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Monday, December 17, 2012


If you are in your early 20's, you need to read this. I turned 31 yesterday, and though I do have a wife and child through some strange grace, I am only now beginning to take steps that will allow me to offer something to the world, and honestly, to them. I am so angry at myself for the naivete I had in my 20's about my own natural abilities and what I could do with them. I wish I could go back, meet my twenty-one year old self in a dark alley, beat the crap out of him, and tell him that being successful does matter. It's so frustrating that at 31, I have to do the things that I should have been doing then NOW. SO. FRUSTRATING.
Anyway, if you think that because you are a nice guy, whatever innate talents you have will just be brought out by the world around you, they won't. You actually have to learn a skill in order to utilize and benefit from that skill.
Anyway, here's the url, if the link above didn't work. If you hate the "F" word, suck it up and read this anyway:


Charlie said...

That was a great article, really enjoyed it and the one titled 'Hipster'. I'd like to take my 19 year old self and smack him in the face, too. Glad I learned some skills the last 3 years of college after wasting the first 2.5. And actually most of the skills I did learn was with 2 professors that spent a lot of time teaching me farm related skills outside of class. Also glad I'm learning some skills here in Minnesota. If you feel you didn't learn a skill in 2012, you can always say that you learned the skill of growing some of your own food, which I think is quite valuable.

Nicholas said...

Yes, this was the first year I've learned any valuable/profitable skills in a long time. The farming was the first one (I'm mentioning it in my end of year music list), and likely got me in the mindset of, "Hey, I could actually be doing things to benefit my self/family."
That then led to the second, which was re-learning trigonometry over the fall from that on-line course/test I had to take.
When I used to whine about, "When will I ever use this math stuff in real life?" I wish I could go back, kick myself in the ear, and say, "You can use it to get a degree that will qualify you for a job to make money to feed, clothe, and house you and your future family, idiot!"
Also, actually taking the ducks I killed home and learning how to cook them was my learning cherry on top. Ready to learn a lot more next year.

Neal said...

I actually... didn't like the article. This will sound... a little odd coming from me, considering I deal with college students that are often uncaring or sit back and let their parents or friends do things for them (I just had a student steal a paper from his roommate because he's going through some tough personal times). I also am in favor of getting off your butt and doing something... if anything, I'm becoming an example of why that's important. Rather than saying I want to be a writer, I am one. I'm out there and doing it.

But it's not so much the content as it is the way the message is sent. I never responded well to barking football coaches and I certainly hate the repeated line of "you are what you give to other people." He says it's not about money, but that's how he keeps framing his statements: life is about a transaction and what you can offer other people.

I think it's mostly because I'm already on the side of doing something that the article doesn't do enough for me. But it does strike me that there are opposite extremes on this issue, and this article is almost on one of them. The opposite end is, of course, the article's intended audience. The guy living in his parent's basement in his 20s, wishing someone would realize how great he is. But the other extreme is almost exemplified by Baldwin's character in the clip (not sure how bad the salesmen are that he's talking to, but it's neither here nor there for this discussion). Get them to sign on the dotted line or you're nothing. You don't have a fancy car? You're nothing. You don't have millions of dollars? You're nothing.

In the end, you have to be something. As the article says, you can't be defined by what you are not (Strunk and White say, humans want to know what is, rather than what isn't). To be something you have to do something, but how you do it also matters. And you don't have to be a millionaire or popular or whatever else culture comes up with to be something important.

Long essay short, be something, do something, but be careful of what you are doing and how you are doing it. And don't be Alec Baldwin... he does bad boss routines far too well. :p

Neal said...

Bah, can't edit my first comment.

Was going to add that a much better read on this subject is The War of Art by Stephen (sp?) Pressfield. It's a real kick in the pants to go out and do something, but without a lot of the tone issues.

An example that really made the book shine for me--Pressfield writes about finishing his first novel and going to his mentor, all excited that he was finished. They talked about it for awhile and then his mentor asked, "So, what are you going to write next?" So yeah... good job writing that novel or getting that degree or getting that job... now go do something more!

Nicholas said...

