in the future, college will be for the rich and smart

MIT

MIT

 

Read this:

In 2003, only two colleges charged more than $40,000 a year for tuition, fees, and room and board; by 2009, 224 were above that mark. The total amount of outstanding student loan debt is now more than $1 trillion.

That’s from this NY Times article.  The simple fact is that in the future the smart and the rich will attend college, and if you’re poor or middle class and attend college, you’ll be saddled with tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars of student loan debt – the only debt that the US government won’t allow you to discharge in bankruptcy.  Wonder why the government wants every kid to attend college?  Because you can’t discharge that debt – you’re on the hook whether you can afford it or not.  So we all need to attend college, and a good one, and incur plenty of debt doing it.  I didn’t buy it – I turned down the Ivy League and went to a state school, and still ended up with a six figure career.

I’ve written about this before.  I do not plan to pay for my childrens’ college education.  They will have to be smart enough to get scholarships, or they’ll have to work their way through college, or they can start a business right out of high school.  I don’t plan to indebt myself a quarter million to send them to a private school – a waste of money in my opinion – or allow them to indebt themselves, either.  That may sound cruel, but I think it’s far crueler to allow your 18-year-old – who doesn’t understand the world or personal finance – to go into a quarter million dollar debt for their English degree from Harvard.

There are exceptions, of course.  If you want to go into debt at Harvard to study government or finance and you’re going to leverage that into a job at Goldman Sachs, sigh, fine, have at it.  If you want to work your way through school to get a social work degree and you need an extra $10K to cover tuition, OK, that’s fine.  But if you want to study Sanskrit at Brown, and you’re my kid, good luck.

Here’s a simple rule of thumb:  don’t take out more in student loans than you can make (reasonably) in your first year out of school.  If you’re in education, and you plan to make $30K in your first year as a teacher:  don’t incur more than $30K in debt for school.  That may not sound like much, but after you pay for housing, food, insurance, and on and on, you’re going to be chipping away at that $30K per year for a decade.  And if you decide in the interim to get married and buy a house?  Forget about making headway against that loan.  Kids?  Paying it off at 50.

Generation X had a mixed bag: some paid, some earned, and some coasted on their college scholarships.  Many Gen Yers coasted.  Many Gen Xers – or whatever they are called – are counting on coasting, and will be shocked to find out their parents don’t have the money to let them coast.  Here’s hoping the Millenials – which include, I guess, my own kids, or whatever their generation will be called – will realize that they need to be smart and win scholarships, or be hard workers and sludge through community college and state college, or else will need to forge a college-less path through life.  I won’t encourage either of them to incur massive amounts of debt to get a low-earning degree; they’ll be better off starting a business or working as freelancers.  And you know what?  Motivated, talented people will always succeed, degree or not; and unmotivated, untalented people will always fail, even if they go to $100K/year schools.

Photo LicenseAttribution Some rights reserved by Francisco Diez

6 things to avoid if you want to be creative

dual monitor black and white

After writing for this blog for a few years, I’ve noticed that occasionally I’m stumped for topics. Recently it’s not even occasionally – it’s frequently.  I don’t get writer’s block, since once I have a topic I can usually fly away with it, but I do get stifled on overall themes and ideas. I came up with a list of ways that my creativity gets stifled in order to fight that tendency. Here they are:

I write for a living…technically. The kind of writing you do in a corporate environment does not encourage any creativity whatsoever. Here is a lovely gem I put in an email years ago: “John Doe – Based on your note, I think the 5/31 date needs to be revised for the 2nd and 3rd issues, and the first issue (negative admin credits) still appears to be ready to be closed pending whatever verification is necessary. These will need corrected close dates, revised action plans if necessary and an updated open/closed status by 6/15 at the latest.”

That is not exactly the kind of writing that would draw visitors back to this blog, I think.

