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Stoking the Flames of Revolution: Fine Young Paleos

I was very pleased to see the enthusiasm over Calvin’s self-experimentation and ultimate astounding success as passed along in my post yesterday.

Indeed, there’s really something about young folks getting it. Just think how much they have leapfrogged the whole nasty ordeal us older folks had to learn by the hard way. They have it all good: if already lean, they enjoy better health & energy and likely don’t go down in sickness very often (I myself haven’t had so much as a cold since I can remember) or eventually get fat & ugly. If they’re fat, their metabolism still retains enough gusto to quickly reverse things quickly. It’ll be like it never happened. Tuck that bullshit away in away in a file & forget for life.

That the young folks are naturally rebellious to authority, as they should be in my view, makes it all to the better. …Because, this is really real, and as such, can become a permanent part of simply the way they live. And it will rub off. Inevitably, it will.

So today I have young Matt to put before you. This is not about diet or exercise advice, because it sounds to me as though Matt is already far beyond that and in so doing, has ushered in a whole lot of other questions for himself. As I try to highlight often on this blog, it’s not just how you eat, move, and rest, it’s how you think and how that translates to your interactions in society and the goals and objectives you hold for yourself.

So let’s hear from high school junior Matt Himelfarb.

Richard,

I’ve emailed you in the past regarding paleo-related issues, but I know you still occasionally delve into other issues, and I could use your advice on a totally different animal. Appreciate your ability to screw conventional wisdom, and I know you won’t bullshit me on anything, so hear me out on this one.

To those who don’t like my raw style: take that, mutherfuckers. Here you have a young person who can take it, and you know why? He knows for sure I’m not going to lie to him and the best news is the honest damn truth. In today’s world, being perceived as such takes drastic measures, because virtually everyone is lying to everyone else and to themselves. Continuing on.

I’m a junior in high school. I’ve done everything ‘correct.’ I’ve studied hard, pulled the good grades in almost every subject. I’m not Ivy league caliber, but my g.p.a. and class rank are fairly high and I’m on track to get into a pretty good school. I’m your generic modern-day idea of what it means to be ‘smart’ or a ‘good student.’ This, in spite of the fact I’ve come to realize that my educational experience has, in reality, taught me jack.

Its’ easy for me to say college is overrated, and that if I do attend college, the last thing I should do is piss away $40,000 a year studying the likes of journalism or english or philosophy or political science, or some other liberal arts major that has absolutely zero relevance in the real world. For most people, I agree that would probably hold true.

Except the irony is not lost on me. I’m a humanities-minded person, if you will. I’m not very good in math or science. What good grades I did pull in those subjects were the product of pure memorization. Hence, I can’t major in something productive that would help me acquire some useful skills. I’m not the kind of person who works well with his hands; to be honest, I couldn’t change a flat tire, nor cook dinner if my life depended on it. I don’t really have an excuse there, although I guess it’s partly because I’m so bogged down with schoolwork all the time. Frankly, I can’t really go out and just learn a trade, because I’m an academic-minded person. In a certain respect, I feel I’m a casualty of the system.

I am, however, good at writing. I’ve actually started doing some freelance work about baseball. As we all know, however, the journalism industry sucks. I’m also very knowledgeable in history and political philosophy. I’m fascinated by economics as well — I’m the only Junior taking A.P. Macro and Micro in my school, and thus far I’ve done quite well — although I feel my lack of math skills precludes me from advancing very far in that field.

I know it’s hard to give me a real specific answer on this one, but what do you suggest I do with my life and my skill set? What should I do about college? Should I be a teacher, a lawyer, etc.? Hell, maybe I should look into being a strength coach or something, although I imagine being paleo in that kind of industry is as much a curse as being a libertarian in politics. I know you’re not my guidance counselor or anything, but any advice would be much appreciated.

Well, my first thought was to consider my impression of this young man and of course, it was his writing ability that gave the first impression. I see so much crap for writing and to my mind, someone who can’t write must not pay attention to what they are reading, or they don’t read. Listen: you want to write decently? Then read decently, and pay attention. So then I considered what advice I might give. I replied to Matt, saying I’d chew on it and get back to him. And then as helpful comments began coming in for Calvin the route was clear. What a reservoir of knowledge and experience this blog is.

And so, I’m not going to give my thoughts yet because I don’t want to sway or dilute what is certain to be a wealth of info coming from commenters. I’ll weigh in there, dynamically.

Alright folks: time to pay up for the blog and you can do that by engaging Matt. What a fabulous start he is off to. That’s clear. That he has some uncertainties is to be expected and that he seeks it from a paleo blog is telling and if I dare say so, really damned appropriate. Show him what you’ve got.

Feel like shaming some of your Facebook Friends and Twitter Followers? Then this is the post to share. Buttons at the top.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

107 Comments

  1. Jason Sandeman on February 2, 2011 at 11:39

    Straight up? Fuck college until you actually know who you are. I know it is hard in today’s life, when you have councillers telling you “you need to choose now.” BULLSHIT.
    I told them when I was 16 to go fuck themselves, and I still stand by that decision today.
    The best way to know about what you really want to do is by LIVING LIFE for a couple of years after high school.
    I think the whole, “get into Basic Studies” for the first couple of years is bullshit. I think that a couple years of work should be REQUIRED before you gain entry into college/university.
    I chose that route, and I worked until I was 22 at various jobs. It sucked. But, while I was working on the oil rigs in Saskatchewan, Canada, I discovered (had an epiphany) that I was going to LOVE being a chef.
    Once that happened, NOTHING stopped me. Even the waiting list for the school? Fuck that. I was in the NEXT SEMESTER, two months after I decided to go to school, despite a year-long waiting list.
    Now, then you have my best friend, who did the whole, “university” route… well, he discovered to his dismay that he wasn’t really into genetics, but more into cabinet making…. 65K later!
    My other friend went to college. He spent an obscene amount for 4 years, had nothing to show for it… then he decided he was into computers.
    Now he is a millionaire… but not out of college.
    Get your high school behind you. Then get your ass out there and try some jobs. If you are into writing, you need to do that part time while you are building character working to pay your bills. Then you will know what you want…

    THEN YOU CAN GO FOR IT, and no MOTHERFUCKER WILL STOP YOU!

    I hope that helped.

    • Jason Sandeman on February 2, 2011 at 14:52

      I also wanted to comment a bit further here. Once I found what I wanted to do, I ended up going to college (well, a trade school, but same diff!) I managed to save myself a shitload of money. Even still, I only finally paid it back 1 year ago. (After 10 years.)
      Now, I agree with the others when they are saying you are acting a lot like a victim. Listen, like paleo lifestyle: OUt in the wild, there is only YOU to give a shit how it ends for you. DON’T let someone else dictate what or where you end up. YOU have that choice, so go for it. Just know what direction you are gonna go!



    • Joe on February 2, 2011 at 12:45

      I agree – there is no law that says you have to go to college right away. If I had attended college immediately after high school, I would have done shit with my life. I took three years off and learned a trade in the Navy. After that, I was ready for college and ended up at a school I had no chance of getting into with my 2.11 high school GPA and 890 SAT.

      College shows a prospective employer that you can learn. That’s it. If you happen to be one of the lucky few that picks a major that they like and get a job within that field and you make money, good for you. Otherwise, you have about 45 years to find what you want to be when you grow up.

      Just don’t leech off your parents and own your decisions.



    • Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 12:57

      My quick summation of college has always been:

      1. Teaches or sharpens your ability to know how and where to research & find answers.

      2. Demonstrates that you can finish something you started.

      3. Provides you with a key to open that first door and afterwards, on your own. ‘Cause once you’re in a job, nobody cares about your degree, only if you can do the job.

      As a business major, 2.5 and survive party student, I trounced every single MIT and equivalent graduate as a Junior Officer on my first ship. That’s how it worked. A competition and I beat them all, and very badly. Perhaps I should write a post about that.



    • Lute Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 13:03

      You should. I think I still have some of those Fit Reps you sent us.



    • LeonRover on February 2, 2011 at 13:35

      I have mostly answered those who ask me, that

      1) going to college will give you a trained mind, 1, 2 & 3) of Richard’s points above.

      2) study something you enjoy, cause you have to get involved emotionally

      3) after that, the sheer randomness of life usually throws up something that greatly attracts you – while waiting, learn as you go.

      Bon Chance!



    • Joe on February 2, 2011 at 18:44

      Richard,
      I agree with your thoughts on the 4.0 officers that were book smart but had zero street smarts. My take has always been that you get the most out of life and learn the most about yourself when you have to stretch yourself beyond your known limits. Most book smart officers never had to struggle in school. Once they got to the fleet,where they no longer had the advantage of living in the theoretical, they crumbled.

      The kid that clawed and scraped for the 2.5 (or less) shined because they knew how to handle adversity and were used to eating the shit sandwich with a smile.

      Back to the original post – get some life experience or go to college – struggle, fail, succeed, try again. As long as you are not a burden on society, can support yourself and aren’t breaking any major laws – your going to do ok.



    • Paul C on February 3, 2011 at 08:00

      I would add that it also gives you connections to influential people, which could be the most valuable thing of all, somewhere down the road.



  2. Tim Morales on February 2, 2011 at 22:24

    Structurally, the education system pushes the blue pill. But sometimes, ironically/accidentally, it can also help you to find the red one.

    It depends entirely upon you.

    Most graduates (at every level) joyfully accepting their crisp new diplomas are simply telling the world that they have developed the outstanding habits of showing up (and on time), that they can play by the rules, be diligent about mindless tasks and learning useless information, that they are able to tow the line, and that they can flatter the egos of those in authority, no matter how pedestrian or ridiculous those authority figures are.

    Perfect qualities for occupying corporate cubicles.

    Occasionally, one or two actually have learned the most important skill of all: critical thinking, that is the ability to skillfully approach, evaluate, and incorporate NEW information (instead of being able merely to regurgitate shit you can easily look up on Google). But this skill is learned in spite of, not because of, a university education.

    [And before “sour grapes” starts to register, I have a Ph.D and taught for several years as a tenure-track assistant professor in the US, until I said “fuck it” and moved to Ukraine.]

    Despite having a Ph.D. in English (Literary Theory, with an dissertation on Chaos Theory), I own several businesses in Ukraine, only one of which is English-language-related (a language school that I could basically run just on the ethos of being a “native speaker”).

    You need to look inside yourself to see if you want to climb the corporate ladder (if one can even do that anymore) or use your educational opportunities as a way of giving you the tools to (try to) do what you want in life.

    Unfortunately, you might be too young to do that at the moment; fortunately, you’ve got plenty of time to figure it all out.

    Good luck.

