Motivation, Structure, Skills

Supported by Greenhaven Road Capital, finding value off the beaten path.

Anytime we want to do something in life we need three things; enough motivation, the right skills, and helpful conditions. This trio of ingredients is actually why college is still a good choice for many young people. Having advisors, friends, and grades to keep you motivated, having a deliberate and directional progression of skills and the resources of college like libraries, study groups, and tools makes college a one-stop shop for learning.

College is like a European riverboat cruise. The XMBA is like backpacking and couch-surfing.

We talk about college alternatives because the availability of ‘the right skills’ has changed. Online lectures, blog posts, and podcast interviews with the best experts in the world makes getting the best content easier than ever. Not only that but experts who aren’t professors, like Rory Sutherland, share their expertise too.

But just because the skills are available doesn’t mean a DIY education is best for everyone. Co-Founder of an AI firm and former angel Investor Tyler Willis said, “If you don’t know which way to go, the default should be to stay in school.” He added, “If you’re going to drop out you need to work harder than you would have in school.”

Though less explicit, motivations and conditions matter quite a bit.

This education example exposed itself in the excellent Endurance by Scott Kelly who didn’t care about learning in high school or his first year in college. Then one day he picks up The Right Stuff, reads the entire thing, and wants to become an astronaut. Kelly could work hard when he wanted to. He became an EMT in high school and favored the shifts that ran through the more dangerous parts of town.

The best way to get to NASA was the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy and as a legacy student thought he had a chance. He was rejected. Why? His terrible grades.

He applied to SUNY Maritime and got in. There he wrote, “The military discipline came pretty easily for me. I think I had been craving that kind of structure, and it was almost a relief to be told what to do and how to do it.”

The Right Stuff motivated Scott Kelly.

The school structured the day for Kelly.

The classroom offered the skills and Kelly seized them. Though it wasn’t easy. He reflected on his first math class assignment, “It was late at night by the time I was done, and I tried not to reflect on the fact that everyone else in my class had probably ripped through the homework in fifteen minutes. I tried to focus on the fact that I had set myself a goal—to read this chapter, to do the problems—and I had done that. I turned out the light feeling like I might finally be able to turn things around.”

I used to teach at a small college in Ohio. I still talk to high school students. In three years I’ll have a high schooler. I’m not sure what my advice about college will be but I always tell people that school is not your only education.

College is a normal bell curve, not-college is that but with fat tails. The good is better, the bad is worse.

In either direction, students can shift the curve to the right if they have enough motivation, the right skills, and helpful conditions.


Thanks for reading

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