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Choose Yourself: Skip College and Apprentice (How to Choose Your College: Part 9)
I don't know if I'm talented enough to convince you not to go to college, but I'll try. I'll start by doing what every great student does: refer to someone else's work.
Your teachers have been lying to you for 13 years. Some of the lies are outright. Some are lies by omission. Some are lies by emotional manipulation.
And we are doing it for our own selfish gain.
See, we need you to go to college. We need to keep our school scores high so that kids keep coming in and filling our desks. We need that money to keep our salaries and our pensions and our health care and our contract of 185 seven-and-a-half hour days.
But most of all, we need to keep our teaching jobs because we're scared we can't compete in the real world. Fear is why we back the union monopoly and fight against school choice, even for the kids of poverty and color who we claim to care very much about.
We project our fear onto you, so we tell you to do what we think is safe.
And we all think college is safe because that's what we did.
This begs the question: do we not think that we educated you well enough in thirteen years of schooling? That if you went out into the real world with only the skills and knowledge you have right now you couldn't succeed?
Yes, we do believe that.
But that's an even bigger lie, a lie driven by our fear.
Because the truth is: you're a genius.
Genius isn't rare; genius is a human quality, i.e. it's present in all of us.
“I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress genius because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”
John Taylor Gatto, Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's journey through the dark world of compulsory schooling
All humans have it. Somewhere. But the system fears your genius, because genius both requires and perpetuates freedom. And free people are hard to control.
And we're scared of your genius. So scared, we forced you to bottle it up. We yelled at you for drawing in class, for acting out when you were bored, for doing the problem in a way we didn't teach you to do it, for daring to buck the five-paragraph essay or write on a topic without a clear corollary on SparkNotes (because we didn't read the book this time either), for writing code while we lectured, for running your drop-shipping company when you were supposed to be filling in a worksheet.
We've taught you to avoid risk. To obey your superiors. To always take the safe path. To be terrified of failure.
In other words, the system wants you to embrace your Stockholm Syndrome and join them where it's "safe". It's not like 73% of teachers say their work is highly stressful, that 58% of teachers say their work has caused a decline in their mental health, that 10% of teachers are depressed and that 5% of teachers experience mental illness that lasts longer than a year. And remember: your teachers were all excellent role models, kind human beings, and experts in their fields who put your welfare first in the classroom, right?
But you're better than that and you want more out of life than safety.
Besides, there are very few jobs like the ones teachers hold, claws digging into their palms, wielding the monopoly power of our politically-powerful union like a spiked mace. Occupations my aunties and uncles would call a "job fo' life, brah" are few and far between in the 21st century.
Unless you want to be a teacher or are willing to trade your soul to sit behind the customer service desk in the DMV or a similar beige-walled cubicle with golden handcuffs, the world doesn't work that way anymore. According to Indeed.com, "From ages 18 to 24, [people] change jobs an average of 5.7 times. Between 25 and 34 years old, they change jobs an average of 2.4 times. The average goes down again to 2.9 jobs between ages 35 and 44, and then to 1.9 jobs between ages 45 and 52."
That's 12 job changes in a career on average (but we've talked about averages before).
I have a some very successful friends and what I'll tell you is this. The ones who are employed by others, the ones who make a lot of money: they change jobs way more frequently. The second they are unhappy, they start looking for other opportunities and as soon as they snag one, they dip.
Their job ladders have consistently pointed upward. They are deeply, highly skilled.
You are not.
Well, yeah. That's what college is for.
No. And this is why.
The other common characteristics of my highly mobile high-earning friends?
This gives them the most important characteristic any job seeker or entrepreneur can have: a low cost-basis.
When you're young, and assuming your parents will play ball by allowing you to live in their home (while contributing financially to it at a lower amount than you would have to if you lived on your own, of course, because you're not a baby anymore and you need self-respect if you're going to make it so you will pay rent), or if you could pool resources with people like you with similar drive and focus, you can fail cheap and early.
What do I mean by that?
When you can cover your expenses with a part-time job, you can do what you REALLY want to do, full-time.
So let's imagine you have to work at least twenty hours a week to cover rent, food, and transportation.
You purposefully dedicate 56-63 hours to sleep, because you know the neuroscience on sleep is clear. Effective learning -- i.e., success -- is retarded when you don't sleep. Sleep gives your brain the time to clear out toxins, dump unnecessary data, and move important learning into long-term memory, strengthening the neural connections between bits of information to create strong networks that make you faster, smarter, and better at the things that matter the most to you.
That frees up at least 90 hours to work your real full-time job: figuring out what you want to do with your life through one of two approaches, apprenticeship or The Grind.
