Failure. Rejection. Success: The J. K. Rowling Story

“By every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.”

Those are the words of J.K. Rowling – the author whose book series has been translated into 73 languages, sold millions of copies and accrued over $20 billion through movie adaptations and sponsorships. So why does she admit to being such a failure?

Creating her book series wasn’t as easy as scribbling down notes on a few dinner napkins. It wasn’t a one, two or even three step process. It would take years of perseverance to become the success she is today.

Soon after conceiving the idea for Harry Potter, Rowling began writing, but was immediately pulled away from her work by the devastating death of her mother. Rowling ceased working on the book and sank into a deep, grieving depression, getting little to nothing accomplished in that time.

In the hopes of digging herself out of grievance, she took a job teaching English in Portugal for a year. Her goal in venturing abroad was to get away from her troubles and more importantly, use her time off to continue working on her book. She set the goal of having the first Harry Potter book done by the time she returned from Portugal.

Things did not go as planned.

Not only did she fail to make progress on her first book, but after falling in, and then out of, love, she ended up with a failed marriage and a baby daughter she now had to raise alone. She came back to nothing. She had no job, no finished product and two mouths to feed. She had hit rock bottom. As she struggled with depression, raising a child on her own and living off meager unemployment benefits, she resumed work on her book in cafes while her daughter was asleep.

Despite numerous setbacks, she found solace in doing what she loved – writing. In fact, she found that the little she had was enough to be moderately happy. She had ended up in exactly the position she had feared most and found that it wasn’t that bad. There wasn’t anything left to be afraid of and her worked showcased that mindset.

When Rowling finally finished the first three chapters, she sent the manuscript off to a publisher – They quickly passed on the project.

She sent it to another publisher. Again, the answer was no. Her mailbox filled up with rejection letters, but she didn’t let it stop her.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.” — J.K. Rowling

After sending her manuscript to 12 different publishers and getting rejected by every single one, Rowling began losing confidence in her book. Finally, the editor at Bloomsbury Publishing company sat down to read the manuscript. And so did the editor’s 8 year-old daughter. The little girl loved the opening chapters, and begged to read the whole thing. This made the publisher agree to publish Rowling’s novel. But Rowling was left with a warning: that she should get a day job, because she wouldn’t make any money writing children’s books. Once Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was published, though, she proved everyone wrong.

J.K. Rowling went from being a jobless single mother living off unemployment benefits to one of the best selling authors of all time. But it didn’t happen over night. She faced rejection and constantly strived for success. She worked hard at her craft before anyone noticed her. That practice, along with strengthening herself against rejection, was what made her work unforgettable. Looking back, the Harry Potter series has earned over $400 million in book sales, and the last movie alone earned $476 million dollars in ticket sales… on opening weekend. She was the first female to become a billionaire author, not that many authors make it that far in the first place.

If you have a dream or a passion and you keep getting rejected or running into failure, don’t let that stop you. If you’re going through a tough time in your life, but working on something you really believe in, don’t give up. If you do, you’ll never know what could have been. Who knows, you might end up breaking records.

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” — J.K. Rowling

Posted by on January 15, 2015
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Last Minute Gifts for Self-Directed Learners

Enough with useless video games and Christmas sweaters that will never see the light of day. This year, give the independent learner in your life a gift that they can use to develop their skills. Here are a few that we love:

Subscription to Treehouse

For the self-directed learner in your life who is trying to learn code. Treehouse is an online learning platform that makes learning code easy and fun. A subscription to treehouse is $25 a month for a basic account and $49 a month for a pro account.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss

A boring book for Christmas? Not so fast – Eats, Shoots and Leaves is an entertaining way for people of all ages to learn or reinforce fundamental grammatical rules. Truss’ diction and witty examples are ludicrous and laugh out loud fun for any young adult. It’s the type of reference book everyone should have on their shelves.


Anyone who wants or currently is learning a new language needs a phrasebook. It won’t teach all the grammatical structures needed to master a language, but it will help boost vocabulary. A pocket-sized phrasebook costs around $10 and is especially handy while on the road.

CreativeLive Class

CreativeLive is a live, interactive classroom perfect for creative self-directed learners. They feature courses taught by world-renown artists and entrepreneurs on topics such as photography, music production, creative entrepreneurship and even cake decorating! If you know a self-directed learner interested in honing their creative skills, introduce them to CreativeLive.

Getting Things Done by David Allen

All self-directed learners know the importance of efficiency. Getting Things Done, is a roadmap to stress-free organization and performance that anyone from a CEO to a young student can use. Allen’s premise is simple: productivity is directly proportional to our ability to relax and our minds are meant for creating ideas, not storing them. When our minds are clear and our thoughts are organized, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.


Image credit: Blackwarrior57

Business Cards

Self-directed learners should network just as much as any businessman. To do that, give them a set of business cards with a witty title. It will make them feel professional in their quest to learn more and better themselves.

Udemy Course

What makes Udemy different is that its courses focus on learning real-world skills. These are for the self-directed learner who wants to learn something they can put into practice and benefit from right away. Some courses on Udemy are free, but for the money-conscious learner, you can get them one of the courses that they have interest in, but don’t want to front the cost for. The price of Udemy courses range from a dollar to several hundred dollars.

