10 Reasons to Choose UnCollege Brazil

By Lucas Coelho

1. Brazil is the place to be right now.

Alex Nascimento, founder of 7BrazilConsulting, said in 2013: “The next five years will be the hottest years for Brazil.”

It’s hosting the World Cup. It will host the Olympics. It’s also the largest Latin American economy. Brazil is at the center of the international spotlight right now.

By spending time living in Brazil, you’ll gain a better understanding of the country’s current affairs, which can be a valuable asset to your professional profile.

2. It’s your chance to live in a BRIC country.

Brazil is a member of the BRIC group, which is comprised of four of the most promising emerging global markets — Russia, India, China, and Brazil.

While the economic crisis plagued the US and Europe, Brazil was nearly untouched. The anxiety that Americans and Europeans have regarding the job markets are foreign to young people in the booming Brazilian economy.

3. There’s a great startup environment.

According to data by Endeavor Brazil, small- and medium-sized companies are responsible for 96% of the jobs in Brazil and comprise 98% of all companies in the country. The entrepreneurial mindset is flourishing here and growing quickly. Will you contribute to it?

4. Brazilian social movements are on the rise.

Despite enormous improvement, there is still great social inequality in Brazil. This has sparked many movements in Brazil where people (youths in particular!) are now actively doing something about it.

By coming to Brazil, you’ll get to witness these social movements first-hand, and meet people who are radically changing the landscape in Brazil.

5. Have you seen Ilhabela?

Google it. It’s beautiful.

We’ve specifically chosen a place that’s idyllic and peaceful, so that you’ll have enough space to absorb and reflect on everything you’ll learn. (And of course, São Paulo is just two hours away…)

6. Brazilians are awesome.

Not only do they throw the best parties, Brazilians are also incredibly cheerful, welcoming, and open-minded.

7. Education reform is in full swing.

People are taking action, and you’ll get to meet them. We’ll introduce you to some of the leaders of the education movement here. Together we’ll discuss ideas and brainstorm solutions on how to tackle the global education crisis.

8. Fully funded opportunities, here we come!

At UnCollege Brazil we’ll help you find the many fully-funded conferences, courses, summits, and youth gatherings that take place around the world. The more of these you find, the cheaper your travels will become and you’ll see more, learn more, and be able to add to your list of experiences!

9. The food.

You’re lucky! We have some foodies on the team that will make sure you will have fresh, natural, tasty, and diverse food during the Launch Phase. The wonderful Brazilian climate offers us many great ingredients.

10. You won’t ever be bored.

We’ve got it all planned out. From an exclusive weekend on a secret island to meeting and collaborating with the locals of Brazilian favelas, we want to make sure we are making the best use of your time!

We’ll also be showing you why Ilhabela is known as Brazil’s “Digital City” and introducing you to its technological initiatives. From the unforgettable tourist hotspots to the most disadvantaged areas of the country, you will leave Brazil with a good understanding of its many realities.

Interested? Apply for UnCollege Brazil here!

Posted by on July 5, 2014
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Advice for HS Graduates: Get Started Now

By Lisa Nalbone

I’ve been to several high school graduation parties and conversed with graduates and their friends. Some knew exactly what they want to do next, while others were unsure about what field they want to pursue. When I asked these young people what experience or interaction they have in the field they wanted to pursue, most admitted to having no experience at all.

It’s easy to make excuses.

“I don’t have an established background to land a job in my field.”

“My field doesn’t grant internships until senior year of college.”

“How would I even know where to start?”

The reality: there’s no reason you can’t start gaining experience now.

Finding Your Field

Make a list, mind-map, or collage of the things you have done in your life that made you feel most alive, excited, energized, competent and confident. Think about all aspects of your life, including play and fun and hobbies, not just paid work or school assignments. They might be big projects or just small, magical moments where you felt in the flow – you weren’t even aware of time passing.

Okay. Now figure out what it was about those moments that felt so good. What skills and talents were you using? What are the common threads between those moments? What does the world need that uses those skills?

Think about what’s wrong in the world. What matters to you so much that you want to do something about it? Take a look at who, where and how people are working on that issue. How could you try to fit your abilities into that work? What work could you create to combine what you care about with what you love to do?

