Parents think spending a shitton of money on college goes to learning. Naive. If we were to dive back into college, this is what a normal week looks like for most students(except engineers):
Tuesday + Wednesday:
(Note, I figured out you use text in paint which saved me tremendous time drawing this, but I was too lazy to re-change everything before)
On a side note, I’ve left off a number of NSFW activities college students do. Why? Because my mom reads this blog.
Unless it’s midterm season:
If college was supposed to be a “learning haven”, I’m guessing this probably wasn’t the best strategy to learn. And this leads to………
And we wonder why college grads can’t find jobs……
Nevertheless, now that I’m a young professional, I have the advantage of a little more life experience. Alcohol and partying became an escape from thinking about the hard questions: what did I actually want to do with my life? What type of person did I want to be? Of course, in retrospect, it would’ve been great to start thinking about these things in college. But as Seth Godin says:
“The best time to start was last year. The second best time to start is right now.”
And if I want to be the driver of my own life, I can’t depend on school, work or anybody else for my real education. I needed to decide which courses I wanted to take. Because if I don’t, others will start deciding for me: managers, parents, friends. So welcome, my first post is my curriculum for my Lifelong MBA:
Course #1: Learning/Skill-Building
To begin my self-education journey, I need to return to the basics which leads to the question: how do our brains actually learn new skills? Basically, I want to become a mix of Albert Einstein and James Bond: genius + badass = geniu-assery.
Most of us learn through rote which means we re-read and memorize information. And then, we’ve been trained by school to “take the test.”
When in reality, the smarter way to learn is to learn through related connections and practice. The basic gist: we should be connecting what we know to related knowledge while immediately applying what we know to practice. Kinda like this:
That’s the Einstein part. For James Bond, I’d like to be able to race cars, carve stone-hard abs, have a mega-gaze poker staredown, pull hot ladies and jump over shit. Basically, be badass in everything I do. In order for me to be a badass, I need to be able to learn shit and learn shit quickly. And because the Matrix’ Kung Fu download program doesn’t exist, I’ll have to settle on building my own framework to learning anything. And this’ll give me the platform to learn everything else on this list.
Course #2: Money
Millenials are funny. We can’t find jobs, but after we do get hired, we hate it because it’s not our “passion.” There are two reasons for this:
- We are wiping our company’s ass aka doing the bitch work.
- Nobody cares about us so we don’t get any work.
So we suffer a blend of unhappiness and depression while we’re two steps away from signing the resignation letter. I know this because I went through this cycle. This is the wrong way to look at it. I guess I should develop an appreciation for my current job. Because my job is what pays for the bills, food, courses, books and my life. And being appreciative means always doing great work and not quitting unless I have a solid plan on what my next step would be. I can still pursue my passions on the side, risk-free.
So now that we’ve established that I don’t want to starve, my number one financial enemy is debt. Debt is modern day slavery and nobody wants to go back to the cotton farm. That’s probably a severe overstatement but fuck it. Getting into debt is the only thing that could force me to do something I absolutely hate. If I imagine debt as a piece of string, the more debt I get into, the stronger the string pulls at me, controlling me, as if I were a puppet. But there are other forms of this string:
- Living paycheck to paycheck would mean my livelihood is dependent on my one job.
- Being unemployed while my spouse is employed means livelihood is completely dependent on someone else.
- Borrowing a lot of money from friends and not paying them back damages my relationships, which in turn diminishes my happiness
The more strings attached, the more I become a puppet of someone else’s life. So to live a happy, free life and avoid being someone else’s bitch and these are the four things I should do:
1. Responsible Spending: First step to avoiding puppetry, is to avoid the deadliest string of all: debt. This means always paying my bills on-time and never owing any money, whether it’s to the government or my friends. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the best way to manage my finances and Ramit Sethi’s automated personal finance system seems to be the best in setting up a system of automatic payments to get everything paid and spend worry-free. It took me a couple months to set up, but I highly recommend it.
