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You know that dream where you're at school with no pants on? I don't have that one, but I have one that's almost as terrifying: that I'm in school WITH pants on. I dropped out after a year and a half and am extremely glad I did so. I think that too many people are going to college these days, and that although everyone calls it an investment, no one is doing even the most basic cost/benefit analysis of it.
But even if you agree with me on school, you may find yourself trapped there. Some parents put enormous pressure on their kids to go to school, and I understand that it can feel like you have no choice. I think you always have a choice, but let's assume you don't. You're in school-- what should you do?
I'm going to assume that you're not going down a path like law or medicine, where you really do need to be in school. If that's the case, only a small part of this advice will apply. For everyone else, here's my advice:
1. Realize that your degree is worth nothing, but the process you go through to earn it can be worthwhile. If you coast or cheat your way through school, you will have wasted four years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars. All of your decisions should be made while thinking: what will put me in the best position four years from now.
Here's my theory: harsh criticism is one of the most valuable commodities out there, and you should be collecting as much of it as possible. Secondly, people enjoy giving harsh criticism, but only if they know it will be appreciated. If they think you might react poorly, you'll never hear it.
Sebastian and I pretty much have a relationship based on harsh criticism. I remember a year ago or so he was in San Francisco, it was after midnight, and we were circling this random patio in the middle of the park. And we were just unloading on each other. It felt like a boxing match or something.
And, you know, after the conversation we were both better off, and probably better friends, too. We both love giving and receiving harsh criticism.
I got an email from him last week, saying that it seemed like my focus on Sett was waning and that I was spending too much effort on learning languages, traveling, and being crazy. It was more eloquently written than that, but that was the gist.
Over the past few days there was a "mistake fare" going on with some European airlines which enabled you to book amazing US -> Europe -> Asia multiple stop tickets for $130-400. Friends and I booked three different trips, because deals this good come along about once a year.
The deal was a little bit complex. Some city pairs didn't work, and it was difficult to guess which ones did. Going from LAX to Budapest was really cheap, but going LAX to Paris wasn't. To try to figure out the itineraries, we spent a bunch of time combing through the forum thread about the deal.
A small portion of the posters were super sharp and found all sorts of city pairs that I couldn't find. The bulk were neutral, just posting their itineraries or asking reasonable questions. But there was a contingent who were scared to pull the trigger on one of the best flight deals they'd ever find.
What if they cancel all of these flights? What if I change my mind? How will I get between the intermediate countries (most itineraries had a small intra-europe segment you had to cover yourself)? Will this fit into my schedule then?
I'm in a bus going up the Chilean coast. The ride is almost twenty-four hours long, which means I have no excuse to not get a solid blog post written. If only I had an idea...
For the past few hours I've been staring outside, trying to come up with that perfect idea. I watch the huge waves crash on the beach, and I want to write about how beautiful it is. Not so useful, though. So I think of other things to write about-- ways to improve things, how to accept problems that exist.
At the moment, though, none of those things seem like a big deal. Okay, there's some bad stuff in the world, but look how beautiful the world is. It's stunning.
Maybe I don't need to write about the problems or the solutions. There are so many people talking about problems and solutions all day, that if I take a day off from that, the world will keep spinning. Maybe I should write about how everything's working pretty well.
One of the fundamental pillars of being someone who executes (does executioner sound too extreme?) is trusting yourself completely. Only when you have that trust can you reliably reach goals over the mid and long terms.
By trusting yourself completely, I mean that if you decide internally that you are going to do something, you will almost certainly make it happen, and if it doesn't, the excuse will be really good.
For example, I decided 112 days ago that I was going to do a language tape every day until I ran through every Pimsleur method series for all of the major languages. Because I trust myself, I knew without any doubt that I would follow through and do the tapes. I did miss one day, because I got food poisoning, passed out, and smashed my face on the toilet. Even then I didn't mean to skip the tape, but I was so dizzy that I took a nap that ended up lasting until the next day. I accepted that excuse.
A good way to put "complete self trust" into context, is to think of how you relate with a trustworthy person. For example, I trust my friend and cofounder, Todd, completely. If he says he's going to do something, I have no tangible doubt that it will get done. If he's responsible for something, he will follow through.
Yesterday afternoon we got to the bus stop and boarded our bus. We would be on it for twenty four hours without a power jack, meaning that every last milliamp of power was precious. In particular, I always want to save my laptop power for Sett stuff and use my phone for anything else when I can.
It's too bad I can't write blog posts on my phone, I thought. The keyboard is just too annoying and it would take me way too long. I'd thought about writing a post on the phone many times before, but never actually tried it because it just seemed like too much of a hassle.
Once I was on the bus I did my Arabic tape and my Chinese, German, and Arabic flash cards. Then I watched the episode of TV I saved for the ride. After that, there was nothing left to do but write my blog post.
Okay, I thought, let's just try writing it on the phone since it's already out. To my surprise, writing on the phone isn't bad at all. With the amazing autocorrect of SwiftKey, I don't really even need to look at the keys.
Today eBay reversed a payment I received for selling a phone. I had sent the phone on the way to the airport and kept the receipt in my backpack in case I needed to verify that I sent it. A couple weeks later I saw the receipt, figured everything was done, and threw it away.
And then this guy files a claim that he didn't get the phone. I write him back asking for more information and giving him the dates and times I shipped. He doesn't respond. Ten days later I write him again to make sure he got the phone and everything was okay. No response.
Paypal had taken the money out of my account, making it negative, but after a while they reversed the money back into my account. Seemed like everything worked out.
And then this morning I wake up to see that the seller, without contacting me, escalated to eBay and eBay sided with them. So the guy got a free Nexus 5 on me.
Imagine a story. Maybe it's a novel or a movie or a long running TV show, whichever you prefer. The beginning of the story is your life so far. It's been compressed a lot, so it's not too long, but it has all of the highs and lows, and some of the key moments that put you on a trajectory between those extremes. Maybe it's no Shawshank Redemption, but it's a good story.
The story isn't finished, though. It's only a third of the way through, or maybe half if you're a bit older. Lots of blank pages or film, waiting to be imprinted with events of your future.
And now imagine the final scene. You're about to die, unfortunately. You're the hero of this story, so it's one of those bittersweet death scenes, where it's sad that you're going, but you did so much that no one can blame you for dying. He (or she) had a full life; squeezed just about as much juice out of it as possible, they say.
When you think of that last scene, think of what made that life so full. The goals that you achieved by then, the people who made up the cast of your life, and the amazing things you saw and did.
One of the most frequent criticisms I get is that I'm too focused on serious things like productivity, self improvement, and learning. I value those things highly and often focus on them at the expense of fun. Here are a few paraphrased quotes:
"Life isn't just about work."
"As long as what you're doing makes you happy, it's okay."
"Life is about balance between work and play."
It might surprise most readers to know that I actually had a pretty great time in school. I learned a lot, made great friends, and had some very good teachers. There are a lot of positive aspects of school that should be preserved even in alternatives.
What I don't like about school, though, is the incentive structure it presents to students. School teaches all sorts of bad things like doing work to please others, submitting to arbitrary authority, and my least favorite of all: doing the bare minimum.
The first two I dodged somehow, but doing the bare minimum is ingrained somewhere in my brain. It doesn't rear it's head all that often, but when it does, it's ugly.
And, to be clear, I don't blame school for it. It's my own responsibility to condition my mind and to not fall prey to bad habits, and I failed to do that in school. So maybe I was out in the cold, but it was my own fault I didn't bring a jacket.