I watch TV. I have given up watching cable TV and only watch Netflix and various other online services.  But it’s still far too easy to watch to much TV. I try not to be tempted, but something about flashing lights and loud noises draws me in. I find these shows fill up the empty, creative and quiet places in my head and replace them with light and fluffy cotton candy-like filling. Even great shows like Breaking Bad still crowd out my own thoughts.  You can argue that they might inspire creativity later, but really they tend to push your creative process back.

I read too much. I have just finished speed-reading through the three (real) books of the Foundation series (which are wonderful books) and I’m currently reading Snow Crash. I have hundreds of blogs in my Google Reader, dozens of emails and reports and memos and even read children’s books daily (obviously). Trying to pull in and process all of that information can crowd out creativity. I did quit reading any news that was not business or sports-related a few months ago, so at least my attention is not distracted by the latest developments with Paris Hilton. All of this is on top of my work-related reading, which is full of gems like this one I got in a memo once: “If applicable, does the appendix include a listing of all applications processes included in the assessment process and the process conclusion for said processes?” Read that again. Yes, I have often had to read this kind of writing and reply to it all day long.

During my commute, I listen to podcasts or audibooks instead of brainstorming.  I like to spend that time listening to comedy podcasts or tech podcasts, since it makes the commute pass much more quickly, but I really should use it to let my mind wander and make notes of that wandering. I find that once I’m home there are too many other distractions – at least until everyone else goes to sleep – to properly brainstorm.

I am still learning to be creative. When I first started blogging about nine years ago, I wrote a virulent political blog that was a huge series of links and videos and random comments and thoughts on almost a stream-of-consciousness basis. If I read an article, I would throw out a link and two lines of commentary, and then move on. Being creative means taking all of the influences you receive during the course of the day and processing them and creating something new, not just consolidating information. Many blogs just turn into link fests, but my favorite ones are usually written by people unafraid to present their own ideas rather than linking to others’ ideas.

Football.
I used to be a sports fanatic, following the NFL, NBA, MLB and college football and basketball. I even watched the Tour de France and most tennis Grand Slams and golf majors. Other than hockey, I seldom missed a game of any sort on TV. SportsCenter was the wake up call and the goodnight lullaby. Those days are gone – the demands of marriage and fatherhood have crowded them out. However, I still love the NFL so much that I make time for it. I do realize, though, that spending time reading about NFL roster news, watching the games and buying Jets merchandise are bad, bad habits. Nothing about football will help me write this blog, be a better person or be more frugal. Still, I have loved the NFL since becoming a fan of the almost-great Browns teams of the 80s (Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar, anyone?). I have to admit I am a footbaliholic. That barrier to creativity will probably remain.

Learning to overcome these barriers to creativity is part of what I am enjoying about the blogging process; having a small idea and then seeing the words spill out on the page once I get underway writing is a tremendous feeling.  Creativity is a mental muscle that many of us exercise far too little while we hammer away at our TPS reports.

10 quotes on careers

conference lecture

conference lecture

The quotes (10, plus a bonus):

“Each of the professions means a prejudice. The necessity for a career forces every one to take sides. We live in the age of the overworked, and the under-educated; the age in which people are so industrious that they become absolutely stupid.” -Oscar Wilde

I’ve found this to be quite true; people are so overworked that they make stupid decisions about their careers. It’s not that people are stupid, but the pressure and the stress make them ACT stupid. Big difference, same result.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” -Marilyn Monroe

Amen, Marilyn. I spent a lot of years working like a maniac at my career and amazingly, those TPS reports don’t curl up with me on a cold night. On the other hand, they don’t steal my covers.

“Don’t confuse having a career with having a life” -Hillary Clinton

Yes, that Hillary Clinton. I’m sure she enjoys a lot of free time outside of her political career (there is no sarcastic font), but hey, politicians are free to dispense all sorts of advice that they themselves don’t take. She makes a great point, though. Don’t assume that being the hotshot assistant manager for the Northeast III region is “a life.” It’s a great accomplishment… but it’s not “a life” if it doesn’t fulfill your goals.

