Don’t Do Stuff You Hate

don't do stuff you hate

A new book project is almost done!  I’m pretty excited about this one.

Don’t Do Stuff You Hate is not just the title and theme of this book, it’s the philosophy I have striven to live by for the past decade.

Mitchell Earl, someone who has made bold, risky decisions to removed hated stuff from his life, joins me in putting this collection together.  It’s a welcome relief for those who feel overwhelmed by the idea of “following your passion”, finding purpose, or carving out a calling.  Forget all that.  What makes you come alive might be unknown to you and it might not even exist yet.

Instead we argue that the best way to build a great life is to break down a bad one, piece by piece.  What obligations, activities, relationships, and mindsets are draining the sense of life from your daily experience?  How many things do you do that you don’t actually enjoy?  Stop doing those and the rest will come into focus.

The best part about this approach is the mystery.  It’s exciting to think that the best life is one you can’t yet imagine.  You won’t find it by trying to plot a perfect path to some defined point called “success”.  Remove the dross and be surprised every day by the cool stuff that emerges when you make space for it.

Thanks to Julia Patterson for the awesome cover design.

Get a free preview of the book and get updates as soon as it’s up in Kindle and paperback on Amazon.

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

Sixteen Big Myths About College and Success in Your Early 20’s

I don’t normally write long posts, but it needed to be done.

Over at the Praxis blog I address just about every stupid bit of advice young people routinely get about their education, career, and future.

All these myths are based on the Conveyor Belt Mentality, which is as dangerous as it is dumb.

If you’ve heard any of these bits of advice about college or jobs it’s probably time to call bullshit and build better reasons for taking the path you choose…

  • “It’s worth it”
  • “It’s free so you can’t turn it down!”
  • “Only drop out if you have a billion dollar idea”
  • “You’re already this far, so it only makes sense to finish.”
  • “Don’t burn any bridges.  Keep your options open.”
  • “Build your resume”
  • “Follow the rules”
  • “Pick a good major. Pick a growing industry”
  • “It will be good to have just in case”
  • “Find companies with job openings and apply”
  • “Get qualified and certified so you can do X”
  • “Get a good starting salary”
  • “Get something with your degree”
  • “Make your parents proud”
  • “Earn and invest your money”
  • “Get a job with a good future”

Read the full post with my explanation for why the above are false here.  Then share it with a young person in your life.

 

Apprenticeships Aren’t Just for Welders; Startups Aren’t Just for Coders

I make the case over at the Praxis blog that apprenticeships, especially at startups and growing small businesses, are the best possible way to learn and build an awesome career.

Be around people who are doing what you want to do.  Create value for them.  Don’t just theorize, but practice.

“There is no better way to be a part of something meaningful, to learn what entrepreneurship means, to get a great job, and to take the first steps in an exciting career and life than to apprentice at a startup.

Not everyone wants to write code.  And startups need more than just coders.  They need people who love people!  People who want to learn marketing, sales, and operations.  People who are eager to contribute to a powerful vision and help it grow.

If you want to build an amazing career and be a part of the entrepreneurial Renaissance there’s no need to wait on the sidelines or blast out resumes and hope.”

Check out the post and check out Praxis if you want to build a great career today!

“I Hated School but Thought I Had to Do More of It”

One of the youngest participants in the Praxis program, Charles Porges, was just hired on full-time at his business partner, even though he’s not even halfway through the apprenticeship.

No one, Charles included, assumed someone straight out of high school could be doing amazing work in project management and analysis at a growing startup.  If you’re not loving and excelling at formal schooling, how can you build a career and succeed in the market?  Turns out the opposite is more often true.  The academic-focused world tends to devalue what the market values and vice-versa.

Charles’ story is inspiring to me.  Not because he got a job without the debt and waste, but because he’s happy and fulfilled in a challenging, meaningful work environment.  That’s what it’s all about.

I’ll let him tell the story.  Here’s what Charles shared with the Praxis group:

“Yesterday was my first day of working full-time at my business partner.

Words cannot express how ecstatic I am to be in the position that I currently am. Every single day of work is extremely valuable for both my business partner and myself. Not to mention, I believe deeply in the product, and my boss is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. Every one of my interactions with him has been both positive and meaningful.

This time about one year ago, I was in online high school, dreading every second I spent in front of my computer. My days were filled with meaningless assignments, time-wasting projects, and a feeling of hopelessness.