Neal, I understand where you are coming from. On the topic of "life is a transaction," I think the author is simply saying that if you want to achieve any sort of success in the world, you actually have to have something to offer it. I honestly needed someone to beat this concept into me. When the state TOPS program paid for my college, I should have been grilled by an advisory board about what I was going to do with the state taxpayer's money.

"Well, what are you going to get a degree in?"
"Um. English, I think?"
"You think? Why English?"
"I don't know. I like to write every now and then in my spare time. That could be fun."
"I'm sure it could be, but what are you going to do with the degree?"
"I don't know."
"Do you have any interest in teaching or technical writing."
"No. I have no interest in ever doing either one of those things."
"Well, have you thought about any other majors? It looks like your math and science grades are pretty good. If you don't have any interest in any other fields, there's going to be a great demand for engineers in the future."
"Engineers. Screw that crap. All those guys want to do is make a lot of money and screw chicks. I don't care about any of that stuff. It's not cool, man! Don't care about it at all!"
"This isn't about those things, kid. This is about using this time and money to prepare for a successful career. $100,000 isn't something to just throw away."
"Screw success. I don't care about success, not at all."
"So you are saying that you are going to use the state's money just to use it, on a major you admit you have no intention of using."
"Then you aren't ready for college. The money will be placed in a holding fund. This board will reconvene with you in six months to monitor your decision-making progress."
"But that's not fair, I want to go to college."
"The purpose of college is to learn a career or skill, not to kill time until the next thing."
"But this isn't fair!"
"You know what's not fair, kid? That people who actually used their college education properly AND people who didn't even go to college are working their butts off every day to pay for kids like you to waste five years of your lives! You say screw success! That statement is a mark of extreme immaturity! You don't even understand what success means! Success means building a life for yourself and being able to provide for yourself and the ones you love! It means not having to rely on your parents until you are old enough to run for President! Until you can understand these things, college is a waste to you! Get out of this room and think about what we are telling you!"

Unfortunately, that never happened, I wasted five years dinking around at LSU at the taxpayer's expense, and now I'm in my 30's and can barely support my family. If any number of people had gone "Baldwin" on me instead of being scared to press the issue, it might have had an impact. But now, through nobody's fault by my own, here I am, at 31, going back to school for a BACHELOR'S DEGREE.

Neal said...

I hear you. It's probably also a matter of personality, too. The more someone yells at me, the less my time they're worth, really. And the "Baldwin approach" just sounded like a typical, over the top masculine, I've got more money than you speech that really doesn't impress me at all. It's the male equivalent of the stereotype of women needing to be pretty and made up, etc.

But we all need a kick in the pants at some time, and what form that kick take is more than likely to vary. ;)

Your story sounds quite familiar to me, actually... I have plenty of students in first year writing who are in the same spot (and worse... I had one student that admitted she was only in college because her parents were "making" her adult self do it. Thank you very little, parents! oh, and student that can't figure out you're an adult!).

I don't know, though. Sometimes you're not able to take advice until you're ready for it. Would twenty year old you have listened to this article back then? Or Alec Baldwin? Hopefully, though there is often a huge difference in upper and lower classmen, and "non-traditional" students that come back to college. Sometimes you just aren't ready. Though of course it's hard to tell us taxpayers that.

And hey, no being down on your degree. You could become a CEO with your English degree: lots of CEOs have those! Hehe. Sounds like engineering is what you need to do/be, so you've got it figured out.

Nicholas said...

"Would twenty year old you have listened to this article back then?"

Man, Crystal asked me the same thing. Y'all might be onto something. I sometimes wonder if I could go back in time, if I would even listen to myself. Maybe not. No one was tough on me, but if they had been, I may have just become more apathetic, instead of inspired. Who knows. I know I should just focus forward, but it's so difficult. Maybe I should make it my New Year's resolution.
And hey, no knocks on an English degree for those who know what they want to do with it. Only on those like myself and the students you mentioned who are only picking it because they have to pick something. I can always take the positive tact that, though I've realized writing has only been a hobby for me, at least college did improve my skills and enjoyment of it. And like just about every hobby I've picked up in the last three decades, I have no plans of stopping.

Nicholas said...

I should also note that I did meet several lifelong friends AND my wife the first time through, so I guess it wasn't a total wash!