During my time at a small Christian college, I noticed that the best performing students were often the non-traditional ones. Why? Hunger, I suppose. Great desire. Being older, life experience surely played a key role; they had bigger frames of reference for everything. It seems like the more information you have, the more questions you will be able to ask. Certainly, this gives the experienced person a learning advantage. Hunger, desire, drive, larger frames of reference from which to ask productive questions as well as to gain perspective for the sake of emotional perseverance: these character traits are the foundation of fruitful learning, no matter what job, degree, or certification you pursue.
These traits will get you ahead and keep you ahead. There is no security in a degree. There is no security in the old paradigm of getting a good job with a big corporation, keeping it for life, and retiring with a good pension. Where I live in Michigan, it seems like every other retired person you ask spent their working life at General Motors. There are still decent jobs available today, but it’s not what it used to be. Those days of the promise of any Joe making bank on the line at GM for thirty years and then retiring are over. Robots do it faster. People in Mexico do it cheaper. A person who wants to make the kind of money that you used to be able to make with just a diploma; that person has to add more value in order to get the same amount of money now.
Yes, credentials are great, but having energy, a good attitude, and a voracious appetite for learning will do nicely in many work environments. Not all, but many. You are not an employee. Employees get laid off. Employees don’t get paid enough. Employees’ jobs get out-sourced or automated. You are not an employee, you are a business. Whoever you do work for is your client, whether that is one particular company or a bunch of individual customers. Your energy level is your production capacity; your people skills, the marketing department; all the learning you do independently, your research and development division. Employment is an obsolete concept.
I’ve found myself accustomed to a dissonant, paradoxical relationship with the large corporations that seem to define our economy, a relationship in which there is both resentment and dependency. The behavior is dependency, but the thoughts are resentment and suspicion. It is sad condition, in part because, when I resent and talk trash about their greed, I don’t hurt them, I hurt me. Why? Because by saying and doing those things, I am putting myself in a position of helplessness. That negative language practically deifies the corporation rather than tearing it down, because that language reinforces, in one’s own mind, the massive size, inaccessibility, and seeming invincibility of it. Thus the language accomplishes an effect opposite the intent. The greed and injustice is often real, but this language furthers it’s effect rather than reversing it, by further dis-empowering downtrodden people.
To be clear, this is not just a blue-collar plight; the same thought pattern happens with college education, too. This is especially true when talking about the cost of college. There is still a mindset of helplessness; I need this college education in order to prosper. So I guess I’ll have to pay on student loans until I die. If you’re going to come out prosperous, you have to go in prosperous, because the educational experience is what you make it. Granted, some scenes are harder than others to get ahead in, but whether you’re at a college or in a factory, it is what you make it.
It is what you make it.
Personal and business development strategist Tony Robbins says that “resourcefulness is the ultimate resource.” The context here is one where a leader in a business has a particular problem, and the reasons given revolve around the resources that are needed; time, money, personnel, and so on. Robbins contends that with enough resourcefulness, you can get the resources. Additionally, he asserts that the ultimate resources are emotional states. “If you’re creative enough can you find the answer, yes or no? If you’re determined enough to find the breakthrough, yes or no? If you’re passionate and loving enough can you get someone to help you, yes or no?” Following this he says, “…creativity, decisiveness, passion, honesty, sincerity, love; these are the ultimate human resources. And when you engage these resources you can get any other resource on earth.”
The answer is not in the system, it’s in the person. Take good care of yourself. Have a personal life that is orderly and empowering. Eat quality food, get enough sleep, engage in positive relationships, learn new things, exercise. I heard a quote recently, from author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, “If you can’t get out of your head, get into your body.” Especially if you’re in a season of being heavily focused on academic matters, move your body. From personal experience, I will say that exercising consistently empowers you physically and mentally.
Asking whether your degree is relevant, or whether your skill-set is relevant; these are important, but even more-so, what is your personal capacity to be, to become, to stay, fresh and relevant in your particular vocational marketplace?
My thoughts about the best educational path a person can take: learn a trade. Dollar for dollar, this is the best educational investment you can make. Learn how to do something really useful. For ideas, look at all the things that comprise the infrastructure of daily life; housing, technology, plumbing, electricity, transportation… think of the many industries that make these systems work. Even if it’s not a prestigious vocation in the world’s eyes, master a skill that helps make the world go ’round, and you will be in demand.
Along with knowing how to do something, learn people skills. Everything runs on relationships. I would contend that more policy-making happens on golf courses and in restaurants than in congressional offices. The art of bullshit yields many rewards. The fact that a person would label the art of the deal so derisively is probably a testament to the magnitude of it’s influence. Being good at sales isn’t just for sales-people. I certainly do not feel like one, but at this point in my life, I can see the benefit in having those skills. In his famous book “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, Dale Carnegie said that something like 85% of your earning potential is wrapped up in your ability to deal with people. Not long ago, I heard an old clip of Zig Ziglar talking about sales-people. He was commenting on the effects of personality on sales performance, contrasting introverts and introverts. He said that once an introvert learns and practices the people skills of an extrovert, then they can often outperform a natural extrovert because they are often more organized and conscientious about dates, times, and all other pertinent facts and figures. This is, of course, a generalization, but it was quite encouraging to me, an introvert who is still learning to practice good people skills. My point is, these skills can be consciously learned. The best way I have ever heard the concept of sales re-defined was with the word “influence”. This was part of clip from yet another Tony Robbins presentation. He was speaking at a seminar, and he asked the audience to yell out the kinds of words the thought of when hearing the word “salesman”. Naturally, the words were overwhelmingly negative. So, to talk about the subject constructively, he changed the name of the skill from “sales” to “influence.” One thing this change of terminology did for the subject was make it universally relevant; big or small, every one of us has at least some part of life where we influence, or at least have the need to influence, other people. Even if you aren’t the boss, or don’t work directly with customers, it’s your coworkers. If you’re a parent, it’s your children. A key trait, maybe the key trait, of influencing well is to be influenced yourself. If you are going to convince others to believe, then you must believe yourself.