And not too long before that, I was in public high school. I felt like I was in a prison for forty hours a week, and on parole when I had to complete hours upon hours of homework. Most teachers were up to par with your average DMV worker, and almost none of my peers shared my ambition or intellectual curiosity. I was nothing short of depressed, and there were many days where I wished I simply didn’t have to wake up in the morning.

Ever since I joined Praxis, I’ve felt like I have been living a different life. Not only am I free from the cage of state-mandated education, but I know that every action I’m taking is for the purpose of creating a better version of myself. My Praxis advisers have been instrumental to my success in the program so far, and I would like to thank them for all of their guidance. I do not know where I would be without this program.

I only wish that I could talk to my younger self and tell him that there is another way!”

If you want to apprentice with a startup, get coaching and rigorous personal development, and learn by doing, let’s talk about Praxis.  Whether you’re coming out of highschool like Charles, in college and wilting, or have a degree but aren’t happy with your career prospects, we can help.

If You’re Flaky, Be Good Flaky

Some people are flaky.  Always flitting from thing to thing, idea to idea.  By the time others get on board they’ve already moved on.

If this is you don’t fear.  You don’t need to curb your curiosity or appetite for change in order to be successful.

Flaky can be a good thing.  I know people who channel this ADD tendency into amazing productivity.  They get excited by a lot of different things and their attention shifts rapidly, but they act on that excitement immediately.  These are people who no sooner get excited by an idea and they’re blogging about it or buying three books on Amazon.  They read the subject, launch the club, have the conversations, and start the project.  They may leave loose ends and sometimes move too quickly, but they leave a beneficial surplus of ideas and energy in their wake that gets picked up by others.

Good flaky shifts attention rapidly but “ships” just as rapidly.

Flaky can be a bad thing too.  I know people who have the same ADD tendencies but with each new interest it’s only talk.  They constantly talk about what they’re going to do, what new thing they’ve discovered, the newest solutions, movements, cures.  They always have something in progress or “almost ready”.  Articles they want to write, websites about to launch, events they are planning with their friend, some new thing or another.  They get you excited but don’t deliver.

Bad flaky shifts attention rapidly and never “ships” anything.

Productive flakes are fun and can be a boon to a team or cause.  It’s pretty easy for people to know their strengths and limitations.  They don’t do well in long-term managerial roles, but they are great for creative projects and rallying people around short-term visions.  They are the kind of people who get away with breaking rules.  People accommodate them and don’t demand as much predictability and consistency.  They can be late.  They can drop communication sometimes.  They can forget things.  These are annoying but known traits that become tolerable given the constant production.  Just when you’re about to get mad that a ball was dropped, a brilliant piece of work you never expected emerges.  Getting sh*t done covers a multitude of eccentricities.

Unproductive flakes are frustrating and drag projects and people down.  They have the same exciting energy and stream of ideas at first, which makes the failure to deliver all the worse.  The roller-coaster of expectations and disappointments gets old fast.  They get ignored.  They burn through social capital.  Their emails don’t get responses.  Ideas and a fun attitude are not enough.  If you’re not shipping they become annoying.  The bad flake turns their greatest asset into a liability.

It’s pretty simple.

If you know you have ADD tendencies, be a good flake.  Immediately act.  Don’t let the moment of inspiration go.  Your lack of long-term focus doesn’t have to ruin you.  But overcome the fear or insecurity or laziness or whatever holds you back and act on your inspiration immediately, always, every time.  You’ll amass a great body of work, gain a solid reputation, and have a lot of fun.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about your latest passion unless and until you’ve shipped something to show for it.

(If you’re not at all prone to flakiness, this post isn’t for you.  Sorry.  You have a different challenge with too much cost-benefit analysis or an obsession over options.)

Five Steps to Epiphany

Over at the Praxis blog, I challenge anyone interested in education, entrepreneurship, career success, wealth, happiness, or personal growth to read five books this summer.

Each book is described with an endorsement from someone in the Praxis network.  Check out the article.

The books are:

  1. The Education of Millionaires
  2. The End of Jobs
  3. The Last Safe Investment
  4. Zero to One
  5. How to Find Fulfilling Work

See the full text for details and links to the books.

Seven Deadly Mindsets

Dan Sanchez was kind enough to invite me to coauthor a little piece for FEE.org about mindsets inculcated by the schooling process and how a key step toward personal freedom and growth is recognizing and obliterating them.  This is what my friend Zak Slayback would call “deschooling yourself”.