2. Building Savings: According to Marketwatch, 63% of Americans are one paycheck away from the street. And although I question the validity of the survey, that’s not the point. Being one paycheck away from the street would mean I have zero flexibility and options. So what’s the solution? A cushion of savings. I want to move to a new country on a whim? Sure. I need to see the ER for $1000? No problem. I’m sued? Fuck off.
The fine line is figuring out how to save money while not depriving myself of happiness. Which leads me to the minimalist lifestyle. What does this mean? Getting rid of all the crap I don’t need, while spending money, not on things, but on high ROI purchases: knowledge and experiences.
3. Earn More: The secret to personal financial management is not to save, but to earn more. In addition to any concrete skill I have, the ability to earn more is a skill itself. Because anything that earns me money will require me to build and sell value, which combines the skills of both learning and selling. Earning more means understanding what skills I have, the market for those skills and selling these skills as a service to whoever can benefit, whether it means being employed or working for myself. But why should I earn more if I already have a job? Having multiple streams of income is how I avoid puppetry. In investing terms, I’m “diversifying my portfolio.” To diversify my own income “portfolio”, I should look for alternative ways to earn money while still building my skills and gaining experience. What could this be? Freelancing.
4. Investing: Young people have a specific advantage in both finance and in life: time. And in terms of money, this is literally free cash, if I’m willing to wait. Great way to practice self-control and delayed gratification. The problem: the financial industry intentionally uses complicated jargon to confuse us. For example, codicil, disintermediation, efficient frontier, discretionary trust. Unless I work in the industry, I’m not going to know what those mean. Nevertheless, developing some investment literacy could cut through all this verbose terminology so I actually understand the different types of investment accounts: where to invest, different types of services etc. The earlier I can become investment literate, the more wealth I can accumulate for the future. For me, I’d like to learn enough but I don’t see myself needing to dive into intricate detail on different portfolios and investment strategies. Ramit Sethi’s book is great for this. Tony Robbins’ is pretty good too.
Course #3: Health
If you met me in high school, I intentionally acted like an asshole to fat people:
This is how my friends and I entertained ourselves. We weren’t fat so it was hard for us to empathize. As I’ve “matured”, I’d think that I’d outgrow this phase. I have not. And I’m totally accepting of fat people. But for me, I will never tolerate it. Because if I ever become fat, it’s a product of my own lack of self-control and self-discipline. But rather than “avoid being fat”, the better perspective is to be healthy, which covers a wider scope than “not being fat.” If I’m out of commission, I can’t do any of the shit I want to do. Plus, 60-year old me will probably appreciate good, healthy habits. I break health into three slices:
1. Healthy Eating: I always eat the same shit: dumplings, soylent, noodles. I even went 5 days drinking only soylent to see what it was like. To those who don’t know what soylent is, it’s a powdered meal replacement that supposedly contains all the required vitamins and nutrients an average homo sapien would need. I actually felt healthier drinking soylent than eating normal food. But that wouldn’t be sustainable. I avoid TV dinners and fast food but like most bachelor’s, I make simple food. So to all future girlfriends out there, YOU MUST KNOW HOW TO COOK!!!!! OR ELSE!!! As much as I love learning new things, cooking masterpieces just isn’t a priority. But while I’m searching for chef-girlfriend, I’d like to learn how to make simple, healthy meals with minimal prep time. At some point, I do want to experiment with diets such as Slow-Carb and Paleo. I’d also like to experiment with nootropics.
2. Fitness: In college, I went through this giant “bro” phase where I needed to get swoll and big. And like most wannabe bro’s, I skipped leg days and tried to outdrink everybody. Besides becoming “Beer Pong Champion”, I soon learned there was no point to having all this muscle if I wasn’t a bodybuilder or football player. Nowadays, I’m more about functional fitness which means bodyweight calisthenics, yoga and cross-fit are my workouts of choice. Being fit and healthy means having a strong heart to play sports, feel great and take off my shirt, nonchalantly flex my abs and get second looks. Or flex my abs while taking shirtless selfies while pretending that I’m not actually flexing. Yes, in the most cocky way, non-humble way possible, I am shredded.
