Education comes from the Latin educere, meaning ‘to draw out’ the pupil. Interestingly, the Latin word educare, meaning ‘to mold or train’ was also used in ancient times to describe education. Although both terms sound similar, they have very different meanings. Modern education has developed along the latter. In our current iteration of education, students are assumed to arrive at school each day with a little bit more empty space in their brains to fill with knowledge. It’s the teacher’s job to instill curriculum proficiency through rote learning. While most classrooms today aren’t the ‘drill and kill’ style where facts are repeated until committed to memory, even research projects follow a rote style where everyone produces a piece of work based on a specific set of requirements. This is a result of our increasingly outdated model of learning where we wish to produce students who can follow a recipe of instructions to obtain a specific skill set. This worked well from the birth of education to the 80s, when many jobs in western society were still industrial-based.
Now, in the throws of the service economy, we’re seeing a rapid departure from skill development in school to the skill requirements of modern jobs. It turns out that spending time learning facts and following specific project guidelines for 8 hours a day does not lend the creative skills demanded in today’s creative economy.
Schools should drive to incorporate more educere in their curriculum. We should view education not as a way to deliver information and instruction in bite-sized peices but to help children develop as critical thinkers.
How much of the work being produced in your classroom is recipe based? Can you design a lesson where the student has a chance to create their own learning? That’s educere in action!
Life is not at all like the heroic Hollywood movies where the main character faces a setback and then musters the courage to overcome it and win the day triumphantly - all in a few hours. Real life has much more nuance to it. In many instances you often won't know that you're facing an obstacle and certainly may not recognize the path to a winnable solution. Countless studies have shown that humans are much more robust than previously thought and can handle and recover from utter catastrophe. On the other hand, we reliably and consistently overestimate obstacles and setbacks as impossible barriers to overcome.
This, of course, is a result of evolutionary pressures insuring that we don't take too many risks and when disaster does strike we've been gifted fortitude to carry on. It also has the ability to buffer us from permanent mental paralysis so we can recover from tragedy. Unfortunately, theses mechanisms work wonderfully in a primitive environment and not so well in the tech-focused world of modern times (see all of Twitter).
One answer for living a productive modern life comes from the ancient wisdom of the stoic philosophers. They encourage you to follow the virtues of Wisdom, Justice, Courage and Moderation. Courage is an essential component of your legacy because unlike the movies, you may be asked to answer the call at an inopportune time that may be littered with easy exits. In those moments where you could stand-up for injustice, challenge the status-quo, do a thing that is impossible or run toward danger while others run away, you require the moral and sometimes physical courage.
In modern times, it's easy to jump on a keyboard and speak out against an injustice. The problem is that it often begins and ends behind the keyboard without any effort to physically change something. We call this virtual signalling. It's the process of finding the minimal possible dosage to signal to others that you're with them or how you're a 'good person' without needing to prove it. The result is a system hack where we get the dopamine hit without the risks and rewards associated with actual work.
This is not courageous.
“To each,” Winston Churchill would say, “there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”
Courage is answering that 'tap' on the shoulder.
It calls you:
To take a risk.
To challenge the status quo.
To run toward danger while others run away.
To rise above your station.
To do a thing that people tell you is impossible.
Will you be ready to answer the call?
Student success departments in K-12 education are some of the busiest places in a school. In the last two decades their workload has doubled and in many cases tripled.
"I can't keep up" as one high school guidance counsellor recently posted on Facebook.
According to Johnathan Hiadt, rates of depression, anxiety and suicide among teens has skyrocketed since 2015. The numbers have steadily increased since the start of the COVID pandemic and show no signs of slowing down.
Simon Sinek believes that over coddling has led to a dramatic decrease in teenagers and young adults abilities to solve problems effectively. Experiencing setbacks is a normal part of life, but when those setbacks are fixed for you as a youngster, you don't acquire the the skills needed to deal with them as an adult.
Trees need the wind to grow strong. If trees aren't exposed to wind and weather, they will not expend the extra energy to reinforce the cells in the base and trunk. No problems means no need to invest in something that isn't there.