Check out the article here.  The seven mindsets we outline are:

  1. The conveyor belt mindset
  2. The permission mindset
  3. The student mindset
  4. The teacher mindset
  5. The worker mindset
  6. The recess mindset
  7. The major mindset

From the article,

“The first step toward self-emancipation is certainly not supporting or opposing a presidential candidate. Neither need it be civil disobedience, evasion of government directives, or resistance to the authorities. There is much lower hanging fruit to be had than that.”

And,

“Only a people who first free themselves spiritually and individually can hope to free themselves physically and as a society. It is impossible to liberate people, as Voltaire said, “from the chains they revere.” And the first order of business in improving society is, as Albert Jay Nock said, “to present society with one improved unit.””

Read the full text.

How to Skip College and Gain a $200k Head Start

What’s the real cost of college as a path to a career?

It’s not just the time, the boredom, the low quality, or the money.  It’s also the opportunity cost (what else you could be doing) and the cost of entering the professional world with few valuable skills and a mistaken belief that you’re prepared.

This great article in TechCrunch details how universities created the skills gap – the gap between what the market demands and what grads actually have.  There is also a perception gap.  Employers are twice as likely to say that grads are not prepared than the grads themselves – students think college is preparing them for a career, but the market begs to differ.

82% of grads have no job lined up upon graduation.  62% of degree holders are currently either unemployed or working jobs that do not require a degree.

New numbers on student debt just came out, and it’s at a record-breaking $37k per student average.

My colleagues and I ran some back of the envelope numbers comparing college to the Praxis experience.  It’s a 12-month experience (6-month professional bootcamp + 6-month paid apprenticeship), and we wanted to see how it stacks up.

(I should make clear that Praxis is not just a college replacement or alternative.  We also love to help college grads that want a better start to their career than blasting out resumes and hoping for something decent.)

Being conservative, assuming pay well below what our grads actually average, and no raises for 4+ years, and not factoring in interest payments on student loans, we sketched out a little comparison:

Praxis

  • Length: 12 months
  • Cost: $11k tuition – $14,400 earnings during the program = ($3,400)
  • Debt: $0
  • Job after graduation: 96%
  • Starting salary: Let’s say $40k ($50k is average)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: $2,400 (in program) + $170,000 (at 40k, if no raises for 4 years after graduation) = $173,400

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: $173,400 (assuming you had done Praxis instead)
  • Net benefit over 5 years: -$37k debt -$173,400 opportunity cost = ($210,400)

I’ll be the first to tell you that averages and aggregates are not a guide to your life decisions.  None of this can tell you what’s the best path for you.  There is no sense in remarks like, “College is a good/bad idea for young people”, and the same goes for Praxis.  There’s no answer for “young people” in general.

All that matters is each individual.

Take the time to examine your own life, goals, situation, and what makes you excited and fulfilled.  Consider what the next year or two or five could be like for you given your various options.  Don’t just follow the dominant path or rebel against it because you saw some numbers somewhere.

Don’t do stuff you hate.  Don’t do what others want or expect.  Don’t do what’s supposed to give you prestige.  Do what makes you more of who you want to be every day.

How to Avoid ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Debt’

Talking with my colleague Zak Slayback, we were trying to visualize the typical process young people follow to get from high school to a career.  Many are unhappy with it, many come out no closer to a career or fulfilling life – often farther away, and burdened by debt.  They just don’t know what else to do.  They see only one option.

I call it The Valley of the Shadow of Debt.  You see people clamber down because everyone else is and they can’t figure any other way to get to the opportunity on the other side.

But after 4, 5, 6 or more years down there (some never return) you see some come out with a huge burden of debt and a cliff to scale on the other side.  They have no climbing experience or training.  They struggle climbing over each other, tossing resumes up towards opportunities, hoping for a lifeline.

This shouldn’t be the only way.

The Valley of the Shadow of Debt

That’s why we built Praxis.  To bridge the gap from where you are to a world of opportunities in dynamic businesses and startups.  To set you on the path of choosing what you want to do and be, rather than following the crowd down into the valley.

Praxis provides another way.  A direct line to real experience with real work and self-reflection and self-directed learning and coaching and so much more.  Why wait?

The best part?  After your bootcamp and paid apprenticeship, you get a full-time job at an awesome company, guaranteed.

Don’t get stuck in College Chasm.  Let us connect you to the rest of your life.

Praxis Bridge

In Less Than One Year Get a Startup Job at $40k – No Degree Required

Learn more at Praxis!

