Kill the Boy: How I’m Breaking the Mold

At this stage in my life, I’m seeking out risk and challenge. I can’t afford not to. I’m trying to make the dreams a reality. That’s why I’m doing Praxis.

No risk, no reward

Praxis is a relatively new thing. My parents don’t get it. Most of my friends don’t either. It’s not school. It’s a real world education, where you are working toward building your personal brand and making your dreams a reality. While it’s not guaranteed to fulfill my wildest dreams, it offers the structure, support and network of incredible people to unleash my own creative power. I’ll be doing most the heavy lifting. Throughout my life, I’ve had parents and coaches and teachers and mentors and friends and even some strangers that have helped me along the way, for which I am eternally grateful.

The best thing that I could do for those who have helped me and for everyone who is a part of this fascinatingly complex and dynamic world is to become the best person possible. Accomplishing all that I could do will not be easy. Wish it were. “But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare,” Spinoza concludes his Ethics with. It will take lots of hard work, sacrifice and going after opportunities at the right time. And anyone that says otherwise is selling the slickest of snake oil. And I’ll pass on that.

With Praxis I’m investing in my future, appropriating my past, and taking full control of my present. Praxis is where the world is heading. Where young folks who are entrepreneurial and intellectually curious should go. No longer does a college degree (or degrees) guarantee you a life of comfortable affluence. You need more than a piece of paper to signal value. The chances of me or any of my siblings working as long as our parents have at a single company are about equal to the chances of my beloved Cleveland Browns winning this year’s Super Bowl. Not gonna happen. Instead, we’ll be forced by economic conditions (and hopefully driven by ambitions) to be entrepreneurial, scrappy, and creative. The structure of Praxis is more attuned to these conditions than universities are. Praxis participants build a digital footprint and design their own programs for skill acquisition and improvement. To show, rather than tell, why they operate the way they do, how they add value, and what they are capable of.

Unless I’m pushing beyond my current capabilities, striving, growing, I don’t feel alive. Now certainly, a job in management consulting or investment banking, or even graduate school, would have been challenging. But they wouldn’t have been challenges primarily directed toward creating the life I want to live. Praxis, however, is such a challenge.

In the past four months, between graduating from college and beginning Praxis, I’ve grown more than I have perhaps in a four-year span of my life. Now that conclusion may be a bit premature, but it certainly feels true.

Few people know…

…that I considered transferring schools after my freshman year at Vanderbilt. I was in a deep haze during the fall of sophomore year, and went to see a therapist. She was impressed at how well I understood my own psychology, intimating that I didn’t need to be there. I just needed someone to talk it through with. I was alienated- from my old home and my new home. So I branched out, made new friends, reached out to my people back home and began to feel way better.

I don’t think Vandy was ever a good fit for me. I made my way, found my circles, but I never thrived.

I thought of dropping out entirely when I heard about Praxis. Should I have dropped out? I don’t know. I made some amazing friends and had some awesome experiences in my Vanderbilt days. It was a risk I wasn’t willing to make at the time. I thought I was getting too good of a deal with my financial aid. Had I been taking on thousands of dollars of debt, I’m confident that I would have switched over to Praxis like a free agent. And I know that I’m incredibly grateful for the road that has brought me here and beyond stoked for the position I’m in right now.

I saw a therapist for the second time at Vanderbilt in the fall of 2015. This time it wasn’t voluntary. I was forced to go for disciplinary reasons. I wasn’t addicted to drugs or alcohol, but they certainly contributed to bringing out my destructive side. I would have to relearn how to relate to people and to myself.

Paving new paths

Relearning is an amazing concept. It’s what I’m doing in Praxis. It’s easier to learn a foreign language for children than an adults. Adults have laid and paved a path of thinking and acting that’s hard to change directions. Children are more fluid. Adults have to relearn- undoing prior programming and installing new programming. I’m relearning how to act on my own ideas, rather than do what I’m told. I‘m also relearning how to use my body with ease, after years of improper movement habits. I believe that being in your body, understanding how your body and mind work together, is the foundation of any training program.

If you’re not learning, you’re not living. Thankfully I’m learning a lot these days. I’m immersing myself into digital marketing, body learning, and standup comedy.

I stumbled upon a job with Outbound Creative, helping our clients win their dream clients, starting and managing our Google AdWords account, and a variety of other digital marketing activities. I have since started working with other companies doing AdWords on a freelance basis.

AdWords is fascinating! Yea I’m weird like that. It narrows the gap between your assumptions about your company, customers and competitors, and the reality of the situation. You put test a campaign, collect data, and tweak the campaign to drive results that you can measure.

In that way it’s similar to standup comedy as well, which I’m on honeymoon with currently. I’ve learned that some things that I think are funny gets crickets; while other things I think are just OK make the audience fall over laughing. If it doesn’t work should I tweak it or dump it? Both AdWords and standup are iterative, experimental processes.