When a tree grows without being exposed to wind, they will grow tall and wide. However, when a thunder storm arrives, they will be the first to fall.
If there's one thing that is certain in life it's that storms will always eventually show up.
Downshifting is the movement of slowing down. Not just physically, but in every aspect of your life including your work. Downshifters work less, consume less and stress less. The theory of the movement is founded in the belief that there's an ideal work-life balance that can be reached to maximize the greatest life satisfaction. It became popular in the mid 90s when the world was arguably at the most stable point in modern times. Crime was rapidly declining, the economy was booming and politics were boring. Many people recognized that working more didn't seem to provide the necessary glory it once did.
Downshifters believe that working beyond a certain threshold results in diminishing returns. This makes intuitive sense. We only have so much time in day and finding the correct balance between the opposing forces of work, family, friends and fun can be difficult to manage. Work 14 hours a day and you might be too tired to meet up with your friends on Friday after work.
We've all been there.
According to the downshifiting movement, the best way to find the correct work-life balance is to seek out the 'minimum effective dosage' of work you require to maintain your ideal lifestyle.
How? Break out the math!
If your salary was cut in half - along with your working hours - what financial obligations would you need to remove in order to keep your books on the positive side of your balance sheet? It may be less than you think!
Secondly, since you'll have less money but more time, what will you do with it? European vacations and Caribbean cruises are generally not the ideal goals of downshifting. Instead downshifters choose to create.
Write a book, code an app, paint a picture, build a shed. The key factor here is to make productive use of your time by creating. The creating doesn't have to be a solo endeavour. Maybe you volunteer at the hospital or in a classroom. Perhaps you train to become a local firefighter or community watch member. Be productive. With less.
Although the economic crash of 2008 and the political strife that followed (and continues to this day) slowed the movement down to the point where downshifting communities couldn't afford to update their websites, pockets of individuals carried the movement on.
Today, the COVID pandemic has injected a new spark into the idea of downshifting. When we were all forced to slow down, we realized how much we were missing. Many people forced to work from home have reported how surprised they were to see how much nature came through their backyards. As we inch ever closer back to normal, it's likely that we'll see a seismic shift in our work habits. Many people will choose to work less and create more.
The challenge is to keep away from the corporate distractions like Netflix and Tik Tok. But that's for another post...
During the early days of the Iraq and Afghanistan war, the British and US military realized that improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were going to be more that just a troublesome nuisance in their pursuit of military objectives.
To counter the increasing number of casualties from IEDs - both individual and vehicle targeted - the US and British challenged their military innovation departments to develop equipment that could better protect soldiers on patrol.
The result was an interesting smorgasbord of innovative ideas that were pitched to the military, ranging from specially designed IED resistant vehicles to Boeing's sci-fi Plasma Protection Field that would surround a vehicle during an IED explosion.
One invention that fell under the radar (get it?) was bomb proof underwear, designed by the British military. The design came from the requests of soldiers on the ground who had first hand witness the destructive damage could cause to one's genitalia.
The product ended up being a big bust for several reasons including cost to manufacture, lack of reusability (how do you wash them?) and the obvious fact that unless you build the underwear out of metal, nothing is really going to protect your junk. The last and most describing reason was that the under garment contained spandex and polyester which would melt and stick to the skin during an IED attack causing more damage than good (ouch).
While it's almost impossible to predict the next innovative idea that will change the course of war (or your career), it is worth noting that a certain direction of thinking may assist in a greater chance of a positive outcome.
Let me explain.
Instead of pouring money into protecting soldiers during IED attacks, what if the military pivoted from the defensive to the offensive? What if they doubled down on the idea that IEDs - usually just rudimentary shells tied together with a simple circuit and controlled by a remote, timer or pressure plate - could be defeated by avoiding or destroying them before it's too late?
Undoubtedly the US military has a division of research focused on these issues. The real question is: How much are they investing time and money into these more 'far fetched' solutions?
We often get caught 'behind the ball' in our professional lives and that forces us into an innovative mindset that is always catching up. Sometimes the best solutions are the ones when we look above the fray. It can be difficult, but it's necessary to make large transformational change. Othwersie, you might end up with bomb-proof underwear.