  3. Melissa McEwen on February 2, 2011 at 10:52

    Whatever, I was told I wasn’t good at math or science and did fine in those subjects in college. I wish someone had told me that a B student with a stats or chem major was on better track for jobs than an A student with a waste of time major. Yes, I had to work harder than many people in those things, but it’s worth it to actually get a degree that is worth something. Talk to a professor in that department and ask them honestly what it takes in that field to make a living off of it.

    An economics undergrad, which I stupidly acquired, is generally completely useless. The jobs you get with it will use your degree to see what kind of person you are, but you will rarely use what you learned. More and more econ Phds won’t bother doing econ as an undergrad because majoring in stats, math, or computer science actually provides the skills you need in that field and you also don’t have to waste time in classes like “Economics of Oppressed Rainforests” or some B.S.

    I guess if you are truly bad at math, you might be best off doing business school where at least you make important connections.

    Please don’t become an english/history/writer major or, God forbid, a lawyer. We don’t need any more of these and you are wasting money. The best writers on science/health are those who went from science majors/careers into writing, not the other way around.

    – Econ major working as a computer programmer who is getting a science grad degree hopefully.

    • Mike Jones on February 2, 2011 at 12:43

      Please don’t become an english/history/writer major or, God forbid, a lawyer. We don’t need any more of these and you are wasting money.

      Hahaha. Who is “We” and why should Matt care about what this non-entity “needs”?

      Matt,
      I think it is a bad idea to associate college with your future career or career prospects. Obviously some of the more regimented careers out there require this (lawyer, conventional medical doctor, etc.), but the most well-rounded people I know simply studied whatever interested them and didn’t worry about how they would make money afterward. Choosing a major should not be seen as the same as choosing a career. They are two separate choices, and no one needs to have the latter one figured out at your age.

      Moreover, remember that a college degree is a made-up thing that says absolutely nothing either for or against what you can actually do in life. What you actually *learn* in college (both in and out of the classroom) is the only thing that makes college even remotely worth the money, in my opinion. To that end, don’t waste your money studying business if all you really want to do is study writing and philosophy. I studied writing and philosophy, and now I have my own business, if you can believe it, doing video production (which I learned on my own). And while unimaginative people could never make the connection, I am a much better filmmaker and small businessman precisely *because of* my training in writing and philosophy!

      To do just about anything well in life, you need to be able to communicate and think clearly, and in my opinion nothing in college will make you a better communicator and thinker than studying writing and philosophy and other humanities. The study of these subjects is actually quite “practical,” then, in the broadest and least pejorative sense of the word. Of course, if you’d rather study biology, then do that. The point, again, is to follow what interests you and not what other people tell you will set you up for a “comfortable living,” which is probably even more miserable than it sounds.



    • Melissa McEwen on February 2, 2011 at 12:51

      You can study writing while actually studying something technical. Get a minor in writing.

      Clearly both of us got useless degrees and survived. We both are in technical jobs. But personally I feel I would be better at my job if I had a CS degree.



    • lefthandedmonkey on February 3, 2011 at 21:58

      That’s terrific advice. With all the focus on IT and computer jobs, there is one field in IT that is SEVERELY lacking. Technical Writers. Good Technical Writers. Shitty documentation is everywhere. Some of the documentation that I’ve read sounds like it’s been run through Google’s translation service several times.

      It’s not very glamorous work sometimes, but it does have some advantages, like being able to work from anywhere, anytime, on a very flexible schedule for the most part.



    • Edward on March 4, 2011 at 08:53

      I agree with this whole heartedly. I have been in the tech field for almost 20 years and I have met only 2 technical writers that were worth a shit.



    • Lacey on February 2, 2011 at 14:55

      I understand Melissa’s reaction, because college has gotten about ten times expensive since us baby boomers went to school, and time was (before globalization) when our government had the means to pay our way. Good times.

      Now the stakes are higher. I’m amazed at how complicated it’s become just to get a job that pays for the basics. The days are gone when you could just walk down to the factory and get a job. This creates pressure to fit in, rather than making your own way. Even tech jobs seem to be turning into a race to the bottom, where the HR bean counters try to figure out how much useful work they can drag out of one human body before it becomes more economical to outsource that work overseas.

      Maybe there’s a way, if you have enough youth and energy, to somehow do what the machines and beancounters demand and still have a passion-filled life. Or maybe there has to be some kind of revolution – the velvet kind, I hope – where humanity is restored to its rightful place and the bean counters and computers are put back in its service, where they belong. If I’m not too old by then, I’ll be on the front lines, fighting.



    • Andrew on February 2, 2011 at 14:56

      I too have an Economics degree, but I found it to be extremely useful. Not in finding a job, of course, but in teaching me how to understand markets and human behavior at the micro and macro level. I don’t work as an “economist”, nor do I ever expect to, but I find that my economics background really gave me a different way of looking at things. Certainly, I look at things differently than my co-workers, and I think that’s to my advantage.

      I’d say if you have a skillset that can get you a job in the real world, a background in economics could be beneficial. But it alone won’t pay the bills.



    • Barrett Updegraff on February 3, 2011 at 08:00

      I am currently a junior in college, and to be quite honest with Matt, I was in the exact same position in my latter years of high school. I thought I was terrible with math/science/conceptual thinking. I decided to pursue an ambitious science-based major(Nutrition…HAH!) and see how the chips fell. I’ve since grown to absolutely love and appreciate science over the course of my undergrad, even though I’m fed USDA/RD bullshit day-in and day-out. Since adapting to a paleo/ancestral health mindset, I’ve learned to really dissect most of the given “dietary” advice from my classes and found myself in an existential dilemma–Loving nutritional science(especially biochemistry), but HATING conventional wisdom. The science courses have really given me proof that there is some big, black, magic sinkhole between scientific evidence and USDA dietary advice.

      So, even if you think you are lost as to what you can do in college, I don’t believe it best to just shun science-based majors because you aren’t “good” at understanding them. If you apply yourself, and teach yourself the concepts, it’s very easy to adapt to a trade you originally don’t find yourself applicable for. I’ve taken what I could from my nutrition major, and ultimately decided to pursue a graduate degree in Biochemistry, to really get to the bottom of what happens to food/substances in your body.

      If you can’t decide now, I believe anything anthropological, or simply studying methods of our distant ancestors, would be a good not-so-sciencey area of study that could help you better appreciate modern science, because after all, the simplest hunter-gatherer diets and exercise habits seem to be the best.



  4. Tim Huntley on February 2, 2011 at 11:06

    @Matt – A few thoughts. For me college was about 2 things – learning how to learn and acquiring enough subject matter expertise to get my first job in what I thought I wanted to do (computer programming). The first (learning how to learn) is a portable skill that will serve you well the rest of your life. As for the second piece, that may not fit so well in your situation; however don’t be afraid to do something that is outside of your comfort zone but make sure that you enjoy it. You might surprise yourself with better grades in college in subjects that you have yet to excel in (I did).

    Don’t sweat that you don’t know exactly what you want to do yet. College can help you figure that out.

    While it isn’t for everyone doing something entrepreneurial is a great way to go. After college and 5 years at IBM that is what I did (and it worked out quite well). However without the confidence/knowledge I gained in college, I am not sure I would have been a credible softare CEO.

  5. Mary on February 2, 2011 at 11:14

    Matt,

    You might want to consider a liberal Arts Economics program. You could combine this with a minor in the sciences or humanities. I have a BS in Econ with a minor in Chemistry. It sounds pretty bizarre, but allowed me to get a really well rounded undergraduate education. If it sounded like an interesting class, I took it. For employers in the business field, they seem to see Econ and think business background. For those in the science or tech fields, they read it as scientific with business knowledge. For me this has been a win-win. I am now finishing up a MA in Corporate Communications, which is really broad, but might serve you well if you decide to pursue journalism. Clearly, you are bright and write very well. Perhaps, technical writing might be niche. Technical writers are a hot commodity and good ones are hard to come by.

    Don’t feel like you have to lock yourself into a permanent career field. Go for a broader education with flexibility. Most jobs outside of the engineering world will teach you what you need to know on the job. Best of luck!

  6. Jeff on February 2, 2011 at 11:20

    I was TERRIBLE at classroom math….and ended up being a construction estimator that wrote estimating spreadsheets every place I ever worked. And the kicker is I loved writing the spreadsheets. It seems that real world experience is what is missing from the classroom. When I realized I was good at this I got pissed about how I was “taught” math. I’m the kind of person that could do real world math, but throw letters in the mix and I don’t fucking get it.

    Also about cooking. If you can read you can cook. I started at around age 6. Cooking is fun and a great way to be experimental. Have fun with it.

    I only made it thru two years of college (4 semesters at 4 different colleges) I was really into drinking not studying so I pretty much blew my chance at a college education. I did end up in AA though, and living life sober has been a hell of an educational experience.

    My niece is majoring in Journalism at OU and she understands that it is a fast changing field but has embraced that fact and is having fun with it. If that’s what you love then go for it, and I wish you the best.

    Jeff

  7. Bill on February 2, 2011 at 11:27

    Matt,
    College has its virtues. But consider getting your A.A. at a community college before you shell out huge bucks for your big name Uni. In fact, employers usually appreciate someone who worked his way through the hoops the more frugal way. Plus, your degree will be from the Uni where you graduated.
    Meanwhile, learn a trade. I have a Sociology degree from UCSB (where I learned how to learn and drink simultaneously), while a tradesman is at this very moment charging me $1000 to install a new hot water heater.
    And net worth is nothing without bionetworth.
    Bill

  8. Dave, RN on February 2, 2011 at 11:30

    Can’t cook or change a tire? Well there’s something you can start with. And you don’t even need to go into hock for tuition.

    LEARN.

    Without some basic skills, you are going to be just another helpless sheep looking for someone to take care of him. Saying “I’m not much good at that”, “I can’t” etc etc is a cop out and an excuse.

    “In a certain respect, I feel I’m a casualty of the system”. OK, lose the victim mentality. That’s just another excuse.

    “I can’t really go out and just learn a trade”. Another excuse.

    Get out there and learn some basics kills. Take a summer welding course at your local Junior College. Take a first aid course, an advanced one even. Learn how to use a firearm. The Appleseed courses are cheap and all across the US. Plant a garden. If you don’t ave a yard, plant some herbs in a planter inside. Learn how to sew on a button. Learn self defense (I recommend Krav Maga). Learn how to be a leader.

    Remember, excuses are like armpits. We all have them, and they all stink.

    In a word, man up. The world is full of weak men who are full of excuses. Don’t be one of them. It’s like my parents used to tell me “Can’t never did anything”, and I’m hearing a lot of “I can’t” from you.

    A little rough? It’s meant to be. Think hard about challenging yourself to learn things you think you can’t. You never know where it might take you.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 11:35

      you will henceforth be known as Dave “Tough Love,” RN



    • Ann on February 2, 2011 at 11:43

      Yeah that!