Hacking Cover

Hacking Your Education by Dale J. Stephens

If you know someone who is ready to make the leap and drop out of school, there’s no better resource than Dale Stephen’s Hacking Your Education. Dale explains to readers that they do not need to be a genius or especially motivated to succeed outside school. The real requirements are much simpler: curiosity, confidence, and grit. You can find it on amazon for $12.

Posted by on December 15, 2014
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Preparing For An Experience Abroad: Culture Shock

World Map

Culture shock can leave travellers feeling misunderstood, exhausted, disoriented and altogether unsatisfied with their trip. Instead of enjoying their time abroad, they end up feeling lonely, sometimes isolating themselves because there’s too much stress from being in new surroundings with new cultural rules.

In order to adequately prepare for your trip and to make the most of your time abroad, you should take a few basic measures against culture shock before it happens. The best way to combat culture shock is to:

Educate Yourself.

If you learn about and understand culture shock before your time abroad, you will have a much more meaningful experience during your trip. You’ll be able to better handle the pressure of being in a new place, and you will learn from your experiences more effectively.

Here are three things to study before you jump on that plane, train or automobile to your next destination.

1. The Language

There’s nothing that is more frustrating than being in a position where you can’t communicate. Take the time to learn some essential words and phrases to help you interact with others.

Use free resources like Duolingo, Livemocha, Babble, and the Foreign Service Institute if you don’t feel like spending a hefty amount of money on software like Rosetta Stone or Pimsleur. Buying a pocket phrasebook to take with you to your destination is also a great help when you know what you need to say, but not how to say it.

Remember: you don’t have to be fluent before you go, but for your own sake and the people you will be interacting with, try to learn as much as you can. The people you meet will appreciate it, and it will help you acclimate to the culture more than you know.

2. The Culture

Pick up a guidebook or two and spend some time getting to know the place you’re going to be arriving in soon. The internet has tons of information for people travelling abroad in any capacity; utilize it. A few good websites are Lonely Planet, Rough Guides, and Frommer’s (all of which sell physical guidebooks as well). You can also find free country profiles and culture guides to help you learn about cross-cultural differences. The more you know about the physical location and culture of your destination, the better you will adapt.

You should also do specific research on things like political history, dangerous areas to avoid, important figures and common idioms. While you’re doing this, try to get a general sense of how most people in this country feel about people from your country, and try to remember that while going abroad is an adventure, you’re also having that adventure in someone’s home. You’re a guest there – try to be a well-informed and respectful one.

3. Culture Shock

In the same vein of educating yourself on the country and the language, you should know the signs of culture shock.

First, know that culture shock doesn’t hit you all at once. At first, people often feel very euphoric. In the scheme of cultural adjustment, this is often referred to as the “honeymoon” phase. This when the traveller is captivated by how new and cool everything is.

When people are in this phase, they think they will be immune to culture shock, but that is rarely the case.

The second stage of cultural adjustment is what we commonly refer to as culture shock. The effects of culture shock can be small things, like feeling tired or annoyed more than usual to big things like feeling lonely, isolated, developing chronic fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, and a loss in appetite. There are many psychological and physical symptoms of culture shock.

When you start to notice these, realize that what you’re experiencing is real and that this is culture shock. Reach out to people around you and tell them what you’re experiencing. Make time for self-care and be sure to communicate with others often. By doing this and keeping a positive mindset, you will progress to finally acclimating to the culture you are in.

Making Your Time Abroad Meaningful

The most important tool in combatting culture shock and making the most of any experience is keeping a positive mindset. Having a positive mindset is helpful in all areas of life, especially dealing with something difficult like culture shock. Though a lot of this has to come from within, there are a few ways to make it easier for yourself, such as making friends, getting physical exercise and seeking new experiences.

All in all, the experience you have is entirely up to you. Instead of feeling like cultural differences are a burden, think of it as something valuable that you are coming to understand and in turn, gaining knowledge that empowers yourself. You have power over how your trip impacts you. And, now that you know what you’re headed for, you’re one step closer to ensuring that you have an amazing experience abroad.

Posted by on December 9, 2014
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Overcoming Failure: The Perseverance of Henry Ford

Henry Ford With 1921 Model T

These days, Henry Ford is a household name, but it hasn’t always been that way. At 23, Ford was just a machinist’s apprentice with big aspirations.

A few years later, he was known as an intelligent, yet failed engineer who just couldn’t produce. His need to perfect every product he created led to late deliveries to customers that tarnished his early reputation.

But it was these early failures that taught him valuable lessons and sparked his future success.


His first lesson came when he designed his first automobile, the Quadricycle. There’s a good reason why you’ve probably never heard of the Quadricycle: it wasn’t fit for mass-production. But it did get young Henry Ford’s name out there, leading him to his first financial backers and his first company: The Detroit Automotive Company.

Detroit Automotive Company had a similar, short-lived history like the Quadricycle. Despite having William H. Murphy, one of the most prominent businessmen of the time as a financial backer, Ford still couldn’t get his product fine-tuned enough to sell. Perfectionism got the best of him and after a year and a half of tinkering, he still had nothing to show for his work. Murphy, along with all the stockholders, began to show concern. Soon, the board of directors dissolved and the company disbanded. It was a short-lived project and a failure in the eyes of the industry.