Start Learning

Once you identify a field that you’re interested, learn as much about it as you possibly can. Don’t wait for the possibility of a future internship to decide if it’s an area you’re passionate about. Many programs don’t schedule official internships until junior year, when you are already heavily invested in that major.

You should start investigating what a job looks like as soon as you’re interested in it:

  1. Start following people in the field on Twitter.
  2. Read professional blogs.
  3. Notice which resources and authors they recommend, make a comment, and ask a question.
  4. Interview people in the field. Few people turn down a cup of coffee!

These types of interactions will help you absorb a lot of second hand experience, as well as gain a better picture of what that career looks like on the ground.

Which areas make you want to know more and more and more? Which ones bore you to tears? Do you feel more compelled to pursue that field? Great! If not, great! You now have more data to work with. In either case, try to discern what is pulling and pushing you. When you identify those edges you will have more information to help you find your own best fit in that field, or discover a related field you might be more interested in.

Try Things!

Learning is a critical first step, but the sooner you gain real experience the more feedback and information you’ll have to work with.

  1. Ask someone you interacted with in the learning stage if you can job shadow them for a day.
  2. Volunteer doing anything just to be in and around the actual day to day work. Offering free work is a powerful secret weapon. It opens doors.
  3. Ask for an internship opportunity (even if there’s not a position being offered). Paid or unpaid, this is extremely valuable experience.

Getting your hands dirty is worth the trouble. Once you have first-hand experience, you can make more informed choices. While it may seem counterproductive, gaining experience in something you find uninteresting or frustrating can lead to new skills and connections.

Don’t let the graduation season turn into the summer of indecision. You may want to think of this time as the last chance you’ll have to relax, but don’t let yourself become too complacent. Set yourself some goals and commit to implementing a plan for trying new things in order to gain the most valuable credential of all: experience.  Ready, set, go!

Posted by on June 28, 2014
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Talking to Parents About Your Gap Year

By Ilana Sawyer

So you’ve decided to take a gap year. Congratulations! Now you’re focused on the next step — persuading your parents that this is a valuable use of your time, and that this is the right next step for you in your education and in your life.

Especially if the concept is brand new to them, it’s crucial to introduce your gap year to your parents in the right way. After all, you want to be able to keep them in the loop about all of the experiences you’ll be having!

Remember that what you say and how you behave will influence their perception of your ability to make the most of this year. Here are four strategies to help convince your parents to support your decision to take a gap year:

1. Keep your parents part of the process.

Schedule time with your parents to talk about your plans for the coming months. Prepare your thoughts and plans ahead of time. Think through your answers to any hard questions your parents may ask you.

Sit down on some comfortable furniture for your conversation. Smile — you know these people! Ideally your parents will be open to listening to what you have to say. Remember to listen to their sides of the story, too.

Surprising Mom and Dad with a packed bag and a plane ticket two days in advance is a bad strategy. Let them know your general intentions well ahead of time, even if you’re still exploring what you’ll be doing.

2. Explain why you want to take a gap year.

Are you unconvinced that college is the best use of your time, money, or energy? Do you think you can make bigger leaps in your career if you’re outside of the campus bubble? Are you dying to explore the real world? Tell your parents why you think that a gap year is the best option for you.

Back up your reasoning with data and anecdotes. Show your parents any articles you read that helped you make your decision, and examples of young people who’ve taken a gap year, been active and productive, and loved it.

Show your parents the programs or plans you’re considering, if any. Guide them through the websites. Let them examine your cost calculations. If you’re asking for money, be clear about the amount and what you will use it for. Honesty is key if you want their financial support during your year.

3. Understand where your parents are coming from.

Make sure your parents know that you’re not trying to take a year-long vacation. Your gap year will not consist of you cramping up your fingers playing video games in their basement, getting acquainted with the infinite scroll function on Tumblr, or partying it up Spring-Break-style in Thailand. Instead, it will involve you working hard, growing as a person, and gaining real world experience. It’s a year on, not a year off.

Be open to their initial reactions to your plans. Right now, they may or may not accept your decision. Your only objective right now is to give them a more complete picture of what you want to do this year. If your parents understand your plans, they are more likely to support you in the process — financially and emotionally.

