Degree vs. Results

My time as a Praxis participant is quickly coming to an end. It has been an absolutely life changing experience and I can’t wait for what comes next. Throughout the program, I’ve had people doubt the path I’m taking. Even in just the last month I’ve had several conversations with people who were concerned about my future. “You don’t have a degree to fall back on so what if something happens?” Most of the time I shrug these kinds of questions off but I’ll admit some of them did get me thinking. Recently I’ve decided if given the option, I wouldn’t trade the experiences and skills I’ve gained in the past year for any type of degree out there.

I’m currently working on a personal pitch deck. I plan on using this as my primary collateral when pitching myself to different companies. It shows who I am, what my skills are, the tangible results I’ve gotten from my work, and how I can add value to that specific company. The closer I get to finishing it, the more I realize how superior this is to a degree.

Imagine yourself as an employer. You have one single position to fill. You get the word out there and encourage people to apply. Within a week, you receive over 100 different applications. I like to imagine myself up against 100 other resumes belonging to “ideal candidates.” These guys all have a fancy degree. they’ve listed every award from high school, every club they were a part of, their internships, and grades.

Along with my resume, which alone is pretty powerful, I submit my personal pitch deck. This first slide gives a summary of who I am and what my skills are. You, the employer, flip to the next slide. There you find a short blurb about what I found particularly awesome about your company compared to others I’ve looked at. This shows not only that I have a passion for this type of work, but also that I’ve done my research.

The next slide isn’t as complimentary. You find a list of specific things the company can and should be doing differently to increase business. Right after this, you find my value proposition. This is a description what I will begin doing to make these changes on day one.

The next slide is a clean and professional video presentation of me telling my story. I talk about how I jumped right from high school into the work force. I describe my first day at my new job 9 months ago. I didn’t have a clearly defined role when I started. I had to search for ways to create value. Following this, I give a brief overview of all that I’ve done for my company since then.

The next 3 slides are my specific skills and the results that I have to back them up. The first one shows the 5 websites I built and managed during this year. I describe how I strategically built them to increase sales for my company and the difference after I did that. The second highlights my skills in writing, content marketing, and public speaking. I mention I’ve been published on Vox.com. I show off the 3 blogs that I am the sole content contributor for. I also mention that I’ve given talks and presentations at Duquesne University, Carnegie Mellon, The University of Pittsburgh, Ohio University, and several high schools in the Pittsburgh area.

Last, I talk about the marketing skills I’ve acquired. I show the positive difference in open/click rate before and after I took over the email marketing for my business partner, PyRSquared. This directly shows my ability to gain people’s interest. I also show a couple of the cooler ads I’ve designed for both Allegheny Crane and KP Builders.

To conclude, I say thank you for looking over my pitch deck and that I would love to work for such a fantastic company. Now as the employer, who are you going to hire? Would it be the kid that yeah, seems like the right type for the job, but hasn’t been tested and would require a fair amount of training? Or is it this guy, who expressed interest in working specifically for your company. The guy who has real skills and has had them tested. The guy who has tangible results to back up his credentials. Who would you hire? I’d say the odds are in my favor.

The Power Of Knowing How To Sell

I’m currently reading The Last Safe Investment by Byran Franklin and Ellsberg. The general thesis of the book is that there is no direct path to success or one certain investment that will ensure wealth and happiness, except one. The only investment that will absolutely without a doubt become profitable is yourself. I’m only about 100 pages in but so far it’s an infatuating and inspiring read. One paragraph in particular stuck out to me.

“Sales skills are the most predictable way to increase your earnings over the long run. These skills add leverage to your already-existing technical skills (i.e., what you do for a living), because no matter how good you are at those skills, you won’t get paid top dollar for them unless you convince others that your skills are worth top dollar.”

Tonight I gave a short update to a friend about the work I’m involved in with my business partner. I told him I’m making tons of the improvements to the website and that I’m launching the blog for one of the companies we own tomorrow! His response was ABC (always be closing).