In the bureaucratic automotive industry of the early 1900’s, getting a second chance was a rarity. But after reflecting on his failure, Ford contacted Murphy yet again and offered new ideas and solutions to past problems. Murphy gave him a second chance with the condition that he work with a supervisor. For Ford, being supervised by someone who knew nothing about engineering and design was infuriating and unacceptable. He left his arrangement and decided to try other ways to achieve his dream.

“Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” — Henry Ford

With a tarnished reputation and no financial backers, Ford was in a bad spot. He knew he had to work around the system somehow. After months of looking for an unconventional backer who wouldn’t interfere with his s design processes, he found the right man – Alexander Malcomson.

He now had the backing he needed to begin creating the automobile he had always envisioned – the Model A. To take care of the distribution and business matters that had plagued Ford in the past, he brought in James J. Couzens to be the Vice President of Ford Motor Company.

The first batch of the Model A’s were anything but flawless. In fact, they had so many problems that the Ford Motor Company had to send mechanics to every corner of the country to fix cars. But when the mechanics came back, they came back with feedback; feedback that Ford immediately implemented in his assembly line. With the help of Couzens, they kept shipping, kept making mistakes and kept learning.

It would take 5 more years and countless failures before the Ford Motor Company came out with the world’s best automobile – the Model T. The Model T revolutionized the automobile industry and brought Ford to the forefront of that industry. Not only that, he helped establish Detroit as one of the biggest, wealthiest cities in America.

What’s important to notice is Ford’s perseverance and ability to overcome setbacks. He used failure and the feedback gathered from those failures to fine tune his design ideas and eventually change the way we get around town.

If you have a vision or if you are searching for your vision, keep at it.

Show some grit, work hard and soon, your efforts will pay off. They might even drive you into the history books like Henry Ford.

Posted by on December 7, 2014
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How to Drop Out of High School and Still Get Your Diploma

The following is a guest post by Radhika Morabia a high school dropout, diploma holder and creator of If you like what you read, visit her blog for more. 

It was May of 2014. I’d just received a call saying I officially failed school. They were being nice and just counting it as if I wasn’t enrolled for the whole semester. It was as if the dozens of hours I spent worrying and attempting to catch up counted for nothing.

Growing up, I was a good student. I got As, and at worst, Bs. I joined the GATE program when I was 8 (you take an IQ test and if you score high enough, you join a special program that looks good on paper, but generally does nothing.), I was in all honors in middle school, I was in as many APs (Advanced Placement, or college-level courses) as I could be in high school, eventually reaching 4 APs in my Junior year. I was on track to go to one of the top 30 universities in the US.

Things took a turn in November of 2011 (my Freshman year of high school), when I took on too much at once (typical high school advice) and even suffering an injury that caused permanent damage to my knees. Thanks to incompetent, judgmental doctors and my own denial, I let it get worse and worse until I had to leave school. I began to be in and of alternative schools, sometimes heading back to my normal high school because I could never understand the alternative schools. In the end, though, I was at a seemingly perfect alternative program, where I only had to show up twice and week and could do my work whenever I wanted, and I finally failed.

There were no other options in front of me. We tried every alternative program that would guarantee a normal high school diploma, and I just couldn’t do it. Finally, when I failed, I gave up. I said I was dropping out of school, including skipping college.

I’d been involved in the alternative online world for years now, and saw plenty of normal people, just like me, doing jobs that never asked for any kind of formal credential. I knew I could do it, so I’d been studying web development for the past few months. I would eventually drop that and pursue freelance marketing, which leads us to where I am today.

But, my parents wouldn’t let me drop out so easily. It was fine if I wanted to pursue work, but what if that failed without a formal degree? I needed some kind of backup plan.

So, I decided to do the bare minimum it took to graduate. I finally completed that a few weeks ago, with a total investment of less than 10 hours of work.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at my fancy certificate:


That’s right. I’m officially a high school dropout and a graduate. I’m also making enough money to live on without ever mentioning my formal credentials, which is the whole reason people get a degree, right?

If you or someone you know is considering dropping out of high school, I believe I’ve now been on this path long enough to offer some advice.

NOTE: Everything mentioned here only applies to the US, and if you want to get specific, to California. Look up your own laws and alternatives, I only know what works for where I live.

How to Drop Out of High School

Step 1: Why do you want to drop out of high school?
You seriously need to ask yourself why you want to drop out.

Is it because of some social issues you’d rather run away from? Is it because you feel like you’re working towards no gain? Is there a better opportunity waiting for you that school is keeping you from?

With most of these problems, there’s alternatives to dropping out entirely. You can transfer schools, you can take easier classes, you can join an alternative school, etc..

If your problem is that you think the system is working against you and you’re just not good at school, remember that when you leave school, you’re entering the workforce. Being in school can serve as a great default option as you’re building your skills, network, or business. Once you drop out, you’re expected to get out there and make your own money.

Ryan Holiday, one of the poster children of dropout success, says this on the subject: “Have you fully taken advantage of the unique opportunities that are offered to students? Because let me tell you, the world is much kinder to students. The second you leave you’re now competition.”

Are you sure you’re ready to compete with people with degrees who used school to easily get internships and gain experience? As much as you hate school, you can still dip your toes into the workforce while still having financial support from your parents.

Unlike college, there is no going back to high school. Sure, you can always get your GED, but a GED is still looked down upon in comparison to getting a real, state-issued high school diploma.

