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What Does Learning Look Like?

When we think of learning, we imagine rows of desks and chairs in a classroom, number two pencils, worksheets, and lectures given in front of a drab chalkboard. Stacks of textbooks and thoughts of anxiety-inducing standardized tests also make their way to the front of our minds. But, is this really what learning looks like? Or rather, is this the only way learning can look?

In her recent TEDx talk, Rainesford Alexandra, a college dropout, business co-owner and contributor to both our blog and the Huffington Post, contends that, no, this isn’t the model that best facilitates our learning. She asserts that learning isn’t limited to school, and tests that are designed to measure whether or not students have memorized the right answer aren’t effective.

Curiosity and “not knowing the answer is the key to learning.” Which, by the way, happens to be the title of her TED talk.

During the talk, Rainesford explains why learning isn’t about having “the right answer” and instead, why it’s about the process or the search. Another way to say this was once summed up by one of the teacher’s that made a positive impact on Rainesford’s life, “There is no right answer – there is only what you think, how you learn, and how you see it.” While this isn’t true for mathematics, it is for most everything else in life.

What Rainesford highlights is exactly how we learn as children. We learn to walk, talk, jump, finger paint, and play ball by doing it. We learn to solve problems without our parents by doing. As we grow older, we still learn in this way, but most of us don’t recognize it as learning. We learn job skills, communication skills, we learn how to handle new problems and traverse new places, and how to adapt to our ever-changing, global world. Yet still, when we think of learning, all that comes to mind are the images of classrooms and homework.

In her talk, Rainesford says, “… a lot of us try so hard to get the right answers in school – or even just in life – [that] we miss the lessons happening right in front of us.” It’s true – we miss out on the learning opportunities we are presented with in everyday life because we don’t view them as learning opportunities.  We’re too focused on getting the “right answer,” whatever that is to learn from the opportunities and experiences surrounding us. We just freak about about how we don’t know the right answer. But, by not knowing the answer we allow ourselves an opportunity to find the answer, and therefore learn. And that is the essence of real learning.

According to Rainesford, the biggest learning experience she’s ever experienced happened when she decided to write a book. She was surprised at the amount of people who told her to wait. “Wait until you’re older. Wait until you know how to write a book,” people told her, but Rainesford says that her love of writing was how she learned how to write; through practice. And by writing a book, she learned how to write a book. Not by taking a class or by Googling it, but by actually sitting down and writing it. By showing up every day and hammering out those words on her keyboard, not giving in to writer’s block or the pressures of people’s opinions. She taught herself through action.

Often, we have to take the first step (or several steps) in order to learn something. It won’t be handed to us because we don’t know the answers. We have to seek the answers in order to find them. We have to put in the effort to get results. And that’s what Rainesford did when she wrote her book.

Rainesford tried her best to get her book published, but no publishing company she contacted would publish it. For a while, this made her question if everyone was right, that she was a failure, that she didn’t know what she was doing and  should’ve waited. But she realized that this was a learning experience. And then, when the rights to her manuscript were optioned to a producer who wanted to make a TV show out of her book, those people who told her to wait were proved wrong. But even if they hadn’t been, would she have learned any less? Would this be a less valid learning experience? Of course not! This learning experience just happened to have an agreeable ending.
“Mistakes are the most extraordinary teachers,” Rainesford tells us. And she is right. Even though mistakes hurt – imagine working super hard on writing a whole book and then getting rejected by publishers – they teach us more than successes do. This will happen if we are open to learning those lessons.

We need to pursue. We need to put in the effort. We need to be curious.

 

To watch Rainesford’s full TEDx talk, click here.

Posted by on March 4, 2015
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The Harsh Financial Reality of Dropping Out of College

If a student drops out of college today, how do parents respond?

The answer, surprisingly enough, isn’t one of disapproval or fear for their wellbeing. They’re angry. Sure, there is still the concern about what might happen to their children if they don’t earn a traditional degree, but with the unbridled rise in tuition (1,100% since 1985) and the extraordinary burden of debt carried by graduates, parents are more willing today to explore other options. Parents are also aware of the rise in employers hiring candidates educated outside the conventional schooling system who carry impressive portfolios, pointing a spotlight on new learning platforms and make bachelor degrees an afterthought.

So what is it that bothers parents the most these days about their children dropping out of college?

It’s the money they didn’t spend.

“When I dropped out of college, my dad wasn’t frustrated because he thought it was a terrible decision. He was frustrated – no angry – because he knew I wasn’t going back and a chunk of the money he had worked so hard to save over the past 18 years was going to end up taxed and back in the government’s hands. And I totally understand that,” explained Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege – a gap year program that helps young adults plan and prepare for their future.

The majority of college students say that the primary goal of attending college is to learn the skills needed to succeed in the real world. It’s also the primary reason why families open college savings accounts such as 529s and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). But kids today don’t learn all of their skills in the classroom. From YouTube tutorials to online course platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Khan Academy, General Assembly and CreativeLive, young adults learn the skills they need to succeed in today’s fast changing professional world wherever they can. What’s upsetting is that saving plans haven’t adapted to support today’s diverse learning experiences.