The powerful incentives driving the education-industrial complex to lower academic standards so all students can graduate, regardless of academic ability and work habits, have rendered it impossible to know whether a college graduate actually knows enough to succeed in the workplace.
You know how you can know someone knows what they're doing?
When they've already done it.
But I'm 18. I haven't really been doing anything except obeying teachers.
I know, and I'm sorry. That's why I'm doing all this unpaid work, so that the three of you who eventually read this post might get some help. (I know it's not enough penance, but I'm doing what I can.)
I have a student, Cody, who more than anything else, wants to work as a mechanic in the racing industry. But the racing industry is notoriously hard to get into and very low-paying because owners of race teams spend all their money on their cars which they frequently smash and because there are hundreds of thousands of kids like Cody who want to work with them.
So should Cody go to an expensive trade school to get an ASE certificate, spending tens of thousands of dollars before he ever gets a foot in the door, and with a grip of student loans he has to repay necessitating that he goes to work for an auto dealer or some other established shop 40+ hours a week to service his loan and keep body and soul together?
Personally, I think that's stupid.
So here's your plan, Cody and all the rest of our children with a dream that seems unattainable. Follow it well, but know that your success depends on your work ethic.
Remember: you're entitled to NOTHING you haven't earned.
Step 1: Do Market Research
Look up the most respected local firms in your industry. Google Reviews, Yelp, and Angie's List are great sources of this information. Write down company names, phone numbers, and the owners' names, wherever available. You need to speak to a decision-maker, not a receptionist.
Step 2: Make Contact
Call each company, starting with the top of the list.
Ask to speak to the owner or manager. If they're not available, ask when they'll be available. When you get hold of a decision maker, say the following: "I'm just starting out in this industry, but I have a deep passion for it. I'm willing to do anything, from sweeping the floors to getting coffee for whoever asks me to. Is there a time when we could meet to discuss an apprenticeship?"
Do not take, "I'm sorry, but we're not hiring" as a no.
If you hear those words, you should respond with, "I don't expect to get paid in anything except knowledge. I want to work with you because you have a reputation for great work and I want to learn anything I can from experts. I can start bright and early any day of the week."
You may get a hard No from several companies. But someone is going to take you up on it. Keep on working down the list.
If you can't get anyone on the phone, it's time to show up at offices. Come early. Successful people don’t sleep in. Either way, when you first meet a prospective trainer/employers, you'll want to be at your best.
Step 3: Make a Good First Impression
If you get the meeting, great. If you have to do it the hard way by tracking down owners, that's okay too.
Anything worth doing is often hard. And while this may seem stalker-ish, as long as you're very clear about your intentions and you behave politely and respectfully, a trainer/employer will respect your chutzpah.
On a day when you [might] meet a prospective trainer/employer, you need to be ready.
Dress nicely, but appropriately so if the guy takes you up on your offer of sweeping the shop or getting under a car hood or go get him coffee, you're ready.
More importantly, be very clear on the reasons why you find his work worth going to all this trouble to learn. Make sure you have a good answer as to why you didn't go the college route; he'll respect the truth which is generally that you are trying to keep yourself out of debt and you know that even if you do end up going to school there's a lot more you can learn on the job then you would in your first two years in a college classroom.
Obviously, this tack wouldn't work in an industry that requires licensure like nursing, engineering, or law. Having said that though, there are vocational tracks for nursing, drafting, and paralegal work at community colleges that cost very little. Once completed, a certificate will get you way more than your typical part-time college-kid job and land you in a professional setting, getting you relevant work experience to put on that resume. Not only that, it would help you decide exactly what kind of medicine or engineering or law you're really passionate about. Knowing that can be the difference between professional satisfaction and wage slavery.
Back to you, young human who wants to learn a job and skip four years of college, a buttload of debt, and get a head start on a real career.
You need to prepare for this first meeting with everything you know about the industry and, more importantly, what you will bring to the shop to help them be more productive. If you know very little, admit it, but make it clear that you are willing to do anything for the chance to learn what they do so well and, more importantly, how they do it.
Step 4: Hone Your Work Habits
Once you're given a chance, don't blow it.
This is simple. Be on time. Work hard. Be conscientious.
Get to work at least ten minutes early so you can get yourself organized.
By get yourself organized, let me be specific: TURN OFF YOUR PHONE AND LOCK IT IN YOUR DESK (or desk equivalent.)
Your cell phone is undermining your success.
I promise not to rant. I will leave it at this. Your phone is a distraction machine. It makes you stupid. It steals your attention and destroys your focus. It undermines your ability to learn.