In order to justify dropping out entirely, you need to do your research and confirm that there is absolutely no other option. Run your options and reasoning over with your parents, your friends, and other people you respect. They’ll point out the flaws in your reasoning quickly. Listen to them, but remember, they’ve either made their fortune on the safe path or are betting that they will, so take what they say with a grain of salt.

If you want someone who’s been down this path to think critically with you, feel free to get in contact with me. I’d love to help you out.

Step 2: Find alternatives.
In 99% of cases, you won’t need to drop out of high school entirely. The US is obsessed with their drop out rates and offer a ton of options that can work with your constraints and wishes.

There’s online school, there’s alternative schools, there’s independent study programs, or there’s what I eventually took–an exam. Look this up in your own state, but this is how I graduated from high school:

I was initially thrust into everything listed above. I was in an independent study program with my local high school, I then joined online school, and I was finally in an alternative school. Along the way, I went back and tried some of these methods twice, and even went back to my local high school as a normal student. None of it worked.

When I decided to drop out, I thought I was going to take the GED. Instead, I scoured around and a friend told me about the CHSPE.

I spent a few hours reading up on it and talking to people about it. It was a test that would give a high school-equivalent diploma. It isn’t a real diploma, but in most cases, it would be treated as the same thing. I could definitely go to college with this thing, which was the only reason I wanted a diploma.

I bought a prep book, took a practice test, and passed that. I promised myself I’d study more just in case, but I honestly didn’t because I was building up my business instead.

In the middle of my 6 weeks of bedrest, I went and took the test at a local high school. I was sick and tired, so I rushed through it and got out an hour early.

I waited a month, and then I got an email with the results. I passed. The above diploma came in the mail a few days later.

That was it. I’m a high school graduate, now.

That method worked for me because I like tests a lot more than work, and I was in quite advanced classes while I was attending school. The test was on subjects I passed in middle school.

Testing out might not be for you. Your problem with school might be test anxiety sabotaging your grades. Then, you might want to look into alternative schools. The school I failed from was entirely work-based. You do the work at home, show up 2x a week and turn your work in, and you might have to take a few tests, but nowhere near the amount you take in normal school. It sounds like heaven for a lot of people, but I’m just so much more of a test person.

Or, you might want to travel. You might have an opportunity to go abroad for 6 months with that non-profit you got involved with a few years ago. You don’t need to drop out, just enroll in online school. You can take the same classes as normal school. My online school was free, public, and I took all the APs I normally would.

There’s so many options. Before you drop out entirely, talk to your school counselor, talk to other people, search the government websites, and you’ll find a lot. Don’t glaze over any option because you’ve been in the default system for so long. It’s entirely possible to get a degree without slaving in school for 8+ hours a day.

Step 3: What’s your plan?
Now that you know there are alternatives… What next? What do you plan to do with your extra time? Are you just going to sit at home and play video games? I love video games, too, but you’re dropping out for something bigger, right?

If you don’t already have a plan, check out Charlie Hoehn’s free guide titled Recession-Proof Graduate. Read it long before you drop out to help you figure out your plan and to give you a method to jumpstart your way to achieving that plan.

You also need to figure out some adult things. Figure out where you’re going to make money, where you want to stay (it’s okay to live with your parents for a while as long as you’re working towards something), what you have to do if you still want to go to college, etc..

This will take much longer than a few hours or even a weekend. I’ve been alternative since 2012 and I finally took the dropout path in May, but I’m still working towards finding the answers to these questions myself. It will take a while, and you’ll have to figure out a lot as you go.

Step 4: Ignore the naysayers.
Above, I said to listen to feedback from your parents, friends, and people you trust in your life.

There is a very big difference between feedback and negativity.

It’s good to have unbiased views in your life that call you out when you’re about to make mistakes. But, that’s the key word, unbiased.

Everyone is biased. I’m biased towards self-education and the alternative path, while your parents who both got PhDs from respected universities are entirely biased towards success through the traditional path.

If you’re going down the alternative path, some people will get offended and think of it as a personal attack on themselves. Others won’t understand at all because they’re only around people who have achieved great success through the traditional path. Some people are just plain negative and bitter. There’s no pleasing them.

Remember, you don’t live to please them. You live to please yourself.

You really need to draw the line between what feedback that will help you is and feedback that will hurt you is. You need feedback and support, but you can’t let irrelevant strangers influence your decisions.

It’s difficult, but here’s how I’ve done it:

Create a list of people you want to be like and about them specifically you’d like to emulate.
Ask them for advice about your plan, but only ask questions that fit into what about them you want to emulate. Be as specific as possible. Anyone who you never want to be like should not be taken seriously, except as an example of what to never do. Even if someone you respect gives you advice, unless there’s a specific trait you’d like to emulate from them, just toss that advice out.

Also, remember, asking people about what made them successful in their time is probably irrelevant to how you can achieve that today.

You need to look at every piece of advice with a critical eye. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for loads of advice. I’ve sent the most generic, desperate emails at 1AM and gotten life-changing advice from both one-line responses and long essays in response. It’s so worth it.

Step 5: Do it, or don’t.
Every person who reads this post and takes the time to think through each step will reach a different conclusion here. Some of you will decide you should just stick it out in school. Others are going to drop out of school (or join an alternative program), and then head to college. People like me will do the bare minimum to get college acceptance if needed, and want all the time in the world to develop themselves, their network, and their skills.