Be respectful, and ask your parents to do the same. Listen to what they have to say without interrupting. Explain calmly how you feel and why. Take the time to understand what your parents are trying to say, instead of immediately forming counterarguments while they are talking.

4. Communicate the value of real world experience, especially if you’ll be working.

You’ll work on a series of successful projects that you can compile into a portfolio. You can share this work with potential employers and collaborators to demonstrate your interests and abilities, as well as your work ethic.

It’s possible — if you work hard — to get enough work experience that you won’t need a college degree in order to get a job. (Some UnCollege fellows, for example, were offered jobs during the Launch phase, in the beginning of their journeys in the professional world!) And, if you do end up going back to college, you’ll have a head start on your peers in terms of getting internships and later securing a job.

With everything changing at such a rapid rate, education today seems to be preparing young people for a world that doesn’t exist. If you self-direct your learning, however, you can tailor your education to a constantly changing reality, and achieve your own personal brand of success.


By taking a gap year, you are taking the first step in a journey that is your own. Hopefully, these strategies will help you as you navigate the necessary conversations of the next few months.

As you forge your own path, remember that you are taking responsibility for your learning, and that’s something to be proud of — regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Posted by on June 19, 2014
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The Reality of College Statistics

By Ilana Sawyer (2014 Fellow)

The New York Times recently published a high-profile article claiming that, on average, people who graduate from college earn half a million dollars more over their lifetimes than people who do not graduate from college. But it’s not that straightforward.

In this study, “graduate from college” is defined as having graduated from a conventional and accredited 4-year institution, with a Bachelor’s Degree or higher. “Not graduate from college,” on the other hand, is a category that casts a far wider net. Holders of associate degrees and community college degrees, for example, are not a part of the demographic of “college graduates” guaranteed a lucrative life. Neither are vocational and trade school graduates.

Inflating Education

According to this theory, to be relatively successful and not be out of half a million dollars:

  • You must go to high school. “Thirteen years of traditional schooling is indisputable,” says Leonhardt, the author of the NYT article.
  • You must attend a four-year college. Leonhardt asserts: “The wage premium for people who have attended college without earning a bachelor’s degree — a group that includes community-college graduates — has not been rising. The big economic returns go to people with four-year degrees.”
  • You must graduate. This is easier said than done. Finances, health, family, and many other factors can get in the way. “More than 40 percent of American students who start at four-year colleges haven’t earned a degree after six years. If you include community- college students in the tabulation, the dropout rate is more than half.”

And yet: “15 to 17 years” is the “universal goal [for education]”, says Leonardt. College is now the new bar to aim for. But a two-year certification is considered subpar to the new standard of a four-year degree, and, as a base qualification, even a four-year certification is no longer special or impressive. Today, to stand out from the crowd, you need to go above and beyond basic higher education and invest in a graduate degree — a Master’s or a Doctorate — and pray that the extra costs pay off.

Education is inflating, but it’s not doing it on its own. Inflation is an illusion of value, established upon mutual consent. We cannot raise the value of the object without collective validation of its worth. A high school or college education is worth whatever we make it worth.

The Financial Variable

And today, college is quoted as being worth a lot. The average debt of a graduate of a 4-year college is “$25,000, a sum that is a tiny fraction of the economic benefits of college,” says Leonhardt. That number might not shake some people, but to many, that tiny fraction is the fissure that cracks their college dreams. Debt is relative; there are people who struggle just as much with a figure with fewer zeroes, and plenty of people owe much more.

Proportionally, though, the situation and its implications are the same for these people overwhelmed with debt; finance is the number one factor responsible for the staggering college drop-out rate. Another NY Times article explains: “If you compare college students with the same standardized-test scores who come from different family backgrounds, you find that their educational outcomes reflect their parents’ income, not their test scores.”

So “college” is only securing a small population of people stable well-paying jobs, and even their earnings, though higher than those of others, have declined in the past 14 years.

No Guarantees

Though a small minority of college graduates might do alright, everyone else enrolled in college is working towards a certification that likely won’t ever pay for itself — if they can even afford to stay on campus long enough to actually graduate. These unfavorable odds are the reason that many people opt out of going to college to begin with.