Tame your cell phone addiction now or pay the price for the rest of your life. (P.S. You'd be ahead of the college students if you ONLY did this; many of them are blowing close to $100,000 on an education and they spend too much of their time in and out of class on their phones. No wonder they're not learning anything.)
After you've locked up your phone, check in with whoever you're working with to see what you can do to help them. Bring a notepad and write down everything they ask you to get through. Ask questions when you need to, but try not to interrupt the flow of someone else's work. Again, use the notepad to jot anything down you were wondering about and check in with your supervisor before you leave to have a chat about it.
If you finish all your tasks early, ask if you can help with something you'd like to learn more about.
Or, if you've earned a little trust, ask if there's a small project you could work on independently.
They're not gonna fire you when you cost them nothing. Don't be afraid to ask.
At the end of your day, don't just disappear. Ask if there are any loose ends you can tie up for anyone.
Remember: whether or not you're getting paid, this is invaluable training. At worst: you're getting your work ethic dialed in for the next try. A middling result would still help you understand the business in far more depth than the typical college student could by spending their days in the classroom and give you a good feel for whether or not you think the career is a good fit. An excellent run will give you all of those things, plus skills and experience that can help you after the three-month mark.
Step 5: Ask for a Raise
After three months, it's time to negotiate a raise.
Don't work for free for longer than three months. You'll seem like a doormat. A huge part of growing up is setting limits, because it prevents others from taking advantage of you, which protects your goals and dreams.
By the three-month mark, you've proven that you're a good worker. You've arrived at work early, locked up your phone to retain precious focus and workflow, dressed appropriately, spoken respectfully, worked diligently, and helped solve problems. Plus, you've learned quite a bit in that time.
So now it's time to ask for a paid position or a raise that reflects your increased knowledge and skills and, thus, your ability to contribute meaningfully to the company's revenue.
Schedule a meeting with the boss and prepare your case.
Start by thanking him for the opportunity and listing all the things you've learned. Then politely ask for a number that is reasonable for your experience level in the industry.
If the boss says no, it might be hard to hear.
You might feel a little bitter.
But remember: this person was willing to take a risk on you. All kinds of things could've gone wrong for her when she invited an untested person into her business: the baby she's been nurturing and for which she's sacrificed herself for who knows how long. She spent time and effort teaching you things you would have otherwise had to spend four years in college just to begin to learn. She welcomed you into a workspace knowing you could disrupt the productivity of her paid staff, costing her money and threatening the viability of her firm.
So even if she says she'd rather not pay you for your contribution, thank her for the opportunity and for all of the ways being in her shop helped you develop, but also let her know that you'll be looking for a paid position.
But if you've done what I've recommended above, and the business's reputation is deserved, she won't say no. After putting time and energy into you, and training you the way she wants her employees trained, she'll likely want to keep you.
However, if for reasons beyond your control, she blesses you on your way, go back to your list of local firms and ask to meet with the boss. You'll have a bank of knowledge, a portfolio of the work you've done, and the industry vocabulary to demonstrate that you know what you're doing.
Someone will hire you, if only at minimum wage. But swallow your ego and take the job. Repeat the first process. Arrive early to get yourself ready for the work day. Lock up your phone. Dress appropriately. Speak respectfully. Write everything down. Seek out new ways to help. Ask questions that will help you do more to support the work of the firm. In addition, learn everything you can about this new firm, with special attention to clients and projects that your first training didn't cover.
Remember: you should be paid what the market will bear for your level of knowledge. However, most owners will pay new people less because they don't know exactly what you can do. Smart owners will give you raises to keep you on staff though. So if you are outperforming other employees, don't wait long to ask for a raise. As long as you're more productive than others, the firm's revenues justify paying you more to keep you.
You will continue to repeat this process until you have a rich bank of industry-specific knowledge, a portfolio of impressive work, an understanding of what clients want from firms in your industry, and the ability to add value to any firm. Keep track of what you produce. As long as you are not subject to any non-disclosure agreements, use your work as evidence of what you know to show to prospective employers. This speaks more than any resume or cover letter could.
If you do find yourself under an NDA, you're going to need to be working on personal work-related side projects that showcase your knowledge and skills.
It's the reason why behemoths like Google, Apple, Amazon, and even Ernst & Young are now willing to ignore degrees in favor of portfolios of work. Work is the proving ground, not school.
It's not going to be easy, but it's going to be worth it.
You're going to change jobs often, always looking for a better deal. You may find out the best deal comes when you don't have a boss to answer to, only clients, and if they get too persnickety or difficult, you have so many clamoring for your work that you can fire them.
Keep moving forward. Keep asking for raises, keep leveling up. Most importantly, keep that cost-basis low.
Eventually, you'll be a master of your craft earning all the benefits that entails.