“Desire! That’s the one secret of every man’s career. Not education. Not being born with hidden talents. Desire.” -Bobby Unser, 3-time Indianapolis 500 winner

Wish I had thought about this a little before completing 7 years of school for two degrees. Eh, actually I’m happy with my education but Bubelah and I have this conversation all the time, with the same result (I will be annoying and put it in all caps for emphasis’ sake): AMERICANS CONFUSE EDUCATION WITH ACHIEVEMENT. Just because you have degrees out the wazoo doesn’t mean you’ll be successful. My suspicion is that successful people would be successful regardless of where they went to school or whether they went at all. Some of the least successful people I know are very educated.

“No man can succeed in a line of endeavor which he does not like.” -Napoleon Hill

If you read brip blap, you know I really (really, really) admire Napoleon Hill and his work. This is a straightforward statement that sums it up. I have never been successful in my line of work – accounting and finance – to the level I could’ve been because, quite frankly, I am bored by it. I don’t hate it. I’m actually pretty good at what I do, and I can hammer away at exceptionally complex accounting and finance problems with the best of them. But I get very, very bored with it very quickly. Because of that I’ve been moderately successful instead of extremely successful.

“I think everyone should experience defeat at least once during their career. You learn a lot from it. ” – Lou Holtz

I remember when I experienced defeat. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t in my career, but when I was attending mathematics PhD school I woke up one morning and said “this is NOT for me.” I had never seriously considered a career path other than “college professor in some type of math/computer science/linguistics/other technical type of study.” I sat down with a piece of paper and started writing down what I wanted, how I could do it, and how quickly I could do it. I came up with going back to school, getting a BA in accounting and an MBA in accounting… in two years. Doing that, though, achieved one of my dearest dreams: years of traveling the world at somebody else’s expense. My “defeat” in not completing PhD school led to some great things in my life.  So Lou, the absolutely awful analyst and overrated coach, got this one right.

” I’ve reached the pinnacle of my career. I just feel that I don’t have anything else to prove.” – Michael Jordan

I have little to say to this except this: can you even begin to imagine what it feels like to say that? I can’t.

“Everything I have, my career, my success, my family, I owe to America.” -Arnold Schwarzenegger

I’m not exactly an America-firster; I have some big problems with what my country has demonstrated about itself by making some poor electoral choices in 2000 and 2004.   At the same time, I’ve traveled around the world enough to know that it’s a humbling thing to realize that people all over the world dream of achieving something that we got through the dumb accident of birth: being an American (and this applies to Canada, too). I also doubly appreciate the privilege considering my wife and her family, who lost everything in the collapse of the Soviet Union but have rebuilt a middle class lifestyle in a little more than a decade despite coming to this country with nothing more – literally – than the clothes on their backs. America still has a lot going for it.

“My whole career can be summed up with ‘Ignorance is bliss.’ When you do not know better, you do not really worry about failing.” – Jeff Foxworthy

I don’t remember all of it, but I read an interesting interview with Foxworthy a while back. He was some cubicle dweller for IBM, I think, and was prodded by friends to give comedy a shot. A few redneck jokes later and he’s done alright. He said he had no idea of the odds against succeeding in comedy, and if he had he would have clung to his crap job for dear life.

“I don’t want to get into the habit of thinking about my career because when it comes down to it, it’s not that important. I could die tomorrow and the world would go on. I don’t want to separate myself from the rest of the world. If the world is not going too good, I’m part of that. I’ll be happy to take the blame. I’m along for the ride.” -River Phoenix

Er, I’m including this in the “how’s that working out for you” category. Don’t be along for the ride – the river can get bumpy and there are a few hard turns there. You need to keep a hand on the rudder (or whatever the boat-thingy that steers is called).

“I often thought that if there had been a good rap group around in those days, I might have chosen a career in music instead of politics.” -Richard M. Nixon

I am including this quote because, well, read it! Really? What I would give to see Tricky Dick representin’! Gas face! “I am not a criminal – I am the O.G.!” His new moniker? Janky Forty Sippa. Please visit this site to put a smile on your face on the way out of the workplace!

According to that site, brip blap should be redubbed “Rotten Tree Hugga.” Good idea?

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