    • Lute Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 12:26

      To me, this is the best comment i’ve read so far. You learn by doing thing, even if you’ve never done anything like it before, that’s how I learned, that’s how I taught my kids to learn. Who says College is a requirement for everyone? From High School I went to working on jet airplanes, then rocket engine for Gemini and R&R on Apollo. After that program ended for me, I started an estimating career in 1965, which I am still doing at age 73 because I like working and of course the reward? getting paid and being able to do the things I want to do.
      Take it for what it’s worth, college isn’t for everyone.



    • Dave, RN on February 2, 2011 at 12:37

      You sound like my dad. Joined the Air Force in the 50’s and they trained him on jet aircraft. He ended up working on the Apollo program on the lunar lander. I remember one time he took me out to Edwards AFB about 1967 and I got to see the “flying bedstead”, the test bed for the lander. I got to climb the ladder up to th seat. I have a picture of him sitting in it. No college.



    • Lute Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 12:53

      Yes, I joined the NV Air National Guard, started working on F-86 fighter jets.



    • Lute Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 12:57

      Gosh, that’s what I worked on in research and development testing the engine for the LEM at Rocketdyne Space Engines Division in mountains a few miles out of Reno.



    • Lute Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 12:37

      One more thing I forgot to mention. There isn’t hardly a thing I can think of that Richard can’t do. Whether it be working on a car, repairing a washing machine, doing carpentry work and even painting. You learn things by actually doing them. I can’t even remember how young Richard (maybe 12) and my other 3 son’s were when I put them to work helping in my Painting Contractor business. Just gave em a brush and said here, paint and they did. And it was that way with everything else that has to be done around the house, like mowing the grass, landscaping, gardening, caring for the animals, etc. etc. etc..



    • Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 12:43

      Thanks, Dad. And I think I was 9, still down by the river when mom first coached on preparing an entire meal for the family. It was baked ham, with the cloves and pineapples, but I don’t remember the side dishes. What I do remember is she kept admonishing me to “clean as I go.” That has always stuck as when I get done preparing dinner, there are few things to clean, except when I take on something hugely complex.



    • David Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 20:29

      Thanks Dad! I think I was 12 when I started learning the painting trade and by 18 was reading blueprints and estimating. That experience provided the path to a construction project management career. I’ve built out space for Sun Microsystems, Wells Fargo and I’m currently building out the new campus for Facebook in Menlo Park, Ca.



    • Justin Foerster on February 2, 2011 at 17:39

      Definitely the best comment. Say no to the Victim Mentality and Perceived Authority.

      Matt, you say that you are more of an academic mind, but ideas are useless except when you can apply them at the experiential level, i.e. reality.



    • Michelle on February 3, 2011 at 12:17

      +1 to this advice!



  9. Lacey on February 2, 2011 at 11:34

    Don’t think of college as vo-tech school. My students do – they signed up for business school to acquire “marketable skills” and are now woefully unprepared for a world that will have changed so much by the time they graduate that their major will probably be obsolete.

    Go to college to learn what you love most. For me, that was books and ideas. For you it might be something else, but college is your one best chance to engage your passion. Without passion we’re all just zombies who can eat, shit, fog a mirror, and wait to die.

    While you’re engaging your passion at college, get a job doing something that will pay the bills and enhance your skillset, even if your parents are paying your way through school. Find out what it’s like to work doing something higher level than working at MickeyD’s. Get a network of friends so you can find entry level work in something that calls for some skills. Learn fast, make more contacts, work your way up.

    Ideally you’ll graduate with a marketable skill that you learned on the job (which college is not designed to teach you despite the hype to the contrary designed to sell seats), paired with a (gasp!) liberal arts based education if that’s what you love so your critical thinking skills and perceptions are honed to a razor sharp edge. If you can afford it, travel for a couple of years after you graduate (that’s what civilized countries like Britain, Australia, and New Zealand do after university. In the US we put you on the treadmill the day we hand you a diploma). See how other societies do things.

    Be a rock in the current. Oh yeah, and don’t go to law school like I did (at age 42, still $70,000 worth of debt to pay off). There is no profession like the bar that so punishes those who color outside the lines.

  10. Ann on February 2, 2011 at 11:40

    Depending on the state, the local state college can still be perfectly fine and well worth the $$ to shell out. College is a door-opener, that’s it. I majored in biology but wound up in a technology job, college is a place where you can allow yourself the freedom to explore what you like and what interests you. I changed my major 3 times (culinary->anthropology->biology) because I loved all three subjects but until I got real world experience I didn’t *really* know what I wanted to do. You’re still young, take the next 5 yrs and experience as much as you can (I recommend focusing on life experience not just sex/drug experience). Science degrees are in very high demand att. Have you thought about being a nurse or phisio therapist? There are LOTS of jobs out there that you probably have never heard of that you would love doing but can only get w/ a degree. Good luck!

  11. SarahYoshi on February 2, 2011 at 11:49

    I would agree with getting some life experience/getting to know yourself better before taking the giant 4+ year college leap. If you feel like getting some college experience, get your AA at a community college. It’ll cut down costs, you’ll have to spend less at a bigger (state, etc) university and can also figure out if you even like the subjects you sign up for.

    Personally, I flitted around in a University for 2 years right after graduating high school, didn’t know what I want and wasted a ton of money. When my mother passed away and I left college to help out at home, it was probably the best thing (educationally) that could have happened. I’m still left with a huge debt, no degree, but I’m gaining life experience.

    College and the education system isn’t going anywhere, they’ll still be there when YOU are ready.

  12. Simon Grey on February 2, 2011 at 11:51

    I’m pretty much on the same path, except a few more years down the road. If you’re really bent on going to college, and you are unable to get much in the way of financial aid, consider studying abroad. I plan on getting my Masters degree at the University of Cape Town (in South Africa), and it will cost less than $20,000 total, counting tuition, housing, and travel. It’s an internationally accredited degree, and studying abroad counts as bonus points on job applications.

    As for writing, there are a couple of places where you can write for money. Zemandi and Demand Media are two online companies that I write for. If you’re really serious about writing, set up a blog and try to post on a daily basis. You’ll definitely get a feel for the discipline of writing.

    Learning a trade is also good. I freelance for a variety of people because I’ve been trained to paint, work construction, etc. I also do freelance computer repair and car repair. Knowing how to do these things is very useful, and they are relatively easy to learn.

    As for the econ part, stick with it. I recommend that you “read your brains out.” I am a business/econ major, and I love economic analysis. If you’re interested, I can give you a list of blogs and books that I’ve found to be especially helpful in developing my thinking. If you decide to blog, maybe focus on econ, since that’s something you obviously know. I have a spot waiting on my blogroll for you 😉

    Anyway, I wish you the best of luck. If you have any questions or you think I can help you in any way, feel free to contact me. (CI is at my blog, Le Cygne Gris)

  13. Elenor on February 2, 2011 at 12:04

    …I’m not very good in math or science.
    …I can’t major in something productive
    …I’m not the kind of person who
    …I couldn’t change a flat tire, nor cook dinner if my life depended on it.
    …I don’t really have an excuse there
    …I can’t really go out and just learn a trade

    … my educational experience has, in reality, taught me jack.
    … I feel I’m a casualty of the system.
    …I’m so bogged down with schoolwork all the time.

    Whew! Matt, this is a long list of what you can’t (or should that be: won’t?) do, followed by some examples of ““they did (or didn’t) do this for me or give this to me.””

    If you’re not very good at math and science — what attempts did and are you make to get better at them? If you like economics and are taking some AP courses — what are you doing to pursue your interests? (ARE those your interests?) On what basis have you decided your lack of math will prevent you from advancing in that field? (Is that basis sound and based on information or the result of your own feelings?) Have you actually spoken to anyone IN economics (preferably not someone in academe: I’m dubious of their familiarity with what’s needed outside their ivory towers)?

    Even if you graduated with a degree in economics, I doubt many journals or magazines are going to hire a 25-yr-old with a Bachelor’s degree to write their economics articles. How will you support yourself while you build up enough of a reputation to be WORTH them hiring you to write articles — if, by then, any magazines still exist in tree-form.

    I suggest you spend some time identifying things that interest you, that would hold your attention, that you would WANT to do the extra work it takes to learn what you have not been ‘given’ by outside sources. It’s WAY better to head for a goal you think you will probably want, rather than trying to fit yourself into a mold that you’ve heard might be one that will support you, whether you like it or not.

    It is very common for young people to be looking toward the future with very little idea what they wish to do, or should do, or can survive doing! You have at least three years: your senior year, and the first two college years to scout around and see what you might like to do (with the required courses and all, you may not declare a major in college for the first couple years, yes?). It’s more important to identify what you are heading towards, than what you’re not heading towards!

  14. rob on February 2, 2011 at 12:15

    English major here. My education cost about $4.25 but I went to a state school in Florida and got a free ride.

    I wouldn’t change that part of my life at all, I loved college so much I’m hoping to go back to university and pursue some more degrees when I retire (hopefully in a handful of years). Loved my classes, the professors, the books I read … best years of my life.

    The advice I would give to myself if I could go back in time and talk to myself when I was Matt’s age:

    TAKE YOUR TIME

    I wish I had understood that when I was young. If it takes you ten years to decide what you want to do, take the ten years. If it takes you fifteen years, take the fifteen years. If you want to take a year or two off from school to do something different, do it.

    It’s not a freaking race, it’s your life.

    You see a list of occupations and professions and think “Well I have to choose one or the other, I might as well make up my mind …” Screw that. It’s a recipe for a miserable life. If you want to wait until you are 30 to make up your mind, do it.

  15. MedPhys on February 2, 2011 at 12:16

    People often assume that they aren’t good at math (maths over here) but it could be that you just haven’t been taught well. I got through my physics degree thanks to 2 maths books by K Stroud.. called Engineering Maths. The man deserves a Nobel prize for teaching, a knighthood, a sainthood even. And someone else who deserves the same is Sal Khan who does knanacademy on youtube… so anyone out there who is worried that they can’t do math or science, then just logon to Sal.
    One skill which is particularly useful and that many people don’t have is the ability to get an important message across. Tom Naughton is genius at this, his latest set of videos was priceless.
    I am very biassed towards math and sciences, so I would say to everyone, do math and it will open lots of doors.
    By the way Richard, I have been hopping mad over an article I just read about how we can save the planet and our health by eating less meat and low fat spread and God forbid Cocoa Krispies..
    have just blogged about it, but I think it needs someone a bit less ladylike than myself to let some f-bombs go on the subject.

  16. MedPhys on February 2, 2011 at 12:17

    typo – that should have been khanacademy

  17. Ian on February 2, 2011 at 12:56

    Matt: First thing you need to do is read the book “Talent is Overrated”. Then, start to believe that there is no way that ‘you arent good at math’. Its just that ‘you arent experienced at math’ and you ‘havent practiced at math enough’.

