remember who your customers are and focus entirely on rocking their world. Forget about the rest.

6. How big do you see this community growing? Where is Praxis in five years and what are the opportunities for others who want to enter this space?

There is no limit to the growth of the self-directed learning and entrepreneurial self-starter community. We were all born entrepreneurs and self-directed learners. Anyone can re-awaken that if they’ve got the will. In five years? We’ll be everywhere. I envision Praxis and similar combinations of work and self-created learning structure to be everywhere and not slowing down.

7. Do you have any advice for someone in the V&E network who wants to challenge an existing community and build their own?

Three things:

1) Tighten your pitch. What problem are you solving? How? Why will it work? That should be communicated in a few sentences.
2) Know your market. Who are you solving the problem for? Where are they? Do they care?
3) Be willing to fail, but do everything you can to avoid it. The best way to succeed? Start. The longer your ideas remain ideas, the less likely you are to act.

Should the Poor Be Forcibly Sterilized?

Do you think I could convince you that the US needs a forced sterilization program to prevent poor people from having children?

Before you react, please take a moment to consider my case…

What if I told you that people born into poor families have a higher statistical likelihood of committing some kind of crime during their lifetime?

What if I told you the children of the poor are more likely to have bad grammar and adopt fashions and habits out of the cultural norm?

What if I told you those born to poor parents might end up getting low-paying jobs, meaning they might be competing with the kids of the middle class for entry level work?  It might make it harder for your kid to get a job if all these poor kids are also trying to get jobs!

What if I told you that the children of the poor run a high risk of voting for policies that you don’t like?  They might cause a demographic shift that alters the outcome of the democratic process!

If the poor aren’t stopped by force from procreating, consider these ways in which the world may change in the next few decades!

Would you get on board with my plan?  Would you say yes, given the potential outcomes outlined above, it is imperative that we send armed agents to the homes of everyone in the bottom quintile of earnings so that they can be sterilized?  Would you accept that we must prevent their offspring from entering the world?


You’d tell me this plan is repugnant.  You’d liken it to eugenics and the greatest human rights violations in history.  It would strike you as deeply disturbing, inhumane, and tyrannical.

You’d tell me that the idea of a human life being forcibly prevented from entering the country simply because of someone’s belief about a statistical probability that the child might be or do things others don’t like is morally reprehensible.

Even if I told you there was a way some poor people were allowed to be born, if they got lawyers and costly licenses and permissions slips and only a limited number and only from certain neighborhoods, you wouldn’t feel better about it.  It would still feel just as icky.

Your moral intuition would be dead on.  You’d be right.

That’s why we should end immigration restrictions.

The Education System Isn’t Broken, It Just Sucks

Some people say the education system is broken.  It’s not.  It’s doing exactly what it’s designed to do.  The problem is that what it’s designed to do isn’t good, and it’s less valuable than ever.

I’m not one of those people who thinks it used to be a good system.  It’s not obsolete, it was wrong from the get-go.  It’s always produced undesirable outcomes.  I don’t think obedience, the ability to follow rules, falling in line with authority, uniformity of belief and process, and deferring to experts and standard explanations are desirable traits in individuals and societies.  I think they are dangers to be avoided.

To the extent that part of the result of this will-crushing process is some uniform skills that can be plugged into various business roles, there is some potential market value.  Though even these skills can be gained far better, faster, cheaper, and in more exciting and effective ways.

But today even those few things that people walk away with after 15,000+ hours in a classroom are of almost no value, and the trend is a further decline.

It is less valuable than ever to learn a skill.

It’s less valuable than every to learn to memorize, obey, hoop-jump, and test-take for bureaucratically approved authorities.

It is more valuable than ever to know how to think, how to learn, how to do what machines and software can’t.  Create.  Innovate.  Be entrepreneurial.

Once you realize that the education system isn’t broken you can stop trying to fix it.  It works really well based on its own principles of design.  You can’t make a hammer better at performing surgery.  You need to drop it and grab a scalpel, or invent a laser.

You’ve got to step outside of the education system altogether and build your own learning program tailored to your own goals.  It’s a challenge, but a lot easier than you might think.