In ancient Greece, education formed a part of your identify. Even though formal education was only reserved for males, females and slaves would often take-up informal education through private tutors (if they could afford it) or simply show up to the public square and listen to debate.
The Greeks led by the great philosopher's strongly believed that the purpose of education was eudaemonia - human flourishing. To be eudaemonic, one has the capacity to take advantage of the opportunities provided by culture. At the heart of this is ability to pursue truth. If you were an artist or a poet, your prose would reflect the culture either by questioning or supporting it. The population supported this critical thinking style because they too were eudaemonic and seeking the truth to the big questions. This created a positive feedback loop where a culture of ideas propelled other better ideas to front made Greece - and specifically Athens - the legend that it is today.
The enlightenment hijacked this old idea of truth seeking and powered by the new tool of science, launched western civilization into the modern era.
We got to where we are because ideas were openly scrutinized until they conformed to objective reality (or a close to it as possible). Evidence is an essential when seeking the truth.
How much truth is being told in your classroom?
How many sides of an issue are you presenting to your class?
How much uploading of information are you doing with your students?
It doesn't matter if you are a pre-school teacher or a university professor. As educators we must be constantly evaluating our positions and ideas to ensure that our rhetoric is balanced and offers students an opportunity to question everything.
Sisyphus was the founder of Corinth, who like most ancient Greek mythological characters, had a mischievous and deceitful side of him. He killed guests and travellers to his palace in order to consolidate his supreme power. This angered Zeus who attempted to punish him but Sisyphus outsmarted the God twice. As a punishment for his trickery, the God Hades made Sisyphus roll a huge boulder endlessly up a steep hill. When he reached the top, it would roll back down and he would do it all over again. For eternity.
The lesson: Be good and face no punishment in the afterlife. Sound like any religions you know?
According to Albert Camus, the myth of Sisyphus and his endless pushing of the ball up a hill, is just a metaphor for life. Camus believed that our existence is a struggle between finding meaning in your life and the 'unreasonable silence' that the universe provides to answer the quest for meaning.
The daily grind.
We've all experienced it as adults. Feeling like you're stuck on the hamster wheel of life. You start your Monday's looking forward to Friday at 5. The day's are long and the weeks are fast as the saying goes.
Camus - who lived in France during Nazi occupation - said that this way of existing in the world is wrong. Seeking meaning and pleasure during your free time while subjecting yourself to the powers that be during work will lead you to live like the lesson of the Sisyphus myth - be good and face no punishment.
Instead, look at the job of pushing a ball up a hill endlessly as the most rewarding part of the struggle to live a good life. When you reach the top of the hill and accomplish your goal it's not over. Ever. You begin again with a new goal.
Many people may just find it much easier to tow the line and avoid the headaches of reaching beyond their capacity for more. As you get older, you realize that accomplishing those life goals like writing a book or running a marathon required a lot less effort and bit more commitment than you realized.
Embrace the process of pushing the ball up the hill. Sure, you could stop and look how much further you need to go, but it will only make you feel small and weak. The hill will never get flatter.
If you focus on every moment of the struggle, you will be able to find love and goodness and the power of the universe in a moment of writer's block or a traffic jam or a cold, damp and dark 10k run.
The University of Missouri conducted a study that found 94% of middle school teachers experience high levels of stress, which could contribute to negative outcomes for students. Researchers say that reducing the burden of teaching experienced by so many teachers is critical to improving student success — both academically and behaviourally.
Anyone who works in education is likely nodding their head in agreement with the study’s findings. Teaching today is synonymous with the modern struggle - a very rewarding career that comes at an extremely high cost.
For those adults who grew up on social media, the modern struggle is a result of the external pressures of dealing with a firehose of information being beamed directly into our skulls. Naval Ravikant beautifully explains how the modern struggle has left adults alone to fight against the addictive powers of technology. Overstimulation has resulted in the decline of mental well being as we spend more time trying to navigate a world where the truth becomes increasingly murky.