    I think a good grounding in statistics is not really that hard, and will open up a huge number of interesting doors for you in the humanities. Think Freakonomics. And the new book ‘Scorecasting’ by Tobias Moskowitz. Scorecasting is a must read for you as a baseball writer. It will help you realize how much out there is still to be accomplished by sound thinkers with an understanding of statistics.

    Good luck.

  18. john on February 2, 2011 at 12:58

    It depends on the kind of lifestyle you want to lead. If you want a “corporate” job, you probably shouldn’t major in an “academic” field. I was a math major, and I currently work as a consultant (for businesses that need “math” help), but I’ll proabably become a professor or teacher where I’ll have time to publish work. I think people who pursue subjects just because they’re “useful” are incredibly boring (mostly business-type majors or some pre-med)**–if you like writing, I don’t see anything wrong with going to college and trying to becoming a paid writer (I agree that college is pretty useless other than the degree, but unfortunately, it is really necessary); I’m a math major; my sisters are art and environmental science/english. All of us have jobs related to topics we enjoy.

    There is no way someone can advise you in choosing between two things as different as a teacher and lawyer. Some people are motivated mostly by money, while others pursue things out of genuine curiosity. Family life also needs to be taken into account.

    **I think business majors and most pre-meds are boring because they tend to be the typical hardworking, obedient student with no curiosity or creativity. I don’t much respect people who have jobs based on following authority.

  19. Dave Fish on February 2, 2011 at 13:30

    It is a cliche but I am going to advise pursuing what you feel passionate about. You might change your mind a few times while in college after you’ve taken some courses that expose you to things you’ve learned little or nothing about up until now. When I was in college I first wanted to be an astronomer. My math skills sucked and I quickly learned it was more about math than looking through a telescope. Then I wanted to be a lawyer after watching The Paper Chase TV series. Then I majored in Political Science thinking I would get a job in Public Administration.

    After graduating I moved to DC and tried to get a job in a congressional office. They were only interested in how fast I could type. After not too long, and with some luck, I landed a job with a government contractor as an “associate analyst”. Very entry level but it happened about the time that the computer revolution was starting to take off. I discovered I had an aptitude for computer programming (despite my poor math skills) and became the go to guy in the office for reports and data entry screens. I also had above average communication skills and could bridge the gap between business and technology. Now nearly 26 years later I am a technical evangelist for a large software company and every day I get to do what I love.

    As for what school to go to, or if it is even worthwhile, I definitely think a college degree is important. For many companies it is a minimum requirement to even be considered for employment. Over time though what school you went to, and what grades you got become less and less important. Your experience will outweigh your university credentials. I don’t think racking up six figures worth of student loan debt is a good idea, unless you know you’ll have the income to retire it quickly.

    You don’t know what the future holds and the jobs of the future will look very different than the jobs of today. Communication skills will become more crucial in the years ahead. There will always be a need for people who can speak and write well.

    But whatever you do, don’t take a job just to pay the bills. If I had a dollar for every Facebook status I see that is a complaint about a person’s job, or how they hate Monday’s and how they can’t wait for Friday to get here, I could retire. Temporary employment is sometimes necessary but you don’t want to wake up 10 years later doing something you thought you would only be doing for a few months and realizing that your obligations prevent you from doing something you love.

    • Laura on February 2, 2011 at 18:54

      I agree with Dave. Do what you’re passionate about. I went to school for journalism, and now work as a reporter. I may not be rich right now, but I love what I do. There’s also plenty of opportunity in the journalism world to work your way up and make some big bucks. If you go for a writing major, I suggest you get a minor in computer technology.



  20. Joseph on February 2, 2011 at 13:48

    What I liked about college:

    (1) I got to do a lot of reading, much of it unstructured (since I cared more about following my nose than chasing grades to build an impressive CV).

    (2) I met some really interesting people. My life would be poorer without the friends (and enemies) I ran up against going to college.

    (3) I got to think about intellectual problems that mattered to me (giving assignments short shrift or commandeering them into something I wanted to investigate). I think there is something to be said for examining one’s life (and, in particular, one’s thought) critically: this is certainly not guaranteed to happen at college, but for me it did.

    I recommend state schools, particularly if you are eligible for any kind of scholarship. I arrived at school with a GED (no high school diploma or grade point average to speak of) and still managed to avoid paying most of my tuition. When I went to grad school, it was only because I had a fellowship that paid for everything. I was not (and am still not) comfortable with the idea of student loans.

    What I regret about college:

    (1) I did not learn a useful trade. If I could go back, I would take night classes in a non-outsourceable skill such as plumbing. I would not push myself too hard or demand too much. Just getting some exposure to real-world applications outside one’s intellectual “field” makes bringing home the bacon much less frightening, saving the amateur time and money even if she doesn’t end up becoming a professional plumber (or carpenter, electrician, mechanic, farmer, et cetera).

    (2) I worried too much about pleasing professors (especially in grad school), and believed them too readily when they suggested that I would most likely have no trouble finding a job just like theirs.

    (3) College, like society in general, takes itself a little too seriously sometimes. I like arguing with friends about the meaning of life or the solution to contemporary problems in somebody’s discipline. I like the structure that a seminar can give to these discussions. But after 10 years in the academy I have less and less patience for those solemn meetings where deans make these parlor-games the most important thing there is, as though life could not be perfectly rational and pleasant without wigs, robes, outworn cliches, and the oodles of cash “necessary” to purchase these. To the extent that I took this message seriously, I have suffered unnecessary personal anxiety (not to say humiliation; at least I did not pay through the nose for the privilege, as many of the students I teach are doing).

    Bottom line: how you live is more important than where. If you find a way to live that gives you room for thought, friends, and Black Swan-proof access to food, clothing, and shelter, you would be foolish to avoid it merely because it did not lead through some university. Study the things that you are good at, that you enjoy. (You don’t have to go to school formally to do this; libraries, even university libraries, are open to your patronage for free or for reasonable fees. Use them.) Find ways to broaden the arena in which your talents apply. (This might involve trying out some things you are not good at or inclined towards). Be happy.

    For the record, I am currently writing a dissertation (for the PhD) in the humanities.

  21. HeMan on February 2, 2011 at 13:48

    I’m a pragmatic fellow, and having just turned the ripe old age of 30, have had some time to reflect on this.

    I picked a uni degree that met two criteria: I was reasonably interested in, and that which tended to have well-paid jobs afterward. Trying to be as general as possible here, but did end up with a MSc out of the deal, which was entirely paid for via scholarship.

    Worked fairly well, and has allowed me to follow my other interests without having to worry about making ends meet. But mostly, I learned to think, how to evaluate, and how to learn…

    I figured out “paleo-ish” four years ago, investigating type II diabetes, few leaps of logic and experiments. And imagine my joy when I found that there were others who’d come to the same conclusions out there.

    • HeMan on February 2, 2011 at 13:51

      And as at least one other poster has stated: I regretted not learning some trade in the process. But there’s certainly still time, and I’ve been feeling my way through plumbing, welding, and motorcycle maintenance. Might earn me a ticket or two soon.



    • rob on February 2, 2011 at 14:58

      I learned how to work with bicycles in my 20’s, used to ride a lot and having a good bike shop nearby helped, still got my tools though I no longer have a bike, lol. I always figured it would keep me from going hungry if push came to shove.



  22. michael on February 2, 2011 at 14:04

    Matt,

    I graduated from high school with a B in math, figuring that was about the best I’d ever get. Then I had to take a statistics course to complete the requirements for a Bachelor’s in Psychology. To my surprise not only did I ace the course, but I achieved the highest grade in the class for that particular year and was given an award for it. Don’t take yourself out of the game at half time. You just never know what might happen in the second half.

    Also, consider volunteering in whatever it is you think you might be interested in. It’s a good way to get an idea of what a job involves. BTW, don’t be shy about the kind of job you volunteer for. A friend of mine wanted to be a medical researcher, so he just went up to the local medical school and asked if he could volunteer in the lab. They took him in and he never turned back.

    The best of luck to you!!

    • Jennifer on February 2, 2011 at 19:23

      “Don’t take yourself out of the game at half time. You just never know what might happen in the second half.”

      Very well said!



    • Paul C on February 3, 2011 at 11:26

      I like that story Michael. I started out as a math major, but found some types of math just didn’t agree with me, while others like stats and abstract math were really enjoyable. That’s an important point, that one can excel and be passionate about one type of math.



  23. JLB on February 2, 2011 at 14:09

    I was mentally ticking off the list of disclaimers and “can’ts” and formulating a response to that when several people beat me to it. You can take your immediate list of identified obstacles and spend the next few months becoming skilled in a very valuable and under rated real life skill…problem solving.

    I challenge you to graduate high school having overcome every single one of those you listed. Some will take an afternoon [changing a tire and basic cooking] while others will involve more personal effort and trial and error [getting a firmer handle on math]. Learn to be resourcefull rather than stand with your mouth open waiting for rain when you are thirsty.

    I agree that you will not magically know yourself as an untested 18 yr old grad so you will not be able to paint a straight line of success/fulfillment…but I’ll let you in on a secret…that doesn’t change. Life takes unexpected turns sometimes and wouldn’t it be a monotonous ride if that were not the case?

    I learn new things about myself all the time. Who I really am vs who I thought I might be. I learn from trying and failing, or suceeding, or deciding that although I know that I could overcome something difficult I don’t want it enough to make the commitment and take responsibility for the consequences.

    If taking time to know yourself better means that you are working and striving and learning and discarding I’m all for it. If it means you drag around in a perpetual state of dependent adolescence I think nothing could be more damaging to your long term happiness.

    You should embark on adulthood with the means to support yourself. It takes a lot of hours flipping hamburgers or waiting tables to do that which limits your time to devote to study and adventure. Perhaps you could sharpen your proverbial axe by finding summer employment in some places you feel the least comfortable…call your local builder/contracter/landscaper/factory and ask if they are hiring part time. It’s a good idea to know how to use your hands…since you have both of them and they are an easily portable nondisposable asset. You may be suprised how often learning to use your hands also teaches you how to use your brains.

  24. F Jeff on February 2, 2011 at 14:55

    Matt, there is plenty of very good advice coming your way via this blog. I would add only this: a college degree – any college degree – is indespensible in getting into a position in the future.
    College teaches you how to learn IF you are willing to absorb the “critical thinking” courses. Many of these are the kind of course that make you wonder why you must take it in order to get your degree. The courses that define your major- whatever that major is – are really not so tough, so use the early years of college to get the “core” courses (those are the ones required of every student, regardless of major) out of the way. Good luck, and pay special attention to Dave,RN’s post!