With all this new stuff going on, organization is something that I’ve been working on a lot lately. I realize that in order to level up in marketing and in comedy, I need to be organized. I still have dozens of small legal pads that are organized my theme, in which I jot down and develop ideas. But I’ve also started using Trello boards to map out longer projects, and to track my progress through checklists. More important than anyone tool, however, is the ability to prioritize tasks by how directly generative they are of your Dream Life. To route everything toward your grand life project. And to have standards that allow you to say no when something distracts from that.

I feel like my life has improved dramatically over the past several months. I still have bad days where I don’t feel like doing anything, but I’ve found ways to get over that. The biggest things I think are having a Why (a vision for how I want my life to be and a set of values to hold onto when negative emotions try to push me around) and a network of people who will hold you accountable, push the competition forward, and support you in your endeavors. I’ve found it’s also helpful to meditate on how lucky I am, which encourages me to stop wining and start producing.

In general, I think it’s important to really pay attention to what your body and your emotions are telling you.

I was experiencing a lot of resistance in writing this. I’ve learned that there are three kinds of resistance toward getting shit done and respective mindsets/approaches to overcoming each type of resistance. 1) If something is scary (like the first time I got on stage for comedy, or talking to an attractive stranger), imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s probably not that bad. A better you is on the other side- let that emotion move you, instead of the fear. 2) If something is long and complicated, it can be overwhelming. To overcome that resistance, break the project down into tiny steps, and just start by taking the first step. See how it goes. Adjust accordingly. 3) If something is petty and tedious (like doing the dishes), think about why it needs to be done. I don’t like to do the dishes, but I need to in order to maintain a clean environment and an amiable relationship with my roommates (who happen to be my parents).

The three forms of resistance map onto the three personas of an entrepreneur and self-directed person, as well as the Golden Circle. The top level executive steers the ship, strategizes, makes bold decisions, asks why. The manager breaks the project down, tracks progress, sets up and tweaks processes, asks how. The employee carries out the tasks, asks what.

I have no excuse to not get shit done. There is too much inspiration out there. I get inspiration from many places. Comedy inspiration is easy thanks to the boundlessness of human folly and the bizarre world we live in. I also listen to podcasts when I drive around town. My favorites include The Tim Ferriss Show, The Joe Rogan Experience, the Art of Charm and In Our Time- Culture. I try to read a book every week or two- most recently Grit, Ego is the Enemy and Born Standing Up.

But the most important piece of advice I’ve received recently came from the world of fantasy.

Since high school, I’ve primarily stuck to reading non-fiction and don’t watch much TV. But this summer I got hooked on the HBO series Game of Thrones. I’m reading the books now. I believe it’s important to be receptive to wisdom, wherever it might come from.This scene provides a window through which I currently see my life drama unfolding.

Background: Jon Snow is the youngest ever Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The Night’s Watch is the ancient fraternal order that mans the Wall, protecting the people of Westeros from the threats that lie beyond. Jon is considering letting in the Wildlings- the enemy of the Watch and the realm for thousands of years. To most people, the White Walkers are a mere myth, but Jon has seen them, battled them, even killed one. And he’s lived among the Wildlings, loved and lost a Wildling woman. He knows that the Wildlings, or the Free Folk, are no threat compared to the White Walkers and their Army of the Dead. More so, the Watch and the rest of the living need the Wildlings on their side. Jon is seeking the wisdom of blind, old Maester Aemon, the healer, scholar and advisor who gave up his kingly birthright in order to serve the Watch.

J: I need your advice. There’s something I want to do. Something I have to do. But it will divide the Night’s Watch. Literally. Half the men will hate me the minute I give the oder.
A: Half the men hate you already, Lord Commander. Do it!
J: But you don’t know what it is.
A: That doesn’t matter. You do.
[Reaches out and touches Jon’s face] You will find little joy in your command. But, with luck, you will find the strength to do what needs to be done.
Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us.
Kill the boy. And let the man be born.”

Obviously I’m not making the sorts of decisions and sacrifices that the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch is faced with, but I am undergoing a transformational process myself. Killing the schoolboy and letting the value-creating, self-directed learning man be born.

I’ve been working hard in digital marketing, gotten some good feedback on doing comedy, and several people have told me they’re intrigued and impressed by my doing Praxis. But most people don’t give a damn. There’s a few haters out there. And there’s even more people willing to impart advice, when they haven’t shown the know-how to get things done in their lives.

The truth is, only I know what I need to do. That is, I need to act in accordance with the best version of myself. Living with integrity is far more important than appeasing everyone. If you are making a grand project out of your life, you will inevitably piss some people off. I don’t intend to piss people off. I intend to serve people. But if you serve to the greatest extent, some people will react negatively. I can live with that.

At the end of the day, I’m the one looking in the mirror, contenting myself with the day’s actions just to fall asleep. And at the end of this life, I’m the one who’ll have to die with the regrets of dreams I never pursued.