Was that Instagram influencers photos modified?
Why does perusing other people's amazing lives on the internet make me feel so bad?
I was interested in buying a car and now I’m being bombarded with car ads. How did this happen?
Operating in a world rich in technology has split our being in two. One that exists as the internet views us and one where we exist in flesh and blood.
Say something wrong on the internet and there’s a chance your flesh and being self will be obliterated. Show something awesome on the internet and we get a strong dopamine hit, but the value of it declines exponentially and we’re forced to repeat the process all with the hope that we’re not doing something incorrectly.
What does this have to do with modern education?
In its traditional form, education is nothing more than an artist’s blank canvas. A school is a place where similar aged children gather to train to become productive adults. Any experienced educator will tell you that to produce a flourishing adult, it requires making mistakes and at times, it can be extremely messy.
Some mistakes that are required to grow can be huge.
Failing a test can be devastating, but it shouldn’t be anxiety-inducing. Learning comes from experience which is born from error-correcting. The best leaders (past and present) all share a common tenant - they failed miserably at some point. Churchill’s disastrous WW1 raid in Turkey taught him that overly bold action without proper planning will end in disaster. The D-Day invasion of France was the largest most elaborately planned battle in human history. Churchill’s experience directly affected modern history. If he hadn’t made that mistake, perhaps we wouldn’t be living in the world as we know it.
Failing a test today more devastating than ever to students. Pressure from parents to succeed is at an all-time high. This leads to fragile beings who are unwilling to take risks in order to avoid failure. Without mistakes and calculated risks, one cannot grow.
Coupled to this idea is that parents are more involved in students’ education. Teachers are under enormous pressure to ensure that each student is performing at their utmost abilities at all times.
When students make mistakes, finger-pointing is often directed at the teacher or school. The accountability of the student is at an all-time low.
Throw in the extra demands placed on educators by the system - professional development, recess duties, mandatory coaching, etc - and the time and quality of actual teaching becomes shockingly eroded.
The solution to this escalating problem?
Faith in our children’s ability to overcome and achieve without massive direct intervention from parents, teachers, and society in general.
Faith in our education system to provide the appropriate curriculum, professional educators and safe working environments needed to allow student growth and development.
Faith that although it might seem counterintuitive, the world is indeed safer, more productive and favourable than it has ever been.
Faith that whatever we do, or don’t do, our kids will still seek out their interests and pursue interesting adventures.
Faith that in spite of every opportunity we feel like our children miss out on, they will find a way to make the world even better than we left it.
A quality life embraces suffering. Part of doing anything meaningful in life requires sacrifice. Listen to this talk given to a K-12 student body on the importance of believing in suffering.
This wonderful blog post from the School of Life (see below) talks about the problems with the technology-rich, instant-gratifying world we live in today.
Steven Pinker believes that there is no better time to be alive and it’s really hard to disagree with him. People are living longer, they are healthier and have access to an abundance of resources that might seem like a fantasy to someone living just a few hundred years ago. Why is it then that our happiness hasn’t trended the same way as everything else?
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that humans are complex creatures who cannot simply be won over with material possessions. The industrial revolution showed us early on that having the means of production and consumption rarely translate into immediate happiness for everyone. Factory workers felt exploited and resented the owners and managers for doing it even though they were making way more than on the farm.
Things haven’t changed much since the industrial revolution. Most people still struggle with finding meaning in their jobs. Although we make more money and have more stuff, it just leads us to get more frustrated because WE SHOULD be happier, right? We have little to complain about and yet, here we are.
To make matters worse, the internet now knows what you’re into and constantly reinforces your beliefs. It’s easy to get stuck in a loop seeing the things you believe constantly popping up on the screen. This is affectionately known as the Instagram effect (getting bombarded with pictures of beautiful people and places makes us feel ugly and boring).
The answer to our modern problems might be found in the thinking of the ancient philosophers. Aristotle, Plato and the Stoics that followed them spent a large portion of their time thinking about Virtue (yes capital ‘V’ virtue) and the trouble with achieving it. The Stoics placed their bets with the virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Justice, and Self-Discipline. They believed that the way forward was through the self. Today it’s much easier to speak your mind with an attempt to change other people’s behaviours instead of blaming ourselves as the Stoics would suggest.
