DeSchoolhouse Rock! Politicians Are (Sort Of) Real People

Today’s recording focuses on politicians…sort of. It’s important to understand that they are people like you and I — they want to keep their jobs and they want to make money. They aren’t some kind of altruistic civically-minded Ubermenschen. No effective politician is. Once you understand this, you unlock a lot of possibilities for changing political outcomes without changing politicians.

Intro segment: Clint Webb for Senate, from Whitest Kids U Know

Send me feedback here.


DeSchoolhouse Rock! Politicians Are (Sort Of) Real People

The Truth About College Admissions

People like to paint college admissions as this process of being the objectively smartest or the objectively most virtuous when it is really like any other system out there, one driven by the interests of the decision makers.

I go into three areas of the college admissions process and explain how to understand them:

  1. Getting In
  2. Understanding Acceptance Rates (and Why Colleges That Want to Reject You Want You to Apply)
  3. Understanding Selection Bias

Feedback, comments, and hatemail can be sent to me here.


The Truth About College Admissions

You Don’t Hate Mondays or Capitalism – You Just Hate Your Job

Today’s audio blog is in reaction to a sentiment I’ve seen some friends share – “You don’t hate Mondays, you hate capitalism.”

My response is simple: you don’t hate either of these, you hate your job.

The good news is, you can change this. You can stop hating it or you can quit.

Here are some resources referenced in the conversation:

The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss

Udemy for learning new skills

Apple’s guide to Swift

Stoicism: books by Seneca

Stoicism: books by Epictetus

Deskboubnd: Standing Up to a Sitting World by Kelly Starrett

Thanks to Isaac Chapman for some feedback on audio quality. If you have feedback, leave a comment on Soundcloud or shoot me an email here.




You Don’t Hate Mondays or Capitalism – You Just Hate Your Job

Quick Thoughts on the Paradox of School & the Family

I was giving a talk at Floria Gulf Coast University the other night near Fort Myers when I noticed a flyer on the door of the lecture hall. The sign (I wish I had gotten a picture now) read: “PARENT FREE ZONE.”

I chuckled at first, thinking it was more of a tongue-in-cheek joke to new freshmen who were used to having their parents around. Then my stomach sank when I had the realization that it probably wasn’t a joke.

Continue reading “Quick Thoughts on the Paradox of School & the Family”

Quick Thoughts on the Paradox of School & the Family

A New Approach to Content (Audio)

The other morning, I opened up my blog to record some monologues of articles I have written. After a few attempts, I realized that they weren’t best-made for recording. Instead, I decided to do a personal monologue based on the articles. Instead of blogging for the day, I recorded audio.

Here’s yesterday’s, based on this piece:

And here is today’s, urging young people to not go back to school:


A New Approach to Content (Audio)

When Those You Respect Respect You

Thinking of success & excellence as being entirely independent of other people only makes sense in an atomistic world. In reality, those we respect and admire are mirrors for our own values and ability to strive towards excellence.

I consider myself successful in an endeavor when other people I respect begin to respect me in that domain. This is not a sufficient condition for success or excellence in a given domain but has proven to be a damn good indicator that I am making positive progress in my striving. For those that know me, this may come as a surprise given my philosophical foundations in individualism and virtue ethics. Eudaimonia is not based off of being popular — Aristotle himself argued against this in the Nicomachean Ethics on the basis that the life of popularity (“the political life”) is too contingent on having property and the support of others when compared to the life of the mind (“the contemplative life”).

Yet, success need not be defined in terms of others and their conceptions of ourselves and it need not be defined in everybody else’s conceptions of ourselves. Rather, by carefully selecting those whom we respect (and with whom we associate via friendship), we indirectly and inadvertently get a benchmark against which we can measure our own virtuous progress.

Continue reading “When Those You Respect Respect You”

When Those You Respect Respect You

Content Roundup and Updates on Forthcoming Work

I’ve been busy with work with the Praxis team the last few days and building out our improved education program for preparing apprentices for on-boarding at startups across the country.

The End of School is currently on sale for the lowest price that Amazon will allow it to be sold at and the reviews are starting to come in.

I plan to write more regularly in the next month, contributing to The Mission on Medium and have been republished a number of times over at My focus for the next few weeks will be on subjects related to education, finance (monetary policy), technology, and social change.