    • Trish on February 2, 2011 at 16:19

      I don’t have a degree, although I did go to college right after high school. BIG MISTAKE. First time away from home and I went nuts. My father (rightfully so) pulled the financial plug. However, I consider myself just as well-educated as a college grad because I read so much in a lot of different subjects, including college textbooks. These days your average college degree means nothing if it’s not in law, education, medicine, science or engineering. I may have written about this here once but this makes a point–a couple of years ago I got asked to help process resumes for a entry-level customer service job at my company. I went through tons, probably over a thousand. With a couple of exceptions everyone had a degree. Some even had master’s degrees. Many of them went to pretty prestigious and very expensive schools. And all of them were competing for a job that paid a princely ELEVEN DOLLARS AN HOUR. That’s what sold me on the uselessness of college for the majority.

      If you want to be a writer, write. And read. College will always be there, it isn’t mandatory right after high school. Some people want to love what they do for a living. Others look at work as a provider of money to do the things they love. Figure out which one you want to be and go from there–but don’t be surprised when the road takes very unexpected twists.



  25. mari on February 2, 2011 at 15:11

    Find what you love. When you’re retired, do you want to look back and realize you wasted x many years of your life doing something you don’t care about? I think college could be a great thing to help you find what you want to do.

    Maybe you could fix the public school system? I’m a high school sophomore and I can sympathize. Its a one size fits all, and it doesn’t fit any of us.

    If you like writing, you might try blogging if you’ve got something interesting to say.

    • Richard Nikoley on February 2, 2011 at 15:37

      “I’m a high school sophomore and I can sympathize. Its a one size fits all, and it doesn’t fit any of us.”

      Stand at attention all you voters. This HD sophomore can’t yet vote and she is telling you clear and plain how you have failed her miserably, even though she didn’t say that.

      How’s that voting thing working out for ya?



  26. Annlee on February 2, 2011 at 15:15

    I’m surprised (and yet not, sadly) that no one has actually recommended at least looking at the military. There has been one rather passing exchange on that, but no more as I write this.

    Item: you’ll take a battery of tests to find where you have the best potential. That will be matched against the needs of the service, and the latter will win. But despite the crap you see from Follywood, the military ain’t stupid – they won’t put you where you can’t succeed and bring value to them. You’ll acquire some maturity and self discipline (believe me, you may think you have self discipline now, and for a civilian, you may – but the military will up that, in spades). Both of those characteristics are highly valued when you come back to the civilian workforce.

    Suppose you are a liberal arts/writing skills kind of guy – what do you think intelligence analysts need as a basis? It’s about people – understanding them and what they’re doing and WHY they’re doing that. Lots of “boring” detail work in that field … just like every other.

    You’ll learn to put the team before self – another invaluable skill.

    You’ll see places you would never go otherwise, and not all of them are nasty – though many are uncomfortable. You will learn from that – coming back the to US after a period in a developing country, I didn’t give a damn about orange barrels – the road was made of CONCRETE!! with LANES!! and the drivers were SANE!! The water is safe to drink from the tap … and on, and on. Your eyes will be opened, in ways you can’t imagine.

    You will get from it what you’re willing to put into it – just like anything else. You will come out on the far side a Man, not a large Boy. And there will be money for college, available to help you when you know better who you are.

    At least talk to the recruiters – and I warn you, the Army, Navy, and Air Force will try to sell you on their service. The Marine Corps takes a different approach – they want to be sure you’re worth it to them (“Why do I want you in my Corps?”). But I’ve never met a Marine who said, much less believed, “I can’t.”

    Food for thought.

    • F Jeff on February 2, 2011 at 16:13

      Excellent suggstion….To add, there is also ROTC available at many colleges to consider. My nephew did that with the USMC. He will retire from the USMC Reserves this year as a Lt. Col. @ the age of 42, and has worked both for the Marines and in the private sector at his career.



  27. JLB on February 2, 2011 at 15:25

    The current retention levels are very high due to the poor economy. A lot of people who generally would get their skill and experience and move onto private industry have not been able to find jobs that provide the salary/benefits of their current position. There are general low rank positions available but to get into something more specialised ie something that translates into a marketable skill…well…that’s harder for the time being.

  28. Garth on February 2, 2011 at 15:30

    As a former child prodigy who was very good at math and physics, I feel that I should make a note that lower level math and science IS just memorization, while at a higher level it becomes something more beautiful and a new subject altogether. If you stick to it, it becomes something worth doing.

    Keep in mind that your background in writing will make you superior in rhetoric. Those who don’t do, lead. Use the writing in at least one way in your future, modern writers are pathetic in general, set the standards higher.

  29. JLB on February 2, 2011 at 15:32

    Oh, he’s a junior though. That may not be the case by the time he is ready to consider it seriously.

  30. Adam on February 2, 2011 at 15:57

    Honestly, I don’t think college is worth the money. This is coming from a junior at a state university who is having his college “education” paid for by scholarships. Don’t get my wrong, I have learned a few things that may come in handy in real life. And I absolutely have enjoyed the college experience. However, I’ve learned so much more myself than any school has ever taught me. I’ve learned more relevant and interesting things in the past year than I have in my entire school-centered education. Things like paleo, cooking, building houses, permaculture, illness and disease, fixing cars, and more.

    I have learned these things the same way we all learned how to walk and talk. I observed things around me, I tried things out, I learned from my mistakes and tried again until I got it right. Books have been immensely helpful to me, as have videos online, talking to people, real-world experience, etc.

    The point is, you don’t need to go to college to learn things. Most people, sadly enough, don’t realize this. Many people think that you can’t do most desirable jobs out there without a college degree, without acknowledging the fact that they forgot most of what they were taught while earning that degree. So what is so special about that piece of paper?

    • F Jeff on February 2, 2011 at 20:47

      That “piece of paper” proves that the person had the perseverence to continue through to the end-goal. They have knowledge of many subjects that may be no more helpful in life than to answer an obscure crossword puzzle clue, but it’s knowledge just for the sake of knowledge. In the world of academia, this is the purpose of universities – knowledge.



  31. D. Bushman on February 2, 2011 at 16:17

    God, there’s so much I could say about this. I’m a senior in high school at the moment, attending one of the worst schools in my state (Oregon), and I know I’ve been denied certain opportunities because of it (such as the ability to learn a foreign language that isn’t Spanish). I haven’t felt that actually being in high school was worth my time since I was a sophomore (when I was taking Physics and Pre-calculus in the same terms), and I still don’t want to be at school now that I’m down to my last term in the god-forsaken place. Can you believe I have a home-release period and four electives? Four, out of a total of six classes (not including my HR period). And this isn’t the first term/year this has happened. Talk about BS.

    However, I do have something positive to say for my school/state. In Oregon, students are required to attend a job fair to get some experience; prior to this I had no idea how to write a resume, ask for a letter of recommendation, or even how to behave in an interview. We’re also required to do a senior project that is supposed to be based on our intended career path or something we might be interested in. I had decided last year to become an English teacher (because a salary doing something close to what I love, writing, is better than no salary doing what I love), and I did my project around that. The project itself was stressful, but I feel I actually gained a little experience (I had to teach two lessons in two different grades) and a lot of insight into whether I could live with myself as a teacher (and I think I can).

    I kind of went into more depth there than I meant to, but I was working toward a point. You should look around, see if you can find somebody in a career you’re considering who’s willing to let you job shadow them. I believe someone else already mentioned volunteering in things you’re interested in – that’s also a great idea.

    I think it’s kind of amusing that this post came up today, because I was just thinking earlier on my bike ride home that I could literally be anything I wanted to be, I could pursue the world’s largest paycheck with fervor and probably catch it, but I chose to be an artist because art, especially writing and music, is what I love and I couldn’t live with myself if I had to work nine-to-five in something I didn’t love. So, really, give yourself some time to figure out what the one thing in life that makes everything worthwhile is, and chase it like a cheetah on steroids.

  32. Elliott on February 2, 2011 at 16:24

    Matt,

    Hang in there. It’s only your junior year. Live it up, make those grades and don’t stress the big college question. The undergraduate degree is the equivalent of a high school diploma. Useless. Pieces of paper showing that you’ve done your time. Frittered away a couple years “finding yourself’ and hopefully got laid while you were doing it. No one cares what you get your undergraduate degree in. Look at me, I graduated this past may with a degree in theatre and a minor in political science. What do I do for a living? I work in coffee. A passion I’ve had for a long time, but something I can’t go to school for.

    Did my liberal arts degree help? Sure, I’m well spoken and can converse on many subjects. Will it get me a job? Absolutely fucking not.

    I went to a state school and had a great time without breaking the bank. Try for some scholarships, go to school on someone else’s dime. If it ends up being not for you then try something else.

    You’ve got options. Do what you love until you don’t have a choice.

    Hope it helps.

  33. J. Stanton - gnolls.org on February 2, 2011 at 16:49

    My advice:

    Look into being the guy who can write, sell stuff, and manage people…but who also knows the technology. B-school majors are all over, and no one cares about an MBA unless it’s from one of the top schools. Techies are a dime a dozen anymore: pure tech gets outsourced to China or India as fast as they get degrees. Yet there is always room for someone who knows tech AND can communicate well, because many engineers can’t.

    Also, what Dave said about skills. If you want a skill, practice it. The reason you’re good at writing is because you write a lot, and the reason you’re bad at cooking is you never cook. If you enjoy it, do it more and you’ll improve.

    And if you don’t have any idea what you want to do, don’t spend money on college to find out. Get a job and find out in a way that earns money instead of spending it. If you don’t like it, move on to something else you think you might enjoy. If you get to a place you enjoy and not having a degree is holding you back, THEN go get that diploma.

  34. Ron on February 2, 2011 at 16:53

    A lot of good advice to ponder. One other thing, as I survey life’s landscape. Did you ever wonder how there are so many “experts” out there? On every news channel, there is an “expert” on law, politics, forest fires, weather, sports, cinema, pop culture, style, art, music, healthcare, pet care, etc. These so-called “experts” get paid some pretty good money to act like “experts.” Why not strive to become an “expert?” Be it an expert on one subject or more, find something that you really enjoy. While you’re at it, learn how to communicate to the highest level possible. You can open up a lot of doors being well-spoken, well-written and well-read. Oftentimes the first impression you’ll ever make is via the written word. Most people in business are incredibly lousy communicators. You seem to be well on your way there, as you have made a positive impression upon all of us with your writing ability. Now go to it!

  35. cporter on February 3, 2011 at 08:05

    Matt, you are already writing about sports alot, baseball if I remember correctly from Googling you. You seem to really love that. So go for it. Be a sports writer.

    Who knows where it will lead? And if it doesn’t lead to being a Pulitzer winner like it did for Rick Bragg, it’s still a very good career.