If you learned anything from this post, hopefully, it’s that there are a ton of alternatives to dropping out completely that are actually much easier to do.

If you’ve done something very cool and alternative, please email me tell me about it. I’m always looking to meet other ambitious alternative types.

If you want be an ambitious alternative type and don’t know what to do, email me as well. I’d love to help you out and point you in the right direction.

Thanks for reading! Comments can be sent to [email protected].
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For more frequent updates, follow me on Twitter.

Posted by on December 4, 2014
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Don’t Just Learn How to Write; Learn How to Write Well


Writing is a skill that is never idle. It’s a skill we use everyday and every ad, every article, the text on every website, and the scripts for anything you watch must be written by someone. Yet, for some reason, we we all know someone who is afraid to put pen to paper.

Whether or not you have an excuse like “my high school English teacher was awful” or not, writing is a skill you need to master.

By improving your writing, you can improve your communication with the world. It’s not just written communication either – if you can articulate on paper, you can do so at a higher level in spoken word. Having clear writing forces you to list out thoughts in a logical way that people can follow. The more quality your writing has, the more powerful your communication becomes and the more seriously people are going to listen to what you have to say.

Need a Reason to Write Well?

A recent study shows that according to employers, most people applying for jobs don’t possess sufficient written communication skills.

The benefits of clear written thoughts won’t just help you in a job, but they will help you get one as well. The staple of any great resume is a solid summary of your skills and accomplishments. Each line needs to be succinct and express value. If yours is well articulated, it will stand out amongst the crowd of resumes stacked on an employer’s desk. If you are someone who lacks experience or a college degree, how you articulate your skills and minimal experience is absolutely paramount. If you can express yourself clearly, show your drive and motivation and write a kickass resume, you’re a contender for any job, regardless of educational barriers.

So, how do you go about working on your writing skills? First off, you should…


“I absolutely demand of you and everyone I know that they be widely read in every damn field there is; in every religion and every art form and don’t tell me you haven’t got time! There’s plenty of time.” —Ray Bradbury

Read– read like mad. Read things from all different genres, fiction and non-fiction. Read poetry, novels, magazines, blog posts, science journals, biographies, business books and plays. The bottom line is that you should read everything you can because the more clear thoughts you read on paper, the more you will see great examples of expression that you can apply to your own writing. Also, the more you expose yourself to different styles the more you will learn structural rules. On top of all of that, you’ll learn about history, the world, how others express themselves and a whole new vocabulary. And, if you keep a dictionary or smartphone near you when you’re reading, your usable vocabulary will expand. A larger vocabulary comes in handy both in writing and during conversation.

Read About Writing

There is a reason why UnCollege’s resources page links to several writing guides and articles. To become a good writer, there are fundamental rules and structures that you need to understand. If you can employ these fundamentals, you will improve not only your writing but your editing skills, which will make you a more valuable asset.

The journey to improving your writing skills doesn’t end at reading a lot of examples and following the rules of writing. The only way to make those things applicable is to practice them, which leads us to the next step.


Make a daily writing practice. I don’t care if you don’t think you have time, make time for it. This is one of the most valuable skills you can teach yourself. Make time for it somehow.

Try out different styles and forms of writing. Keep a blog. Write poetry or blog posts as a part of your morning routine. Keep a journal. Write essays and opinion pieces. But don’t just stop with a daily writing practice…

Actively Seek Feedback

Don’t wait until your work is perfect or fine-tuned to put it out there. Get feedback, even if that feedback is hard to swallow. The reason is simple – feedback will always make your writing better. Start getting feedback from people close to you if you’re afraid, but don’t keep your writing from the world for too long.

Try freewriting and go for quantity over quality. As you write more, get more feedback and learn from that feedback, you will become a better writer. The key here is not only writing more, but getting feedback and implementing that feedback into your work.

You’ll be writing things (i.e. emails, notes, blog posts, business letters etc.) for the rest of your life. If you get good at it early on, you will benefit yourself by accelerating your career and skills at a young age. The more you write, the better you will get. If you make sure to get feedback, you will progress even faster. The trick to writing is that there are no tricks. It takes time and effort and feedback to get good. And once you’re good, that cycle doesn’t stop. You have to keep improving and writing.

So get pumped and hop to it. Getting good at it now will prove an advantage as you progress through life.

Posted by on December 2, 2014
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Hacking Your Motivation

As hackademics, we often have the added task of self-motivation when it comes to directing our own education. While everyone has that task, we seem to feel its burden more in that we strive for more independence in our educational and professional lives. Self-motivation is a hard thing to achieve when you aren’t super pumped for something. But it definitely can be done.

Soon, the UnCollege fellows will be gearing up for their second work marathon. They will stay up all night working on a project of their choice, which will be unveiled at the end of the 36 hour marathon. Here at UnCollege, we have a few tricks that we use to keep ourselves motivated to do our work, not just during work marathons, but on a daily basis.

Practice Optimism

Remember that your lack of motivation isn’t permanent. Don’t stress yourself out by thinking about how you “should” be getting more done. That’s just going to distract you from getting anything done. Often times, our lack of motivation, and consequently our procrastination, comes from the fact that we’re not pumped. We’re not happy. We’re down, for whatever reason. And trying to ignore what we’re feeling will just make that thing more powerful and apparent in our minds. It’s like if I told you not to think about penguins. What do you think of first? Penguins. You can’t help it. That’s how our brains work. The more you try to not think about how you’re not motivated, you’re going to continue to be unmotivated.