Once you realize that you’re in control of your life (more than you realize), it becomes much easier to confront the challenges you face daily. Take time to write down your goals and your faults. Figure out what you can fix up in your life in the short term. Most importantly, make a concerted effort to be a little bit better than you were yesterday. The road to happiness isn’t through stuff - it’s through the management of yourself.
Why the World is Broken
For those of us lucky enough to live through the early 21st century, when unprecedented advancements in medicine, agriculture and technology have rendered many of the evils of the past obsolete, the question remains: why are we still so miserable? If, as the scientists and academics tell us, our present age is the best possible time to be alive, why do so many yearn to return to an imagined (and illusory) past, whilst others look ahead with horror at a chaotic and doom-laden future?
Despite what the Panglossians* say, we are right to suspect that all is not right with the world. Along with its manifest benefits, modernity has created societal divisions and psychological strains that stem (ironically enough) from its leading, profoundly optimistic ideas: that life can be made perfect; that progress is inevitable; that everyone is equal and capable of greatness. When reality proves these false, the result is widespread rage, misery and a loss of hope.
We should never seek to return to the conditions of the past, but we should try to reclaim some of its outlook - less hopeful, more fatalistic, but better suited to the vagaries of the present.
Pavlov was the first to articulate the conditioning response to a stimulus. In his famous dog and bell experiment, Pavlov would ring a bell every time a dog was fed. After several weeks of doing this, he rang the bell without providing food to the dog. Low and behold, the dog came running with drool dripping everywhere expecting to be fed. It’s called classical conditioning and is one of the most famous psychological experiments ever done. Although we can chuckle at the poor dog for believing he was about to be fed, in reality, this type of conditioning impacts our lives more than we think.
Instead of trying to find spots in your life where classical conditioning exist, do the opposite - find the places where you do work where the reward is not immediately available.
Fitness - do you workout every day even though the results may not present themselves in the short term?
Art - do you write, paint, podcast or code even though the results don’t show immediately?
Relationships - do you go out of your way to do something nice for someone important in your life even though they may not return the favour?
Thanks to technology, our lives are filled with instant gratification. For some people, even opening the Amazon app is a form of classical conditioning because they immediately get bit by the consumer bug. App is open, time to buy things!
Understanding that setting, struggling and accomplishing goals are the key factors in eudaimonia - a flourishing life - then you will quickly realize that the effort is just as important as the result. Short cuts do make life easier, but only if they assist us in a larger struggle.
This article by Ryan Holiday from 2014 (over 4 years ago!) described the idea of how outrage culture was beginning to define modern media. Fast forward to today and call out culture - a synonym of outrage culture - is in full force.
The strange part about this culture is that it exists almost entirely on the internet. In your day-to-day life and you likely won’t interact with anyone who is violently opposed to your _______ (insert: gender, race, religion, political beliefs or a combo of all of them). Face-to-face we generally act civil to one another and interact with respect, dignity, and courtesy.
Why does it all break down on the internet?
Behind the virtual wall of our devices, we feel much more vocal because of the anonymity. Without the threat of physical repercussions (yelling, counter arguing and not just punching), we feel empowered to say what we think. However, the divide between real and virtual life is big. It appears there’s something else going on here.
It’s the echo chamber of social media.
Since anyone today can claim to be a news outlet, we’re being shown (polite way of saying it) information from politically biased sources. This would normally not be an issue without the internet because we could simply ignore it. However, if we follow a specific person on a social media platform like Twitter and they happen to forward one of these biased articles, we’re starting the trend towards the echo chamber. Us human beings are constantly on the lookout for acceptance and groupthink. It’s helped us stay safe for a long time and is genetically wired into our soul. When we see or hear someone of influence agree with our views it empowers to go forth and spread the word. It must be true, right?