The government has made some changes to 529s and (ESAs) to cover more than traditional 4-year universities. They can now fund 2-year associate degree programs, select vocational schools and trade schools. But online and offline hardskill programs that do a phenomenal job teaching the skills young people need to get a job today, such as Dev Boot Camp – where the graduate employment rate is over 75% within the first year with an average salary of $75,965 – can’t be paid for using a 529 or ESA.

Why is it that successful programs like this cannot fall under the same umbrella as a vocational school? Why can’t Dale’s father use the money he saved to help his son continue his professional development by attending skill workshops, conferences, and online courses?

What’s worse than the restrictive nature of the 529s and ESAs is what happens to the money when it isn’t used to fund traditional education. Just ask Morgan Ostrowsky, a young adult who elected not to go to college and is currently working in the tech space in San Francisco. “Basically, if I decide not to go back to school – which right now I’m happy at my job – my parents will have to pay tax on the interest earned and an additional 10% penalty…which I feel awful about, obviously.” Morgan is right – if he doesn’t use the funds before he turns 30, his parents will have to pay the taxman. The only loophole is to change the beneficiary, deferring the funds to the next child, niece or nephew in the family. You’re out of luck if no one else is in line.

This isn’t the only scary aspect about college savings plans, particularly the 529’s. According to Bloomberg Business, 529s have limited investment options, high fees, complicated rules and anxiety-producing investment risks.

So how do we change this situation? How do people like Dale and Morgan avoid those painful conversations with their parents? How do we make sure families can explore and pay for the diverse learning opportunities available today? How can we make sure families have more versatility when it comes to investing in their children’s education?

There isn’t a simple solution, but learning, as we all know, happens over a lifetime. The most successful people in the innovation economy will be the ones who are continuously learning. A change in the age restriction and versatility of 529s and ESAs would not only protect a family’s investment, but it would also reflect an emphasis by the government on the importance of lifelong learning as a driver of an innovation economy.

Posted by on March 3, 2015
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Celebrity Gap Years

Slowly but surely, gap years are gaining popularity in the US. Both parents and students alike are beginning to realize that young adults, especially those gearing up to go to university, are ready to travel, learn, and have an unsheltered, real world experience. Gap years are proven to be a major factor in the growth of some students, even some of the most famous names out there. While you may not have peers that have experienced just how great a gap year can be, here’s a list of celebrities who have:

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Prince Harry and Prince William

Both Princes of the Royal Family took a year to travel, study, and immerse themselves in a foreign culture. Prince Harry decided to take a gap year before working and traveled to Australia and Africa, certainly stepping outside of his normal comfort zone. His work in the southern African country of Lesotho played a very important role in trying to provide access to healthcare and education for children. Meanwhile, Prince William decided to travel to Chile to work in rural villages to help local communities build schools and teach English. This is an experience he would never forget. “meet a whole range of people from different countries, and at the same time help people in remote areas of Chile”.

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J.K. Rowling
The British author is one of the most successful writers in literary history, penning the world famous Harry Potter series. But most people don’t know that she took her year off to travel, teach English, and work on what would be the beginnings of Harry Potter. She wound up in Portugal, taking time away after the passing of her mother. Almost immediately, her year off had an impact on what she wrote – her story matured, and she ended up with one of her favorite chapters that she’s written.

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Mike Myers

Though he played some of TV and Film’s most memorable characters in Austin Powers and Wayne’s World, Mike Myers took a year after high school and moved to the UK. Once in London, he traveled the country and eventually became a founding member of The Comedy Store Players, a UK-based improv group. After starring on the British TV show Wide Awake Club, Myers eventually returned to Canada to join the world famous Second City comedy club in Toronto. His gap year provided him the perfect opportunity to hone his craft and would eventually become the catalyst for his wildly successful career.

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Benedict Cumberbatch

BBC’s Sherlock took his gap year in India, where he taught English at a Tibetan Buddhist monastery. Though completely separate from what would become his career, his gap year taught him plenty, especially about “the simplicity of human nature, but also the humanity of it”. That spirituality eventually helped him in his acting career, gaining valuable personal experiences to learn from.

Posted by on March 2, 2015
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Real World Skills 101: How to Build Your Network of Mentors

This post is part of an ongoing series created by UnCollege on the skills young adults need as they enter the professional or “real” world. You can find the other articles in the series here.

If love is friendship set on fire, mentorship is friendship sharpened to a point. In your twenties, few things are more important than finding, building, and growing your network of mentors. But the task of finding smart, kind, powerful adults to hang out with you can be a totally daunting one, and with good reason: in an era when everyone is too busy to “grab lunch,” how do you get important people to lend you a few minutes of their time? UnCollege has a few tips on how to build up your network of mentors:

Strong Relationships Begin With Gratitude

I recently encouraged my friend to reach out to a very prominent policy maker in his field. “Absolutely not!” he cried, “He’s a very important man, he’d be far too busy to meet with me.” My friend was, of course, missing the point. When we reach out to people we admire — whether they are writers and artists who’ve inspired us, business leaders who work in our field, or politicians who are shaping our day-to-day lives — we aren’t necessarily asking them to spend time on us. We’re complimenting their work, showing them the impact that work has had on us, and in some small way reminding them why they got into the business to begin with. Sure, we’re also putting our name on their radar (if only for a minute or so), but above all else when we reach out to potential mentors, our aim should be gratitude: thanking leaders in our fields for the work that they have done. What will surprise you is how often powerful people respond to gratitude. “He’s Far too busy to talk to me” often turns into “we’re speaking on the phone next week!”