At first, this response confused me. The work I told him about had nothing to do with selling right? Wrong. You are always selling. I’m selling my value to the company I work for. I’m selling customers on the image of our company with the website. I’m directly increasing sales by making ordering from the website far easier. I’m also engaging people by writing about the cool stuff that we’re working on. Sales are everything. No matter how skilled you are at something, it doesn’t matter if you can’t sell other people on that skill. Tonight was a good reminder to keep that sales mindset no matter what I’m doing.

Find Your Drive

Where does our motivation and drive come from? I like to think we are pushed by an internal burning desire to succeed. Everyone wants to leave a mark of some kind on this earth. That can be through helping others, running a business, inventing something, or just raising a family.

Sometimes the reason for my drive becomes confused. I start becoming motivated by something other than an internal goal. Of course it’s natural to want to work towards success for superficial reasons. In fact, I would encourage working towards a financially secure future. The dangerous type of drive is the kind that comes from what other people want or expect of you.

It’s easy to get swept up in working towards what other people consider success. The typical dream of being a doctor or lawyer may not work for everyone. In fact, there are a ton of people in those fields who are unhappy with their jobs. It doesn’t take much to get off track.

Let’s say you have a cool opportunity to be a part of a growing startup. The company is still in its early stages so you’re going to be taking a pretty significant pay cut over the next year or so. But you think the company has massive potential, you believe in the cause, and you have a very clear way to create value. Plus if the company does take off, you’ll more than make up for the money you lost by not getting a 9–5.

Chances are, you’re still going to feel the pressure to get a secure job. That pressure turns into artificial drive. When your mom tells you she thinks you should take the 9–5 because it has double the pay, you’re going to start seeing that as the correct thing to do. Mainly because you don’t want her to feel like you disappointed her. You might feel pressure from your friends who are able to live a much more relaxed life. They have a set schedule and far more money to spend on going out and having fun. At the same time, you might be struggling to make ends meet while working your ass off. Even if what you are doing is extremely fulfilling for you, your true desires start to get muddled in other people’s opinions.

You’re going to do something controversial eventually. At some point, you are going to go against your parents. At some point, you may distance yourself from your friends. This is the toughest part of following your own internal drive and desires. But it’s far better than the alternative. The alternative is getting that 9–5 job and going through the motions. Even if you are succeeding, you aren’t doing it for you. You’re living someone else’s life. As Ayn Rand says, you’re living life second hand.

Young professionals are going to be struck by this dilemma. Should you do something secure that people around you approve of? Or should you do what you want, no matter what the risk is? I could wrap this up by saying life is too short to live a boring life or whatever. Yeah, that’s true, but overused. The real truth is that life is too short to live someone else’s. Find out what you want and block everything else out. Being young is an incredible stage in your life. You don’t have all the limits that come with age and a family. If you mess up, the worst that could happen really isn’t too bad. There’s a lot to be said for going after something cool and that you really care about while you’re young.

Throw Out Your Parent’s Model For Success.

While we’re growing up in our teens it seems like adults have it all figured out. They went through the system and came out the other end with a solid career that fits their needs and skills. But we feel lost don’t we? Most of us don’t have a real idea of what we want to do for the rest of our lives. If we do, chances are that we’re wrong.

It turns out that adults really don’t have a better understanding of how to find the right career. A very good portion of the population is unhappy with their job. This means that yes there’s a decent amount of adults who feel chained to their current career for financial reasons but really, would rather be doing something else.

People work towards finding the right career for their entire lives. It’s one of our many challenges and probably the most difficult. Even after you do find a career that fulfils you, things change. You might find yourself having to start from the beginning at some point in your life.