The idea that you should spend four years and six figures in classrooms, shielded from the real world of opportunity, and cross your fingers and hope it gets you some kind of job is absurd.It’s time for a new era in education and career.  If you’re good you can prove it in the market without going into debt or dying of boredom.

That’s why we created Praxis, and that’s why we’re making it better every day.

Over at the Praxis blog is a description of current opportunities with business partners in Austin, Atlanta, Charleston, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Raleigh, and San Francisco where we’re placing participants.  If you get in, you not only get paid to apprentice there, you get a job at $40k+ when you graduate.

From the post:

“Participants accepted into the Praxis program get an intense bootcamp where they gain the skills needed to succeed in their careers.  After the bootcamp they begin a paid apprenticeship with one of our business partners.  These aren’t dull corporate internships.  These are dynamic startups and small businesses where participants get a chance to create real value and do real work.  Entrepreneurship is the most valuable skill in the emerging economy, and there’s no better classroom than alongside entrepreneurs in the real world to learn it.

While apprenticing, participants get weekly coaching, access to a rich resource library, tailored modules to improve hard and soft skills, a world-class network, and a portfolio to showcase their work.

Upon completion of the program, graduates get hired full time with their business partner at a minimum of $40k/year.

That means in less than a year and at zero cost you begin your career.  No debt.  No wasted time.  No blasting out resumes to jobs you’d hate.  No fretting over GPA’s for four years just hoping it results in a job.  You join an amazing team doing meaningful work immediately.

Here are some of our current business partner opportunities, and we’re adding all the time…”

Check out the post to see what kind of companies we’re placing participants with.

A great career won’t come from classrooms or generic resume blasts.  It will come from you taking charge and going out and building the mix of experience, knowledge, network, skills, and confidence that can only come from working with dynamic people in real companies.

Applications are now open.

 

How to Play Basketball Well

The same way you do everything else well.  Practice, then reflect, then practice some more.

The common, conveyor-belt education system has a pretty bizarre approach to learning.  It doesn’t mirror any learning pattern that high performers in any field use.  It looks something like this:

Theory–>Theory–>Theory–>Theory–>Theory–>Practice (end)

In other words, you sit in classrooms studying things and memorizing knowledge from “experts” for nearly two decades.  Then you’re supposed to take all that theory and successfully practice it in the real world and live happily ever after.  Education is done, now you just go live well.  You’re supposed to succeed in the marketplace and life after only ever thinking about it.  Unless the theory is the practice – unless you’re learning to be an academic – this is a very bad way to learn.

I’ve written before about how absurd it would be if we taught bike riding the way we teach careers.  But I’ve been thinking a lot lately about an even better comparison, and one I know more about than biking.  Basketball.

How do you learn to play basketball?

First, you practice.  Maybe on a mini hoop, maybe on a full-sized hoop.  But you just start shooting and dribbling.  After you have the basic motions and movements and muscle memory down, you start playing with other people in actual games.  You play a lot of pick-up basketball.  Maybe you play in an organized team setting.  The coach might have you focus on specific aspects of the game or skills as you drill and condition.  You’ll scrimmage, run plays, and plot your approach to offense and defense.  You play, then a new concept is introduced, and you immediately play some more and try it out.  Then you stop to reflect and get feedback, tweak your approach, and play again.

At the highest level, this pattern is even more pronounced.  Good players practice a lot.  There is no world in which merely theorizing about basketball teaches you to succeed on the court.  Practice is always the first step and vastly more important if you have to choose one.  But when you go from good to great players, something else happens.  Theory comes into play.  The learning pattern for playing most successfully looks something like this:

Practice–>Practice–>Theory–>Practice–>Practice–>Theory…(ad infinitum)

Great players spend more hours in the gym than anyone.  But after they play they also reflect on their performance.  They review film from previous games.  They study what the offense did.  They observe what happened and theorize about why they were stopped in the paint by this or that defense.  They plan for the next game.  They review film of the next opponent and plot an approach to match.  They constantly reflect on the feedback they get from the real world of practice and play.  They seek out other achievers who have struggled with mental toughness, or strength building, or recovery from injury.  They employ motivational tactics and specialized training.

Notice the pattern because it’s very important.  Hours of film study and offensive scheming are of no value to the novice.  If you’ve never hoisted a ball in the air, learning the perfect placement of your index finger or the optimal use of trash-talk to gain a mental edge isn’t going to help you.  Theory is hugely important.  But it becomes important only when it has past practice upon which to reflect and future practice for which to prepare.