Don’t Be Afraid To Reach Out Cold

Finding mentors can be intimidating, and the idea of attending a professor’s office hours for the first time or sending a cold-call email to someone we admire can leave us scared and silent. But remember: each and every potential mentor once had a mentor themselves, someone who stopped and gave them the time of day when they could have easily ignored the email or shut the door. Be humble when you reach out unannounced, but remember that no true mentorship relationships is a one-way street. For all you know, your potential mentor could be looking for a way to give back — and meeting you for that coffee could be just that.

Get Offline

Starting the conversation via email is fine and common, but try to meet in person as soon as your schedules allow! Never underestimate the importance of face time. Someone once told me that if she had to choose between hiring the candidate she’d never met who was slightly more qualified, or the candidate that she’d once had lunch with, she’d choose the latter every time. Think about it: you wouldn’t build a romantic relationship entirely online, nor a friendship. A mentorship is the same. You can only truly know if you’re hitting it off once you’re sitting there in person, and one hour spent drinking coffee together can be more effective at building bonds than one year spent exchanging emails.

But Also, Get Online!

Take advantage of tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, and the self-described “Tinder for Mentors” Glassbreaker to connect the dots and reach out to the individuals who might be best suited to guide you. Do your research: it’s all at your fingertips! If you’re reaching out to a writer or professor, make sure you’ve read their major works. If you’d like a business person or lawyer to be your mentor, check in on news articles about their ventures and cases. Use LinkedIn to see friends you may have in common and Twitter to find out your shared interests. All of this research is to help your future mentor feel like you really care about their career; so when you reach out, make sure your emails don’t read generic. No one wants to feel like the recipient of a stock letter.

Check In, Even When You Don’t “Need” Something

Once you’ve built that initial relationship, it’s important to stay in touch on a regular basis. Every relationship is different, but one good rule of thumb is to touch base every season with a brief, personal update on how things are going for you. If you only ever reach out to your mentors when you need a job or a recommendation, you’re completely missing the point — and it will show.

Serve as a Connector Yourself

Even if you’re only 20 or 21 years old, chances are you’ve met some incredible people in your life. Part of building a network of mentors is connecting others with mentors and friends: serving as a link for others. Have a friend who wants to be run her own start-up, and another who’s just finished launching her first round of seed funding? Put them in touch! Have a mentor who’s interested in writing his memoirs, and a friend who’s always loved working as an editor? Put them in touch! Connecting adults with young people, and young people with each other, will put you at the center of a wide web of mutually-beneficial relationships.

Because That’s The Key: Create Mutually-Beneficial Relationships

Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about building your network of mentors is that you’re not looking for handouts or favors: you’re looking for professional friendships, and friendship is a two-way street. Building a strong relationship with a mentor takes patience, consideration, and even sacrifice. Going out of your way to remember your mentor’s coffee order so it’s ready and waiting when they arrive, sending them a quick “thank you” email after they spend an hour with you at lunch, keeping them posted when you find a job, sending them postcards from places you travel: these are just a few of the ways you can show your mentor that they’re not just a means to an end for you. Remember, someday you’ll be someone’s mentor, too.

About the author: Jennifer is a writer and editor living in New York. She once broke her ankle while traveling alone in Latvia, and survived. Her great loves are literature, linguine, and shelter dogs.

Posted by on February 27, 2015
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Why I Left College to Start Learning

Two things happened during my freshman year of college:

  1. I wanted to learn, so I went.
  2. I wanted to learn, so I left.

During my freshman year, I was a good student—I studied and made good grades, met people and lived in dorms. I was also working on what was (and still is) my ultimate dream job: Writing a book. I signed with a literary agent, pulled all-nighters editing, and felt as though I was packing a crash-course in all things writing into every conference call.

That was, until, the professor I went to for advice told me I needed to focus less on my own writing and more on writing assignments.

It crushed the dream, a little. It baffled me that trying something like this didn’t count at least as much as getting an A on an exam. It got the wheels turning: Why is taking notes considered more valuable than doing the thing? Why is it only considered learning if we’re sitting in a desk?

I left school following my freshman year. I took a gap year—then, that went so well, I took a second one.

I found out one thing: There is no right way to learn. There’s just the way that is right for you.

(Disclaimer time: I’m a big fan of teachers. I’ve met professors who inspire, encourage, make you think…and I’ve learned countless things from them. Turns out, what I learned from this particular teacher was that I needed to learn a different way).

It sounds counterproductive, right? To say I wanted to learn, so I left school? And yet, I think that’s where we’ve hit a higher education snag: Learning doesn’t have just one definition. Everyone learns differently, so doesn’t it make fundamental sense that everyone’s educations should be different, too?

We stereotype it: If you don’t go to college, you’re a failure. If you leave school, you’re either chilling out on the couch watching reruns or “finding yourself” on an international journey. If you study at a trade school, well…that doesn’t even count.

Talk about getting answers wrong. We make it complicated, but it’s simple: Learn the best way for YOU to learn. Maybe that means a solid four years of uninterrupted college. Or getting hands-on in a vocational school. Or maybe, like me, you want a taste of everything—life experiences, work, classes.

