There’s a popular idea that the only people good enough to succeed without college are Steve Jobs level geniuses.
It doesn’t take rare genius to succeed as an opt-out.
What does it take?…
Desire for More Than the Good Opinion of Others
Are you motivated by pain, prestige, or purpose? Pain avoidance means you’ll do whatever reduces difficulty or conflict. Prestige seeking means you’ll do whatever others think highly of. To succeed as an opt-out, you need better motivations. You need to be motivated primarily by a sense of purpose. You need to be unshakable in the face of other’s fears and expectations.
The single biggest reason young people go to college is to avoid negative perceptions or gain approval from friends and loved ones. It’s the hardest challenge to overcome for an opt-out. Not only might you face critical questions, you may forgo comfy financial support and have to be truly self-reliant in a way you haven’t before. The shackles of care are tough to break, because they’re so easy to slip into. I’ve talked with hundreds of young people dying to opt-out, but unable to give up their parents money and approval.
You have to be willing to lose it. There’s a paradox though. If you’re firm in your purpose and kindly let them know your plan without yelling or yielding, nine times out of ten when they see you sticking with it, they’ll come around and end up proud and supportive after all. But you can’t do it for them. You’ve gotta do it for you.
Understanding You’re Not Special
This is one of the best articles for young people ever written. The main message: you are what you earn.
I don’t mean earn as in money, though that’s one way. I mean what you earn in respect, opportunity, and attention. You have been raised to believe you are uniquely special. And you are as a human being in the cosmos. But in the marketplace, most people won’t have time to get to know all your fine qualities. They have problems and they want solutions. That’s what exchange is and that’s how value is created.
You might be the most unique, interesting, courageous 20 year old in the world. But if you aren’t hitting your sales numbers or doing at least as well as the other people offering the same service, no one cares. You don’t earn money and opportunity by being special. You earn it by creating value.
Doing More Than Not Doing Something
Opting out isn’t an activity. The next step on your life and career adventure doesn’t require debt and classrooms and conformity and boredom. But it does require a step!
Just like college won’t magically make anything happen for you, neither will opting out. It’s what you do instead that matters. The bar is pretty low if you look at how you could spend four years and five figures compared to college, but don’t get stuck there. Aim higher.
You don’t need to pick what you want to do for the rest of your life, so relax. Just pick what you want to do next and go do it well. As long as you don’t hate it, it’s fair game. Make a plan of some kind. Chunk it into 6-month segments if it helps. What can you do every day to move closer to your goals and chip away at your obstacles for the next 6 months? Do it.
Your identity is not just “Opt-out”. That’s like saying your identity is, “Not a criminal”. Do something and be something more. Define yourself by what you create.
School kills it. Now you’ve got to build it back up again.
You have to be interesting to get interesting opportunities. And to be interesting, you first have to be interested. Rekindle your childlike sense of wonder. This world is freakin’ amazing, and you’re right to get excited about it! Every business has a story, every problem presents opportunity, and every day has the potential to be better than the one before.
Ask questions. Learn from people. Dive into books. Get lost in your quest to get answers to whatever you seek.
Real learning happens from engaging with the world, letting your actions generate questions, then reflecting on them before going back to action again. Start with action, but don’t stop there. Act, reflect, act again.
This is genuine philosophy, with field experiments and not just thought experiments. And this is how you become more than a rule-following drone.
This one is so important, there’s a podcast series named after it! Forward tilt is that thing that makes you literally lean forward in your chair during an interview, as if your entire being wants to lunge across the table and seize the opportunity.
It’s hard work, but not just hard work. It’s also initiative. Being first, being eager. You know forward tilt when you work with it. Attend a church or community event, and notice who immediately starts clearing tables and folding chairs. Enter an office and see who’s there early, who cleans the fridge without being asked, who takes on projects outside their purview, and does it all with a smile.
Forward tilt is great. Nothing else will make people want to do cool stuff with you more.
We review thousands of applications and have helped launch hundreds of unconventional careers at Praxis. I’ve come to believe that optimism is the single greatest indicator for success in the program.
Optimism doesn’t mean contentment — to opt-out requires restless discontentment with the conveyor belt. In fact, I think the best combo is discontent optimism.
Optimism does mean a belief in the ability to improve yourself and the world. It’s a commitment to choosing and finding the beneficial element in any information or situation, and using it to make progress towards your goals. Belief is a precondition to action, and upward action requires a belief in the ability to move up.
You can learn optimism and you don’t have to be cheesy, naive, or hang cat posters on the wall. The world is full of possibility and play, and you need to see it that way to get where you want to go. Think of optimism as the lens that let’s you see opportunity.
Honesty About What You Want
Yeah, be honest with others. That’s a given. But first, you need to be honest with yourself.
This one is really hard, and often overlooked. Self-knowledge and self-honesty are rare, and not always fun to obtain. But you need them.
No one is better at bullshitting you than you are. You’ll concoct all kinds of stories and post hoc justifications to hide your true motivations. You’ve got to cut through that crap and boldly face your own desires. Don’t feel guilt or shame, just face it.
Why do you want this? What are you doing? Are you trying to be someone you’re not? What do you value most?
The sooner you know and live and speak in alignment with that truth, better. Opting out reduces the bullshit buffer. You can get away with more self-deception in the artificial confines of the conveyor belt. Step off, and you’ll begin to confront your true self. Get ready to face what you find, don’t bury it, and don’t lie to yourself about it.
If you prefer leisure to work, better to know it and build a life that optimizes for it. If you’re driven more by money than passion, no problem, as long as you know it and can plan accordingly. It’s not about where you end up, it’s about making sure you end up in a place that’s true to you.
The Adventure Awaits
Think you have what it takes to build an awesome life and career? If you read this far and didn’t get scared away, you might be a prime opt-out candidate.
But don’t worry. You’re not alone. There’s a large and growing number of young people creating their own path.
If you’re interested, join the community at Crash.co.
Why not you?