I was asked this by a high school student at the Ohio Business Week symposium.
First of all, a couple of things that I’ve found helpful when speaking with young people:
1) Curse early and often. Often as (it pains me to admit this) an old person, there is a perceived barrier between generations. Rightfully so as many young people are constantly lectured to and trashed talked about by those of us with grey hairs. I have learned that a well-placed “that’s bullshit” in a speech tends to get them to sit up and pay attention.
2) Don’t bullshit them. They are far more attuned to picking up lies than “when I was your age”. They have grown up with immediate access to the world’s information and if you lie to them they will know it. So when the accountant stands before them and says “I love my job” they all know he’s lying. Cause it’s a shit job spending a good amount of time explaining how much your asshole clients can cheat the IRS.
So. The kid. He shares that he doesn’t like studying. That he isn’t motivated. And asks if I liked to study.
I have to imagine that he was quite hopeful that after my endless droning on about my path to entrepreneurship that perhaps I too hated studying and that he could be successful without it. Poor little bastard.
I love studying. I do it to this day. Just last night I was learning about string theory and how the universe likely did come from nothing. That the universe is expanding and the odds of our species evolving at the speed and time it did to be able to see the edge of the universe is statistically impossible. And it’s incredible and the world fascinates me and I love learning more every day.
He didn’t seem satisfied….
Well also, just look at me. I’m not big. I’m not tall. There was no way that I was going to make it as a basketball player. But what I realized is that I could be smarter than everyone else around me. I can control that.
So while all of my friends are out partying, hanging out with girls, et cetera; I could be working on my hustle. And that doesn’t sound like the most glamorous life. It’s not. But a mantra of the entrepreneurial world is that “I will live a life like most others won’t, so I can have a life like that most others can’t”. You do the 80-hour weeks to have a taste of what none of the 40-hour workers will. Clearly, there are trust fund babies who will squander the money and have way different issues than many of us. But if you’re not one of them, you’re going to have to work really damn hard.
But also, respect the fact that you are in America right now. Many of us have seen the video. The kids all lineup and then the minorities start further behind and the kids with one parent start further back. And it’s sad and it’s messed up that our society is structured like that, but here’s the deal: that’s America. We are in a world where if you make $80k a year: you’re in the 1%. Semi-trucker drivers make that in the States. So if you’re in a 3rd world country in that foot race video you’re like a mile behind.
In this country all you have to do is study and you’ll be fine. Whatever room you’re in just look around and figure out what you need to do to be 10% better than the rest of the room.
If you’re in school, what does it take to outperform the rest of the class by 10%? If you’re in an office: same shit.
It might be a couple of hours a week to outperform. It might be a couple of hours a day. But that’s the game. And knowing the game you are in is the first step in figuring out how to elevate to the big game.
Life is about constant improvement. Or at least it can be.
The smartest people know how little they know about a subject matter, and the dumbest mother truckers on the planet think they know everything about everything.
Being curious. Being tenacious. Never satisfied with what you know. Trying to become a better, smarter, more compassionate person is a success.
And it starts with forcing yourself to learn about things that don’t excite you.
(I realized that I’m breaking in and out of what happened at the event ((or rather how I like to remember the details)) and questioned if this would be confusing to the 3 people who actually read another of my soapbox rants ((soapbox. There’s a term that will be lost on future generations)) and while I assumed it would be confusing, I also determined that I’m far too lazy to fix it. So please read on and if it doesn’t make sense just know that the infinite universe is mostly made up of nothingness and that nothingness is expanding and I would suggest that none of this really matters anyway.)
I consistently hear from students at university about how they don’t see value in what they are learning. It is incredibly relatable because I said the same stupid shit when I was in school, “Why did they put letters into math? Unless I teach Algebra… when is this ever gonna matter to me?”
I was such an idiot. I use that shit daily now. Every time I have to build Excel equations I think back and scold my younger self and give a shout to Mr. Jutte for tolerating me as a student…. If the roles were reversed: I would have slapped the shit outta myself.
I shared that when my company signs a new account we have to go deep QUICKLY into their industry; ie working on a program for expecting mothers I needed to learn about pregnancy (something I didn’t know a lot about as a 38-single man but also knowing what I know about it… it is incredible our species has survived). I also know about political campaigns, intellectual patent law as it pertains to the Department of Defense, 3rd-grade reading proficiency and it’s importance (fun fact: did you know that some suggest that you can estimate the number of new prisons we need to build off of the reading proficiency of 8-year-olds…. Hurray America!). But my favorite example is that I know more about tackifiers, resins, and adhesives than the average mammal because of the work we do for an international chemical company: yeah!
So while I sympathize with students who don’t care for the subject matter they are experiencing. That’s life. You get a subject that you might not be passionate about, you can either decide to go deep, become a subject matter expert and enjoy the process of learning how to do that… or be an absolute dick to Mr. Jutte.
It’s something I wish I would have learned a long time ago. And hopefully, if you aren’t too put off by my use of expletives (which 1. why are you still reading this 2. Grow the “F” up) then I hope you share this with young people.
They need real advice and it shouldn’t come from an accountant (probably).