“It used to be that if you worked hard, you were guaranteed a certain kind of life. There are reasons success is no longer a straight shot.”
– Adam Davidson, in a NYtimes article called When Did the Rules Change?
Young people are starting to realize that hard work is the bare minimum these days.
The problem is that a lot of us also feel entitled to the whole damn world.
I worked hard, got my college degree, worked hard at my first job, quit it and moved onto another one, and in general did everything right.
But I’m not where I want to be. So what gives?
I hear this pretty much every day from friends, but the truth is this: A college degree ensures very little now.
I’m going to compare two pieces of conventional advice:
The first recommends “maybe” going for your Master’s because it is the new Bachelor’s.
The other seeks to eliminate the stereotype of formal credentials being the be-all end-all, and instead emphasizes one other key trait of highly successful people.
The Devil and the Angel
The closing words of article one go like this:
“The rest of us, meanwhile, should go to school, learn some skills and prepare for a rocky road.”
Article two ends like this:
“I’ll leave you with a simple question: What barriers, check-boxes, and credentials do you believe in that are keeping you from the jobs, opportunity, and success you desire? As you’ve seen, nearly all these barriers can be sidestepped, ignored, or hacked. It just takes some creativity and a few months of work. What’s holding you back?”
The reason why I share these two closing remarks is that they represent the most common polarized views towards education in society today:
- [The ‘White Folks’ where I live]: Go to college, go to more college, get a job, get a bigger job, and keep at it.
- [Hustlers]: Make connections, make connections, make connections, learn skills, be useful and get hooked up.
It ain’t the good ‘ol days anymore.
Playing by the rules and working hard doesn’t necessarily get you anything anymore.
Article 1 talks about how many of the low-skilled jobs are being replaced by machinery and computers, and that it’s causing huge unemployment issues.
A while back I was reading The Next Millionaires and had my eyes opened regarding this whole “technology is shafting the unskilled work force” thing.
Pilzner talk about a small hypothetical fishing village where 10 men are fishermen. Their daily requirements are met, they can feed their families, and they have surpassed the basic needs level of Maslow’s hierarchy.
But one innovative fisherman invents a net that can catch 5x as much food as he used to. Suddenly, 5 fishermen are out of work and have nothing to do. Unemployment skyrockets.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? Well, what do the other 5 fishermen do? They’re forced to find other jobs – become teachers, doctors, farmers, or other workers.
Systems and machinery and advances in technology aren’t shafting those of us youth. They are just forcing us to adapt – and adaptation is the essence of our species.
So how can we adapt to being easily adapt to this change in demands?
- Get really specialized
Most people only assume there is one option, which forever entails working and pursuing — specialize specialize specialize.
Sure, go ahead and spend 2-3-4-5 more years at university because you think it’ll help you get a leg up.
Or how about this — create something new.
Innovation and adaptability trump specialization in our new economy. Not to mention that specialization leaves you very few options in the event that it doesn’t work out.
Career Advice is on its Way Out
“Go to school, learn some skills and prepare for a rocky road.”
Why is it that so few people actually offer helpful advice? We spend hours arguing over how education isn’t worth as much as it used to… and then say “well, you should still do it anyway!” and offer no alternatives.
Answer: because most people haven’t tried the other paths. They haven’t gone for the adventures, sought out the risks, and lived boldly. Of course they can’t advise you honestly.
You don’t want to be like me: one resume out of the 50 million just circulating and being submitted to career builder, monster.com or craigslist waiting to get sorted through or rejected.
Why? Seth Godin said it better than I ever will be able to: Why Bother Having a Resume:
In the last few days, I’ve heard from top students at Cornell and other universities about my internship
It must have been posted in some office or on a site, because each of the applications is just a resume. No real cover letter, no attempt at self marketing. Sort of, “here are the facts about me, please put me in the pile.”
This is controversial, but here goes: I think if you’re remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular, you probably shouldn’t have a resume at all.
Not just for my little internship, but in general. Great people shouldn’t have a resume.
