This piece appeared in the Atlantic this week. I’ve been thinking about the economic value of an undergraduate college degree here in the US. This article seems to hit at not the earning potential gap, which seems to be intact, but instead the wealth gap which in many ways reflects consumer spending habits, and with it consumer debt. What do you think?
The College Wealth Premium Has Collapsed
Is college worth it? As the cost of American higher education soars, inequality widens, and wages stagnate, millions of Millennials and Gen Zers have asked themselves that question. The answer, at least from economists, has remained a resounding yes. One study found that college graduates earn nearly twice as much as their peers without a college degree.
But what if those earnings are no longer translating into financial security and long-term prosperity? A new study by researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis suggests that might be the case. College still boosts graduates’ earnings, but it does little for their wealth.
The paper, by William R. Emmons, Ana H. Kent, and Lowell R. Ricketts, is an exercise in pulling apart averages. As a general point, college graduates earn more and are worth more than people without college degrees. And, as a general point, the college earnings and wealth premiums—meaning how much more a person with a college diploma makes and owns than an otherwise similar person—are large. But upon close examination, terrifying generational and demographic trends emerge.
The college earnings premium has proved durable and considerable overall. White people born in the middle of the century got more of an earnings boost for attending college than white people born in the 1980s—but the boost for both groups was big. (“People” is close-enough shorthand here; the authors use a more technical household comparison.) And black people born in the ’80s got a similar income bump to black people born in the ’40s and ’50s.
But the wealth premium has collapsed precipitously over the past 50 years. White graduates born in the ’30s were worth 247 percent more than their non-college-educated peers; white people born in the ’80s were worth just 42 percent more. Among black families, the wealth premium sat at more than 500 percent for those born in the ’30s and fell to zero—yes, zero—for those born in the ’70s and ’80s.
Notably, the study corrects for the fact that households tend to accumulate wealth as they age; the issue is not that members of the Greatest Generation and Boomers have had more time to let their homes appreciate and their money sit in the stock market. They were always on a different wealth trajectory than their kids and grandkids.
The authors cite a few reasons this might be the case. The first has to do with asset prices. Older generations were able to buy houses and stocks when prices were low, then saw the value of those assets rise. Recent generations have faced high housing prices and have found themselves unable to buy their way into the stock market. Therefore, they have not been able to take advantage of the recent run-up in asset values. “The three oldest cohorts we studied generally have experienced fortuitous asset price fluctuations,” the authors write.
The second potential factor involves Wall Street’s financial engineering. Younger folks have come of age during an era of consumer debt, with banks more than happy to load customers up with credit cards, car loans, and so on. Those debts then get subtracted from the value of families’ assets when determining their net worth, helping to explain the Millennials’ crummy wealth accumulation. “The leveraging of college-graduate balance sheets over time is entirely consistent with the progressive weakening of their overall financial positions that we identified—even while the college and postgraduate income premiums remained intact,” the authors write.
Finally—most obvious, and perhaps most important—is the cost of college and graduate school itself. The price of consumer goods has increased by a factor of four since the late 1970s. College costs have increased by a factor of 14, the study notes. More and more students have taken out heavy debt burdens to be able to go to school, burdens that then eat away at their earnings, month after month, for years on end. That has forced millions of Millennials to delay life milestones, including getting married, having children, and owning a home, for years, if not for decades, if not forever.
Even if going to college is still important for young people’s earnings and employment, it is less of a clear economic boon than it was 30 years ago. In it way, the paper makes a powerful argument for making college a public good, low-cost or even free for everyone. The spiraling cost of higher education is choking Millennial families, and more young people would be able to go to college—and get the full financial benefit of getting a degree—if they were able to do it for the same price as their parents paid.
“You have an awesome job — you know that, right? I’m jealous.” Those words were uttered by a tenured professor over coffee one day, as I told him about my then-job working in theater as a literary manager and dramaturge.
Had I heard him correctly? He was the one with the swanky permanent teaching job while I couldn’t find a tenure-track gig in literature to save my life.
But despite all the romantic notions attached to “the life of the mind,” that wasn’t the first time (or the last) that I heard a tenured scholar admit to feeling envious of a career outside of academe. They always say they feel beaten down by the academic system — more specifically, by heavy teaching loads, politicized faculty meetings, and ever-expanding campus bureaucracy.
Meanwhile, drawing on my knowledge of theater, I had become the literary manager of a major U.S. regional theater — developing new works, providing research for plays, scouting new playwrights, and writing articles for the theater’s magazine that were read by hundreds of people every performance. While it wasn’t what I had imagined myself doing with a Ph.D., the theater had become my classroom, where I ran public interviews with award-winning writers and actors. I grappled with complex thematic issues and found myself in the library collecting dramaturgical research for directors.