There are two ways you can manage to survive in a world filled with outrage. One is to believe it and be as responsible as possible with the information you encounter. If you feel that a specific group is being targeted for some oppression then support the belief with data and evidence. There are plenty of scientific journals that study the interactions of human beings. Use credible research to back-up your viewpoint. Rage is never productive, especially in a debate. Focus on getting to the right answer instead of changing a person’s opinion.
The second is to accept it. The world has never been safer, healthier and happier than today. The trend continues to push us towards utopia. Sure, you may have been dealt a poor hand in the world. Perhaps you have a sick family member or a disability. The good news is that there are many stories of people overcoming these disadvantages and living a healthy and productive life. Western civilization was formed on the tenants of Judeo-Christian values including truth, love, and courage. Part of these ideas is that a truly flourishing life requires sacrifice and hardships. Moving forward in spite of difficulties helps us grow and become the people we want to be.
Regardless of how equitable we can make the world, it will never be perfect. Anyone can find something to be oppressed by. It’s how you deal with it that will make the world move forward or backward.
Many of the great leaders in history seemed to have it all together when it mattered most. Churchill, when facing invasion against a superior army in the Germans, stood tall and proclaimed victory instead of defeat. He did so with stoicism, confidence, and courage. This act (which appears simple) not only rallied a nation in a dark time, it forced the Nazi’s to rethink their strategy.
Although Churchill appeared confident in public, it wasn’t so much the case in private. He often overthought his words when preparing speeches and became frustrated and angry easy when dealing with his friends and family.
We all have the ability to appear polished like Churchill. But we first must conquer ourselves. Our desires, emotions, and nihilism hold us back from rising to the occasion when needed. It’s not that we must bury these negative traits, but instead have to learn to live with them. When they control us, we become weak and unreliable.
In the bible St. Matthew writes in chapter 5 verse 5:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Here’s what is meant by meek:
The meek.--The word so rendered was probably used by St. Matthew in its popular meaning, without any reference to the definition which ethical writers had given of it, but it may be worthwhile to recall Aristotle's account of it (Eth. Nicom. v. 5) as the character of one who has the passion of resentment under control, and who is, therefore, tranquil and untroubled, as in part determining the popular use of the word, and in part also explaining the beatitude.
It means those who have the dragon but choose not to bring it out will inherit the earth. Like Churchill, you need to manage the demons inside you and move forward anyway.
Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge set a new world record for men of 2:01:39 on September 16, 2018, at the 2018 Berlin Marathon. It is the closest a human has come to breaking the much sought after sub-2-hour marathon. Much like Roger Bannister’s ‘miracle mile’, most sports scientists believe that it is within human capacity to break this mark at some point.
It hasn’t always been this way, check out what happened in the marathon at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis:
The first place finisher did most of the race in a car. He had intended to drop out, and got a car back to the stadium to get his change of clothes, and just kind of started jogging when he heard the fanfare.
The second place finisher was carried across the finish line, legs technically twitching, by his trainers. They had been refusing him water, and giving him a mixture of Brandy and Rat Poison for the entire race. Doping wasn't illegal yet (and this was a terrible attempt at it), so he got the gold when the First guy was revealed.
Third finisher was unremarkable, somehow.
Fourth finisher was a Cuban Mailman, who had raised the funds to attend the olympics by running non-stop around his entire country. He landed in New Orleans, and promptly lost all of the travelling money on a riverboat casino. He ran the race in dress shoes and long trousers (cut off at the knee by a fellow competitor with a knife). He probably would have come in first (well, second, behind the car) had it not been for the hour nap he took on the side of the track after eating rotten apples he found on the side of the race.
9th and 12th finishers were from South Africa, and ran barefoot. South Africa didn't actually send a delegation - these were students who just happened to be in town and thought it sounded fun. 9th was chased a mile off course by angry dogs. Note: These are the first Africans to compete in any modern Olympic event.
Half the participants had never raced competitively before. Some died.
St. Louis only had one water stop on the entire run. This, coupled with the dusty road, and exacerbated by the cars kicking up dust, lead to the above fatalities. And yet, somehow, Rat Poison guy survived to get the Gold.