Instead, acknowledge whatever you’re feeling, and then think about the fact that it’s temporary. Look for things that aren’t so bad. Take pride in every task you accomplish. Practice gratitude. Take a minute to make a list of five or ten things you’re grateful for. When you come back to your work after doing this, you’ll find that you don’t feel as “stuck” as you did before. Gratitude and optimism are great ways to get over your current reality, if even by a bit.

Set SMART Goals

In order to do this one, you need to know what SMART stands for:


If you use this criteria to set your goals for yourself, you will find that they will be more achievable. Since you will be able to see your progress, you will be able to be continuously motivated by that. In addition, you’ll have a deadline hanging over your head, pushing you to the finish when you don’t have motivation enough to do it yourself.

One other great part about setting SMART goals is that because they are specific, you can start acting on them right away. They aren’t vague, with no real place to start. Since they are specific, you will know exactly where to start and the certainty of that is a factor in motivation. You don’t have to spend time figuring it out, you just have to do that thing. It’s a little easier to be pumped for it. Even if you just want to get it over with.

During their coaching sessions, our fellows focus on setting SMART goals with their coaches, who keep them accountable for those goals, which leads us to another huge factor in motivation:


If you have someone who you are held accountable to when you make these goals, you are more likely to complete them. You won’t want to let that person down. So, whether or not you are motivated that day, you can motivate yourself to do that thing in order to not let that person down. When we are held accountable, we do better because being held accountable is motivation in itself. We don’t have to do so much of the work of motivating ourselves when we know that someone else has expectations of us.

Peer Pressure

In the same vein of accountability is peer pressure. If you spend a lot of time with people who are lazy, you’ll end up being lazy, or at least more lazy than you normally would be. Often, we don’t realize how much of an impact the people we surround ourselves with have on us until later, when we aren’t surrounded by them anymore and have time to reflect. If you want to be motivated, surround yourself with motivated people. If you want motivation to do a certain thing, like learn a new language, surround yourself with people who are doing the same.

When you’re surrounded by people you want to be like, you’ll find yourself becoming more and more like them. You are the sum of the 5 people you spend the most time with. Who are those people? What are they like? Should you reevaluate who you spend your time with?

Luckily, during their launch phase, the fellows spend a lot of time with like-minded, ambitious and motivated people. This makes work marathons run smoothly, even in the toughest time when everyone wants to be asleep. Since everyone is working through the night, it becomes easier to do the same. Peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes, it can get a lot accomplished.

Reward Yourself

Celebrating what you’ve accomplished is a great way to keep yourself motivated over the course of the day. There are lots of ways to do this, but I would suggest not rewarding yourself with food (at least not every time). Eating is a part of self-care and shouldn’t be a part of motivation. Besides, you might gain weight and that would be bad, especially if you’re trying to motivate yourself to lose weight.

There are many ways to reward yourself, like reading an interesting article or watching a youtube video after you skyped in French with your language exchange partner for a half hour. Or you could take a short walk or buy yourself a book you’ve been wanting to read. Whatever will motivate you and whatever fits with the scale of what you’re doing. And remember to set this reward before you start the task, so you can motivate yourself with the reward.

Remember Your “Why”

If you keep your reason for doing what you’re doing in sight, the end goal will motivate you to continue. Write it down and keep it on your desk or wherever you work. Write it on a post-it and stick that to your laptop keyboard or the side of your screen. Keep it in sight so when you start to run out of juice, you can look at it and find a spark inside you to keep going. Even if your reason is something like getting out of a crappy job or to prove your friends wrong about your decision to drop out, that’s a better reason than none. Write it down and pursue it. When you start to feel your motivation being sapped, it will carry you through. You can do this for your SMART goals, too, for a reminder and for motivation.

Remember to Take Breaks

If you’re trying to work solidly for 8 hours without stopping, you might be insane. Taking breaks is beneficial to the work we do and to us as humans. Try using the Pomodoro technique to force yourself to take breaks if you struggle to know when you “should” take them. Breaks in your work day will help you to focus when it’s focus time. And, if you really hate what you’re doing, you can barrel through it just for the break that lies at the end.

As an added benefit, it’s good for your brain and body to move around when you take breaks. Get off your butt and do a few jumping jacks to get the blood flowing. Just giving your body a bit of exercise will help get your brain in gear to re-focus when the time comes. If you do the same thing in the same place for too long, you’ll end up just staring, empty at some point. Don’t let yourself get to that point. Be proactive and keep it from happening instead of having to fix it when it does.

Even during work marathons, the fellows take breaks to chat, play video games, watch funny Youtube videos or cook food. These breaks are fundemental to them getting their projects done, and with the peer pressure around them, it is assured that their breaks won’t last too long.


This is something that really helps the fellows in the thick of their work marathons, during that stretch period sometime after 2 a.m. until their normal wake-up time. Listening to something to get yourself pumped up during your focus time is really great. Not only does it block out a lot of distractions, but when you’re listening to music, your brain is really active in a lot of places. This will help you get into “the zone” where you’re coming up with a lot of ideas or you’re focusing and getting a lot done. It also has a powerful effect on our emotions, and the right music can up your motivation a ton. You can go from totally unmotivated to in the zone and making progress in the space of one or two good songs. Take some time to figure out what kind of music and what artists work well for you, and keep a running list of the stuff that gets you pumped.