I was, in many ways, doing what I had been trained to do. I just wasn’t doing it at a university.
I share this experience now because the contingent-faculty crisis has rightly been taking up more and more column space in an effort to get academe to sit up, take notice, and do something about the shrinking pool of tenure-track jobs. Debates about the problem often lead to a lot of finger-pointing and wishful thinking that it could be resolved if only “someone” — institutions, departments, learned societies, foundations — could wave a magic wand and make more tenure-track jobs appear. It is a frustratingly complex issue.
While I, too, hope that institutions will find ways to support, retain, and even increase the number of tenure-track positions on their faculties, I’d like to pose a different question here: Why is getting a tenure-track job still seen as the only way to lead a fulfilling life of inquiry in the humanities? More to the point: What do those of us who pursue a doctorate want to do to lead fulfilling lives as scholars?
The answer, I would suggest, is not purely a thing — e.g., a tenure-track job — but rather a set of activities: the ability to teach, write, lecture, and think critically about the world around us. Those actions, while they are primarily located in the realm of higher education, are not by any means restricted to that sector.
I found that out myself more than 10 years ago when — after five years on the faculty job market, and despite having done all the “right” things such as getting a postdoc, publishing a book and articles, and teaching — I was still without a tenure-track position. Not looking to live just anywhere and also not interested in patching together a subsistence living of underpaying adjunct jobs, I decided to pivot and look for work outside of academe. The results have been exciting, rewarding, and eye-opening.
My first job, described above, led me to work in theater, applying much that I had learned to an art form I love. Instead of reading and writing about contemporary American drama in the abstract, I was actually in the room helping to create it. It was often a heady experience, to be sure. From there I served as director of arts and culture for a Jewish community center, applying my background in Jewish cultural texts to public programming for hundreds of people each year. Then a stint in community grantmaking. And now, coming full circle, I am executive director of an academic learned society that serves its members not just by advocating for their scholarship, but by helping them along their career paths in whatever varied forms that might take.
As I look back at my own unexpected career path, though, I never abandoned the activities of teaching, research, writing, and thinking critically. While academe is a place where ostensibly all of those actions coalesce, it’s not the only place where they exist. With some creativity and flexibility, each element can be interwoven with a life outside of a college campus.
At multiple jobs, I was able to negotiate, as part of my hiring package, regular time off to teach a course on a college campus. I don’t want to glorify the adjunct system, as it is definitely broken and pays far too little for the amount of work involved. However, in certain circumstances, adjuncting can be a way for Ph.D.s working outside of the ivory tower to maintain an active role as scholars and teachers. Adjunct teaching is not glamorous, but when it’s not your main source of income, it can be gratifying work. Freed from departmental politics, I was able to swoop in, teach, and leave — and I liked that. I not only got to continue honing my teaching skills and be with students in a classroom, but I also had the opportunity to develop new courses that often turned into public lecture topics.
Research and writing attract many people to academic life, but it’s possible to do that kind of work in other sectors, too.
In fact, my own writing and publishing has flourished since leaving academe. I’ve published two books, both with academic presses. The second, which was a trade crossover book about musical theater, sold out its first print run and will be republished this year in a revised second edition. This book was a joy to work on because I was able to write it for myself — not to please a tenure committee or a small group of academics. In writing it, I was able to combine a scholarly approach with a desire to share my work with a wider reading public.
It’s true that carving out time to write and do research when you have a full-time job is difficult, but it is doable. And in fairness, many faculty members with heavy teaching loads these days are equally struggling to find time to write.
The one area of research that remains problematic once you leave the academic world is using campus libraries, complete with checkout privileges and access to online databases. If institutions could find ways of supporting research access for independent scholars, this would be a tremendous boon both for them and for institutions, which, ostensibly, are invested in the production of new bodies of knowledge and scholarly output.
My work as a graduate student trained me to think critically, and while I may spend more time nowadays thinking about spreadsheets than similes, it doesn’t mean the work I do now is less gratifying. As a Ph.D. outside of academe, I still spend a great deal of time lecturing and giving public talks. Through this work, I’ve not only found attentive, engaged audiences (often more so than in an intro class), but I’m excited to share my academic knowledge with the wider public in ways that are deep and meaningful.
I know that a tenure-track job will remain the holy grail for many Ph.D.s, but with creative recalibration, you can find multiple, rewarding ways to be “an academic.” When people ask me if I still would have gone to graduate school knowing that I wouldn’t find an academic job, my answer remains a solid yes. While I might not need a doctorate for some of the jobs I’ve had, the training I received helped shape the way I view and interact with the world, and that’s something I value deeply.