3. Mental Health: When I was in Rotterdam, I got super drunk and woke up in jail. Why didn’t I freak out? Besides me just being a dope, all-around person, amazing guy, I attribute my resilience to meditation. I found meditation to be useful in catching myself thinking shitty thoughts. Before, I’d have a negative thought and this would cause a chain reaction of negative thoughts, slowly draining away my happiness leaving pure shittiness. Meditation helps me catch myself when I’m falling into that chain and think about something else. I learned Zazen meditation and can sit and stare at a wall for 20+ minutes. However, I’d like to take this to the next level. I’ve always wanted to try the 10-day Vipassana retreat. These retreats are 10 hours of meditation per day, no talking, all vegetarian food. I’m down.
Course #4: Reading a lot
Like a crackhead on heroin, I’m addicted to reading. Around 4-5 years, I probably read 4 books maximum per year. Now I read 70 per year. How is this possible? It’s not because I speed-read. It’s because I made reading a priority in my life. Reading is non-negotiable to me, just like eating and sleeping. As Desiderius Erasmus says:
” When I get little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”
To me, reading is a bridge to another person’s mind where for a period of time, I get to see the world through the author’s eyes. Reading is the only way I can travel back in time and witness the birth of the U.S with the jolly Benjamin Franklin or sit in Paul and Clara Jobs’ garage, watching the two Steve’s furiously build the first Macintosh or watching a young Albert Einstein, mesmerized by the magnetic pull of a small compass sparking his obsession with thought experiments and physics. My biggest regret in life is not reading earlier. These are the principles I’m using to guide my reading education:
1. Mental Models: Charlie Munger and Warren Buffet say the ‘latticework of mental models’ is the secret to their success. What are mental models? Mental models are the tools/frameworks we use to tackle problems in our lives. For example, the scientific method is a mental model. Compound interest is a mental model. Theory of relativity is a mental model. We can apply these models to areas outside domains of science to improve our own thinking. These are the core ideas of subjects, that stay constant through the passage of time. Why do we need a lot of mental models? As Munger says: ” To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Not having enough models means I am prone to this “hammer” fallacy and will naturally force reality to conform to my limited view. So how do I acquire more models? Learn from a wide variety of subjects: whether it’s physics, math, philosophy, business, psychology, ecology, fiction, self-help etc. Basicsally, be open to everything. If I learn the general ideas of many subjects, I have many angles to attack a specific problem while also building a wider base of knowledge to create interdisciplinary connections. Farnam Street Blog and Peter Bevelin’s Seeking Wisdom are great for mental models.
2. Active Reading: I spent 3 months learning how to speed-read and I almost never use it. Besides being able to brag about how many books I’ve read, speed-reading has limited use. Nowadays, I use a pen, highlighter and read intentionally slow. As Ryan Holiday says ” Reading to lead or learn requires you to treat your brain like the muscle it is- lifting the subjects with the most tension and weight.” This means shying away from easy self-help books and tackling difficult subjects that require me to put in the work to understand the author. This means I record my thoughts, break down the logic of arguments and make connections to other books and personal experience while I read. Depth over speed. Articles I’ve found useful for active reading: Ryan Holiday on reading books above your level; Farnam Street on How to Read a Book. For a full book on this: How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler.
3. Taking Action: I like bragging about how many books I read because it makes me look smart. Basic signaling. But for most of my life, I would read a ton but not do anything with the information. I call this information masturbation. Of course, reading a lot is great, actually applying my reading is better. Some genre’s, like self-help, have a specific call to action. While others, like fiction or philosophy, don’t have a specific call to action. Whether or not a specific call to action exists, I should find a method of re-creating the knowledge in my own life, therefore making it mine. This means reading a self-help book and actually typing up a plan of implementation and blocking off a time on Google Calendar to do it. This means reading a great novel, recording the quotes in my commonplace book, and using the quotes in a blog post. This means treating a biography like a real coffee date by creating a list of questions to ask beforehand.