So that’s what I tried (sometimes more successfully than others…) to do: I wanted to recreate my learning to include my work and experience. I wanted to spend some time recreating my education—my goal was to do things that benefited and inspired me, personally and professionally.

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Rainesford Alexandra

That book from way-back-in-freshman-year never got published, but it catapulted me into the most extraordinary learning experiences of my life: Throughout my gap year(s), I became a contributor to The Huffington Post’s blog and was published by Zouch Magazine, I taught ballet and co-founded a community yoga studio. I started working for a nonprofit devoted to making Mondays rock for hospitalized kids, volunteered for an organization I adore, and spoke at TEDxYouth Kansas City on redefining learning.

I’m not trying to rattle off my resume, because that isn’t what is important here. I am, however, trying to explain (in the only way I know how) that for me, these lessons taught me more than most of my academic classes. They tested me—not via A, B, C, D or pass/fail, but in a way that encouraged me to get creative and keep moving even when things seemed insurmountably difficult. Yes, some of these things boosted my resume (and most of which were just incredibly fun) but they taught me things I’m not sure taking notes on the theories of them would have: Discipline. Being gutsy enough to follow your curiosity. The value of sending an email.

That’s not to say you can’t learn these things in college. It just so happened that it wasn’t the best way for me to learn them.

Even though we have more options than ever, our view on higher education has remained painfully narrow.

What’s so wrong with it being different?

In my opinion, gap years are a major solution to America’s $1.2 trillion-in-student-debt problem: They allow you to gain experience in jobs you might be interested in, so you don’t wind up with a degree in a frame and no paycheck upon graduation. They encourage you to put your own ideas into motion, and venture outside your comfort zone.

But they also go deeper than that. They give us something so connected to and illustrated by education, that we’ve forgotten in our hustle to lock down that degree: Gap years create possibility. Possibility to go forward, to try something new. Possibility to fill yourself with things and lessons and people who are teachers, even if they don’t stand in front of a class. Possibility to create our own educations.

Gap years aren’t opposites of education. They’re extensions of education.

My gap year(s) bridged the path between my life and learning. The higher education divide is closing…

Who knew it would take a gap to open it all up?

Rainesford Alexandra is a writer, student, and education activist. During her gap
year(s), she published writing with The Huffington Post and Zouch Magazine in
addition to founding The Young Artist Feature, an on-going arts interview series.
Rainesford co-founded a community yoga studio, works with The Monday Life to
make Mondays rock for hospitalized kids, and spoke at TEDxYouth Kansas City
on redefining education. She hopes to leave the world—and education—a little
better than she found it. Catch Rainesford on Twitter: @Rainesford

Posted by on February 26, 2015
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5 Reasons Online Learning Will Help Your Job Hunt

Online learning has exploded in recent years as a supplement to traditional education. Not only can you save enormous amounts of money learning online, but you can learn the specific skills you need to differentiate yourself from other applicants while competing to land your dream job.

Check out the 5 reasons why online learning will help you stand out in your job hunt:

The job market is increasingly competitive.

According to Forbes, the average submitted applications for an open job is 118, and only about 20% of those applicants get the chance to interview for the position. That’s a lot of competition to overcome. So what’s the X factor that employers look for in a crowded pool of applicants? Initiative is listed as the number one quality that influences the final hiring decision for 31% of employers. One of the ways you can take initiative is driving your own professional development. Reading industry specific articles, participating in online courses and receiving online certificates are a great way to prove that you take initiative and try to stay up-to-date on industry trends.

The Internet is the largest library that has ever existed.

There are over 1.2 billion active websites currently online, storing enough words to fill a stack of books stretching from Earth to Pluto 30 times! In addition, there are 1200 Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) offered online for free. With all of this information, your passion for learning can be realized for any topic imaginable.

Online media is now the number one source of information

Online media consumption has now surpassed TV as the number one source of information, and the trend is expected to continue. The average American spends more than 5 hours online every day.

The vast majority of Americans are disengaged at work

As a result of poor job-matches and a lack of passion for their work, 82% of Americans are not fully engaged on the job, costing the U.S. economy half of a trillion dollars annually in lost productivity. Employees that can prove they will be engaged will be hired. Employers need a better metric to measure passion before they make the hire.

Online learning demonstrates curiosity and initiative

Curiosity and passion now rival intelligence in our hyper connected world. “The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime.” – Thomas Friedman, NYTimes

The Solution

In short – find ways to gain credit for your online exploration. StackUp, the platform I created for this very reason, gives credit for all of the reading and learning you do online.

Applications like StackUp capture time spent online, scores it in 60 categories, and creates the data-driven report, which you can add to your resume when you apply for a job.

I realized the need for StackUp when I was in business school and wanted to apply for a job at Tesla Motors, but my resume failed to document the thousands of hours I had spent learning online about automotive technology. I needed a quantitative way to prove I was the right hire in addition to my degree and experience.

