“You can learn many wonderful things in college. You can be exposed to new ideas, broaden your perspective on life, learn critical thinking skills, and immerse yourself in the great intellectual and cultural treasures of the human mind and spirit. But, even if you’ve already gone through college, one thing I’m certain wasn’t on the curriculum in school was how to translate these abstract, academic teachings into real-world results in your own life. Yet, this additional education around practical skills is not optional. Learning the skills in this book well is a necessary addition to a college education, if you want to achieve more success in your work and life. This book shows you the way.”
The Education of Entrepreneurs, page 7
This book is guaranteed to light a fire under your ass.
If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re probably pursuing a post-secondary degree, or have already done so, and have spent at least $40,000 (supported by student loans) funding your education just to be able to graduate from an accredited university with knowledge, skills and experience in a particular discipline.
Now ask yourself, are you currently working a job that is directly related to your choice of academic study? How well does your career reflect the effort that you put in at university?
If you’re an entrepreneur, a consultant, a lawyer, engineer, accountant, doctor, scientist or marketer (or anything else for that matter), how did you get your job? Was it because you could do what you do very well, or was it because you were, additionally, very good at marketing and selling the fact that you could do what you do, very well?
That’s the question this book essentially tries to address. And if you’re willing to entertain for a moment that in order to succeed, it takes more than just a solid knowledge of your field, then you’re in the right place, because that’s the truth.
A romp of a read, Michael Ellsberg’s “The Education of Millionaires” should be required reading for all students, entrepreneurs, teachers, professors and career professionals. It also makes an excellent field manual and stocking stuffer for you to turn to when you need advice on how to open and close a sale, connect with mentors, find meaning in your work, or in general figure out how to develop a soft skill that will help you take your career forward, and which university failed to teach you.
The Pain of Buyer’s Remorse
“..Degree-bearing applications have attained the very thing society, their parents, their teachers, and everyone else around them told them they needed to attain in order to be successful – a credential certifying their achievement in academic intelligence. And yet…the comparatively tame recession of the early 2000s had hundreds of these Bas, MAs, JDs, PhDs, and MBAs lining up for a $10-an-hour shit job posted by a scruffy young business owner without a college degree.
Is this really the best life advice we can give young people?…Shouldn’t we ask ourselves if our advice couldn’t use a bit of updating and refining?”
The Education of Millionaires, page 5
Being unemployed in the midst of the 2008-9 economic recession was tough, especially if you were a college student looking for summer employment. As a freshman student looking for a job to build up some savings for my sophomore year, I was ready to work any job that was reasonably clean, including, yes, “a $10-an-hour shit job” that would help me pay my bills.
The problem: so was everyone else – including those who were down and about with university degrees clenched in hand, and soon I was forced to compete with laid-off retail sales clerks, financial traders, accountants and truck drivers all looking to work in the oft-glorified field of newspaper telemarketing, which turned out to be the only type of employer that could actually tolerate a high-turnover in its employee base.
At the time, I remember asking myself why this was the case; why was I rubbing shoulders with a new graduate in accounting and a seasoned retail sales clerk who had studied HR and psychology more than 10 years ago in university – wouldn’t they be able to find a job elsewhere, given their degree and experiences?
It was all rather grim, but as I stood in line desperately waiting for an interview, I reflected on all the career advice that I’d been given throughout my childhood, and realized that most of it, while well-intentioned, was certainly out of place, and definitely out of its time.
Was university-based education failing to prepare us for the real-world?
A Little Misunderstanding
“…education is most certainly not the same thing as academic excellence. We’ve conflated them, at great cost to ourselves, our children, our economy, and our culture. And, while education is always necessary for success, pursuing academic excellence is not in all cases.”
The Education of Millionaires, page 11
So how did we end up in this situation?
It’s likely that the education system that we have right now is a relic of the 19th century, where grades might have been emphasized as a the leading indicator of success – and hence the most emphasized focus of all our attention, energy and value – because the system was built to mimic the rigours of the industry that it was training graduates for. Industrial positions largely consisted of jobs in bureaucracy and management, and in both cases success was largely measured scientifically in terms of one’s ability to achieve and perform with respect to pre-set productivity and efficiency targets. And what is a grade if not a measured achievement target?
The education system was set up to standardize knowledge and take children off the streets, but in the process it tended to produce bureaucrats. The problem is today, industry needs more than just bureaucracy, but the education system has been slow to play catch-up.
So the question is: can we escape our self-imposed system of thoughts, beliefs and conventions about education, and figure out what it takes to acquire a successful education?
Refocusing our Lenses
“What would education for a successful life look like? You can define a “success” any way you want – wealth; career; family; spirituality; sense of meaning and purpose; vibrant health; service and contribution to community, nation, and humanity – or any combination thereof. What would an education look like that was laser-targeted only toward achieving these real-world results, and zealously cut out all bullshit not directly related to living a happy, successful life and making a powerful contributing to the lives of the people around you?”
The Education of Millionaires, page 9
If you haven’t figured this out by now, a college education is not a necessary precondition for career success. And if you didn’t believe this just by seeing how many college dropouts turned out to be millionaires and billionaires, take a look at doctors and lawyers (or any accredited professionals for that matter). Any of these professionals would not be able to practice their professions without having a college degree (or few) behind them, and in fact, it isn’t that degree that really makes a good lawyer or doctor stand out, as much as it is their ability to stand out – their soft skills, marketing and sales skills, customer service skills, and networks (both of people, and ideas and concepts and new developments within their industry).
In fact, Ellsberg identifies 7 success skills that everyone needs to develop if they want to succeed in the real-world:
1) Finding ways to make your work meaningful – actively finding ways to stop it from going stale
2) Finding great mentors and building a great network
3) The fundamentals of marketing
4) The fundamentals of selling
5) The Art of Bootstrapping (or investing your money successfully)
6) Building your personal brand within your industry
7) Developing an entrepreneurial mindset – how to become a hustler and brilliant executor, under fire
But then again, these “practical skills are not intended to be a replacement for college” (page 7), and a person who can combine the benefits of a university education with these skills will truly stand out in their field.
Here’s what it boils down to: once you figure out what “success” means to you, your task is now to match your work as closely as possible to this vision of success. This book basically provides you with a general framework of the 7 key factors that all successful people – from Sean Parker to David Gilmour (of Pink Floyd), Jean Paul Dejoria to Mark Ecko (of Ecko Unlimited clothing) – share, leaving it up to you to fill in the specifics with your particular interests and experiences.
In a narrative that criss-crosses America’s business landscape while making brief pitstops at various points in the author’s life, and crammed with interviews with some of today’s top entrepreneurs and high-rollers (many of whom are household names), Ellsberg shows us just how easy it is to work for ourselves, doing things that matter to us and which really interest us.
“I hope this book has inspired at least a few disobedient thoughts.” (page 242)