The other part that makes it difficult for adults to advise students in their search for a fitting career is that the traditional path to success has changed in the past 20 years. In our parents time, the basic model was to go to school, graduate, find an entry level job, and work your way up the ladder. There wasn’t as much emphasis on finding a job that you loved, but this was still considered the way you gain the credibility to be able to search for a job that appealed to you.

That model is proving to be ever less true. College graduates are finding it more difficult than ever to get a job with the salary they need to begin paying off their debt. For one, the national student loan debt is higher than ever, and second, graduates simply don’t have the skills employers are looking for.

This model of working your way up the ranks of a company seems pretty secure but it isn’t at all. It puts all your eggs in one basket. If something happens with that company, you really do have to start at square one. This has happened to several members of my family and older friends throughout their careers.

There are a couple solutions to this problem. People feel like a way to have a secure career is by having a signal that shows your value for you. It’s far more effective to be intrinsically valuable. Building a powerful personal brand opens up far more connections than your degree or a certain amount of time at one company.

The other solution is to become an entrepreneur. It really doesn’t matter if a certain company or degree offers job security if you can create your own. The best part about entrepreneurship is that you can build whatever you want! Whatever you create, just make sure it’s something you care about. This seems far riskier than going to school and getting that entry level job, but it really isn’t. The entrepreneur is in control. He decides his future. He is taking a risk yes, but he is completely in control of the outcome.

My Experience At Ohio University

I had the pleasure of giving my underage drinking talk once again this week. I sped off to Ohio University right after work on Monday. I met a few different people this last weekend who set me up with the speaking gig. I was very excited to get in their school just a day after meeting them. School is ending soon so getting as many of these opportunities as possible over the next two weeks is of dire importance.

I made it to the university with about 40 minutes to spare. The students were extremely gracious and invited me in to share a drink with them. This distracted me in those last 30 minutes before my talk and got rid of whatever nerves I had. I went into the talk just excited to meet new people and discuss an awesome subject.

My approach to public speaking is completely different from just a few weeks ago. I still focus on projecting and making sure my energy levels are high, but in the end, it’s just a conversation. The times that I saw it as a speech, I would freeze up. My personality wouldn’t come through in the talk and I didn’t go off the cuff. It was all scripted and going off book seemed to imply total disaster.

I told a few of the same stories, but a great deal of the talk was on the fly. I was able to joke around freely and keep things light. It was far more comfortable for me and it facilitated a much more lively discussion. I want to stress that I’m not saying from now on I’ll just go into my speeches cold. The reason this approach worked so well was that I have a good amount of knowledge on the subject as well as many different stories to back up my points. I was able to use whatever I needed according to how the group reacted.

Another very important reason for why I felt so comfortable was that I didn’t use Google Slides or Powerpoint. I had one sheet with a few key points written down in very large letters. But again, I didn’t need to use that very much. I knew the point I wanted to make and I had the ammunition I needed to make sure it was delivered effectively.

I don’t plan on ever using slides again unless the talk clearly has a need for it. The times I’ve used slides I felt tied down to them. I couldn’t improvise. It felt rigged, scripted, and really just a little awkward. It’s almost like there’s just too many components to keep track of. Now, of course, it should be easy to get over this. Just running through the talk a few times while using the slides should solve the problem. But even if I could use the slides effectively, I wouldn’t.

I spoke with a friend about this before my speech. He told me he never uses slides. He said when you turn on a projector, it’s like people slip into movie mode. They’re ready to watch the slides instead of listening. It limits your ability to control the audience’s attention. I thought back to the talks I’ve attended that have had slides and this is absolutely true. When it’s just you and the crowd there’s nowhere for them to hide. You can look them directly in the eye and there’s nowhere else they should be looking. It’s a powerful difference and it really changed this talk for me. I don’t really understand why slides are used so often. It seems like the main reason in a lot of talks is to show some graph to give the speaker credibility. There are better ways to do this.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience and probably my favorite speech I’ve given. The improvement that I’ve felt in just 5 talks has been absolutely huge. Public speaking is the number one fear for most people. That first time is terrifying. The second time is still pretty damn scary. After that, the curve shoots straight up. If it’s something you want to get comfortable with, you just have to do it.