StackUp allows you to prove and share only what you want to others. So you don’t have to share your Social Network score, but maybe your News & Info score, your Real Estate score, or your Automotive score to your friends and next employer. The software is smart and only gives you credit when you are engaged at a website. More employers are accepting the StackUp report daily. Take, for example, the Economist articles you follow, the tech journal you spend an hour reading daily, or even the fashion websites you check every day. When you apply for a job in business, technology, or fashion, StackUp’s categories match up to these and other major career industries to document your knowledge and engagement.

Check out StackUp.net – we are working to democratize learning by unleashing the Internet as a powerful tool to help you get a job.

About the author: As a recent business school graduate, Nick wanted to apply for a job at Tesla Motors, but realized his resume failed to document the thousands of hours he had spent learning online about the automotive industry. This was the beginning of his company, StackUp, a way to score everything you read and learn online to prove to employers that your dedication and passion make you the ideal candidate (2 patents pending). As a Colorado native, Nick is also the Director of Business Development at Mobile TV Group, on the Development Committee at Teach For America, and is involved in various Denver Real Estate Developments.

Posted by on February 25, 2015
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UnCollege at We Day

Tomorrow, Dale Stephens, the founder of UnCollege, will be speaking at We Day, an annual youth empowerment event organized by Free the Children. We Day is unlike other events our youth have today – it showcases just how young minds can make a positive impact on the world.

What is We Day?

We Day features speeches and performances by global leaders, social activists and public figures. Live music, inspirational speeches and activities help inspire young people to change the world.

And so far, it’s working. Since 2007, We Day has raised $37 million for 100 incredible causes. 7,000 schools participate in We Day, with students spending a combined 9,600,000 hours volunteering for local and global causes. After We Day, 85% of students reported having gained knowledge about a social issue. In short, We Day is changing a lot of lives.

We Day isn’t just a one day event, however. It is part of a larger, yearlong We Act Program – an education program that empowers young people to take part in local, national, and global causes. It involves action both inside and outside the classroom, but at its core, it’s a movement of students and educators who are committed to helping others and making a difference.

What do we love about We Day?

Students can’t buy tickets to We Day. In order to get in, they have to earn their admission by taking action on one local cause, as well as one global cause.

Why is Dale Speaking at We Day?

We Day is all about seeing past oneself and meeting the needs of the local, national and global community. Dale and Uncollege think this is both a great ideal and an essential part of a real-world education. The more action young people take, the more confidence young people will have and the more likely they are to try to change the world. If they are armed with skills, they will be up to the challenge.

We Day is a self-described educational program. They focus on taking action, learning through doing and challenging youth to do more than they ever thought possible. We here at UnCollege dig that. It’s a meaningful and different-than-average educational experience that makes students more aware and involved in their community and their world.

We Day is based on the idea that the most powerful learning experiences happen when someone is engaged in making a meaningful difference in their community and the world. Again, another point where Dale and Uncollege agree with We Day. That’s why the first phase of our program involves volunteering abroad. This helps our fellows learn things like leadership, social awareness, and cultural differences, and they make an impact they can be proud of. We Day does the same things for their students. They provide them with a unique experience, a way to give back, leadership skills, and an education that makes them more socially aware. We share a common goal and belief that youth can make a difference in today’s world, that education comes in many forms, and that education is the vehicle of change.

Where Can I Watch We Day?

If we’ve sold you on this at all, you’re probably wanting to get the information you need in order to see what all We Day entails. You can watch the webcast online at www.weday.com/watch on February 25th, which starts at 9:30 am and goes until 2:30 pm. If you’re in the San Jose area and want to experience and be a part of We Day, you can sign up to volunteer here.

We’re really excited about the amazing opportunity Dale has to speak at We Day, and we hope you’ll tune in online to watch this spectacular event.

Posted by on February 24, 2015
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An UnCollege Case Study: Turning Problems Into Startups, Books, and More

My life changing moment occurred on a random Tuesday night, in the company of new friends. Glasses of wine in hand, we seized the opportunity to get to know each other better while our kids played underfoot. The conversation turned to me, and the most unexpected sentence reframed the last three years of my life.

My friends, Justin and Lindsey, were interested in what I did for a living and what I was pursuing since I quit my job. What seemed like a simple conversation starter was actually a portal into my midlife crisis. So, I told them what I did for a living. I told them that for over 15 years, me and my brother had built a multi-million dollar company that brought our father’s life work out to patients nationwide.

After I told them what I did, sometimes whoever was listening would be excited. Sometimes not. I always had to explain it in a way that didn’t make me seem like I was bragging but at the same time, tell them honestly what I did.

But despite the normal connotations of success attached to what I did – the money, the prestige, the position – I always felt like I was explaining someone else’s life. Not my own.

Why I Wasn’t Happy

I had worked hard to achieve the success I had.

But somewhere along the way, I ignored my authenticity. I just went after what I thought was right, rather than what was right for me.

When I quit my job, I was 30,000 feet in the air, on an airplane, and crying. It was hard – but necessary. But ever harder, were the next steps. I had quit my job; done the deed. Now what?

Where do I go from here? What does it mean to be authentic? How do I get it? What am I doing?

“Failed passion” after “failed passion”, somewhere along the line I had convinced myself I had wanted to be a writer. I wanted to write a book. And when I told my friend Justin, a writer himself, he perked up and asked what it was about.

I told him I had quit writing several months ago and I wasn’t too happy to recount yet another failed attempt to find my life’s passion manifest through my career. I felt emotionally out-of-whack. Crazily enough, I told him that I wanted to write a book called Emotional Obesity.