Notice also that, unlike the conveyor-belt education system, the basketball model is never done.  There is no end point.  It’s an ongoing process.  There is no graduation.  Michael Jordan, at the peak of his game and dominating the greatest ballers on the planet, famously came back from every offseason with something new.  He practiced.  He reflected and theorized.  He tested it with more practice.

In this model the role of teacher fades almost entirely.  Specialists with knowledge of the history of the game or the mechanics of the human elbow can be employed in specific situations when needed, but they are in no way the key ingredient to learning the game nor are they valuably employed until a whole lot of playing has occurred.  Instead, coaches and trainers emerge.  People who don’t tell you which facts about basketball are correct and must be memorized, but people who challenge you to get off your butt when you don’t feel like practicing.  People who help you in the process of reflecting on your unique game and keep you accountable to your unique practice process.  They are observers who watch you in the actual act of playing the game and provide real-time feedback from their vantage point.  They aren’t your authority – you can’t find a new coach anytime – but there for motivation and insight.  Some of the greatest players are famous for ignoring their coaches as often as listening to them even though they deeply respect them, which strikes me as a pretty normal and healthy way to see the relationship.

Another important thing about learning basketball is the value of mimicry.  How did the hook shot join the common arsenal of post players?  Because someone did it well and everyone who played against them realized how effective it could be and began to copy it.  How do you learn to crossover or headfake?  By being crossedover or headfaked at the playground and determining to do the same.

Learning happens more from being around people and environments than it does from consciously thinking about them.  You have to be immersed in the actual play of the game.

My friend and colleague at PraxisTK Coleman, our Education Director – loves the game of basketball probably even more than I do.  We don’t view this analogy as just a cute comparison.  I think success in any career is far more like success in basketball than it is like success in a classroom.  The principles of learning the game are the principles of learning to perform in just about every other arena.  This is why we are so focused on apprenticing at startups and small businesses – practice – and reflecting on the experience and how new skills and mindsets can make it better – theory – and trying them out – practice – and discussing…etc.  This is why our advisers have coaching sessions with participants, rather than giving them lectures.  Philosophy is hugely important to success in any field.  But only if you’re already in the field trying things out.

Kids aren’t practicing for life or career by sitting in the classroom taking tests.  They’re theorizing about it.  They’re not observing those who are successful (except, best case, at teaching) and mimicking them.  They’re reading what other people said about the successful.  They’re being introduced to a few fragments of the history of the game or uniform design or what one conditioning coach thinks about one approach to calf muscles.  They’re not being transformed into great players, they’re simply checking the memorization of lifeless, contextless knowledge off a list of assignments.

You can’t expect to win by studying.  You’ve got to play the game.

School is a 16-Year Internship for Professors

Want to learn something?  Be around it.

The habits, ideas, processes, and perhaps most importantly, incentives of the environment you want to be a part of will teach you vastly more than consciously studied facts.

Julian Jaynes, in his seminal book on consciousness, cites a study where students were told to compliment any girl wearing read.  Within a week, red outfits were everywhere in the school.  The girls weren’t consciously responding to factual knowledge but internalizing the compliments and altering their behavior subconsciously.  Jaynes argues that learning signals, skills, and even reasoning are not, in fact, conscious processes.  In fact, after taking in the basic structure, being conscious of learning gets in the way and slows the process.

This means the subconscious queues and incentives of the environment are a more powerful force in determing what you learn than whatever conscious topic is presented.  What you pickup on and get rewarded for and see others doing to succeed or fail shapes how your brain transforms and adapts to succeed.

This has some pretty interesting implications for schooling, from kindergarten through college.

The school setting, whatever subject is being taught consciously, is a single-file line-standing, speak-when-given-permission, the “expert” knows all right answers, zero-sum, obedience training program.  The clear “winners” in the school setting are the authority figures and those who best please them.  The academics and kids who do things that academics like.

In other words, school is a 16-year internship for being a professor.

You’re immersed in the daily habits, worldviews, problems solving methods, attitudes, and incentives of professors.  What you learn from shadowing academics isn’t whatever topic they might be teaching as much as how to be like them.

This is, of course, the ideal program if you want to be an academic.  I have many wonderful professor friends and I’ve met some young people who want to be professors.  The system was built for them, and it’s a good fit.  They should stick with it happily.