    (Note: Yes, I know Ricky didn’t win his Pulitzer for sports writing, but that is how he got his start.

  36. William on February 2, 2011 at 17:16

    Matt,

    If you have problems with math, check this site out: http://www.khanacademy.org/ Khan goes from 1+1, to advanced forms of math, and does so with a pleasing demeanor. Also, if you are interested in economics and history, I can think of no better place than the Mises Institute. http://mises.org/ MI has enough information to study for the rest of your long life.

    I think brick and mortar schools will eventually be a thing of the past. You can learn virtually anything online. Simply google, “open courses,” and a whole new path to education will be right in front of you. Try to resist the prodding of others to attend college. The return on investment rarely pays off. Plus, who wants to hear boring professors (mainly their assistants) who indoctrinate, rather than teach, and kids who live in a world of perennial infantilism.
    You’re asking the right questions, Matt. Find something you love, learn everything you can about it, and then find a way to market your skills for an employer, or better yet, self-employment.

  37. J Wynia on February 2, 2011 at 17:54

    I looked at college as being an opportunity to “strengthen my core”. That meant a chance to refine my ability to learn and a solid way to lay groundwork for whatever I decided to do. I took tons of writing courses, public speaking courses, studied rhetoric and persuasion.

    See, I’m one of those “useless” English majors (though I actually started out as an even more “useless” Medieval Studies major). Of course, I now make well into 6 figures as a software developer.

    In EVERY single gig I’ve had since college graduation, I’ve been complimented on my written communication skills, my presentation style, my ability to convey complex technical ideas to non-technical clients, etc.

    The ability to communicate clearly is a multiplier of all of your other skills. When you can write clearly, speak confidently and persuade an audience to come around to your opinion, whatever other skills you acquire become that much more useful because you can communicate well.

    As such, I’ve told many young people that if I had it to do all over again, I’d get an English/Communication/Humanities degree (though I’d do even more emphasis on writing/speaking than I did the first time), and follow that up by learning specific vocational skills.

    Then, apply those combinations to market needs to make a living.

  38. Ariana on February 2, 2011 at 18:02

    As a college student myself and living a paleo lifestyle, I can totally relate to how Matt is feeling. Wanting to become a doctor and help people, but also finding myself rolling my eyes at a lot of the things that the medical field believes in has made me change my mind a million times over about what I want to do with my career. So instead of Pre-med, I’ve decided to study Biobehavioral Health at Penn State. Although still a health field and still contains views that I don’t 100% agree with, I feel that there is room for interpretation.

    What I’m trying to say is, Matt suggested strength training although that may not go over well with being Paleo, but that’s just it. We have the opportunity to influence, help, and change the way that people view “theories” of health and fitness. If health is something that Matt is really interested in (which I’m just assuming since he has been interested in Paleo topics) then I encourage him to pursue it, although ideas of health right now may not be what he favors or feels to be true. (It would be nice to know that there are other people within the field that feel the way I do) And there is always room for writing within any profession. He seems like that is definitely a high area for him.

    So Matt, do what feels right, what interests you. As long as you’re moving forward in life there’s a good chance you’re headed in the right direction.

  39. Katie "Wellness Mama" on February 2, 2011 at 18:13

    Matt,
    It is great that you are considering all this now. That shows that you have a lot of independent motivation, and think critically enough to consider all the aspects of something rather than just follow the norm. Your parents may hate me for saying this, but college is not the only route. “Stable” jobs are less and less stable, and a lot of successful people these days are self made, and not in the areas they got degrees in.
    Seriously consider what your goal is after high school and for the rest of your life. Do you want a job? If so, college might be a good option. If you want to travel the world, a desk job won’t exactly serve you well, so start thinking outside the box now. I was good in school (top of my class actually) and went to college (triple major on a scholarship) and I have not used any of it. I personally wanted a family and to be home with my kids, so I do specialty nutrition counseling from home and online, with an emphasis in fertility nutrition. It is the best of both worlds, but not what my parents envisioned when they sent me to college!
    I’d also encourage you to start pursuing whatever that goal is now. You don’t need a high school diploma before you can start working toward your dream. as another commenter suggested, maybe start a blog. if you want to start a business, start researching and forming a business plan. if you want to travel, figure out how you are going to make passive income so you can do it (an information product and starting a company can be great ways). If I could do it over, I would have started the foundation for my company when I was where you are now. Plan it out well, and you could be making money before you graduate.
    If you do decide to go to college, do it for the experience, not necessarily the education. Granted, you can learn a lot in college classes, though you should already know how to learn before you get there. If you go, I recommend some philosophy, it helps you think critically. Also, you say you aren’t good at math, so take higher level math if you go to college- tackle the things you aren’t good at and never let them be limitations. Math also helps teach logic and critical thinking, so get good at it!
    Whatever you choose, make the decision with the goal in mind. Don’t just go to college because it is something to do, but don’t skip it for a dream, have a plan and be implementing this already.
    Best of luck!
    Katie

  40. Gene on February 2, 2011 at 18:31

    I just recently graduated from college, and here are my simple 2 cents:

    DO AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE.

    Don’t be one of those lazy fucks laying in front of the TV all day, just waiting to get smashed in the evening. How I hate those people.
    If you do as many things as possible, meet as many people as possible, and take a wide range of classes, you will find out what you want to do.

    Me, I’m a technical, computer-savvy person, but I eventually chose to do Economics, because it was fascinating to me, and I was happy to go to every Econ class because it was genuinely something I wanted to learn more about.
    I chose not to do computer science/engineering simply because anything I would learn in class would be useless in a few years anyway. There are some things you can learn by yourself, and CS/CE is one of those things.
    Since you like Econ, have you thought about Finance? There’s a variety of things you can do in this field from accounting (which is math-heavy) to investment planning (which is mostly people skills IMO).
    Not sure what you want to do yet? Spend 2 years in a community college. All the intro classes are bullshit anyway, so might as well pay less for them. The only reason I would recommend going straight to a 4-year school is the social experience, especially during the freshman year. Basically parties and sex.

    Dave is right. Go learn how to change a tire. I learned when I got a flat and watched a family of Mexican immigrants help me out.
    And to make dinner, just read this blog! The recipes in here are awesome.

  41. julianne on February 2, 2011 at 19:02

    Do what you are most passionate about. Not sure? Try things out. Travel. Experience the world out there before you settle down at University.
    If there are things you can’t do or do well and you want to do them – Learn and practice.

    My husband did 3 degrees then threw away a PhD to Cambridge, after he travelled to Sri Lanka, sat on a beach, read “What colour is your parachute” Decided his dream job was to be a documentary maker. He realised that was his dream since childhood but never thought he could do it as he came from a very working class background. Instead he went to University and did safe degrees, but even though he learned lots he was interested in he never found his dream job this way.

    Went and knocked on doors and started out at the bottom, researching. 15 years later he is one of the top TV doco makers in NZ.

  42. PK on February 2, 2011 at 19:49

    In addition to what everyone else has said, make sure to get a part-time job/many internships while you study. It doesn’t necessarily need to be related to what you’re studying, though it’s great if you’re doing what you like/interested in. But my experiences in working BEFORE I graduated helped me tremendously, because things like office politics can’t be learned in a classroom. Better to start learning how to navigate those tricky waters before you graduate so that your first full-time, perhaps career-oriented job, you have a better idea of how to act and behave around supervisors, VIPs, and the annoying person that talks on their cell phone and doesn’t do any work.

    Don’t stress tooooo much about needing to decide A Career right now. My current career wasn’t something I studied formally in class, but was just a hobby that turned into a job when I asked a friend in that field if they had any need for freelancers. I had zero experience and I learned it all by doing and love it. So, just do stuff. Have hobbies. You never know where they might take you one day and earn you $$$.

    Get a college degree (because it superficially matters to employers), use the time to network and mature (date n stuff), but don’t pay too much for it. Student loans will drag you down. Stay out of debt as much as you can.

    Also, make all attempts not to burn bridges. It’s a really small world out there, and no matter how much you feel like telling people off, if you will see them again when you least expect to, and they’ll remember. Make friends and network in college. NETWORK. Make friends with your professors, get to know them and have them remember you positively. I regret not doing more of this, because a lot of my college peers who did came out ahead of me.

    If you’re super interested in journalism, think about where the future of that industry is going. Yep, the chances of getting a staff position at a newspaper are slim, but can you do a blog? Podcast/vid cast? Things I haven’t thought of because it’s not my specialty? Can you do something different and innovative? News reporting isn’t going away, just changing, and I think you’re on the right track in finding the freelancing opportunities.

    Finally, take all my advice with a grain of salt. Do the research and decide for yourself if I’m right or not. But you sound good at this, since you’re of the paleo way 🙂

  43. Mike M on February 2, 2011 at 20:14

    My opinion is this: 1. Don’t take on any student loan debt. If this means working while getting a degree and taking a longer time to finish, so be it. 2. Don’t see a degree or field of study as a permanent decision. You can obtain a degree and always change directions in the future. Just take some action now and then adjust if needed when the time comes. The action is what matters. Good luck!

  44. John on February 2, 2011 at 20:27

    Become a farmer – we need more farmers.

  45. Walter on February 2, 2011 at 20:38

    The most important thing to learn in college is never really taught. You have to pick it up in the context of whatever degree you are chasing. You have to learn to influence people. Pick up the Cialdini book on influence and read it well. Then practice it. You also have to develop the skills to be lucky by learning your area of study really well, you have to learn to do stuff understanding that failure is the consequence of doing stuff, pay attention when you are doing stuff because interesting discoveries that lead you in the correct direction can be subtle, learn to develop a lot of friends that have cognitive skills that are different than yours and complement yours, realizing experts can be way wrong (eg Paleo vs the rest of the world), and be good and help others. Also drill down by asking fact, opinion or guess (FOG) when someone tells you something. And finally understand your brain likes to fool you so study behavioral cognitive biases, probability and irrationality and look in the mirror every once in awhile.
    Thanks for letting me get on a pedestal and rant.

  46. Emily on February 2, 2011 at 21:01

    Whether you go to college immediately or not, find what you love. No matter what it takes. And then pursue it with everything you’ve got. Can’t believe this hasn’t come up yet…check out the book The 4 Hour Workweek. Lots of good advice–the kind that stretches you and pushes you to go for it in whatever it is that you are meant to do. It also has some great how to start a business info that you could do as a side thing whether you do college immediately or not…or you could do it now.