We brush our teeth, shower, put on lotion, and dress accordingly. We eat, exercise, and obsess – to an astounding degree – how this all works.

But what about our emotional fitness? What about figuring out your authenticity? What about keeping your mental and emotional game on point? Where’s the guidance and knowledge for that?

Justin stared at me intensely, then smiled and said, “you are the book and the book is you.” I just stopped. All I could utter was, “what?” He said, “you took off three years to find your true self and started writing a book about how to find our true self. You are the book and the book is you!”

The book is me? I am the book? Had I really spent the last three years working to find my true self while thinking about a book about finding our true self?

Problems Today, Solutions Tomorrow

He was right.

When I left my job, I had one goal – do something that felt entirely authentic. I wanted to be the person who said she loved what she does. It took hard work, but after years of experimentation, I figured out what it took to lead the life I wanted and be emotionally in check.

And then, I wrote a book about it. That was the key.

We all face problems in our lives. We all have points of failure that define us, that move us, that we obsess over. For some, it’s as every-day as emotional health and for others, it’s as far-out as space travel. We all have problems and mysteries that make us wonder, make us think, and move us.

The point, though, is that these problems aren’t just beautiful because they can be solved. They’re beautiful because they can open a door to other people who share the exact same problem.

At it’s essence, a good company, a good startup, a good book – ultimately, a good project – is one that fixes a problem that people have. Once you take that problem, fix it, and sell the solution, you have a gift that you can give the world. You can help other people fix the problem they’ve been having for years.

And oddly enough, it’s the problems that we fixate on the most, that become what we become passionate about.

It’s where our dreams lie. Because the problems you obsess over the most, are the very problems that not only need solutions, but could use your voice in finding them.

 

Laura Coe is a mom, entrepreneur, yogi, and writer. She’s working to bring emotional fitness to our daily lives using practical techniques steeped in ancient wisdom. Her first book, Emotional Obesity, is available for purchase now. For more about it and more of her written work, check out her site here

Posted by on February 18, 2015
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PicMonkey Collage

Millennials, Parents and Hard Conversations

Editor’s note: SkilledUp‘s Anna Cherry knows millennials. She is one. She deals with the same unique generational issues that millions of her fellow peers face. Anna recently took to the streets of New York City to interview people from the millennial generation. She found many differences in backgrounds and a lot of common themes.

If you speak with a sample of millennials about that question, the one that we’re asked all too frequently by our parents –  “What are you doing with your life?” – the same anxieties surface. Money, fulfillment, placelessness.

Depending on which article you read on the Internet, you may find that millennials are ungrateful. Or brave. Or bumbling. Or narcissistic, or we love volunteering. We’re lazy, passionate workers with poor social skills on too many social networks. The apple of employers’ eyes and the bane of their existence.

We’re full of contradictions, apparently — some of which have been put into our mouths.

What are we really doing? Are we succeeding or failing? And what do our parents think of our progress?

We’re all unique, but the majority of us are hungry (hungry sometimes in many senses of the word), and chasing opportunities that we’re passionate about. But let’s not take my word for it. Why not collect millennials’ own words on the matter in our nation’s cultural capital – New York City?

ChrisGriffith

Chris Griffith, 31

Woodbury, Connecticut

Chris Griffith responded gracefully to a stranger’s non sequiturs: “Hey, are you a millennial? Would you let me interview you?”

Chris was on the sidewalk near his apartment, about to head into his local cafe. By day, Chris works as a broker and owns a branch of a broker’s firm. That’s not what he imagined himself doing a decade ago. In college, he wanted to do “a whole bunch of different things,” he said. Criminal justice and European business, for example.

Chris is an only child and very close with his parents, he said, but that didn’t prevent some hard talks about money, living in New York, and going to Korea, where he stayed for six months.

“I was supposed to live there for a year and they thought I was crazy,” he said. “I was a young 23-year-old guy who was in love and came home to salvage a doomed relationship.” Looking back, Chris said, he wishes he would’ve stayed and continued his cultural experience. “But that’s the way things work!”

Asked if his parents are proud of what he’s doing now, his answer was quick and definite:

“Yeah, they are.”

JamesMentor

James Mentor, 26

Canarsie, Brooklyn, New York

James Mentor is hungry. He believes you have to be if you want to make it here.

He’s lived in Newark, Brooklyn, San Francisco, and Kyoto, Japan. Dubai and Chicago are on the table for future moves. “My mother never fought me on it; she wanted me to do it,” he said. “Part of that is just because she … understands that employment, the work environment, how, you know, people are getting hired, it’s different. Nowadays you kind of get in where you fit in and opportunities are springing not domestically but internationally,” he said. “The world is getting smaller. It’s a bunch of emerging markets that are going to sync with ours.”

Last year, soon after relocating from California, James snagged a sales job at ZocDoc. This year he’s moved on to being a financial analyst for Port Authority. Still, he said, “I’m nowhere near what I want to be doing, or what I will be doing in the next two years.”

Because, his mother knows that “I’m here today, gone tomorrow, she only requires one thing of me, and that’s daily communication,” he said. “…And that’s it, it’s the hardest conversation I ever had, every single day, every time I miss a 24-hour period of communication, I hear about it.”