Today, as the executive director of an academic learned society, I see a twofold challenge before us:
We must advocate for tenure-track jobs and the shore up of academic employment.
At the same time, we must validate and celebrate the vast variety of career options available outside of academe that draw on the important skills of reading, writing, and critical thinking that many of us have spent years cultivating.
Warren Hoffman is executive director of the Association for Jewish Studies.
I ended up in Palermo almost by accident. If you are familiar with my style at all, I rarely book anything beforehand. August was a strange month this year. I had wrapped up my summer classes, and I was feeling rather restless. I had tracked down a stupendously cheap flight to Barcelona in the spring, and after booking it had almost forgot about it. After grading all of the exams and submitting final grades on a warm Sunday afternoon I headed to Chicago for the evening haul to Barcelona. I have written before, that while truly a great city, Barcelona is not my favorite. ( Barcelona is easy to love)
Still, I wanted to vacate the states for a bit, I needed a fresh view, to chew on some things in my mind and “get it sorted” as the Brits say. 2019 had been full throttle, and yet I was a bit pensive about the near future. I didnt want to push this 20 day trek to the limit. I wanted to take it easy. Lets be honest here, few places are more conducive to idyllic relaxation than the south of Spain. Catalan or otherwise. Boundaries had been rocked so far for the year. Costa Rica, The Phillipines, Lebanon, Egypt, Cyprus, Colombia…I had made sweet love to the travel ambitions that I so adore.
Mountains, landscapes, sea side glory, all of the good stuff. Now I was going to take it easy, unplug, and wander a bit. I landed in BCN on an easy morning. Quickly passed through customs, and grabbed a taxi to the center. One cannot have a bad time in Spain. I’m convinced of this. Unless you have the personality of a banana slug. With this is mind…Barcelona, after the first night I found myself content…but still restless. I wanted to hit a kind of travel stride. the addiction that I must feed. I gave Barcelona one more more day to wander the old city, walk the public beaches and gorge on pinchos and tapas.
During the evening, however, I began to wander on various flight apps looking at the possibilities of further escape. Wizz air threw some enticing flirtation my way. They recently began flying to the republic of Georgia. Georgia has been high on my list for years. I have gotten close…but not quite close enough. I worked on the Georgia logistics for a few hours, and felt mostly set on that idea. It would be Georgia, and maybe even a push into Azerbaijan to see a dear graduate school friend in Baku. The next morning, I wake up, find a suitable breakfast, and scope my carefully laid plans… Surprise! Tickets double, tickets sell out, “this flight is no longer avail on this day” etc.
Time for an alternate plan. This is really where serendipity comes to play. I cast my fortunes to the wind, and obviously Georgia was not meant to be (this time). Now I need to load the flight map and see where I will land. (figuratively as well as literally) The matrix gods give me a few easy options. Dubrovnik, Bilbao, and Porto all offer up amazing options, as well as access to the sea, culinary genius, and local charm. Plus, there are cheap direct flights, budget airline style. Then I see it. Fuckin Palermo, Sicily.
Lets do it. book it. Leaves tonight. Sicily greeted me like a long lost lover, quick to a new yet familiar embrace. I was smitten.
Sicily has it. I can’t exactly define it. From the chaotic airport to the goofy bus that takes you to the center. I arrived late at night, ventured to my hotel, and then walked a bit. I’ve said it before numerous times. There is no better way to learn a new place than night steps. Bright and early I hit the streets of this old world place and instantly felt it. This wasn’t anything like fuckin Disneyland. Old world authenticity and killer gelato will forever be a favorite combination of mine.
From the a few of the dusty neglected churches, and the tiny side streets where they are located to the intense local markets where the term “organic” need not apply, I absolutely loved Sicily. I averaged 10 miles a day on foot. This is a place where I will spend considerably more time in the future. I’m always hunting. In these now 79 countries, some places have it. The magic . Other places, not so much. This is a fluid concept, some places lose it, and others gain it. A kind of Travelers currency, certain places are simply well stocked with a kind of grit that I find irresistible. This is one of the reasons you will most likely never see my ass on a cruise. I don’t want to knock them, as they are loved by millions, but for me there is an essential missing element.
I can walk these streets for months and feel good. There are enough subtle differences here , especially with the American Midwest that we find it altogether charming. Off the popular tourist track as it were, but with all the significant draws of “Europe”. Like the food. Dear sweet baby Jesus the food. Italy as a whole is one of those places where gluttony surely cannot be a sin. Walking multiple miles per day is the only way to begin to fight the pasta demons that entice you at every meal.