    • Owen on February 3, 2011 at 00:04

      I too kept thinking about Tim Ferriss while reading through this thread. I watched a video of a talk he did either at Twitter or Google HQ about his new book and at one point he mentioned that a lot of data he had looked at showed that two factors strongly correlated with happiness are long dinners with friends and taking long walks. Anyone who’s ever read Thoreau probably already knows about that last one…

      So maybe to come at the question from another angle, what someone should NOT do is choose an education or career where they will end up not being able to enjoy long dinners and long walks. Actually since this is a Paleo blog, it seems highly relevant to consider that humans did not evolve to spend most of their waking time working, even in a career that they think they love. While not quite as leisurely as a “4-Hour Workweek”, this seems to have been the norm for a long time: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_time#Hunter-gatherer

      I suppose the real question is how to maximize your happiness in life as a whole and not just within the realm of the workplace? It seems that to do that in the modern world you’ll have to indeed work somewhere and make some money. Dan Gilbert (Harvard psychologist) puts the number at $40,000 and after that more isn’t likely to greatly increase your happiness. He wrote a book called “Stumbling on Happiness” but you can read a general post about the idea here: http://blog.penelopetrunk.com/2006/08/03/how-much-money-do-you-need-to-be-happy-hint-your-sex-life-matters-more/

      (A funny aside is that the woman who runs that blog seems to absolutely hate Tim Ferriss, but hell, their ideas on happiness kind of coincide!)

      Anyway, from that post, here is Gilbert’s advice on choosing a career: “Gilbert recommends going into a career where people are happy. But don’t ask them if their career makes them happy, because most people will say yes; they have a vested interest in convincing themselves they are happy. Instead, try out a few different professions before you settle on one…It’s simple, proven advice, but few people take it because they think they are unique and their experience in a career will be different. Get over that. You are not unique, you are basically just like everyone else.”



    • Owen on February 3, 2011 at 01:02

      I wanted to add about that last part by Gilbert, that I’d like to see some data on the relationship between job happiness and overall happiness. I wonder if the former doesn’t cut into the latter (rather than add to it), if only by preoccupying the person’s time with the work they love and distracting from idle, leisure time.

      I used to work with the chef who owns Alinea (voted No. 1 restaurant in North America, although not my type of cooking anymore) and got to see firsthand that kind of visionary, obsessed personality that works 16 hours a day everyday and absolutely loves it, but ignores almost every other aspect of a normal life. It was pretty fascinating to witness, but I found it unrelatable and it was that experience that made me decide I didn’t want to be a chef.



  47. Ian Lucas on February 2, 2011 at 21:18

    For what it’s worth, here’s the path I’ve traveled since high school, which may be instructive.

    I muddled through a Top 50 public university (boy, do I wish I’d applied myself) and joined the Air Force because I didn’t know what else to do and I wanted to travel. When I separate next year, I will have been in for 9 years, but the time in has provided some great experiences, introduced me to wonderful people, and given me the stability to figure out what I *really* want to do. I started a business a few years ago and will be attended grad school when I get out, at a university that I truly want to attend and work hard at both learning and networking. A stint in the service can pay for both your undergrad and graduate degrees, give you an outstanding/secure income and benefits, and allow you to set yourself up for success.

    I’m a libertarian, too — you don’t have to be a war monger or a sheep to follow this route.

    Oh, btw, thanks to cutting my insulin load and eventually going more or less PaNu, I have gone from a grotesque 223lbs to under 160 (a photo album on my FB shows the difference).

  48. Sean on February 2, 2011 at 21:34

    Wow, tons of comments already.

    I’d just like to point out that mathematics in high school is not really math. It’s like learning an instrument, you have to go through all the rote stuff first before you can enjoy improvising and creating. I was never a ‘natural’ at mathematics but I think math and physics teaches one some mental discipline, you can’t bullshit a proof.

    I’m a total shill for the hard sciences.

  49. Byron on February 3, 2011 at 12:40

    Read this book. Changed my life.

  50. Pam Maltzman on February 2, 2011 at 22:07

    Not only can you write, Matt, but you seem to be a decent speller. Gotta congratulate you on that.

  51. JJ on February 3, 2011 at 02:20

    You could try looking at the book titled:

    Teenage Liberation Handbook

    and garner some ideas from there.

    Best Wishes.

  52. Greg on February 3, 2011 at 04:09

    Ludvig Von Mises Institute – http://academy.mises.org/

    If you’re interested in economics then give this organization a look. They believe in free markets and capitalism, and that money comes from production (work), not from the federal reserve printing press.

    Most of the economic bullsh!t taught in school support central banking, which is the death of our society.

  53. KMG on February 3, 2011 at 07:48

    Matt, not sure if anyone has mentioned this already (80 comments! wow) but if you are getting A’s and B’s in science but don’t feel proficient enough to have a career in science, perhaps science writing is a way to go. There are several programs teaching this at universities and colleges, and, as far as I could tell when I investigated this a year ago, it’s one of the few areas of writing in which demand is high and pay is relatively good.

    You don’t have to BE a physicist, for example, just be intelligent enough to grasp the concepts and put them in writing for different audiences. Your success in your high school science classes suggests that with a few college-level courses, you might be a great candidate for science writing.

    There’s also technical writing, if you’re into such things.

  54. Eric Lepine on February 3, 2011 at 08:04

    Studied and started a variety programs through all my years in university, and ended up with 3 degrees. All VERY unrelated to one another. In essence, what I’m trying to say is, whatever you do choose, it doesn’t have to be your FINAL choice. Through those 13 years of post-secondary education, I managed to find a pretty high-paying and physically-demanding job during the summers (treeplanting) that not only helped me financially through that period of uncertainty (my parents would have put it another way, but hey…), but also balanced out the mental with the physical really well. Not to mention, meet some very interesting characters! If you like what you do, and you do it without reserve and with the passion it deserves, it all works out in the end. Never think you can’t just jump ship if you feel you need to… Everything has a purpose. If you pay attention, and you’ll be learning everyday, whatever you’re doing. Ultimately, whatever you do choose, make sure you love it or, make sure it takes very little time and grants you all the time needed to do the “other stuff” you like and care about…

  55. Contemplationist on February 3, 2011 at 10:37

    I would posit that modern college is an expensive scam that could be gotten rid of with a basic, cheap IQ test + a 10 week apprenticeship to gauge characteristics like conscientiousness.

    Since Griggs vs Duke Power (supreme court decision), employers have the burden of proving that if they give a test for employment, its not “biased.” So in effect, they outsource the weeding of intelligence and hard-work to colleges.

  56. Tyler on February 3, 2011 at 12:24

    Matt

    Im 24 now, discovered paleo exactly 1 year ago. Be thankful you discovered this stuff now, before college. I would kill to have had all the knowledge I do now before having gone to college. Iwould’ve had one funky ass major (or multiple) to my name right now.

    Your story reminds me of… ME! I was in the same exact boat as you 6 years ago. Did the correct things, got the good grades, good school, wanted to major in business (cause in my eyes was the smart decision! haha what an idiot), but otherwise was of no value to anybody or anything. Couldn’t cook, change a tire, fix anything, struggled with math/science, etc etc.

    Screwed around in college, didnt get into business school, forced to major in Econ. I was devastated. Plus, I hated Econ and struggled mightily. In fact, I almost flunked out. It just didn’t make sense. How could these simple econ models explain perfectly such a dynamic environment as the “real world” and the global economy?

    It was a very dark and angry time in my life, but it ended up being a blessing in disguise. What I ended up learning was that my “cognitive dissonance” I was experiencing in class wasn’t because I couldn’t grasp the material, but because the material was complete bull shit.

    It can be boiled down essentially to one question (that the profs couldn’t ever answer and kept me from soaking in the material): how the fuck can an economic system (and the big pharma/military industrial political system that supports it)) that is dependent on constant, exponential growth (which itself needs near infinite resources) go on in perpetuity on a finite planet with finite resources? It can’t!!!

    With that being said, all of the advice above is sound. Having to do it all over again, this is what i’d do…

    Go to college. Major in something you truly enjoy. And DO NOT go to Econ or business school, unless the curriculum focuses on economic systems that function in balance with our environment. For example, stuff like EF Schumacher. (And I’m not trying to get all lefty or hippie on you. Just pure facts… e.g. does fishing our oceans until we have no more fish, just to increase some profit margin make any fucking sense?) Do you need college to succeed? Fuck no. But it is FUN as hell. Going back, I would’ve still gone to school, but major in botany or anthropology or nutrition instead. Go the cheapest route, do not spend a fortune on a private school, and participate in EVERYTHING. Don’t sit on your ass and watch tv. I did that, regret the hell out of it.

    Travel as much as you can. If you don’t know why, figure it out quickly.

    Learn a trade(s), skill(s), or hobby that you can make money at while you pursue your higher purpose.

    • Joseph on February 3, 2011 at 13:04

      “It can be boiled down essentially to one question (that the profs couldn’t ever answer and kept me from soaking in the material): how the fuck can an economic system (and the big pharma/military industrial political system that supports it) that is dependent on constant, exponential growth (which itself needs near infinite resources) go on in perpetuity on a finite planet with finite resources? It can’t!!!”

      Bravo. I wish I could go back and be more lucid about this. I was too young, too naive, too ready to assume that the bigwigs knew something I didn’t. So I just smiled, nodded, and memorized whatever nonsense they told me to.



  57. fredt on February 3, 2011 at 12:51

    Too much advise. How is the lad to choose? I am just an engineer, but it took three tries to get to something that worked for me and the time we live in. I went through the introduction of the personal computer, which changed my world.

    Start general and narrow as you go, or start narrow and widen as you go. Try lots of different things for a few years, and then retrain/upgade/specialize as required. Politics is also an option, if you like people and have a desire.

    Good luck.

  58. Kevin on February 3, 2011 at 14:39

    Matt,

    I’m not sure if you’ll read this far, but I wanted to leave you with one thought. In our age of abundant information, you will always be exposed to other fields that pique your interest. However, the sooner you pick one and run with it, the sooner you’ll find contentment. In the course of pursuing said interest, you may find it doesn’t suit you, but in the meantime, try not to remind yourself of all the other things you’d rather be doing.

    Thanks for sparking this discussion. I have a brother your age, and I’ll be passing this along to him.

  59. Matt Himelfarb on February 3, 2011 at 17:07

    I appreciate everyone’s input. I wanted to fully digest all your comments before even attempting to respond (plus, I’ve only been home two hours due to some after school commitments).

    As I’ve already told Richard, first and foremost, the gist I’m getting here is that I need to get out of my comfort zone. It’s funny, I was talking to my economics teacher, who’s a pretty smart dude, and we were talking about the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I haven’t read it myself, but he was saying how Chua details the tendency of people to shy away from things that don’t like, because they aren’t “good at it.” Of course, aside from the naturally gifted, most people aren’t good at things the first time around, and thus they conclude they don’t like it. The only way to truly enjoy something is to get good at it and persevere through those stumbling blocks in the initial stages- which is where 90% of people fail. Whatever you think about the overall premise of the book- I’m guessing you’ve heard of it- I think she’s certainly right in that regard.