He understands why. “Every morning you wake up and somebody is biting it for the wrong reasons,” he said. “You’ve got 12 innocent journalists that did not see the end of anything coming … We live in that world.”

But, he said, “At the end of the day, the way I see parenthood is, they have one job: to teach us how to survive in this world.” Their “hardest test,” he said, is “to eventually let us go.”

MaxKimble

Max Kimble, 28

West Long Branch, New Jersey

Not far from Chris Griffith’s apartment and Columbia University is Lion’s Head Tavern, where Max Kimble has worked one day a week for almost the past five years. The bar is owned by his cousin’s husband and it comes up when you type “best college bars NYC” into Google’s search engine.

Bartending isn’t Max’s full-time gig. He’s co-founder of Metronome3, a marketing agency with a hospitality-and-restaurant-focused subsidiary agency called Simmer Group Simmer Group.

“I grew up very lucky — my parents are both entrepreneurs and they always kind of knew I was going to go in that direction,” Max said. Still, when he left his first professional job in his mid-20s “to do my own thing and just go for it,” he said, “it was kind of nerve-wracking for them.”

While his parents believed “eventually it would come around,” they worried about his pace in the meantime. The first couple of years “when I was working, you know, 70-plus hours a week and then bartending more than one night a week and just hustling and grinding,” he said, they wanted him to “slow down and take a second to enjoy it.”

Now they can see that the race wasn’t for nothing. “The light’s at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “Things are good.”

Jessica&Courtney

From left to right: Jessica Cokins, 24, from Amsterdam, Netherlands and Courtney O’Keefe, 24, from Holley, New York

While Max worked at his Lion’s Head Tavern job on this night, Jessica Cokins and Courtney O’Keefe talked over drinks.

Jessica, “an expat kid,” was born in Minnesota and grew up in the Netherlands. After college she moved to NYC to attend Columbia University. With one semester down and two to go, “I had to tell my parents that I didn’t want to go to grad school because I hated it,” she said.

It wasn’t sunk costs they were worried about. “They just thought that I shouldn’t give up what I’d already started,” she said. They advised her to “embrace living in New York,” cut school to part-time, then “get a job and figure out what I wanted to do.”

Jessica currently works a part-time job and continues to study human rights at Columbia.

Courtney is also in grad school, studying media management and media studies at The New School. She’s from Holley, New York, “where nobody goes to college.”

It’s not surprising then, that “the most difficult thing to explain to my mother was the fact that I was going to college,” she said. They “couldn’t afford it … my family was essentially not going to have anything to do with me going to school.”

So, she said, she’s paying for it by herself.

ChrisSinclair

Chris Sinclair, 29

Wyandanch, Long Island, New York

Chris Sinclair had just come from the School of General Studies at Columbia University, where he’s majoring in political science with a concentration in business management. His ambitions are great: go to law school and reform the legal system.

His hard talk, he said, involved finances, which is “prevalent among the [General Studies] community … when you talk to your parents, especially when you’re not on the traditional path and you’re having to find a way to pay for your education, and they’re not necessarily willing or able, or both, to support you financially or otherwise,” he said.

“I had a conversation with my mom about helping me get a student loan without having to co-sign, and she wouldn’t so much as give me a pay stub,” Chris said. “Her alternative was to tell me to transfer to Stony Brook. Meanwhile, I’m in an Ivy League school, so why would I leave?”

Ignacio

Ignacio Moreno Basañez, 23

Viña del Mar, Chile

Ignacio Moreno Basañez is from Viña del Mar, Chile, a town part of the Valparaíso metropolitan area a couple of hours away from Santiago.

He was enjoying the fifth day of his New York visit. “I like it a lot,” he said. “It’s like, a lot of people, movement, the buildings, the statue … infinite things to do.” He was staying with his brother at the hostel leading their group — travelers from Argentina, the Netherlands, Germany, and France.

Ignacio learned some English in school and improved his language skills two years ago working at a shipyard in California. He was doing a three-month internship with a welding company. Since finishing his engineering studies in December, he has been on the job search and going to interviews. Despite loving recent work with a solar energy company, he said, he’s still unsure which direction he’ll take.

One issue is whether Ignacio will stay near his hometown. It’s difficult because in his country, he said, people generally go to college near home. “We don’t leave,” he said. “I live in Valparaíso and the best opportunities are in Santiago, so it’s possible that I’m going to Santiago, but I think that my parents … for them it’s hard.” But, he said, “it’s my decision and my parents … they know that.”

AndrewGonzalez

Andrew Gonzalez, 29

Westwood, New Jersey

On a Thursday night at a Harlem Public’s bar, Andrew Gonzalez considered a chocolate egg cream stout. “What is a chocolate egg cream even supposed to taste like?” he asked.

Andrew didn’t have many tough conversations with his parents, he said, because they “have a lot of trust in me.” Except maybe once, he said, in high school when his mom caught him smoking weed. “She was like, ‘You’re smoking weed and you’re not going to do anything!’” he said. “I was like, ‘Calm down, I’m going to turn out just fine.’”