Even then, Palermo is the birthplace of the Cannoli, and if you’ve never had a real one, lose your dessert virginity here. Only after, then you (like me) can die happy. I plan to write more about Sicily. This place has that magic that I search the globe for. I ended up here almost on accident, and I could not have enjoyed it more. Sicily has the magic in abundance. For that I am eternally grateful. I spent 10 days exploring this coast,
and I smiled the entire time. Exactly what I needed to work some things over in the rock tumbler that is the human brain. The sun, salt water and proper pasta can combat near any evil. My first few days in Palermo floated by, as this place quickly became one of my favorite “accidents.”
I’m here in Lima, Perú. I’ve been at this for a while. In many respects I can consider travel my life’s work. People are constantly asking me for tips, tricks, hacks etc. mostly though, it’s the “how do you do it”?
I’ve packaged that response in multiple ways over the years and each time I do I’m reminded of the most vital ingredient.
Just do it. Start somewhere. Go somewhere. Go ANYWHERE. See as much of this insanely beautiful world as you can. You will not regret it.
From Nomadic Matt (nomadicmatt.com)
“We all ponder exotic locations and amazing adventures. We think of the trips we will take and the places we will meet.
And then we abandon those dreams as rapidly as we thought them up.
We think of all the reasons why we can’t go. Why today isn’t perfect and we just have too many things to do.
Something comes up and our plans are put off until tomorrow as we wait for “the right time.” When we have more money, more time off, when things aren’t so crazy – then we can travel. We just need the stars to align a little more.
But, here is a secret: it will never be the right time to travel.
You’ll always find an excuse as to why today just isn’t the right day.
You will always have some reason to stay at home.
The idea that the stars will align and you’ll find the perfect day to step out of your door and into the world is a fantasy.
But tomorrow won’t be any better.
Tomorrow, there will still be bills to pay.
Tomorrow, there still won’t be enough money.
Tomorrow, there will still be someone’s wedding to attend or a birthday party to go to.
Tomorrow, there will still be planning to do.
Tomorrow, you will still second-guess yourself.
Tomorrow, you’ll still find yourself putting off the preparation for one more day.
Tomorrow, people you know will still sow the seeds of doubt in your head.
Tomorrow, you’ll find another excuse why you can’t go.
The perfect day will never come.
If I had waited for the “perfect day”, I’d still be waiting. I’d still be waiting for someone to come with me or for just a little more money.
Sometimes, you just have to take the leap and go for it. Ships aren’t meant to stay in harbor – and you weren’t meant to wonder “what if?” Because, one day, you’ll find you’ve run out of tomorrows.
And you’ll be filled with nothing but sadness and regret.
Ah Barcelona. Bright, beautiful and exotic to the American mind. The home of Gaudi, the stunning architectural master that adds yet another flavorful layer to the Catalan city by the sea.
I visited Barcelona in the early summer 3 yers ago. It was my first time in Spain (A country I have come to love the fuck out of). I had spent the majority of my travel time off the beaten path as it were. Trekking through the rapidly changing regions of Eastern Europe and the former USSR. Friends and colleagues, fellow travelers and Instagram alike had hyped Barcelona to impossible heights. “The absolute best city in the world”.
I had to go right?
And thus I did.
And I get it. I truly do. Barcelona is the topless beach, where someone passes you a joint and invites you to hacky sack. Barcelona is all night sangria. Barcelona is shockingly gorgeous people of damn near every stripe. (Seriously though, where did all of you beautiful people come from??) It’s mostly safe and enchanting enough.
But therein lies the rub. Not to sound like a wanker, but I’ve been at this for a bit. I thrive on finding that travel magic and at this point I gotta dig for it. Barcelona…is like Disney world. Barcelona is a dream, an idea. This City is the myth that keeps you working over time to be able to pay for that vacation. So, it shouldn’t be shocking that It’s a place SATURATED with tourists. Now, I recognize that I am one of those tourists. Albeit not in a backward ball cap and flip flops getting blind wasted in the afternoon and cat calling passing ladies.
I had an idea that since the world and everything in it changes so damn fast (who’s getting old?!) that perhaps Barcelona would be different 3 years later. Don’t get me wrong, as I’m not overtly hating. Every place has elements of awesome. Barcelona certainly has more than its fair share. If you go, and if you most certainly should, stay outside the Las Ramblas area. When you venture near grace yourself for heat, crowds, that overpowering scent of urine and airport style prices.
Stay anywhere else, and try to at least make an effort to engage some aspects of Catalan culture. Don’t be a sack of asses and enjoy your holiday.
This August Barcelona was under 300$ RT from the midwestern US. The best option on the continent and a great hub to explore the Mediterranean regions I am keen on.
Did I enjoy it? Abso-fucking-Lutley. Barcelona just doesn’t have that magic for me. The primary industry is tourists, who flock to its sunny shores and bars like a European Cancun…only without the resort culture.