The Russian delegation arrived a week late, because they were still using the Julian calendar... in 1904.
In just over 100 years we have gone from drinking rat poison during a run to now pushing the limits of the human body. What happened? The obvious answers are correct - the birth and development of sports science, the invention of proper clothing and the increase in the number of people participating in the sport.
The more underrated answer is the development of the human spirit. It’s true that we’ve been able to survive much tougher conditions throughout our history. However, we’ve needed to rely on mythical stories or hearsay evidence to motivate us to push through our limits. After Bannister broke the 4 min mile, only one other person managed to do it (John Landy) within a year. However, within 25 years hundreds of people had broken the 4 min mile and even today a strong high school runner can do it.
Knowing that it was possible made a big difference. It’s much easier to chase down dreams when people you can relate to having accomplished them.
As our world becomes increasingly specialized, we’ll see these kinds of records continue to be broken. Most youth athletes spend a vast majority of their extracurricular activities on just one sport. There is a danger, however, in embarking on such a journey. What are you missing out on by sacrificing it all for one sport/opportunity/dream?
It’s important to expose yourself to a wide variety of experiences before making the leap to specialize. Once you decide, definitely put all your eggs in one basket. Find someone who you can emulate - even if they’re physically inaccessible. And then get after it! Records are obstacles to be broken!
Do you practice surgery in your spare time? Probably not. To become a surgeon you need years of education and hours of practice. It makes sense that there are fewer surgeons in the world than baristas. When you require surgery you probably don’t ask the doctor for work samples or to speak with one of his former patients. You trust him because he’s earned it.
The same is probably true of the lawyer you hire. She’s a professional who has worked hard to get to the top of her firm. No need to go through a tender process. Trust is easy to establish because she’s a certified professional.
The trouble is that for most of the jobs out there, professional certifications don’t require years of specialization. A teacher for example only requires a 3-year university degree and one year of college. Other jobs require almost no certification. Being a teacher, social media influencer, YouTube personality, website designer, and programmer are easy to do because there are very low barriers of entry. Many people feel like they’re at least somewhat capable of being successful at these jobs. This causes a big competition for those who are really trying to make a career out of it. With big competition comes less trust. As a customer, you have to be a little cautious hiring a photographer for your wedding because anyone with an iPhone can (rightly) claim to be a professional.
To make things worse, automation and educational inflation are combining to erode the number of employment opportunities for university and college graduates. According to Gwynne Dyer’s latest book, by 2050 the unemployment rate could be as high as 40%.
Jobs for highly specialized are becoming increasingly more competitive as education becomes more accessible. Getting a job as a doctor often meant just surviving medical school. With more and more students enduring the medical field, it is increasingly becoming more important to finish at the top of your class in order to separate yourself from the pact.
If you don’t want to specialize, are you doomed?
Being able to separate yourself from the pack has always been a valuable skill. Now it’s essential. In Seth Godin’s book The Dip, he describes the process of becoming an expert as surviving ’the dip’. It’s that point where most people give up because it gets too expensive, it gets harder, or they lose interest. If you can focus on photography, get the correct equipment and simply outlast the others in the field you’ll be successful. The challenge is that the more people who are in the race, the more likely it is that some may also overcome the dip.
Choose something you love, understand the difficulties of being successful at it and fight through the dip.
Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Joan of Arc, Jesus. What do these historic legends have in common? They all did the right thing. And it cost them everything.
We often assume that doing the right thing comes at less of a cost than taking the wrong route. We also wrongly assume that it should be rewarded.
It’s no doubt that this belief is ingrained into our psyche. It’s been part of our lives since we were children. We’re always looking for the easy way to get to the end. Tattle tailing is something kids often use to solve problems. Getting an adult involved alleviates them from extra work to solve their own issues. Of course, we can’t expect children to address problems without first teaching them how to do it. Sometimes it doesn’t happen and the kids turn into adults and use others to solve their problems. The right way is hard.
To be like MLK and Jesus, you need to embrace the difficulty that comes with doing the right thing. Complex problems cannot be solved through Twitter debates. If you can shut your phone off and forget about the problem, you’re likely not invested enough in it.