Recently featured on LinkedIn’s Editor’s Picks: The Student Debt Crisis Hurts Us All by Stifling Innovation and Growth

Recent podcast interview: Slayback to the Future with Isaac Morehouse

Upcoming Speaking Engagements:

  • July 16, 2016 — Pennsylvania DeMolay State Convention — Seven Springs, PA — Speaking on The End of School and how to approach career and education as a young person today.
  • July 20, 2016 — d10e — San Francisco, CA — Leading a panel on the future of work.
  • July 30, 2016 — Global Innovation — Mexico City, Mexico — Speaking on how to get stakeholders to buy into an idea.


Content Roundup and Updates on Forthcoming Work

On Resentment, Indignation, and the Emotional Case for Political Diminution

An understanding of the expectations of a given community helps inform where resentment and guilt ought to be targeted in times of crisis. This is hard when your community-of-reference is large.

In times of national crisis, emotions run high and influence policy debate at a disproportionate level to the norm. People who would otherwise consider themselves to be levelheaded, rational, and not influenced by their emotional feelings in matters of policy and reform are overtaken by rhetoric that plays on resentment, guilt, and indignation.

This certainly pollutes a lot of discussions, especially those in which the cost of broadcasting your opinion is essentially zero (e.g., on twitter of Facebook). It makes it feel like that the quality of debate has gone downhill and that we are marching towards a national Zeitgeist of immature pandering and childish accusations (although this is inaccurate). A few days after the crisis or tragedy, there’s usually a reactionary wave of people telling everybody else how valuable it is to be levelheaded and not allow ourselves to make rash decisions fueled by emotions.

The pendulum swings back and forth between these two camps — one fueled by righteous indignation and the other by cool rationality (or the desire to appear as such) — until the next crisis or tragedy changes the locus of attention to a new pet issue. It’s not uncommon to feel pigeonholed into one camp or another, forced to choose between appearing insensitive to watershed moments or looking like you can’t step back and stoically address serious issues.

What if both camps are wrong?

Continue reading “On Resentment, Indignation, and the Emotional Case for Political Diminution”

On Resentment, Indignation, and the Emotional Case for Political Diminution

On Fetishizing Failure & the Rise of Failure Porn

“Ten things I learned from failing.”

“How to Fail Forward.”

“What Failure Taught Me About My Relationship”

“How I Launched My New Venture and Failed and Am A Better Person Because of It.”

I don’t know if these are actually titles of pieces talking about failing and overcoming it but they easily could be. These could be articles in your very stream here on Medium when you click back to the home page. They infect our social media feeds and signal to us the bright side — even the joy — of failure.

The rise of social media and open blogging platforms like WordPress and Medium make these possible. Before these platforms, you wouldn’t hear about other people’s failures as much because media outlets figured people would rather spend time reading about the successful, the beautiful, the sexy, the rich, and the powerful. Who wants to read about a guy who’s coffee business failed? Who wants to read about the girl whose marriage fell apart? Who wants to spend time hearing about failure?

Turns out a lot of people do.

The Bright Side: Failure Isn’t That Bad

There’s a virtue to the proliferation of this genre — it teaches us that failure really isn’t that bad. After 12–16 years of school teaching us that failure must be avoided at all costs and that failure at a given venture = failure of the individual in question, articles recounting stories of failing and turning out okay are a welcome reprieve.

Turns out, life is full of failure. Lots of people we think of as successful have failed in previous ventures and may even be failures in other areas of their lives.

Before the mass-popularization of pieces that highlight the failure of common people, the closest equivalent you could find would be articles talking about how many times famous people failed before hitting it big. These are obviously intended to inspire. “If Richard Branson can fail this many times over, you can too!”

The primal risk-aversion internalized by the fear of failure is, ironically, the dangerous part. What started as an evolutionary mechanism to keep our simple monkey brains from falling off a cliff or signaling to the tribe that we are incompetent and should be left behind in times of emergency has made people weak and flaccid. It’s led to several generations of people — especially since the relative wealth boom of the Industrial Revolution — who are more interested in safety and risk-reduction than they are in trying new, interesting things that may bring with them the chance of failure.

Instead of pushing the envelope to do everything from finish audacious building ventures ahead of schedule to traversing the solar system, from launching a multi-million dollar venture to launching an etsy business, a lot of people would rather settle for a paycheck.

The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb

So these feel-good articles and blog pieces about how you can recover from failure have a huge bright side — they assure us that if you do give into that temptation to try something different and scary, chances are, you’ll turn out okay. The bottom in the United States really isn’t that low (especially when compared to anywhere else for the rest of human history) and it is rare that somebody stays at the bottom.