Humans are naturally curious, stubborn, adaptive, knowledge-gathering, active, creative beings.  Those are all the things you need to begin, and you don’t really need to do anything to get them.  It’s harder to do what the current system does, which is snuff that out and create uniform widgets.  That’s why they need so many buildings, fences, supervisors, guards, and so much money.

All you need is an environment where natural human tendencies can flourish, bump up against the world, get feedback, and adjust.

Sometimes the system isn’t broken, it just sucks.  Get out.  Build your own thing.

Why You Should Move Away From Your Home Town

“A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.” – Mark 6:4

You want to grow, progress, live an interesting and meaningful life.  You want to do and be something big, by your own definition.  You want the freedom to explore and dive deep into what interests you and maybe even master a few things.  You want to know yourself and most of all esteem yourself.

If that’s true – and I hope it is – you need to move away from your home town.

You can always go back later if you want, but if you never leave you’ll always be contained within strictures not of your own making.  At home you’re always only an outgrowth of your perceived past.

In another place you’re that wild outsider with intriguing ideas and a fiery passion for life.  In your home town you’re little Jimmy, Bev and Stan’s kid.

In a new town you’re the girl who’s full of promise.  You can define yourself, write your story, let your first impression speak for itself.  Anything you do is potentially interesting and you can potentially be successful in any endeavor.  Back home you’re the kid who wanted to be a vet when she was twelve and to many people anything you do other than that will be seen as a compromise.

In a new city your value must come from what you can produce.  You are judged on your merits, by your fruit.  In your home town you’re loved and cute and special no matter what you do, but never fully respected as an independent being.

It’s hard to discover yourself when you’re defined so much by your heritage, perceptions others have formed about your family and their place, your past self, etc.

People from where I grew up still ask me if I’m going to be President some day.  Nothing could be more repulsive to me than the idea of running for political office.  I wouldn’t wish office on my worst enemy and I think politics is the most backward form of human activity and energy.  But once upon a time I thought politics was a viable method for expanding human freedom.  I told people around me about it.  That’s the me they knew.  To them, I will never be successful or interesting unless and until I achieve a goal that is totally meaningless to me now. (I wrote here about why I’m glad I failed in this regard.)

Even if you care about your home town and want to improve it the best way is to leave.

Outsiders are more likely to innovate.  This is true in all fields.  The most likely to have a breakthrough in one industry is not the industry expert or insider but the expert from a different sector who’s looking in with fresh eyes.

I once heard that the definition of an expert is someone who traveled more than 150 miles to deliver a message.  Introduce a speaker from next door and no matter how much they know about the topic at hand few will be moved and impressed.  Fly someone in from the next city and they’ll get attention no matter what they say.

Leave.  Go out into the world and discover who you are.  Not who you were when your imagination was limited.  Not what you grew up thinking and wanting.  Not what your family or friends thought about you.  You needn’t reject or be angry with any of them.  You simply need to do what they don’t know how to help you do; grow into something beyond the confines of your point of origin.

Go out and become what you want to be and you’ll discover something interesting if you go back home.  You’ll have a level of respect and influence and freedom you could never have  won had you stayed.

You’re not just somebody’s kid.  You’re somebody.

Why Does College Matter so Much to Parents?

This is a written transcript of a portion of an Ask Isaac podcast episode.

We get this question a LOT, with people who are interested in Praxis or just interested in opting out and creating their own path. They know that college is not going to do anything for them. It’s boring. It’s super expensive. They’re not interested in sitting in a classroom and hearing things that they could learn on their own or things that they don’t even care about, often from professors who don’t care, fellow students who aren’t into it. I mean there are just a lot of people, a growing number, who are just like this isn’t all that great. And all the social aspects… I can get those. I can go to football games and parties and whatever. I don’t need to enroll for 4+ years to do this. But, it’s so much the dominant view among our parent’s generation that – I shouldn’t say “our”, I’m sort of in between – but college… that is really like a signal that you’re doing OK.