Even if you do everything you’re supposed to, there are so many variables at play, many of which you can’t control… The influence of any one of them can void the value of college for you.

You Determine Your Success

What you can control are your intrinsic characteristics — work ethic, patience, ambition, resilience, etc. — that you bring to college or any other environment. These factors and what you choose to do with them determine your success. You can succeed or fail at many things whether you attend or don’t attend college.

So if your only strategy for success is to go to college and get a degree, you’re in for a big surprise come graduation. You will have a lot more control over your success if you focus on growing as a person — developing your attitude and gaining skills. Be autonomous, train yourself, learn from the people around you, and immerse yourself in your career and in the world.

Defining Success

Just like college, this way of living may or may not lead you to the kind of success defined in the New York Times article. It is important to realize that this analysis refers to a specific definition of success, one that is attainable by only a small number of people in the world. More importantly, it is one that is desired by only by a small number of people in the world.

There are infinite definitions of success. You, as an individual, have the freedom to create your own vision for yourself and your future.


Posted by on June 14, 2014
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Why Hackademics MUST Strive For Mastery

By Jean Fan

I just finished reading Mastery, Robert Greene’s fifth book. In it, he describes the ultimate path to gaining power and finding fulfillment — committing to a craft and mastering it. The book is filled with anecdotes of great people like Benjamin Franklin, Marcel Proust, and Albert Einstein. Rather than fixating on their successes, however, Greene deconstructs the paths that got them there, the years of practice and frustration that these masters endured before accomplishing anything.

The path of gaining mastery that Greene describes particularly resonates with me. He doesn’t say that if you want to achieve mastery, you should take more classes and get more schooling. In fact, I suspect that few people achieve mastery by attending university. (How many people even remember what they learned in their college classes?)

Instead, Greene advocates for apprenticeships, which totally makes sense. Think about it. In which scenario do you learn more: by doing real work with one-on-one mentorship every day, or by spending five hours a week with a teacher in a class with 30 other students?

For hackademics, this means that you stand to gain a significant advantage over people who’ve chosen to spend four years of their life taking college classes — but ONLY if you make gaining mastery a priority.

For example, imagine a scenario where someone opts out of college, spends his or her time doing apprenticeships, and achieves a significant degree of mastery. They’re on track to do great things as a result. On the other hand, imagine a scenario where someone drops out of college, spends his or her time exploring many different subjects, and never attempts to achieve mastery in one. They’re likely in a much worse position than their peers who at least have a piece of paper saying that they majored in something.

If you choose not to get a degree, you have to learn how to distinguish yourself in other ways. You have to make sure that you’re obviously better than your peers who have gone to college.

In the long run, achieving mastery is important for everyone, no matter what path they take. For hackademics, however, striving for mastery is crucial early on. Do yourself a favor and pursue this path now.


Posted by on June 7, 2014
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Why It’s Dangerous to Compete

By Jean Fan

A close friend and colleague recently asked: “What are your views on competition?” He couldn’t get a read on me, even after having seen me in a variety of different settings.

When I spent some time reflecting on it, I realized that his confusion stems from the fact that I just have a strange approach to competitions.

Specifically, I am both crushingly competitive and not competitive at all. Most of the time, I will go to great lengths to avoid competition. A small fraction of the time, however, when there’s something at stake that I really care about, I will do whatever it takes to win. I will find paths that others miss, take risks that others won’t, and face pain that others can’t.

Why this dichotomy?

It’s not that I’m afraid of competitions. It’s just that I think they’re dangerous.

The Confusion of High School

In high school there are two well-known competitions. The “cool” kids compete in the popularity contest. The “smart” kids compete in the college contest.

