There are an endless amount of self-help books you can read, outline, and absorb. And there is a whole cottage industry of self-help gurus, social media marketing mavens, and lifestyle coaches enabled by the web, preying on the desperate, low-hanging fruit. Trust me, I’ve fallen into this trap. I’ve felt the bursts of inspiration, read the amazing case studies (how did I not think of that?), and memorized the “new” rules that, when boiled down to their essence, are glorified social cues for undiagnosed Asperger’s sufferers.
Where does falling down this rabbit hole lead? An awful job you still haven’t quit. You, over there, at the table for one in the coffee shop, sitting in front of your laptop paralyzed with ennui.
Yes, none of us were prepared for our post-industrial economy. And the result is more of us are unemployed, living with our parents, up to our eyeballs in debt, or barely getting by. But, if we are asked “What have you accomplished thus far in your life?” I think a lot of young people, including myself, wouldn’t have an answer, or at least one they’re proud of.
In a larger sense this indicates a failure of our academic and cultural institutions. Entire generations have been taught the same narrative: regurgitate information, master the five paragraph essay, get the gold star, pad the resume. Want some proof this narrative is false? Go to craigslist and click “jobs”.
What our global post-industrial world has done is rendered your GPA and credentials to be almost meaningless. You want to be a cog in the machine? Go ahead. Embrace mediocrity and enjoy the race to the bottom, if they’ll let you.
This realization has come to some quicker than others, and those who have are reaping the rewards. Its something I’ve felt in the pit of my stomach for a while and only recently have begun to act on it. The feeling in your stomach that you know something is wrong, but where in the hell do I start? I’m only beginning to learn it really doesn’t matter where you start, but only that you do. Just startshipping. The great equalizer and saving grace in the midst of all this disruption is you have no excuse now. None. You don’t have to ask permission to do anything. The barriers to entry have never been lower.
You can read until your eyes bleed. And yes, nothing inspires like the written word. But nothing is more visceral than experience. The proving grounds aren’t in the classroom and you won’t find them in this book. You prove yourself through deliberate practice, something I am painfully starting to learn. That is why Cal Newport is saying, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” Skills rule the roost now, credentials be damned.
This is both the simple and hardest way to separate yourself. Simple because the only requirement to start is you. Hard because it flies in the face of a lifetime of indoctrination. So, I guess the question to ask is “What am I proud to say I’ve done?”
This post originally appeared on Medium.