The problem is that most people have no idea that they are in an extended academic internship.  Most don’t want to be professors or they simply have no idea whether they do or not because they’ve never been around anything else.

You can’t discover what you might enjoy or be good at from academic books and practictioners telling you about it.  You need to experiment and experience it.  You need to be around people doing those things.  You need to apprentice with people other than just academics to learn what people other than academics do and how to succeed in that world.

Get out of the classroom and try real world stuff to find what you enjoy and are good at and immerse yourself in the subconscious learning of how to succeed in whatever environments you explore.  A few courses or books or a major can’t give you that knowledge while your subconscious is fully occupied with learning how to be a professor.

You might not be learning much from the conscious process of schooling (hence forgetting everything after the test), but you’re definitely learning something in school.  The question is, do you want to learn that something?  Will it help you, or set you back in a dynamic marketplace that cares only for value creation, not academic process?

Yes, this realization is precisely why Praxis was created – to give you a real-world apprenticeship with top entrepreneurs in a variety of industries and dynamic businesses.  Check it out.

Praxis and the PDP

One of the core building blocks of the Praxis educational experience is the Personal Development Project, or “PDP“.  A PDP is simple: a self-chosen 30-day challenge with tangible benchmarks and outcomes, documented and demonstrated.

Project based learning – tackling a challenge that the learner has individual, intrinsic motivation to tackle – is the most valuable method for transforming your mind and habits and building your personal capital.  It bypasses dichotomies between theory and practice by focusing instead on desired outcomes.  It’s about who you want to become, and what in your unique situation is most likely to help you get there.  This is the way most people approach physical health and fitness, but it’s surprisingly rare when it comes to mental and emotional intelligence, character, and skills.  It shouldn’t be.  It works.

So how do our participants get started with a PDP?  My favorite method is to let your obstacles take the lead.  Obstacles often hide or disguise themselves, so first you have to find them.

Jot down some bigger picture outcomes or goals or descriptions of the kind of person you want to be.  Maybe, “I want to be a published writer”, or, “I want to travel 6 months out of the year”, or, “I want to earn a living as a freelance designer”, or, “I want to be a go-to expert on nanotechnology that people interview”.  Think in terms of who you want to be and what kind of experiences and outcomes you want to have, not in terms of titles or labels.

Now that you have a handful of these big picture goals listed, pick one and ask yourself what is keeping you from doing or being that right now.  Maybe you’re writing isn’t sharp enough, or you are too insecure to submit to a publication.  Maybe you can’t afford the travel, or your design skills aren’t hireable, or you know nothing about nanotech.  Try to get specific in terms of what’s keeping from these goals.  “I’m not organized enough to handle multiple clients”, or, “I procrastinate too much” are good examples.

Now you have your obstacles.

Your obstacles are invaluable because they inform you as to what kind of activities are going to be valuable to you.  If procrastination is one of your major obstacles you could build a very basic yet incredibly powerful PDP where you, for example, read one chapter from “The War of Art” and write and publish a blog post every day for 30-days.  The mental tools in the book combined with the no-escape activity of daily blogging will absolutely and dramatically improve you ability to create even when the mood isn’t right.  You will become a better person in that 30 days and you will chip away at one of those obstacles – maybe even obliterate it altogther.

This is just one example.  Maybe you commit to reading five books on a topic in a month.  If you read five books on any topic you will immediately be in the top 5% of people with knowledge on the topic.  It’s surprisingly easy to make huge gains.

Whatever goals, obstacles, and activities you identify, the most important thing is doing it.  You must make progress on it every single day.  The beauty is, anyone can do something for 30 days.  It’s hard, but not so hard that you have any excuses.  You must make the activities measurable and demonstrable.  You must setup an accountability method.  At Praxis we do this by asking participants to build a personal website and publicly share their PDP activities and then document them as they complete it.  Thier advisors are there to coach and challenge them as they craft and complete the PDP’s.

In the end they have tangible evidence of how they increased their value that month – based on their own goals, not anyone else’s.  More importantly, they become more of who they want to be.  The principle of compound interest is powerful and it applies to more than money.  Improve yourself by 1% every day and soon nothing will be out of reach.

Whether a hard skill, soft skill, body of knowledge, a network, a mindset, or a habit: if you want growth and transformation – what real education is – I cannot recommend a PDP enough.

Try building your own.  If you have a hard time getting started, try one that we created at Praxis as an excellent entry point.  See if you can stick to it, making progress every day.  It’s a lot harder than you think, and far more rewarding than you can imagine.

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