The popularity contest is one that we’ve all experienced, or at least heard of. Depicted in movies like Mean Girls, this competition requires students to be attractive, have some knowledge of social rules, and invest time in obtaining social points. After all, as Paul Graham writes: “Popularity is not something you can do in your spare time, not in the fiercely competitive environment of an American secondary school.” If this is the competition you choose to spend time on and you win, you get the chance to hang out with the “cool” kids. For a brief four years, you and your friends rule the school. Enjoy it while it lasts, because after graduation, it won’t really matter

The second contest — the rat race to get into college — is the one I’m more concerned about. It’s the one parading around as though it’s the “right” competition to be in. In this competition, students race to rack up the most impressive credentials they can. With the abundance of default school activities, students can now do this without ever thinking about what they actually like. After they’ve gotten into their top colleges, therefore, these students often still have no idea what they actually want to do, and are now back to square one. “Smart” kids are not immune to dangerous competitions.

You Choose: The Forest or The Trees

In both of these cases, competitions encourage people to miss the point. It doesn’t matter if you’re popular. What matters is that you’re a good person. It doesn’t matter if you’ve gotten into your top college. What matters is that you’re closer to discovering who you are.

Once I figured out that what I actually wanted was to become someone interesting (as opposed to someone with the most leadership positions), I felt comfortable taking myself out of competitions that I judged to be counterproductive.

As a junior, as everyone else ramped up their involvement in school activities, I decided to quit everything I was doing. Instead, I gave myself time to go out and explore my interests in the real world. At the time this felt like a huge risk. I wasn’t sure if I was giving up my future by defaulting from the norm. Luckily, it was worth it. My last two years of high school were filled with adventure and self-discovery. I found things that I really liked, became an interesting person, and was accepted into Stanford University last spring.

The Problem With Competitions

By engaging in competition, it’s implied that you’re trying to win by the same means as everyone else. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that you will guarantee a win by approaching a race in the same way that your competitors are. If many other people have taken a certain path, you’re crazy to think that you’ll produce different (and radically better) results by taking the same one.

You need to find better ways. Much better ways.

I realized early on in high school that I wasn’t significantly smarter or more hardworking than my peers. I couldn’t gain a major advantage in the collegiate race just by outcompeting them. I would have to do something new. So I did, and I won.

If You’re Going to Compete…

First, make sure you’re competing in the right race and for the right reasons. Then, make it a point to ruthlessly win.

You’re not going to do this by applying the same procedure as everyone else. So instead, take some time to figure out what you actually need to win. Recognize and ruthlessly ignore social norms. Find a truth that other people are missing. Cut out the bullshit, and create a quicker path to getting ahead.

The best thing is when you are doing something so fundamentally different than your competitors that they don’t even realize that you’re still competing with them… that is, until you actually win.

People Compete For Known Successes

The final thing about competitions that bothers me is that you know what you get when you win. After all, the prize incentivized you to compete in the first place. In this respect, college is very much a competition.

As I finish the last stretch of my gap year, I find myself wondering (yet again) if college is the right path for me. If I graduate from Stanford, I know exactly where I’ll be in four years. I am effectively guaranteed a high-paying job, however predictable. This terrifies me.

Is This War Even Worth Fighting?

Venture capitalist Peter Thiel spoke a while ago about how, in the process of creating companies, people “get addicted to competition” and end up “fighting over things that don’t matter.”

In his lecture series at Stanford, he described how companies of the Dot-com era fixated on outcompeting each other: “All that mattered was winning. External questions that actually mattered — Is this war even worth fighting? — were ignored… You can find this pattern everywhere.”


Be wary of competitions, especially those that bring glory in the short run without contributing to your larger purpose. As you’re going through life, make sure to choose your competitions carefully, and check that you actually care about what you’re aiming for. Only then can you stop competing, and start winning.


Posted by on June 1, 2014
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Review: “The Obstacle is the Way,” By Ryan Holiday

Review By Jean Fan

When we introduce ourselves to people, we talk about what we’ve done and what we’ve been given. What we rarely share is what we’ve struggled with, and more importantly, how we’ve responded to it.

In his latest book, The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday suggests that our response to obstacles is what actually defines us. Specifically, we can choose to treat obstacles as a nuisance, but in order to live up to our potential, we must treat them as a gift.

Holiday illustrates his claim with dozens of historical examples, from US presidents to renowned athletes to ancient rules. He shows us that in many cases, people who have achieved remarkable success are also those who have conquered remarkable challenges.