Loads and loads of people love Cancun, and even more love Barcelona I’m sure. It’s a personal preference thing. I don’t really dig cruises or theme parks. I’ve always been on the hunt for something more…visceral. For a first trip to Europe, I would still go with Barcelona over London/Paris. I would land in Barcelona, then head elsewhere in Spain or the region. Which is exactly what I did.
2019 has been been chocked fucking full of it. Made it to Boston, The Philippines, Europe, the Middle East, back to Colombia…and its been absolutely amazing. All kinds of transition happening, but also all kinds of adventure! Tomorrow we head to Chicago, then onto Spain for Monday morning. From there…who knows?!?
Excited for a new piece? Anywhere you would like to see me hit and report back on?
Before writing the first chapter of Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling planned for seven years at Hogwarts. Harry Potter is one of the most read books of all-time.
Before creating the first Stars Wars movie in the 1970s, George Lucas planned for at least six films and started at episode four, rather than episode one. Almost 40 years later, the entire world continues to be excited with the release of a new Star Wars film. This would not be possible if Lucas hadn’t thoughtfully and largely planned ahead.
The principle is simple: Don’t just plant a tree, plant an orchard.
How different might Harry Potter have been if Rowling started the book without any intentions or plans beyond the first book? It may have just been a book about a boy who went to school and killed a bad guy. Perhaps, at the conclusion of that story, Rowling might or might not have decided to write a sequel.
Yet, by “beginning with the end in mind,” Rowling was able to direct and position the first book much differently. The first book, although amazing in itself, was a means to an end, clearly leading the reader to the next book.
Not only that but by having a long-term objective, Rowling was able to create a much bigger story. She was able to foreshadow to things the reader wouldn’t learn about for sometimes several years!
But she planted those seeds early and thoughtfully, and as a result, each book was a continuation of the next, rather than several disconnected and random stories.
Similarly, consider how different Star Wars would have been had Lucas created one film, without planning what would come next, or before! Vader may have just been “the bad guy,” not Luke’s father.
Very Few People Live like This
You are the writer of your own narrative. Yet, how often do you plan each year based on what you intend to do during the next year or the one after that?
What if, like Rowling, you were living this year based on what you intend to do in 1, 3, and 5 years from now?
It’s all in the setup.
Goals are means, not ends.
Everything you do is positioning. Are you positioning yourself to do AMAZING things in 1, 3, or 5 years from now?
I can already hear your mental wheels spinning.
But you can’t plan for the future! The real world isn’t Hogwarts!
Obviously, the world is changing fast. You can’t plan for everything. Hence, Tony Robbins has said, “Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.”
After setting his goals in several areas of his life (e.g., health, spirituality, finances, relationships, service, etc.), and for 1, 3, 5, and 25 years out, Assaraf’s mentor asked him, “Are you interested in achieving these goals, or are you committed?” to which Assaraf responded, “What’s the difference?”
His mentor responded:
“If you’re interested, you come up with stories, excuses, reasons, and circumstances about why you can’t or why you won’t. If you’re committed, those go out the window. You just do whatever it takes.”
Clearly, Assaraf’s life probably isn’t exactly how he planned it to be when he set those goals in 1982 at the age of 19. However, I’m confident those goals propelled him to where he is today.
He was playing and planning a much bigger game than most people and writing a much different story.
The Science Doesn’t Lie
If psychological science has found anything in the past 30 years, it’s that people with high self-efficacy and an internal locus of control radically outperform others.
Self-efficacy = your belief in your own ability to achieve your goals. Think “confidence.”
Internal locus of control = a belief that you, not external circumstances, determine the outcomes of your life.
External locus of control = a belief that factors outside of you determine the outcomes of your life.
The majority of the population have low self-efficacy and an external locus of control. According to several research studies, people with these two traits:
Reverse everything on that list for people with high self-efficacy and an internal locus of control.
Living a Consciously Designed Life
“The best way to predict your future is to create it.” — Abraham Lincoln
Pulling it all together, here’s how it works:
You must believe YOU ARE IN CONTROL of what happens to you (i.e., internal locus of control)
You must believe in YOUR OWN ABILITY to make things happen (i.e., self-efficacy/confidence)
You must believe you, and only you, are RESPONSIBLE for the choices you make
You must have HOPE that what you seek will come about.
According to psychology’s Hope Theory, hope reflects your perceptions regarding your capacity to:
clearly conceptualize goals
develop the specific strategies to reach those goals (i.e., pathways thinking)
initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies (i.e., agency thinking).
From a spiritual perspective, hope is far more than wishful thinking. It’s a sense of confidence, even assurance, that what you seek is a foregone conclusion — what Tony Robbins calls, “Resolve.”