Course #5: Communication Skills
A couple months ago, I attended my university’s career fair, but this time, I was on the recruiting side. Besides feeling like a man in power since everyone was vying for my attention, I saw a recurring theme:
I work for an IT company, so naturally, 95% of applicants are indian( from india indian) so obviously, they had sub-par social skills. Common theme: lots of kids with AWESOME technical experiences, like IBM, Microsoft, but most of them couldn’t communicate what they could do and how they could help the company. So I respond with my eyes glossed over, not registering their “pitch.”
There’s a huge fad nowadays with “learning programming” with people wanting to teach it in grade school. I do think it’s useful but at the expense of what? Reading? Writing? Math? Gym? Should we start CRAM schools like in Korea? . Everyone I talked to knew how to code/program/whatever but THEY COULDN’T COMMUNICATE HOW THEY COULD HELP THE COMPANY! I won’t be able to find a job if I can’t effectively communicate what I can do and how I can help. I break effective communication down to three components:
1. Writing: Writing is just thoughts put on paper. If I’m not writing clearly, I’m not thinking clearly. And if I’m not thinking clearly, this means somebody else won’t understand what I’m saying. Why learn to write? Transfer of knowledge in our world is through the written word, whether it’s e-mails, books, websites, memos etc. The only way I’ve been able to learn from people living before me, is because they packaged their thoughts in a way I can understand. I might have a great idea but if I can’t articulate it, it goes extinct. I’m not looking to become a literary superstar, but I’d like to be able to effectively take what’s in my head and put it on paper, which is why I continue blogging.
2. Oral Communication: If writing is thinking on paper, oral communication is spoken thinking. Before writing was invented, knowledge was passed on through the spoken word. And the advantage the spoken word has on writing is that the words are filled with body language, emotion, and hand gestures. They say 90% of communication is through body language. I don’t have a source for that study, but I believe it.
3. Sales: Lots of people hate sales. Sounds sleazy, manipulative and boring. But the world runs on sales. Everything in life is a sale. I am trying to sell you on the idea that sales are important. My business cannot make money if I can’t sell products. Girls don’t date me if I can’t sell myself as a partner. Companies won’t hire me if I can’t sell myself as an employee. But sales shouldn’t be about forcing someone to buy something they don’t want. Sales should be about getting the right product (person, idea etc.) to a someone who needs and would benefit from that product.
Course #6: Social Skills
I naturally lean towards “introvert.” What school helped me with, is breaking out of my shell and being social. Now that schools over, outside of co-workers and going to bars, I’m not meeting new people. This means I have to make a conscious effort to improve my social skills. Social skills mean two things:
1. Meeting interesting people: For a period of time in college, I wanted to become an investment banker. Becoming a banker meant that I’d have to “network” with bankers by inviting them to coffee so they could slide my resume up the job queue. Basically, bullshitting them. I hated it because I didn’t care about meeting these people. I just met them because they’d give me a job. I had a couple interviews lined up, and I flat out didn’t go. After that experience, I made a commitment to never network. But rather, find people that do interesting things, learn from them, figure out how to help them and expect nothing in return. And I call this building friendships.
2. Picking-up girls/Dating: After maturing since college( Yes, it’s only been a year), I realized life isn’t about “smashing ” women. I would rather netflix & chill by myself, than have sex with low-quality women(unless, I have a moment of weakness). By diving into the poisonous rabbit hole, the psychological burden affects other areas of my life: my happiness, my work and peace of mind. And to all women out there, this is what I’ve noticed with men( including myself). We talk a big game and we like to boast. We have egos and it’s easy to fall for our words. But if you judge us only by our actions, you can really judge who we are and our character.