Unfortunately, Ryan Holiday paints a bleak picture of today’s youth:

“The majority of my generation decides to move back in with their parents after college… We whine and complain and mope when things won’t go our way. We’re crushed when what we were “promised” is revoked as if that’s not allowed to happen.

Instead of doing much about it, we sit at home and play video games or travel or worse, pay for more school with more loan debt that will never be forgiven. And then we wonder why it isn’t getting any better.”

Fortunately, with the right attitude, life doesn’t have to be this way. For hackademics, it’s not.

As a hackademic, you’ve committed to taking personal responsibility — not just for your education, but for life. You know that you will inevitably encounter obstacles, and you’re excited to tackle them.

The Obstacle is the Way is a manifesto for hackademics who want to understand how to face these challenges.

“Doing new things invariably means obstacles. A new path is, by definition, uncleared. Only with persistence and time can we cut away debris and remove impediments. Only in struggling with the impediments that made others quit can we find ourselves on untrodden territory only by persisting and resisting can we learn what others were too impatient to be taught.”

Unlike most personal development books, and in line with Ryan Holiday’s other writing, this book is not going to tell you how special you are. Instead, it will show you what kind of person you need to be.

Posted by on May 1, 2014
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We’re Hiring an Admissions Officer!

UnCollege/Gap Year seeks an experienced admissions officer with previous experience in admissions to represent Gap Year’s growing global network of campuses to prospective fellows from a diverse range of backgrounds throughout the world. You have a unique opportunity to be part of an organization at the center of the revolution in higher education. The position will likely begin in Fall 2014, but could start sooner for the right candidate.

This admissions officer will advise students, families, and school counselors on admissions policies, procedures, our programs, and financial support opportunities. He/she will conduct school visits; host information sessions and events designed for target audiences; attend education fairs to increase the visibility of Gap Year and meet prospective students; and support the recruiting efforts of Gap Year by developing partnerships worldwide. The person in this role is expected to lead in the cultivation of relationships with key constituents in schools, community organizations, and governmental agencies. He/she will be instrumental in evaluating and recommending applicants for admission to Gap Year’s campuses.

2-3 years’ of direct admission experience

Required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
Outstanding communication, interpersonal, and public speaking skills.
Ability to market UnCollege/Gap Year independently.
Travel and weekend hours required.
Ability to evaluate a high volume of applications for admission
Highly developed written and public speaking skills.
High degree of organizational and management skills.
Ability to deal with pressure and to handle a large workload to peak periods.
Some publications/editorial experience preferred

Preferred Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
Experience evaluating international credentials.
Experience recruiting students for highly selective program

Most importantly, you should care deeply about creating a world where people have the freedom to learn how, where, when, and why they want. When you work at UnCollege/Gap Year, it’s more than just a job that awaits you. You are joining an exciting intellectual and cultural community, one where everyone is working together to make education less expensive and more meaningful. You are part of a diverse, multi-cultural and creative organization – we are opening a campus in Sao Paulo this Fall. Capetown, Stockholm, and more will follow shortly.

To apply, please send a resume and cover letter to [email protected] with Admissions + Your Name in the subject line.

Posted by on April 28, 2014
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Why should you take a different path?

By Jean Fan

By being part of the hackademic community and thinking critically about education, you’ve separated yourself from your peers. Perhaps you’re taking a gap year. Maybe you’ve dropped out of college. Even better, you’ve been hacking your education from the start.

Regardless, you’ve committed to taking a significantly different path than other people. This is incredibly important, for reasons I’ll explain below.

But first, why do people take the normal path? Let’s consider a few reasons:

1. They haven’t thought through their long-term strategy.

By the end of freshman year in college, we’re encouraged to declare a major, which in turn puts us on track to becoming a doctor/lawyer/[insert generic profession here]. But this selection mechanism doesn’t require people to actually think through their path. The process is too easy.

Figuring out what you want to do 20 years down the line is supposed to be difficult. And, if you’ve actually thought through your long-term plan, you’ll see that it’s littered with contradictions and uncertainty. People sometimes take a “normal” path because they can’t deal with this reality.

2. They’re uncomfortable being “weird.”

People have a strong desire for social acceptance, but go about achieving it in different ways. Some people gain it by taking a path that they know society will approve of. They have an aversion to doing things that will cause them to be seen as strange, because they’re afraid that others won’t like them as a result.