“Resolve means it’s done,” said Robbins. “It’s done inside your heart, therefore it’s done in the real world.” Hence, Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Few people make committed decisions. Instead, they state preferences such as, “I’d like to be healthier and happier.”
To quote Assaraf’s mentor, “Are you interested or committed?
5. You are MOTIVATED, even when life is difficult.
your belief that specific behaviors will actually facilitate the outcomes you desire
your belief in your own abilityto successfully execute the behaviors requisite to achieving your goals
If you don’t truly value the goal, you won’t be motivated. If you don’t believe you have an effective means of achieving your goal, you won’t be motivated. If you don’t expect yourself to do what it takes, you won’t be motivated.
This theory is known as “Expectancy Theory,” and it highlights that what you expect to happen often does. Hence the term, “self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Interestingly, there is a related concept known as “The Pygmalion Effect,”which shows that what other people expect of you in large measure determines how well you do.
You have to ‘Be’ the right kind of person first, then you must ‘Do’ the right thingsbefore you can expect to ‘Have.’” — Zig Ziglar
Living a consciously designed life is completely possible.
Perhaps the most fundamental decision any person can ever make is this one:
You can choose to believe that the people who succeed, like Michael Jordan, for example, were born to become what they did
Or, you can choose to believe that at some point, they chose to become what they did
That is the most fundamental decision you can make about life as a human being. It is what some would call a “watershed issue” — whichever side of the equation you pick will put you down a course that will influence all of your other decisions, mindsets, and beliefs.
Do you believe you can choose what you become?
Or do you believe your course is set for you at birth?
Do you “discover” yourself or do you “create” yourself?
Whichever perspective you choose, your brain will go about finding any and all information it can to support that bias. As Dan Sullivan has said, “Your eyes can only see and your ears can only hear what your brain is looking for.”Psychologists call this “selective attention.”
What you focus on expands.
You see what you believe is real — and then it becomes real for you in a self-fulfilling prophecy. As Dr. Stephen Covey said, “You see the world, not as it is, but as you’ve been conditioned to see it.”
Making this shift starts by recognizing that for quite a while, you’ve been going through the motions. Your thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and even desires are the product of your environment.
Thanks to a global world that makes information abundant, it isn’t hard to become exposed to other ways of life. However, you must realize quickly that most of the information online is complete trash. Which is why Basecamp Founder, Jason Fried, has said, “I’m pretty oblivious to a lot of things intentionally. I don’t want to be influenced that much.”
Once you begin upgrading your mindset and environment, and once your priorities and goals are clear — then you don’t want to be swayed or distracted by most of the low-level information out there.
A key strategy for making any jump is to, “Assume the feeling of your wish fulfilled,” meaning, you assume the posture, attitude, and emotions of the people operating at the higher level.
You affirm to yourself who you are and then operate from that affirmation. This may sound like “acting as if,” and it actually is.
But it’s important to realize that we are always “acting” in a role. All of life is acting. In every situation, you are assuming a character. You’re playing a role based on the other people around you. In some situations, your role may be an employee, while in others it may be a parent, or child, or friend.
In all cases, you are acting a part.
You can change your role.
You can change the stage.
You can choose to be different. But it must start in your state of being. Rather than operating subconsciously as the majority of people do, you must make a conscious decision about who you intend to be and where you intend to go. You must then BEHAVE from that decision. When you act from that decision, then you create the outcomes you are seeking. You will become the person you intend to be, rather than the person your circumstances led you to be.
Conclusion: Humility and Awe
“My dreams are my dress rehearsals for my future.” — David Copperfield
Does everything in life go exactly how you plan it? Of course not.
Here’s the principle: Expect great things to happen, be happy even when they don’t.
“Expect everything and attach to nothing!” — Carrie Campbell
However, just because things don’t go exactly according to plan doesn’t mean you aren’t in control. It is your decisions, not your conditions, which determine your destiny.
When you take up the responsibility to live your life according to design rather than the default, you will constantly be humbled and in awe. You’ll be blown away as you watch life unfold as you saw it in your head — as your physical world conforms itself to your thoughts.
You absolutely can live your life how Rowling wrote Harry Potter and how Lucas wrote Star Wars.
You can dream and live BIG.
You can live by design.
Your world can continue to expand.
But you must think further ahead. 2019 shouldn’t be viewed in isolation. It’s an obvious continuation of 2018.
Some days I feel old. Especially in airports. My ass is planted in a plastic formed seat in the small regional airport of Udon Thani, north eastern Thailand. 35 WiFi networks and none of them public.
Because fuck you. That’s why.