    Now, I think it’s equally naive to ignore the fact that maybe I’m just not mathematically or scientifically inclined to a certain extent. At the same time, however, something is finally fucking dawning on me: I didn’t rise above my peers in writing (I started blogging when I was 12) or the social sciences watching goddamn liberty kids in my 7th grade history class. I did so by reaching out on my own and actually spending time outside the classroom. Hence, I need to take the same approach to math and science, which will allow me to progress precisely at my own rate, which I’m becoming increasingly convinced is perhaps the primary flaw of institutional schooling; how can you possibly cater or apply one approach to 25-30 different minds at once? but I digress.

    I also want to make something clear, because I didn’t mean to come off as some pussy bitch in the email- I DO get good grades in math and science- otherwise I wouldn’t be in the top 10 percent of my class. I’ve never gotten lower than a B, and I’m taking challenging courses in those areas. But it’s very apparent that I’m naturally gifted in areas that involve grasping abstract concepts as opposed to learning complex mathematical equations for instance, and thus, I feel I’m not as passionate about those But like I said, unless I’m fucking Aristotle, I’m afraid no one in the real world will want to pay me for that kind of crap.

    As far as expanding my horizons- I plan on taking a look at Khan academy. Would anyone be able to recommend a good statistics primer, or math books in general? Also, Paleo has piqued my interest in biology a bit, so I plan on trying to take a look at that.

    Further, I’m obviously going to spend a lot of time furthering my knowledge of economics and sharpening my writing skills. Now, I understand maybe I’m getting too bogged down in specifics and my college major, but I would like to hear any additional thoughts on what people have to say about the following fields:

    A) I’m going to take an advanced accounting class next year. From what I’ve read, this doesn’t involve too much math, and I’ve gotten almost nothing but good vibes about this field.

    B) Economics: It sounded as though several of you were quite critical of an economic degree. I suspect part of that has to do with the fact many people share my libertarian sympathies. However, from what I read elsewhere, people with Economics degree are every bit in demand as those who study engineering, computer science, etc.

    C) Law: Again, I think many of the reasons many of you have a disdain for lawyers is because law isn’t exactly too friendly to libertarians, but I can’t help but think I could apply my skill set very well to law, and hopefully do some good there.

    • pecanmike on February 4, 2011 at 08:31

      I may be biased but I think accounting is an excellent degree. Accounting is the backbone of business. I have an accounting and finance degree and have truly used my accounting degree. I was never good at the x-y bullshit but was very good at accounting because is was real to me. I have used it in my small businesses and also in my “day job” as the president of a small bank. With a true understanding of accounting you can analyze business data to make better decisions on what to do with money.



    • Richard Nikoley on February 4, 2011 at 09:44

      have to agree with Pecan Mike. Accounting is invaluable, always useful. I still remember aceing with 100% my first test in my first accounting class, top score in the class, I didn’t prep much.

      When I eventually started a company in 93 that’s still going to this day, the very last managerial function I turned over was the books. Keeping my head in the books every single day was the very best way to keep pulse on what was going on.



    • Jeremiah on February 4, 2011 at 09:06

      “We all know it’s better to create a job then to find one”

      You’re going about this whole operation backwards. You’re asking “what skills are in demand in the world right now? do I have skills inline with any of those? what does the world want me to be?”

      F’ that.

      Step one.
      “WHO do I want to become in this world?”

      Step two.
      “WHAT skills does that person that I want to become have?”

      Step three.
      -Spend the rest of your life becoming effective with those skills.



  60. jonw on February 3, 2011 at 21:51

    Quit school (unless you enjoy it) and try different jobs till you figure out what you like. Find a volunteer or apprentice job. At the zoo, at your local crossfit gym, at the newspaper, whatever. Find somebody who enjoys what they do and does something that interests you, and learn everything you can from them. Mandatory education laws are forced child labor. Fuck them. If you feel like it and your state allows it, take the GED. If not, enjoy being a rebel.

    Sound crazy? My son is 16 and quit school last year, took the GED with no problem and started music producing classes at a local community college. He is not especially smart or hard-working, but at least had the good sense to see what a waste of time high school is.

    • pecanmike on February 4, 2011 at 08:24

      That is just a stupid comment. Like it or not our society is about work and quitting school simply tells prospective employers that you are a quitter.



  61. Dave K on February 4, 2011 at 07:00

    All education isn’t academic.
    A job when you finish college is possibly a fantasy.
    There is some amount of erroneous content in all education.
    Unless you work for the government you will only profit from productive activities.
    A willingness to try anything, and critical thinking ability, are all that is necessary.

  62. Amy on February 4, 2011 at 13:11

    I recommend the book Higher Education? by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus. Brings up some really interesting points about the real purpose of a college education and asks some important big picture questions.

  63. Emi on February 5, 2011 at 13:19

    Pissing away $40,000 a year? OK, I don’t see the point of that, but there are viable college options with costs below that, aren’t there?

    What do to? It depends on your goal. If the goal is to attain an education, then study whatever you want! Study whatever it is that you yearn to know more about. If the goal is career training in the university, then that narrows things somewhat. If your dream career requires a degree, get that degree.

    It sounds like you don’t know what you want to do, but that is TOTALLY fine for someone your age. This is the time for trying things, interesting things, hard things, out-of-your-comfort-zone things. Heck, try things you think are only mildly interesting! You don’t have to know the end result when you start out.

    I have a degree in philosophy, and that degree has directly caused me to earn exactly $300. In no way do I regret the time and money that went into that degree. I was partway into a chemistry degree when I took philosophy. It moved me. It taught me about my mind, how I learn, how to understand things, how to approach the world in a knowledge-seeking way and it taught me to think critically. I am a web designer/developer, and my education helped me to teach myself how to make a living. I wanted (and want!) to study philosophy, but at the same time, I want to make my living building things for the web. Study and work don’t require a 1-to-1 correlation.

    I never needed accounting knowledge before this year, and now I’m learning what I need to keep a business going. It might have been a little easier if I’d had this knowledge earlier, but I haven’t needed it for the 15 years between college and today. I need it now, so I’m learning it now.

    It also depends on your expectations; if you expect a career to materialize in front of you based on everything you’ve done so far in your life, that’s not much of an open field of vision. That’s a tunnel. If you educate yourself well, and never forget that it’s up to you to support yourself by doing some kind of work, you’ll get somewhere. Isn’t that what you are after? Getting somewhere worth being? Not getting to the exact coordinates you selected while you were still in high school. If I had done that, my life would be 100% different, and not in a good way.

    Someone who is looking for the correct answers to the shortest path to being the idle rich doesn’t sound like much fun. I’d rather be around someone who is looking to create their very own life, according to their own specifications. That sounds interesting.

    Besides, the idea of picking one kind of job, and sticking with it for your entire working life, sounds antiquated to me. Try things. Try lots of things! Learn from everything you do, and if you find you need to change course to achieve your ultimate goals, do it.

    A wonderful aspect of college is the ability to try different areas of study, and see how they fit. Try enough interesting topics on for size, and you will eventually find one that puts your mind in drive. If it isn’t a moneymaker, then keep it and go look for another one that will allow you to make a living. You can do this in college, or out of college; they both have their merits.

    Don’t *waste* your time or (someone’s) money. But an education is not a waste, if an education is what you expect it to be. Education can be a tool to build your life. If you expect it be a meal ticket, well then I hope your life doesn’t turn out to be as boring is it sounds like it could be. Actually, it doesn’t sound like this is what you’re saying at all, I just want to warn you off the mental path that sounds like “do what’s expected of you and everything will be fine.”

    It sounds like you are on the right track, just by asking the questions. More people would benefit from asking these questions. There’s more to be gained in searching for the answer than just having it in the end.

  64. Daniel on February 6, 2011 at 04:53

    I’m glad to see William and Greg have already mentioned the Mises Institute (http://mises.org/) but I’ll add my endorsement as well. It is an amazing resource for anyone interested in economics as you are Matt. The ability to study, read and learn on your own is a major benefit to furthering one’s education at low/no cost. I’ve learned a lot in this way from the podcasts, videos and articles on mises.org over the past 2-3 years and highly recommend it. Especially check out anything by Robert Murphy, Tom Woods and Jeffery Tucker.

  65. Emily on February 28, 2011 at 08:58

    Hey! I saw this post a little late, so I don’t know if you will see my response or not, but as an English major myself, I wanted to put in my two cents.

    I can completely relate to your perception that you are more talented in abstract thinking then in mathematics or sciences. I am the exact same way. I love to write, to think, to analyze. My favorite thing in the world is using language. Please don’t neglect this side of yourself in favor of practicality. You will find that it is hard to get it back if you neglect it for to long, and this world desperately needs people who love language and the humanities. These studies are just as important as math, because they are responsible for shaping the direction our entire culture goes. There is a great conversation that has been going on since the beginning of time, and it is our duty to understand it and take part in it. It sounds like you are of a libertarian persuasion, so I think you will understand perfectly how important writing and thinking are in this area particularly. Imagine if all of the great libertarian minds decided to stop writing in order to become accountants….

    That said, here is my next point. Writing and thinking don’t always pay the bills. Anyone with an analytical, creative personality needs to have a back-up plan. It is important to stop thinking of yourself as just an intellectual. Instead take cues from the model of the Renaissance man. You can be capable with your hands, creative, intelligent, a good writer. The well rounded man can both sing a song, write an essay, and build a bookshelf. So look for ways to expand yourself. There are lots of things that pay the bills that you don’t need a degree for. My husband is a very creative type and a graphic designer, but he has also worked as a house painter when he was between jobs. He actually found that he enjoyed it.

    As long as you are single you can probably get by financially and experiment to see what you like. Keep in mind that if you get married someday, you will be responsible to put food on the table even when creative pursuits aren’t bringing in enough money. Your wife may not always be able to work depending on when you decide to have kids. This does not mean that you have to give up on using your talents. What it means is that you will have to see yourself as a multi-faceted person instead of limiting yourself to only one side of things.

    Don’t forget, you have a LOT of time to try as many things as you want. There is no rule that says you have to have it all figured out in your early twenties!

  66. Tracy on March 3, 2011 at 13:43

    Just chiming in to agree with Emily – you have time, more time than you think. You don’t have to have it all figured out yet… hell, you’ll never have it all figured out. In all likelihood, you’ll change careers a few times anyway. Follow your interests, not what you think might be the ‘best’ path.

    BTW, I always thought of myself as a ‘humanities’ person as well, no good at science or math (turns out, I just had shitty teachers). I dropped out of university (twice) and set up as a freelance copywriter… now a web developer, sketch writer and performer, with a TV show in the works. Never, ever would have planned any of this, but there you go 🙂

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