If you really want to stop racism and corrupt capitalism, organize debates, protests and campaigns. However, be prepared that it might not work and could cost you everything.
"This is what you deserve. You could be good today. But instead you choose tomorrow."
- Marcus Aurelius
Most of use spend too much time in the past or the future instead of the present. Procrastination is the ultimate denial of the stoic - to assume that tomorrow will be better than today. Work never goes away, suffering does not diminish by relegating a task to another time and the sacrifice required to forgo pain for pleasure will never disappear.
Eating healthy, making your bed and doing exercise are acts that can be done immediately and will not get easier if you put it off until the next day.
Ignore the simple but difficult tasks in your life and small problems become big ones.
You are what you deserve to be.
The hero enters the dungeon, defeats the dragon, rescues the princess and collects the gold.
This is the classic story of the hero. You can play with the variables - a female lead, a mad scientist villain, save humanity - it really doesn’t matter. Every heroic story ever told follows this simple template. Hero’s appeal to our deepest beliefs because we fundamentally understand the journey to success - whether or not we can properly articulate it. The other side of success is often the result of sacrifice, suffering and encountering plenty of setbacks.
If this is true, why is it that so many of us seek shortcuts to success?
We’re a very resourceful species and we use our intelligence to circumnavigate difficult situations. If there’s an easier way to victory, why not take it? This of course, is not unique to humans. Apex predators in the animal kingdom are also very skilled at calculating the risk-reward of attacking prey. Lions will pick off the slowest and weakest in a herd even though the best meat is found in the biggest and strongest.
The trouble with comparing ourselves to lions is that their strategies and tactics have remained the same for thousands of years. Humans, on the other hand, have created a complex society that requires careful calculation when it comes to tackling problems. If you attacked every issue with fists flying, you’d likely to burn out very quickly. The classic heroic story often pits the hero against one big problem, something that is not very realistic in today's world.
The result is that we often underestimate the difficulty of achieving a goal because we have so many of them to achieve. Get good grades, eat healthy, maintain a positive reputation online. Stay active. We assume the effort to become a doctor, start a business or lose weight is much more difficult than it is. Our long-term thinking simply breaks down when we can’t see the top of the mountain. If the goal is so far away, why even try to attempt it?
The heroic journey is about making an exerted effort to complete a goal, no matter the time, effort or risk that stands in the way. The real heroic reward comes with work. Professional work. Getting after it every day until the goal is achieved. If you want to get a promotion at work, you can’t keep doing the same thing you’ve always been doing and assume that it will fall into your lap.
The dragon is simply not going to get out of the way.
The NY Times recently wrote about the importance of being bored, especially for children. The most prolific line in the article mentions the endless battle of children and parents vs boredom.
"Nowadays, subjecting a child to such inactivity is viewed as a dereliction of parental duty."
Our children today are viewed as an investment and one that is expected to deliver exponential returns. The more activities we put kids in, the more likely they’ll grow the skill set to be change makers in the world. The great paradox in this all is that when asked what they want to be when they grow up, most kids want to be famous or an assistant to someone famous. It seems as if all these extra circular activities aren’t as effective as we thought. On top of that, the massive scheduling of young people has lead to a rise in an inability to manage time properly (since it’s being organized for them) and solve problems. Even worse, many kids struggle with boredom. Their inability to make-up games in an unstructured environment greatly caps their creative potential.
All of the great minds of history shared one thing in common - the ability to see something that wasn’t there before. These profound ideas were generated in an atmosphere of what would today be called “absolutely boring”. Einstein developed the theory of relativity as a patent clerk - literally one of the most boring jobs one could undertake at the time. The boredom allowed his brain to work on other meandering details that included nothing less than the absolute transformation of our view of the universe.
Will boring our kids lead them to develop the next best explanation of dark matter? Unlikely, but we cannot discount the opportunity of creative thought that border brings.
Design thinking will get your idea out quickly and efficiently. It will not, however, give you a fundamental paradigm shift. That comes with quiet thinking in a bored state.