For me to find quality women, I’d like to iron-out that twinge of nervousness that surfaces when talking to attractive females. So my goal to learning pick-up/dating is not to have lots of sex, but to actually meet a wide variety of women. It’s like traveling, each woman is a new country. It may be a day-trip or an extended vacation( settling down isn’t an option at the moment). But the underlying skill is learning how to build a real relationship. And like all skills, dating is developed through consistent practice so at some point, when I choose to settle down, I can find someone that I can love, have kids and enjoy life with.
Course #7: Travel
Weird? Or just different?
That’s the title of Derek Sivers’ Ted Talk. In short, he talks about how the Japanese organize their maps by blocks rather than streets. In short, for an American, say looking for a sushi restaurant, his default paradigm is to use street names. For a Japanese person, the default is to use blocks. If an American were to ask a Japanese for directions, there would be dissonance and misunderstanding. The context of my upbringing defines “normal” and travel breaks up these ingrained assumptions. And the more we immerse ourselves in a foreign culture, the further we expand our view of what’s real.
Humans generally all have the same basic needs: food, water, sex etc. Each giant city is pretty similar: giant nightlife, office buildings, a shitton of people. So we “travel” to do the same things we do at home. Or we spend all our time trying to find the perfect Facebook and Instagram photos at tourist attractions we don’t care about, only to create that glorified social media image.
Is there a right way? Yes and that is drinking deeply from a specific culture. It’s like reading books. I don’t want to race through an amazing novel, but I want to intentionally read it slowly, absorb every word the author writes. With travel, this means spending enough time in an area to make new friends and learn the everyday lifestyle of its inhabitants.
Studying abroad in the Netherlands was one of the greatest experiences of my life. But the reason why is not because I was in a new location, but because I formed meaningful connections with different people. What I didn’t do in the Netherlands, was learn about Dutch culture, meet lots of Dutch people or learn the language. I participated in my share of tomfoolery and took advantage of the liberal Dutch culture. But the experiences I attribute most to my growth, were not the hazy, fucked up experiences but the ones where I actually took the time to really understand another human and their culture.
Course #8: Follow All Curiosities
When I was a kid, like most kids, I talked to my parents and relatives about what I wanted to do when I grew up. I loved sports, so naturally, I wanted to become a football player. Of course, as a 5’9, 155 lb Asian kid, this wasn’t possible and when I brought this up to my parents & relatives, the words “realistic” and “practical” would constantly surface. Of course, I don’t blame parents or teachers or anybody, because they said what they thought was best. But although my dream of becoming a football player was a pipe dream, being told I couldn’t do what I wanted to do started to silence my inner voice.
In the 1960’s, a creative performance researcher named George Land studied 1600 5 year olds. 98% of them scored in the “highly creative range.” He then re-tested them at age 10, and only 30 percent scored in the “highly creative range.” At age 15, 12 percent. At age 25, just 2 percent. ‘Non-creative behavior is learned.’ Whether it’s advertisements, parents, teachers, friends, society pounds the inner child out of us. So what does this have to do with this entire essay? It’s to awaken the dormant child within me so practicality and curiosity are both the drivers of my self-education:
1. Peacocking: I find it VERY interesting examining gatekeepers and who they allow in. Let’s say you’re a high school senior wanting to go to Stanford. Cool. There are approximately 40,000 kids who apply to Stanford each year. Stanford has 28 admissions officers so by the time they notify you of acceptance, each officer reviews at least 1428.57 applicants, not including re-reviews and discussions.