It gives Mom and Dad something to brag about at the cocktail party with their friends. It’s kind of like if you grow up in a religious community and people say, “How are you doing with God. Are you on the right track?” And if you just say, “Yeah, I’m going to church,” they’re fine. But, you could be going to church and horribly depressed or like doubting everything or totally unhappy… everything in your life is not going well. But, to them, that’s all they needed to hear. That signals that you’re OK. It’s a shortcut for them that makes them feel like you’re “good-to-go.” And you could be like, “I haven’t been going to church for a year, but I’ve never been better. My spiritual life is really great. I’ve been exploring new ways to connect with God,” and it doesn’t matter what you say they’re going to be scared. Right? They’re going to be worried about you because that signal, that shortcut: going to church equals I’m doing well spiritually… or going to college equals I am doing well in my life professionally.

You know… maybe that emerged for a reason, where the correlation was so strong, that it made sense for people to make that shortcut. You don’t want to get to know everyone’s life story so it’s like “oh, you’re in college, cool. You’re good to go.” But that correlation is so poor and it’s getting poorer. And it’s such a weak correlation and there is certainly no causation there. So you could say, “Oh, I dropped out of school, but I’m working on a start-up. I’m doing this fitness routine. I’m traveling the world. I’ve never been happier. I’m writing a book.” And all they heard was, “I dropped out of college,” and they’re just like, “Oh, my Gosh. You’re sleeping on a park bench and you’re a loser. I’m so depressed; I’m ashamed of you.”

And you could say, “Oh, I’m just about to graduate from a good school and I’m having really dark thoughts, and I hate my life, and I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t care about the job I was just offered. I’m depressed. My girlfriend broke up with me.” And all they hear is “Oh, you’re about to graduate. Well, that’s good. Everything else will take care of itself.” Right? It’s this weird, weird thing. So, it is very hard to convince your parents to let you do something other than college.

See part one for the answer to how to get your parents to open up to the idea.

Check out www.discoverpraxis.com if you want to take a year to get out of the classroom and do something awesome, on your terms, in the real world.

How Do I Convince My Parents to Let Me Do Something Other Than College?

This is a written transcript of a portion of an Ask Isaac podcast episode where this questions was asked.

The first thought when I read this question is you shouldn’t be trying to convince anyone to let you. You are free to do what you want to do, especially once you are 18+. You don’t need to have that permission-based mindset. “I have to win them over. I have to convince them to allow me.”

You’re free to do what you want to do.

Now, once you acknowledge that, “I’m completely free. I could just not go to college right now. I could leave home. I could pack up my knapsack and do whatever I want to do. I am utterly and completely free. There is no power or moral law in the universe that obliges me to do otherwise.”

Now that you have that freedom… now you can start talking about it in costs and benefits. OK, if I do that, what are going to be the costs to me? Am I willing to bear those costs? Are there ways to mitigate those costs? Then you can have an honest conversation about what you are willing to put up with. But do you see how it puts the locus of control on you right away? No longer are you able to blame. “Well my parents won’t let me.” Well, that’s irrelevant. You can do what you want to do. You may find that your real reason is “if I did it, my parents wouldn’t support me financially, and I am not willing to live a lifestyle that’s beneath whatever amount of income – and I don’t believe I can bring that amount of income in myself without my parents’ help.”

Now that’s an honest admission. And that’s one that many people don’t want to be true of themselves. They want to be such rugged individualists that they’re not willing to compromise their dreams just to have a certain amount of money or financial safety net. So, they tell themselves stories. “My parents won’t let me.” But that’s not the truth, and the quicker you can identify the true reason that you’re being held back, the quicker you can overcome it, or work around it, or work with it.

I do know people who truly care more about material comforts than going and pursuing something like that, and the quicker they can be honest with themselves about it, I think, the better they’re going to be. So, it’s not about you convincing them to let you do something. It’s about deciding what’s going to be the cost. If your parents are going to disown you, hate you, not help you, not support you financially in any way, you have to determine what that’s worth. That’s a pretty horrible thing.