Here’s why: A resume is an excuse to reject you. Once you send me your resume, I can say, “oh, they’re missing this or they’re missing that,” and boom, you’re out.
Having a resume begs for you to go into that big machine that looks for relevant keywords, and begs for you to get a job as a cog in a giant machine. Just more fodder for the corporate behemoth. That might be fine for average folks looking for an average job, but is that what you deserve?
If you don’t have a resume, what do you have?
How about three extraordinary letters of recommendation from people the employer knows or respects?
Or a sophisticated project they can see or touch?
Or a reputation that precedes you?
Or a blog that is so compelling and insightful that they have no choice but to follow up?
Some say, “well, that’s fine, but I don’t have those.”
Yeah, that’s my point. If you don’t have those, why do you think you are remarkable, amazing or just plain spectacular? It sounds to me like if you don’t have those, you’ve been brainwashed into acting like you’re sort of ordinary.
Great jobs, world class jobs, jobs people kill for… those jobs don’t get filled by people emailing in resumes.
The problem with us college grads is that we’re bred to be cogs in a machine. We’re created, designed, selectively cultivated and grown to be nice little form-fitting puzzle pieces.
But unfortunately the puzzle has changed, and now we’re outdated – pieces no longer fitting.
Play it Smart and Ditch the Competition
“The purpose of this article is to even the playing field for you, without the BA, MA or MBA, and without the student debt. You can get those degrees for other reasons. But never again should you feel that they’ll give you a massive advantage in job searches or economic opportunity. For your typical job search, those advantages are massively overhyped. They can be sidestepped, outsmarted, and overcome.”
We cogs in the machine are usually advised to think one way – work harder. We’re never advised to be innovative, to work smarter, to outsmart the competition or beat / cheat the machine.
But so many college grads are stuck in the rut of assuming formal education – university or a job – is the only way to work your way up.
Umm. Self-education anyone? Continuing education anyone? Books, classes and seminars anyone?
Thriving in the 21st century means ditching the idea of “playing fair.” That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re cheating anyone – it just seeks to get rid of this outdated idea of the honest hard working laborer.
Forget honesty and forget being hard working. They just aren’t good enough anymore.
Be new. And be you.
Quitting the Formal Job Market
After returning from China, I really realized the power of connections. Guanxi (connections) runs the entire country – everything from getting a passport (ever) to getting out of jail scott-free for a crime you really did commit.
I came back to the US and realized my connections were weak at best – realistically, almost non-existent.
So when I went to apply for jobs I didn’t have a strong network to ask through, and realized that I fell into the dreaded pile of resumes being fed into Craigslist.
That’s when I realized that most jobs I had previously came via people I knew. I imagine the rest of the world works that way too. It’s called the informal job market, and it’s how most positions are filled.
And then I came across this article on Tim Ferris’ blog (This is article #2 by the way): 8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials.
There’s no reason for me to really re-cap, as you should go over and read the post immediately, but essentially it details the power of networking for the right reasons, as well as an emphasis on learning a new skill you don’t already know.
This people-you-know and skills-you-know as currency is constantly showing up everywhere I turn.
In fact, Paul Zane Pilzer’s formula for wealth in the 21st century (from his book The Next Millionaires) goes like this:
Wealth = P X T
- P = Resources (Originally things like gold, now = people you know)
- T = Skills you know
He goes on:
“Today, your success in business depends largely on the next, third set of skills: your adapting skills. What these boil down to is the ability with which you learn new things—which is the single most important skill for any person starting a business today.”
The people you know and the skills you have. And your ability to rapidly learn and adapt in this new economic world.
It’s no longer a straight shot to success anymore, and the time of the honest hard worker is dead.
It’s time to ditch the competition. Are you ready?
Resources to help you get started:
- Uncollege “isn’t just an idea or a website. It’s a movement. It’s a lifestyle. We believe that college isn’t the only path to success. UnCollege is a social movement changing the notion that going to college is the only path to success. We empower students to hack their education through resources, writing and workshops. We believe that everyone can live an UnCollege life by hacking their education.”
David Crandall’s Anti-Resume Manifesto
The Dwindling Power of a College Degree