Time on the road can jade you just a bit. Cranky ass old people are a fixture of modern day life. As I sit here and embrace my inner cantankerous bastard, some glorious truths shine their benevolent rays of goodness light upon me…and I soften a bit.
Let me explain.
Am I a bit sore/tired? Sure. Why is that?
Well it happens to be because I averaged around 10 miles per day hiking all over the lower regions of Laos. The small yet charming south East Asian country being #72! and having evaded me (barely) this time last year. Now, this entire shot was just a bit over two weeks, and as it’s winding down, I’m absolutely elated. I’m grown man giddy. I have so much to write about, so many memories and sordid tales. Pictures, conversations, connections…the real shit that gets the blood flowing.
I know for many of us, we get lost in the worlds dumpster fires. Blind tribalism, shit strap politics, and overall doom and gloom.
I left that shit behind. I had no choice. This year certainly had its share of suck. Big epic balls of suck. But I’m still here, and I’m still standing. Pushing forward and stoked on what’s ahead. If it’s toxic, let it be. Don’t carry it around with you. Shits heavier than lead. Instead I’ve focused on making a difference, making my dent, and never giving in to the quiet desperation that seems so prevalent. Wrapped around all of this goodness is a fluffy, warm, slightly crispy pressed tortilla of stupendous optimism. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a feel fucking good burrito. The power of unbridled optimism feels weird at first, but then a euphoria settles in. It’s like a savage orgasm, only for your personality.
So my ass might be numb. I might be a bit sunburned. I may have believed my death imminent in the back of a tuk tuk today, I may feel a bit battered from vans, planes, boats, border crossings, and all the rest…I have longer pieces to finish and some logistics to sort…in short, I might feel a bit old in this airport…But I also feel the power of hope, and the concept that if I were to get creamed by a fruit truck next week, or my plane were to go down, I couldn’t be angry. I’ve been fortunate enough to jam on my dreams for over a decade now. I’ve pushed my self, my goals, and my ambitions farther than I ever thought possible. I’ve had a chance to love the fuck out of so many people. I’ve counted on and been saved by those same folks more than I should admit.
Seeing the world, sharing glimpses with you, and blasting ignorance in the pills every semester in my classrooms. Thank you for coming along, and helping me along the way.
When you roll the travel dice, and tempt the divine powers that be, you can never really tell what’s going to happen. I’ve relied on fate mixed with a bit of intuition, thrown down with a dash of inspiration to steer my wayward ass on countless occasions. This time around, I was coming out of a savage yet rewarding semester. I had taken on more classes than ever, and drowning in bluebooks, prepping like a madman and holding it all together along with the backdrop of an incredible year of change had left me optimistic, yet a touch depleted. More on that shit possibly later.
I waited until the last possible second.
“I need to get the fuck out of here”
“Tickets look kind of pricey”
I could have stayed home, tended to a few things, prepped for next semester, etc…but lo and behold, after scanning possible routes for a few weeks, in the midst of finals, days before departure what falls into my lap?!
A scuzzy bargain basement fare to Bangkok Thailand. Don’t go and read the reviews. Stop being scared. Stop wasting all of your fucks thinking about what could go wrong. Embrace what could go right, tap into the stunning ass power of ridiculous optimism instead. Kick fear in the dick, and let hope reign supreme. Buy the ticket, take the ride.
Boom. Do it. Don’t look back.
For two months worth of most people’s cable bill, I was out of here. 15 ass numbing hours to Shanghai , then five more to Bangkok, this adventure was underway. I had finally finished grading in the wee hours the night before with my trusted buddy Frank, courtesy of some amazing friends. (Reason #16578 not to be a twat, friends make the world go ’round)
Frank always offers stellar moral as well as academic support
Thus I was able to grab a bit of shut eye. My flight from China landed at 2:00 AM after 25 hours, and 10,000 Miles. All grades submitted, everything graded. 2018, mostly survived. My cab driver despite lack of English kicked on the jams, and him, I and Neil Young rocked into the city.
Late night eats and into my hotel. I’ve been loving the simple things as of late, and so many aspects of Thai culture resonate with that. From outlook, all the way to flavor profiles.
This is my third time to the land of a thousand smiles, and this journey is just getting started.
Sage advice from a few years ago. Brent Crane from the Atlantic. I have noticed a definite trend that comes with trekking across the globe. These experiences change you. There is no real “going back”. After an authentic adventure, you, the traveler, have been changed. Hopefully for the best. Your mind has been widened. Your experiences have been emboldened. Don’t get we wrong, these adventures can take place 10,000 miles from home, or 10 miles from home. The distance isn’t the factor. YOU are the factor.
Let me know what you think.
How international experiences can open the mind to new ways of thinking
There are plenty of things to be gained from going abroad: new friends, new experiences, new stories.But living in another country may come with a less noticeable benefit, too: Some scientists say it can also make you more creative.