3. They’re aiming for average success.

If making a decent living working 40-hour workweeks is what you want, then by all means do what everyone else is doing, because it’s probably what you’ll get. Unfortunately, it’s all that you’ll get.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a normal path. It’s just important to note that a normal path yields normal results. You’ll get to live a very comfortable life, but the tradeoff is that you’ll be severely limiting your potential. If your goal is to do something phenomenal, this is not for you.

So why should you take a different path? Here’s what I think:

1. Competing is hard.

When you’re doing the same thing as everyone else, it’s really hard to be the best. The sheer number of people you’re competing against is brutal.

And if the way you’re trying achieve social acceptance is by being the best in a well-walked path, you’ll be constantly trying to keep your insecurity at bay. One solution to this is to take yourself out of the running and do something so different that the normal path can’t compare.

2. Also, competing is futile.

What’s more is that when people all aim to take the same path, they tend to lose track of who they’re actually competing against, and what really matters.

A good example of this is the rat race to get into college. In their haste to do more than those around them, students forget that they’re actually competing with thousands of other people that they’ve never met.

Except it doesn’t actually matter who has the highest grades or the most impressive activities, although both can be a strong indicator of ability. What really matters for getting into college, and what people should compete to have, is who has the highest capacity for learning and creating.

3. In order to innovate, you have to figure out how to access the world in a different way.

If you want to create something better than other people, taking the same path as them is a sure way to hold yourself back. You’ll be limited to coming up with the same ideas as other people, because you haven’t gained exposure to anything different.

But by taking a “strange” path, you’ll be able to gain a vastly different perspective than other people, and understand reality better. Armed with this new perspective, you’ll be able to access the world in a different way, and create valuable things that have not been created before.

Posted by on April 26, 2014
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The Gap Between Going to School and Getting a Job

By Esther Ling

Esther Ling is a senior at Curtin University who is studying electrical power engineering. She writes for The Pencil Box, which she founded to help students accelerate their learning at university. Doing internships at Shell Malaysia and Agilent Technologies has left Esther musing about the differences between the school and work environment.

I recently attended a career talk hosted by a multinational company. The company is well-known among students at my university, so people from all grade levels attended the presentation. I’m glad, because the staff explained their recruitment process and gave advice that contradicts some of the messages we receive in school.

Specifically, they gave great advice on how to approach the interview process. As a student who is looking for a job, it’s important to understand that it’s a whole different world out there. Below are the 4 primary things I learned:

Employers Look for Capacity

First on the list of criteria was capacity for thought. “We throw graduates a general-knowledge question,” the staff member said, “and then we examine their answers. What we look for is the thought-process behind the answer.”

I wonder: How well are today’s university students versed in matters of general knowledge? Are we able to provide well-reasoned opinions on current politics, government policies, world events, [fill in the list]? If no, why not? If yes, why so?

There seems to be a gap when it comes to capacity for independent thought. In school we’re taught to play by the rules, because that’s the only way we’re going to do well on our tests. Forget critical thinking, it’s “model” answers that get you the grades you need to get into university. Old habits die hard.

You Should Steer the Interview

This was a new one for me. Isn’t the more experienced person supposed to take the lead?

No, not really. Instead, you should take control and drive the conversation.

Why? Because you have to make sure your story is understood, and passively responding to questions might not accomplish that.

Think about how you can demonstrate that you’re a leader, a team player, a critical thinker, and so forth. Take the time to convey how you’ve grown as a person, since that’s often difficult to get a sense of on paper.

The recruiter has read your resume, but there are so many blanks in your story that need filling in.

Understand What You’re Applying For

Of course, you can’t completely understand a job before actually doing it. At the same time, it’s important to demonstrate that you applied for this position for a reason, and that you’ve taken specific steps to prepare yourself for it.

Apply – Even If You Don’t Think You’ll Get It

The process of applying for a job makes you think about what you actually want to do in life. The application process usually has a series of questions that force you to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses. The gap between going to school and getting a job becomes a journey of self-discovery, even if it is a short one.


Posted by on April 19, 2014
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