The benefits of feeling comfortable with public speaking and delivering successful speeches are incredible. It’s given me more confidence talking to strangers, coworkers, prospects, and my superiors. It’s also been a very personally fulfilling experience. I’ve seen quite a few speeches in the past few months that were frankly just bad. These were given by grown adults who are experts in their field. It’s a pretty damn good feeling to know you are far better than they are, with just a fraction of the experience. If it’s something you can do, and do well, you will be in a group with an extremely small percentage of the population.

Power Of Public Speaking Ability

One of the single most valuable skills in this world is the ability to speak publically. It’s the number one fear for most Americans. If you can speak comfortably and articulate an argument during your speech you have a skill that the vast majority of people can’t even imagine having.

I only recently started to get better at it. I’m still not at all impressive but I’m definitely getting to the point of where I feel comfortable in front of an audience as long as I have done the proper preparation. Today I witnessed something rather incredible.

A dear friend of mine gives talks and presentations fairly often. He is a master. He can present a lively, electric, and engaging talk without any preparation at all. Just this morning we were talking when all of a sudden he realized he had a speech to give via Google Hangout to a group of 50 people in Europe!

He didn’t know what his speech was on, all he knew was that it was supposed to begin in ten minutes. Anyone else would be mortified. But he jumped into action immediately. He gave an elegant and exciting speech in 40 minutes. That ability is nearly priceless.

Being able to do that is valuable in every aspect of life. Being ready to perform with no preparation or notice and kicking ass. That’s rare. If you can do it, it’s an incredibly marketable skill. If you can’t, get better. Less than a month ago I was terrified of the possibility of speaking in front of even 10 people. The learning curve is very steep. Do it once, it’ll probably suck. Do it twice, it might be bearable. The third time was when I really started to feel the difference. When that happens, your personal stock soars straight up and I’ll be honest, it feels damn good.

First Impressions Die, How You Leave Is Everything.

First impressions are important in the beginning. When you start a new job a first impression can mean a lot in the first week or two. It sets the course for people’s opinion of you and sometimes even your role in the office. But after you leave a job, no one thinks about that. The only thing people will remember or care about is your last two weeks.

The problem is that this goes against our natural inclinations. If we know we’re leaving our job after a short while our mindset changes. We start to think about the next step and challenge. Our work becomes a chore in the way of our new exciting future. The reality is that we have more incentive than ever to kick ass during those last few weeks.

Sometimes people misunderstand what the value of a job is. It’s not the paycheck week to week. That’s important for our livelihood but what we really gain from a job is social capital. If you leave your job by making a scene or simply coasting for your last few weeks, people are going to remember you as a slacker.

It can be hard to dominate your last two weeks in a job because your mind has moved onto other things. Plus, the benefits of giving it your all are much more abstract than they were before. Before it meant staying in good standing with the boss, getting respect from your coworkers, and maybe earning a pay raise. Now you don’t really know what the benefits of working hard could be.

Social capital is one of the most important things you can work towards in the early stages of your career. If you go all out, people will remember you as a hardworking and wonderful person. The possibilities that come with people being your biggest supporter are endless. Focusing your efforts to the very end will pay off far more than diverting your attention to the next step.

Learn Something New

I write about overcoming fear pretty often. Well, I’m doing it again. It’s the number one road block in most people’s path. If we were better at overcoming our fear we would gain far more skills, live fuller, and become more valuable as individuals. The few that can overcome their fear of trying something new are the ones that rise above mediocrity.

I talk about how this relates to students today. Everyone is doing the same thing to try to succeed. This fear doesn’t end with students. It plagues people throughout their entire life. In the workplace, people stick with their certain “defined skill set” for fear of messing up. A lot of the times people don’t try new things simply because it seems like such  an ordeal.