Andrew is the antithesis of “not going to do anything.” He has five jobs: substitute teaching at private schools across Manhattan, tutoring at a math center in the Upper West Side, tutoring a private student, teaching at a small private school with classes as small as one student, and doing Saturday test prep for a supplemental education program called Summer on the Hill.

“I have really cool jobs, I love my jobs,” Andrew said. The only problem is money. “It pays like a part-time salary… So, if you think of what teachers get paid, I get a part of that,” he said.

Tutoring can be lucrative. “I need more students!” he said. “If you know any 13-year-olds…”

GingerCline

Ginger Cline, 26

New Haven, Connecticut

For three years, Ginger Cline lived in Madrid, Spain. Now she’s living in her hometown while working as a coffee shop barista, studying for the LSAT, and trying to save money for law school.

On a Friday night visiting New York, she ate dinner in an Irish pub. She’s “definitively back in the U.S.,” she said, because “my father really encouraged me not to go back to Europe.”

“I was thinking about trying to spend a few more years there, but my parents kind of talked some sense into me,” she said. They made her realize that, “the way to go, since I have wanted to be a lawyer for a long time, is just to get that done, to go to law school, and since I‘ll want to be practicing here in the U.S., it makes more sense for me to be here than it does for me to be teaching English in Europe, as I had been.”

She’d considered spending time in Thailand, South America, or India. But her parents made her see something: “If I wanted to realize my longer-term goals, then I was going to have to make some harder choices right now.”

Posted by on February 17, 2015
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Numbers And Finance

Hacking Your Personal Finances

You’ve just landed your first job and soon, you’ll be getting that long awaited first paycheck. You’re excited about moving away from being broke and towards being able to afford more of the “finer things” like going out to dinner or the movies instead of sitting at home making a packet of top ramen and waiting for that new hot film to hit Netflix.

But have you thought about how you’re going to manage this new, albeit small, influx of money?

For most young adults, the thought of managing one’s own finances can cause a lot of anxiety. Even as someone who doesn’t have many bills to pay, it’s difficult to decide what amount of your paycheck you should allocate to savings, pay off loans, eat and yes, have some fun! And if it’s hard to make these decisions now, how much worse will it be when you get older?

According to personal finance expert Ramit Sethi, young adults should learn to automate their money to avoid wasting time and preventing financial woes. Why we support his system here at UnCollege is simple – it’s smart, well-tested and easy to follow.

Here are some of the ways you can automate your money as a young adult.

Checking

Now that you have a job and will be getting a paycheck soon, you need a checking account so you can deposit that check somewhere. According to Ramit, your checking account should be the central piece of your personal finance infrastructure. Search for a checking account that has zero fees (including ATM fees), easily accessible, and has a phenomenal online banking system. Online banking is key in automating your finances.

The next step is making sure you don’t have to deposit your check manually. Talk to someone at in your Human Resources department at work to set up a direct deposit for each paycheck. This way, you won’t have to run to the bank once or twice a month to wait in a long line to deposit a check. You won’t even have to think about it.

Savings And Investing

Once you’ve setup your checking account, you can set up the rest of your personal finance infrastructure. The next step is to get a savings account and to set up your checking to automatically transfer a certain percentage of your paycheck to your savings account. When you’re shopping for a savings account, Ramit suggests looking for one that has the option to have sub-savings accounts, so you can save for different things like a trip abroad, a new tech gadget or (one day) a house downpayment.

Automating your finances and using sub-savings accounts makes saving a subconscious action. You make the choice once and after that, it becomes automatic. Money in the bank y’all! You will also save more this way because you aren’t tempted by “extra” money sitting around in your checking account. What you don’t see, you won’t spend.

One big mistake young adults make is that most don’t invest for retirement. They see investing as something that older people do when they’re making a decent paycheck and want to start saving for retirement. Even if you’re investing a tiny amount of money, even $20 every month, that will add up in the long run. Open a Roth IRA and hook that up to your checking account with automatic transfer as well.

It’s never too early to start saving for retirement, but it can definitely be too late. If you start saving for retirement now, you’ll have the longest possible time to watch that interest compound, and you’ll end up with more money in the long run than someone who invests later, but in higher amounts.

Step Three: Credit

The next step to automating your finances is to get a credit card. If you have a job, you can get a credit card, maybe not a really great one to start off with, but you can get one. You can get a great credit card once you build up your credit score. If you set up all your recurring bills (like Netflix, Spotify or a gym membership) to be paid by your credit card and then set up your checking account to automatically pay off your credit card bills, you’ll build your credit without even having to think about it.

Keep an eye on all of your credit card transactions. Programs like Mint.com, which lets you set spending limits and can send you alerts when you hit one, are a great way to do this.

Step Four: Bill Pay

There are some bills that you can’t pay using a credit card. These are usually for things like rent, utilities, and other miscellaneous things that occur at the same time each month.  Fortunately, you can avoid having to write out checks every month for these through automation. These bills are recurring and always for the same amount, so you can either call your bank, or set up automatic bill pay online. That way, they write and send the check and you can pick the date they send it, ensuring that it gets delivered on time.

If you follow these tips, you can automate your finances in a way that is scalable and suited to your future. You’ll be preparing for retirement through your IRA, saving for things you really care about, and paying off your bills without having to devote a ton of time and energy to the hassle of handling your finances every month.

Posted by on February 16, 2015
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