The Dark Side: The Rise of Failure Porn and Losing the Nuance

Still, I can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable when we see these articles shared around on Facebook or twitter. Their intention is presumably good, but the fact that entire genre has popped up from this little thesis is disturbing. At its most insidious, we’ve seen the development of the genre offailure porn — a genre people enjoy to make themselves feel better about their own failures, oftentimes rooted in Schadenfreude.

If we sit back and bask in others’ failures so much that we begin to fetishize failure, the element of failure that our monkey brains understood and understood well starts to die off.

The biggest danger here is losing sight of the fact that failure sucks and it should be avoided as much as possible. Failing sets us back from the progress we could have made in other areas — opportunity cost is felt most when risky ventures fail — and can be psychologically jarring. We see articles and stories about people recovering from failure so easily that it seems less-necessary to avoid.

Levi Morehouse, CEO and founder of Ceterus, put it well in a discussion on this topic:

Failing is not the end, but it it awful. Choose the right wall, climb it well, push through challenges, and succeeding is better than starting a wall and quitting and trying a new one repeatedly until hopefully succeeding.

Avoid it but do not fear it. Falling happens to everyone, those who avoid it but do not fear it are best positioned for ultimate success. Failing is giving up on a goal, avoid this at all costs.Failing does not happen to everyone. It is not the end but it is worse than falling.

We lose an important nuance of failure when we indulge in these articles — fear of failure should not keep you from trying something, but failure should still be avoided as much as reasonably possible.

Understand that failure isn’t really that bad (especially today, for what most people are trying), but also know that failure is rooted in the decision to give up.

Don’t let the fetishization of failure make you give up before you otherwise would. If you’re going to fetishize anything, fetishize success so that more people strive towards that.

Kudos to Levi Morehouse for discussing this topic with me on multiple occasions and being a breath of fresh air on this topic.

Continue reading “On Fetishizing Failure & the Rise of Failure Porn”

On Fetishizing Failure & the Rise of Failure Porn

Four Ways to Think About Changing the World

I recently finished the phenomenal series of essays by Venkatesh Rao, Breaking Smart, focused on how software is eating the world and the implications from this. It’s easily the best thing I have read this year so far. This turned me on to a little compilation of essays by Rao called Be Slightly Evil  (Taylor Pearson has a good little chunk of excerpts here), which focuses mostly on how to navigate organizations and present yourself in workplace conflict.

In BSE, Rao presents a dichotomy for how people view whether or not people can change. He lines up idealists and tragedians. Idealism is a common theme in American culture (especially politics), he says, and is defined by the belief that people can change. The American Dream and the rise of Self-Help are testaments to this. The idea of changing towards an end — like what you may see in an inspirational instagram post — is the theme here. Self-betterment, personal development, and the study of getting an individual from the place where they currently are — imperfect — towards a more perfect end (Rao notes that this phrase appears in the founding documents of the United States) are mindsets in the idealists world.

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Four Ways to Think About Changing the World

Updates on The End of School Release

I’m excited to say that the pre-orders for The End of School went out this Sunday. Those who pre-ordered the Kindle edition received a beta version of the book. I’ve found in my work with entrepreneurs and founders that it is more important to get a product into the hands of users than to wait for a perfect version of the product to come along.

The “1.0” version of the book will be released this week. Those who pre-ordered the book will receive an updated version. Those who are looking to purchase the 1.0 will be able to on Amazon, both in print and on Kindle.

This is an exciting and fun process — the “beta” approach to publication is something that is really only possible on a large scale because of the connectivity that the Kindle opens up, and is something I’m glad I have been able to play with.

If you’re interested in receiving an email about the updated book once it is released, sign up here.

Updates on The End of School Release

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Startups (Courtesy of Isaac Morehouse)

My friend Isaac Morehouse recently completed a short (~under 4 hours) podcast series on “The Beginner’s Guide to Startups.” It’s one of the better, no-bullshit compilations of interviews and information with experts and people who have been through the fire on starting a company, fundraising, funding a company, and selling a company.

Isaac actually does not currently have all four episodes and the information related to them posted in one place, so I wanted to go ahead and share that here.