Trick your brain into thinking you don’t have a bunch to do. Tell yourself you’re going to only do one task, or only work for 5 minutes, one song or one pomodoro. Once you get started, you’re halfway there. Starting really is hard, and once you’ve done that, you can push ahead with more ease.

Don’t Be So Hard On Yourself

All in all, it’s hard to motivate yourself sometimes. That’s part of being human. Don’t sit there and think about how you aren’t doing enough and you need to get more done. Don’t insult yourself in your head – admit it, we all do it – for not having the same output as yesterday. Today is a different day, and if you’d give yourself a chance you’d probably amaze yourself with how much you get done.

You’ll never know what you could do if you instead spend your time bashing yourself in your head. You’re brilliant. You’ve got this. You’re just in a rough spot. Take a second, take a deep breath, and then try out one – or all; I’d be really flattered if you did them all – of these methods.You’ll find that you really are brilliant and you can motivate yourself way better this way than by beating yourself up. And when you do find your motivation, savor it. Enjoy it. Because you got yourself there by being awesome.

Posted by on November 5, 2014
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Got Student Loans? UnSpend Them with UnCollege

The pressure to attend a four-year college or university right out of high school is intense, and it comes from everywhere. Unfortunately, even for those who choose that path, the pressure doesn’t stop there. Although college is a great option for many fresh-out-of-high-school students, the financial burden and academic stress of traditional higher education has many young people asking themselves if going straight to college is really worth it.

Choosing not to go to college is a gutsy decision in today’s world. Choosing to drop out of college is, arguably, even gutsier. The negative stigma that comes with dropping out of school has intimidated many students into staying in a four-year program despite the fact that college isn’t the right place for everyone. With freshmen dropout rates increasing across the country, it’s apparent that students are eager to find unique alternatives to traditional higher education. So what is keeping young people who seriously consider dropping out or taking a gap year from actually doing so?

Although many types of alternative education exist, they can be difficult for students to navigate while dealing with the pressure to stay in college. The UnCollege Gap Year program has provided a straightforward approach to pursuing a self-directed education instead of a traditional four year program; however, there are still many personal and financial stressors that make first-year college students hesitant to drop out or take a gap year. One of the biggest struggles these students face is the financial burden of their first-semester student loans. Brian Ly, a first-year film studies major at Temple University, illustrated this struggle by telling us “What stresses me out the most is that now the time I feel is wasted is also money that’s being wasted.”

Brian isn’t the only college freshman who feels that dropping out or taking a gap year would essentially be wasting the time and money that has already been spent on the first semester of school; John Vito Powell, a first-semester student at Pace University has conveyed these fears as well by explaining “…the loans have already been taken out, and I’m scared that I would regret it (dropping out at this point).” This is a mental roadblock for many young people who consider taking a gap year.

So, what is UnCollege doing to alleviate this issue?

We’ve launched the UnSpend Your Student Loans campaign, designed to help future UnCollege fellows take a gap year without the burden of having to pay off their first semester college loans. First-semester students who have dropped out to pursue our Gap Year program are eligible to participate in UnSpend if their UnCollege application is accepted by November 20, 2014 [deadline extended]. UnCollege will select two fellows to receive financial relief of their first-semester loans based on the information provided in their applications. UnCollege will aid these fellows in UnSpending their student loans by paying off up to $2,750 of their first-semester college loans. Eligible students include those who have active Federal Direct Student Loans and have completed fewer than 18 semester units or 24 quarter units. Recipients will be selected by December 1, 2014.

The UnSpend Your Student Loans campaign is an innovative way for UnCollege to make it even easier and more affordable to pursue a self-directed alternative to higher education. By participating in UnSpend, students who plan to take a Gap Year with UnCollege can do so without having to carry the financial burden of the loans they have already taken out for college; by implementing the UnSpend program, not only is UnCollege making it possible for a larger demographic of young people to have peace of mind while pursuing a Gap Year, we are allowing students to essentially “unwaste” the time they have already spent in college by helping them build 21st century skills that will equip them for the real world.

We know how difficult it is to decide whether or not dropping out is the right choice. Many of UnCollege’s previous and current fellows have had to face this choice, and students around the world are struggling with the decision as well. Any first-semester college students who have given any thought to dropping out or taking a gap year are all too aware of the stress that is caused by having to make such a seemingly momentous decision. By launching the UnSpend Your Student Loans campaign, UnCollege is providing relief for these students through community support, both personally and financially. UnCollege founder Dale Stephens summed up the program’s mission perfectly by explaining, “I was fortunate to have a supportive network that offered me couches to sleep on and jobs when I left college, but I know not everyone is that lucky. I hope this program can help those dropouts who don’t have that safety net follow their dreams.”


Posted by on October 31, 2014
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We’re Hiring an Admissions Advisor!

We at UnCollege/Gap Year are seeking an advisor 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 a revolution in higher education.

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. Most importantly, you should care deeply about creating a world where people have the freedom to learn how, where, when, and why they want.  The position could start right away for the right candidate.