That’s a shitton of applicants and I’m guessing, that it is boring as shit to read through the same thing over and over again. Great SAT scores? Cool. Math Club President? Nothing new. All A’s? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Granted, you do meet the minimum requirements, how do I stand out from the crowd? FYI, I didn’t go to Stanford. But I think the idea applies to any situation with gatekeepers involved: interviewing for a company, joining an exclusive club, connecting with VIPs. My guess is is to be unique. So how do I become unique? I don’t have a concrete answer. But my hypothesis, is to be persistent in following my own curiosities, which means I should pursue anything that strikes the chord of my primal curiosity: freestyle rapping, salsa dancing, drawing etc.
2. Nothing is really useless: Hypothetically, let’s say I made the Olympics in curling. Pretty “useless” sport. But I got good at it. Now, I’m working in a corporate office, slabbing away at spreadsheets and word documents. Though I’m not using my curling skills at all, I do have an advantage. I learned the art of getting good at things. I know the habits, additional work, and the discipline it takes to be the best. Or a real world example, I learned improv. Though improv doesn’t seem “useful”, improv improved my ability to think on my feet, be creative and perform in front of crowds. “Useless” is baseless. Although many skills I learn may not earn me money or have “practical” benefit, there’s always an indirect application of the skill.
3. You’ll actually do the work: Let’s take the average college student. Let’s say she chose to major in Accounting because it provided a stable job. Fair enough. Let’s look at another college student, she chose to major in Geological Forecasting out of personal interest. When we look at the trajectories of both students, the Accounting student isn’t going to see class as a learning haven but rather a slog of midterms, assignments, and finals. On the other hand, the student with a deep interest in Geological Forecasting would actually attend every class because she enjoys learning about the subject. Not only will she attend class but she’ll actually engage with the professor, ask questions and pursue interesting side-projects. She’ll see class as an arena of fulfillment and engagement. Wait, what if I don’t know where my deep interests lie? Then the more important to try many things that just “seem interesting” and see where they lead.
To quote Steve Jobs:
” You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will connect in your future. You have to trust in something, your gut, destiny, karma, whatever. “
The dude learned one of the most “useless” things in college: calligraphy. But knowing calligraphy was integral to the Mac’s beautiful typeface.
Weaknesses of this curriculum:
Of course, no curriculum is bulletproof. There are weaknesses:
1. Requires Lots of Self-Discipline: Formal education has the benefit of providing a set structure. Self-education does not. In school, the consequence of not doing the work meant poor grades. At work, the consequence of not finishing my project could get me fired. With self-education, the consequence of not completing the course is nothing. But I think what separates top performers and everyone else is this characteristic of self-discipline. And those who self-educate, are developing this skill that not many people have. And once they have developed it, they’ll have the confidence to tackle any learning challenge.
2. No Specialization: Another weakness of this plan is that I’m not specializing in one area. But I think that if I want to specialize and become the best in that field, I’m going to need to have enough interest to grind through the obstacles and blandness every field contains. And the only way to find out if I’m truly interested in a field is to explore, try lots of things and see where they lead, especially while I’m still young.
3. Not Career-Focused: But Jeff, you aren’t working on skills that could get you a promotion or raise! Fair point. I believe in having a life outside of work. But when I am in the office, I commit to intensively focusing on whatever task is at hand and not getting distracted by social media or web-surfing. If I intensively focus and manage my time well at work, I can do great work while avoiding late nights.
Looking at the big picture, although a lot of the stuff listed here are for practical purposes, the “Lifelong MBA” as more of a mindset. I find it more important to engage life through the lens of lifelong learning. Adults usually need to have a reason to learn something, whether it’s to get promoted, get a raise, lose weight etc. Lifelong learning has no reason. I like watching children(in a non-creepy way) because they view the world in such amazement with their imagination running rampant, basking in a pure, uncontaminated joy. Which reminds me of this paradox: we spend the first 18 years of our lives learning how to be adults while we spend the rest of our lives learning to become children. Lifelong learning is the door to our inner child. The world becomes our playground. Curiosity is the ruler of our kingdom, impenetrable to worry. It’s how we stay young while we get old. Let’s be crazy, imaginative children together. First class in session, the basics: learning “how to learn.”