Continue reading “The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Startups (Courtesy of Isaac Morehouse)”

The Complete Beginner’s Guide to Startups (Courtesy of Isaac Morehouse)

Quick Thoughts on the Prevalence of High Caliber Young People in Schools

I’ve been emailing back and forth with a few students who showed up to a talk I did the other day on the practical steps they can take to build social capital and launch an enterprise. Some common themes:
> Lots of the students expressed to me a desire to learn, just not a desire to take tests.
> School generally is seen as an impediment to learning things that actually matter to them (especially true of the 16-18 year-old demographic). “I used to fight against all the testing and required classes, not I just give into it. It’s exhausting,” one student wrote to me.
> Lots like the idea of “business” but have little idea what that means — even the really smart, experienced students. Most of them have never been exposed to “business” outside of a suit-and-tie context. They see suits and ties and accountants on one end of the spectrum and technology and t’s and hoodies on the other end of the spectrum. The reality is different — business is everything that *isn’t* school or government. But can you blame them for not really knowing that? They’ve spent the last 12 years spending 8 hours every day in a place totally removed from the marketplace.
> Despite the increasing amount of schooling and the way it crowds out opportunities for young people to engage in the market, there are still lots of promising young people out there. I met one young man who has a patent for a product that IBM had been trying to get to market for years and has successfully raised over $200K at a $2M+ valuation to grow his company. He’s 16. I met a lot of others who have the potential to do that, but just haven’t taken the leap yet.
The message I left them with — one my friend Isaac has taught me to use — was that it’s better to ask yourself, “Why not do these things?” instead of “Why?”
Quick Thoughts on the Prevalence of High Caliber Young People in Schools

Project for Individual Excellence: April 2016

It’s been a while since I publicly announced my monthly Project for Individual Excellence. I like to announce it for the sake of shared accountability. If I don’t meet my public goals, others can call me on it. Skin in the game is needed for personal accountability more than anything else.

Physical Excellence:

  • 30 minutes of strength training, 4 days a week
  • 30 minutes of cardio training, 2 days a week

Intellectual Excellence:

  • 30 minutes of Spanish training through Duolingo, every day
  • 30 minutes of German training through Duolingo, every day
  • Read 4 books by May 1, one fiction
  • Complete node.js competency by May 1

Professional Excellence:

  • Successfully publish The End of School by May 8 in both print and Kindle
  • Successfully have The End of School reviewed by several outlets by the end of May
  • Release the interview series I’ve been accumulating over the last two months


Project for Individual Excellence: April 2016

Paul Graham on Making Pittsburgh the Next Silicon Valley

These are my notes from Paul Graham’s talk on Saturday, April 9, 2016 at the University of Pittsburgh. Graham is a graduate of Gateway High School in Pittsburgh, PA and left the region after graduating from high school. These are rough notes taken during the speech, please excuse any grammatical errors.


What does it take to make Pittsburgh into a startup hub? 

He didn’t think at first that he could give an optimistic talk when he first started preparing this — he thought, without much research, that he could only do a talk on what Pittsburgh could do, but later found a NYT article about the youth-driven food boom and found himself more optimistic.

This youth-driven food boom is significant.

After leaving Pittsburgh during a time of free-fall after graduating high school, he had nothing to compare it to. But now, things are changing. The youth boom (7% to 7.6% in recent years) is a big and important change. There’s a new energy in Downtown Pittsburgh that didn’t used to be there. Young people are actually excited to be in the city. This energy is what keeps people here.

The net-attraction of young people is a really big deal. Startups are made of people. They are specifically made up of 25-29 years old. These young people have already shifted the center of Silicon Valley. After Pinterest and Stripe moved to San Francisco, that’s a big deal. Now all of the big winners are in SFO and not in the Valley because interesting, talented young people want to live in the city.  Founders know they have to live in the city in order to win the talent war. 

He’s obsessed with the 25-29 year olds moving to Pittsburgh statistic because you need these people. This is the city  equivalent of the beginning of growth for a young startup. Pittsburgh actually has a higher percentage of 25-29 year-olds than the national average by about a percentage point. That means more young people are moving here than the average place — a net gain for the first time in years! The surplus here is about the size of a small town -something is working, just keep it working. 

The focus of this talk isn’t entrepreneurship, though, it’s the things attached to that. You don’t foster “entrepreneurship” and “innovation” through focusing on those things. You foster those through making sure interesting, talented young people want to live there.

Continue reading “Paul Graham on Making Pittsburgh the Next Silicon Valley”

Paul Graham on Making Pittsburgh the Next Silicon Valley