Writers and thinkers have long felt the creative benefits of international travel. Ernest Hemingway, for example, drew inspiration for much of his work from his time in Spain and France. Aldous Huxley, the author of Brave New World, moved from the U.K. to the U.S. in his 40s to branch out into screenwriting. Mark Twain, who sailed around the coast of the Mediterranean in 1869, wrote in his travelogue Innocents Abroad that travel is “fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”
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In recent years, psychologists and neuroscientists have begun examining more closely what many people have already learned anecdotally: that spending time abroad may have the potential to affect mental change. In general, creativity is related to neuroplasticity, or how the brain is wired. Neural pathways are influenced by environment and habit, meaning they’re also sensitive to change: New sounds, smells, language, tastes, sensations, and sights spark different synapses in the brain and may have the potential to revitalize the mind.
“Foreign experiences increase both cognitive flexibility and depth and integrativeness of thought, the ability to make deep connections between disparate forms,” says Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School and the author of numerousstudies on the connection between creativity and international travel. Cognitive flexibility is the mind’s ability to jump between different ideas, a key component of creativity. But it’s not just about being abroad, Galinsky says: “The key, critical process is multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation. Someone who lives abroad and doesn’t engage with the local culture will likely get less of a creative boost than someone who travels abroad and really engages in the local environment.” In other words, going to Cancun for a week on spring break probably won’t make a person any more creative. But going to Cancun and living with local fishermen might.
In Galinsky’s latest study, published last month in the Academy of Management Journal, he and three other researchers examined the experiences of the creative directors of 270 high-end fashion houses. Combing through 11 years’ worth of fashion lines, Galinsky and his team searched for links between the creative directors’ experience working abroad and the fashion houses’ “creative innovations,” or the degree “to which final, implemented products or services are novel and useful from the standpoint of external audiences.” The level of creativity of a given product was rated by a pool of trade journalists and independent buyers. Sure enough, the researchers found a clear correlation between time spent abroad and creative output: The brands whose creative directors had lived and worked in other countries produced more consistently creative fashion lines than those whose directors had not.
The researchers also found that the more countries the executives had lived in, the more creative the lines tended to be—but only up to a point. Those who had lived and worked in more than three countries, the study found, still tended to show higher levels of creativity that those who hadn’t worked abroad at all, but less creativity that their peers who had worked in a smaller number of foreign countries. The authors hypothesized that those who had lived in too many countries hadn’t been able to properly immerse themselves culturally; they were bouncing around too much. “It gets back to this idea of a deeper level of learning that’s necessary for these effects to occur,” Galinsky says.
Cultural distance, or how different a foreign culture is from one’s own, may also play a role: Surprisingly, Galinsky and his colleagues found that living someplace with a larger cultural distance was often associated with lower creativity than living in a more familiar culture. The reason for that, they hypothesized, was that an especially different culture might come with a bigger intimidation factor, which may discourage people from immersing themselves in it—and no immersion, they explained, could mean none of the cognitive changes associated with living in another country.
Traveling may have other brain benefits, too. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, an associate professor of education and psychology at the University of Southern California, says that cross-cultural experiences have the potential to strengthen a person’s sense of self. “What a lot of psychological research has shown now is that the ability to engage with people from different backgrounds than yourself, and the ability to get out of your own social comfort zone, is helping you to build a strong and acculturated sense of your own self,” she says. “Our ability to differentiate our own beliefs and values … is tied up in the richness of the cultural experiences that we have had.”
Cross-cultural experiences have the potential to pull people out of their cultural bubbles, and in doing so, can increase their sense of connection with people from backgrounds different than their own. “We found that when people had experiences traveling to other countries it increased what’s called generalized trust, or their general faith in humanity,” Galinsky says. “When we engage in other cultures, we start to have experience with different people and recognize that most people treat you in similar ways. That produces an increase in trust.”
This trust may play an important role in enhancing creative function. In a 2012 study out of Tel Aviv University, researchers found that people who “believe that racial groups have fixed underlying essences”—beliefs the authors termed “essentialist views”—performed significantly worse in creative tests than those who saw cultural and racial divisions as arbitrary and malleable. “This categorical mindset induces a habitual closed-mindedness that transcends the social domain and hampers creativity,” the study authors wrote. In other words, those who put people in boxes had trouble thinking outside the box.
Of course, although a new country is an easy way to leave a “social comfort zone,” the cultural engagement associated with cognitive change doesn’t have to happen abroad. If a plane ticket isn’t an option, maybe try taking the subway to a new neighborhood. Sometimes, the research suggests, all that’s needed for a creative boost is a fresh cultural scene.
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