It’s almost never as hard as it seems like it is to learn a new skill. If you can chip away at your fear and be willing to learn any new skill you will become far more valuable to your coworkers, boss, and all society.

Making History

The founder of Praxis, Isaac Morehouse, wrote his blog post for the day listing the results that Praxis graduates experience. I’m Praxis’ biggest fan and even I was blown away by the numbers. The starting salary for people coming out of the program is $48,877. Yeah, starting salary.

The average age is 21, and 80% of graduates were offered a full-time job with their business partner after the year was over. Out of every single person who has ever gone through the program, only one is currently jobless. He chose to go back to grad school before entering the workforce.

One more incredible piece of information, everyone finishes their year with Praxis having made money. It seems like the main problem with Praxis is that people think it can’t be this good. There has to be a scam somewhere. Wrong. It really is this amazing. The apprenticeship is being brought back and Praxis is leading the way.

So if you are an average Praxis participant, you will come out of the program making just a couple thousand shy of the average household income. That alone is incredible. Already Praxis graduates are whopping college grads. Oh also, you’ll be at least a year or two younger than college grads. You will have spent the last year not only setting yourself up for greatness, but also making a small amount of money. Compare this net profit to the average $28,000 in student loans.

Every year more statistics come out that outline the disaster college graduates are put in. Fewer jobs, more debt, and irrelevant or no skills. Praxis participants are becoming more successful in one single year than most people are in their entire lives. The future of school is here. Being the first to do anything is scary. But look at how these people who have conquered their fear have been rewarded. Praxis is successfully breaking the mold, making history, and changing lives every single day.

Why You Need Something To Prove

I’ve never faced that many hardships or doubts. In every area of life, I’ve always stood out near the top or at least stayed somewhere in the middle of the pack. I’ve never been the kid that no one wanted to pick in basketball. I’ve never been the kid bringing down the test averages for a whole class. I’ve never been the kid that didn’t fit in and stayed out of everyone’s way. The most resistance I’ve ever faced in my entire life came from when I decided to opt out of college. And that wasn’t exactly brutal by any means.

This can all sound like a good thing but after speaking with a friend last night, I believe it can be one of my greatest weaknesses. Having a chip on your shoulder is a very powerful motivator for people. Something happens to us when we hear that we can’t do something.

It’s a primal desire to prove our haters wrong. That’s an overused term but we thrive from this. I know for myself, someone doubting me gets me more motivated than something encouraging me. When someone tells me it’s unrealistic to think I can get a good job without a degree, I get excited. I can’t wait to grin at those same people in a matter of months.

If you don’t have anyone doubting you, it just feels like you’re supposed to succeed. This encourages a couple of bad habits. First, it makes people think they can get by without working as hard. When you’ve been told that you’re amazing your entire life, you start to believe it and think you can just do things better and faster than other people.

The second problem is more personal to me. Because people have always assumed I would do pretty well in life I sometimes feel like I can get away with more. I hadn’t ever really thought about this until last night but it’s been true in many different areas of my life. I thought I could get away with talking more during class. I thought I could show up a few minutes late for tennis practice. I felt like rules that mattered to others didn’t really apply to me.

Sure, I might get in a little bit of temporary trouble but nothing that couldn’t be smoothed over or forgiven. It’s dangerous. I know this sounds a little ridiculous. Complaining about people liking and believing in me sounds a little perverse. But it is a real weakness especially since I do respond very well to people saying I can’t do something.

I’m currently in one of the rare situations where I am doubted. My friend helped me realize this was a special opportunity for me, one that I don’t get very often. I’m excited to see how I react. I know how I feel right now, I’m pumped. But what about six weeks from now? The challenge for me will be keeping that attitude consistent over the coming weeks. If I can focus on my goals over the next month and a half, I will have accomplished something wonderful and grown a ton at the same time.