Admissions (70%)

Evaluate and recommend applicants for admission
Manage the application system and ensure all forms have been collected
Assist in further implementation of a CRM system
Report on the admissions funnel
Build relationships with applicants as their primary point of contact
Respond to inquiries
Advise applicants, families, and school officials on our programs, admissions policies,and financial support opportunities

Marketing (15%)

Plan, write and edit content for the website, blog, and external sites
Manage Adwords campaigns
Provide design support
Update and maintain the website (WordPress)

Budget and Account Management (10%)

Assist with payment planning
Track tuition payments made
Explore and recommend payment planning solutions
Track marketing budget and expenditures

Events (5%)

Represent the Gap Year program at recruitment events, school visits, and information sessions
Make presentations to parents, students, and educational professionals in venues ranging from small groups to conferences
Assist with events involving Gap Year fellows, such as orientation

Direct admissions experience

Required Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
Outstanding communication, interpersonal, and public speaking skills.
Ability to represent and promote UnCollege/Gap Year independently.
High degree of organizational and management skills.
Ability to handle a large workload to peak periods.
Some travel and weekend hours required.

Preferred Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
Experience evaluating international credentials.
Experience recruiting students for highly selective programs.
Experience producing publications.
Editorial writing.

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

Posted by on October 3, 2014
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Gap Year: Day One

It’s day one of a year that will change the lives of 13 young adults.

The fellows arrive at the Gap Year house. With hugs and kisses, some apprehension and sadness, they say their goodbyes to parents. They say goodbye to the life they knew before their gap year, and they say hello to something entirely new, not completely sure of what to expect. There is fear, there is joy. There is excitement buzzing in the air as fellows find other fellows to talk to, looking for friends in each other, each wondering what lies ahead on this first day of the next year of their lives.

Soon enough, it’s time for their first dinner at the Gap Year house. And everyone around the table, both staff and student, have to answer a question that stretches their minds, and perhaps their comfort zones: “What makes you a misfit?” Each person at the table fills the silence of eating with something about themselves, something that sets them apart. Again, a bit of fear weaves its way into their stomachs. But they know to embrace this thing that sets them apart. They know to fight against the fear inside them. Because they know no one here will hurt them. They are safe. And they speak, each in their turn, and say that wonderful thing that makes them different. Their badge of pride. That thing that makes them a misfit.

And they find they aren’t so different after all. They are all different, but similar in the fact that they are different. They find pride in that thing that sets them apart from the others. And the next morning, they wake with the memory still in their minds as they come to the table a second time, now for breakfast made by the staff. The fellows stayed up late meeting and getting to know each other, sharing their hopes and dreams for the year, and they don’t waste any time with silence as they talk all throughout breakfast.

At 10 am, they all head downstairs to learn the the schedule of the first three months of the year they are embarking upon. Here they learn what the expectations are for these three months as well as the simple truth that what they’re doing isn’t just a program, but a movement. And they are a part of that movement. They actively have a hand in shaping it. And this brings upon the fellows both a sense of responsibility and an electric excitement. After this, they are reminded of the importance of taking good care of themselves during the year, with emphasis on sleep, exercise, food and generally being healthy physically, mentally and emotionally.

After a break for lunch where the fellows get to go out of the house for the first time to check out the restaurants around the neighborhood, they arrive back for the rock-paper-scissors world championship. Here, the rules are that when some one get beaten by another player, they have to follow them around, cheering for them. One fellow who was a more shy and introverted person than most of the other fellows began to get a lot of support from the others by winning a lot of games. By the end, the whole room was chanting her name in unison when she became the rock-paper-scissors world champion. She experienced what it’s like to have a bunch of support behind her in what she was pursuing and to see how it affected her. Needless to say, she was smiling wide and knew she had just made some new friends.

After some fun improv games, things progressed to a bit more serious tone. Fellows were asked to complete the sentence “One thing you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at me is…” fellows talked about everything from being very family-oriented to being self-critical or not being like other kids because they didn’t like to party. Then, they took a break where they spread out in the house, the park nearby or going on a short walk around the block and talked about their life stories on a one-on-one basis, getting to know each other better.

Then they returned to the community space in the house for a continuation of orientation. The room had a different feel this time when the question was asked. Complete the sentence “if you really knew me you would know…” There was anxiety in the air as people began to talk about their deeper selves and everyone got 2 minutes to talk uninterrupted. Honesty filled the air as the fellows allowed themselves to become vulnerable with one another, and the gentle caring of the fellows and staff in the room was palpable in the air. As they mustered their strength to show their true, raw selves, tears were shed and hugs were given. By the end, the fellows knew each other better than most friends know each other.

After a short break to collect themselves, the feel of the activities changed again. Again, there was a spark in the air. Excitement found itself in the back of the fellows’ minds. They started playing a game called elves-wizards-giants. Which is like rock-paper-scissors, but dividing people into two teams, miming silly fantasy characters and chasing people in an effort to tag them and recruit them to their team.

Jon, the main staff member in charge of orientation and one of UnCollege’s Program Specialists, has been getting people to open up and become closer in business and academic settings for about 10 years. His work is very intentional, and there is a purpose behind every activity in the orientation. When asked about why he gets people to open up to each other so early in the program, he had this to say:


“I’ve noticed, after doing this thousands of times, that when people get real with each other, they become comfortable with each other, and whenever you’re trying to create a culture or an ideal learning environment, people being comfortable with each other is an integral part of that.”


The day ended in a group meal. After a long day of teamwork games and brutally genuine moments, the fellows ate together as a family of deeply connected friends.

Posted by on September 20, 2014
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