But you have to decide if it’s worth 4 years of doing something you mildly dislike, or maybe something you absolutely hate, so that your parents are happy. So, you have to ask yourself questions like what matters more, your happiness or someone’s happiness with you?” And again, I’m not advocating “yeah, screw your parents,” because, I think, at the end of the day, they want you to be happy. They’re just always going to lack the imagination – any other person besides you – is going to lack the imagination to understand ways that you might be happy, that they haven’t thought of before. And only you can find those.

So the easiest practical advice I would have is to start small and say, “Hey, Mom and Dad,” and again don’t approach it like “I need your permission,” and say, “Mom and Dad, I have been thinking,” and let them know this is not some spur of the moment thing and ate some Cheetos with your buddies and was like “I don’t want to go to college”.  Say, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I’ve been thinking and I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and a lot of examining my own life, and making priorities. I am going to take a gap year.” Whether you’re already in college and you want to take a break or before you go – Say you haven’t gone yet, “I am going to take one year and I have very clear goals. I want to experience two different kinds of work (paid work), live in two difference cities, or whatever it might be. I want to earn X amount of money. I want to gain a particular skill like a programming language. I want to become an expert on this. Or whatever…”

You’ve got a couple things that you say. “I am taking one year to do the following things, because it’s really important to me. And I think if I don’t do this now before I go into college and get roped in on a path, I’m always going to regret it. I’m always going to wonder. Furthermore, here’s a bunch of evidence and research that shows people who take a gap year, perform better in college and perform better after college, etc.” Frame it as… not this once for all. Frame it as “give me a year.” And at the end of that year, we’ll see where I am and we’ll see what I want to do next, but I need this year.”

Now, if you want help from them say, “I would like to propose to you… you were going to pay X for college… I propose you to pay less for that but you help me in the following way.” And be prepared if they say, “No,” and to be on your own. Do it anyway. Make up your mind how bad you want it, and what you want to do. And tell them in a non-confrontational way “this matters to me.”

If they see that spark in you and they see that this is so important to you and that you’ve thought about it clearly and you’re calm and rational about it, and you’re going to do it with or without them – this is like raising money for a company, by the way. The best pitch for an investment is, “this is what the company’s doing. It’s going to do the following. If you get on board it can do it faster and you can benefit, but it’s going to happen with or without you.” It’s so much better than “Oh, my gosh. I have this great idea. It won’t go anywhere, though. I need your help so bad or else the whole thing is not going to work.” It’s not as strong of a pitch in my opinion.

Anyway, “This is what I’m going to do, Mom and Dad. If you can help me, it would mean I could do the following. If you can’t help me, I’m going to have to do X, Y, and Z. I’m going to have to get 3 jobs to make it happen. And I’m totally prepared to do that. I don’t want you to be unhappy with me. I want your support. I want to be able to lean on you.”

Open it up and remind them that if they shut you down, they’re basically shutting down a line of communication and support to you emotionally. If you say, “I want to be able to come to you if this is hard and struggling with it, without you saying, ‘See, I told you so. You should have gone to college,’ I want that. I don’t want you to be upset at me for doing this, and I understand if you are but this is where I am coming from.”

I think if you present it like that, you have the highest chances of results. Again, it’s up to you what you want to do. You don’t need permission, but you need to understand the costs and benefits you’re willing to internalize and calmly and passionately share with your parents what it is that you want and have a clear idea. Not just “I don’t want to go to college.” Because to them, going to college means you’re making some sort of progress. To you, even if all you do is wander around for a year and do nothing, and that’s possible that it could give you more progress than college, but in their mind if you at least say, “I want to do X for a year, or two years, or whatever,” and at the end of that year if they’ve seen you grow and change and you know you don’t need college and “I’ve got this cool job, and this and that,” you can be like, “Hey, Mom and Dad, I’ve decided I’m going to take this further.”

You’ll have more courage. They’ll be more comfortable with it by that time. It will be much easier if you can get yourself to a position where they are excited about you having that one year.

If you want an awesome way to spend that one year, working with amazing startups and getting rigorous, self-guided personal and professional development, coaching, and a portfolio of projects, check out www.discoverpraxis.com.

What Praxis Set Out to Do

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 whose 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 yesterday 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.