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Strength-from-weakness

Temple Grandin is an expert on animal science who works at Colorado State University. She single handedly changed the way cows are treated in the livestock industry. Grandin is the author of multiple books and the subject of an Emmy Award winning HBO film. And that’s just a small part of her many accomplishments. Oh ya, and did I mention she is autistic?

How has Grandin been so influential even though she suffers from great mental and social difficulties? She uses her difficulties as an advantage.

The Strength of the Underdog

In his most recent book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell posits that oftentimes the weaknesses that make us an underdog are exactly what give us an advantage to overcome great odds . For example, in the biblical story of David and Goliath, David’s weakness in the fight against Goliath was that he was quite small.

However, David was a professional with his sling. How good was he? It is said that a stone fired from his sling would basically fire with the same force as a bullet from a .45 caliber pistol. On the other side, the thing that made Goliath so powerful was his size. However, that’s also what made him weak. He most likely suffered from acromegaly, which diminished his eyesight. Everyone assumed David would fight Goliath in hand-to-hand combat. But why would he do that if he could stay far away and still get the job done?

When David stepped in to the fight, he wasn’t an underdog at all.

Temple-Grandin-600x600

 

Grandin’s story is not much different. Even she understood that it was her difficulties with autism that gave her the unique ability to understand animals, which helped her become one of the world’s most respected advocates for the humane treatment of livestock.

In an article for Medscape, Grandin was asked if she would have achieved what she did if she were not autistic.

“I don’t think so, because there was a motivation that I had that a nonautistic person doesn’t have. And I had a visualization skill that goes beyond what most people have. When I designed a piece of equipment, I could actually test-run it in my head like these virtual-reality computer programs.”

Because Grandin had autism, she saw the world differently. Though she struggled with communication and found socializing extremely awkward and dull, she had an extraordinary visually gifted mind. She could visualize outcomes and circumstances with incredible detail.

Even though she had this great ability, convincing the male-dominated livestock industry to listen to her took some work. Grandin was persistent, and today more than half the cattle in North America are raised and processed more humanely because of systems she designed.

Despite all that she has done, Grandin doesn’t see herself as an anomaly. She believes autism shouldn’t define people.

“I am different, not less.” – Temple Grandin

Strength

 

Don’t Get Comfortable

Grandin also recognizes that she got where she is today because she got outside of her comfort zone, which is also an important key in turning a weakness into a strength.

In regards to her upbringing in a time when autism was far less understood than it is today, Grandin had the following to say:

“I’ve seen too much coddling. Mother was always saying, ‘You’re going to have to learn how to go in the store and talk to the clerks yourself.’ And I was scared to death. I’m seeing too many kids who actually are a lot milder than I was who don’t know how to walk into McDonald’s and order a hamburger.”

Strength-Temple-Grandin

Photo By Steve Jurvetson

Grandin’s mother knew her daughter had more potential than the world and even medical professionals at the time believed. She wasn’t going to let her daughter grow up comfortable and thus incapable of doing everyday tasks. That’s the mindset that pushed Grandin through years of school to get a doctoral degree in animal science and what helped her become a leader in the push for the rights of persons with autism.

Grandin’s story prompts me to look deep within myself. What weaknesses do I have that I have not yet looked at as strengths? Many of the world’s greatest accomplishments have come from people like Grandin who looked at things differently because of their “weakness.” The prospect of finding new strengths within my weaknesses is thrilling! There’s always more to life than meets the eye.

 

Ben-Franklin

We all know about the man who flew his kite in a lightning storm… or if that doesn’t ring a bell, how about the man who’s face is on the currency we all want in non-sequential, unmarked bills in our briefcases? Even if you don’t know anything about Benjamin Franklin, just knowing his face is on the hundred-dollar bill should give you a pretty good idea that he was somewhat of an important person.

The Man 

Benjamin Franklin had a curious and devoted nature that led to many discoveries in electricity and countless inventions ranging from bifocals to swim fins. I want to share the story of one of his many inventions, the Franklin stove, to give you a glimpse at the kind of person Franklin was.

The Franklin stove was a wonderful upgrade to the open fireplaces most people were using to heat their homes in the 1700’s. Franklin’s stove produced more heat and less smoke. In addition, the stove was made of cast iron so heat would absorb into the metal and radiate even after the fire had gone out. One day Franklin was approached by a man who wanted to help him patent the idea. Franklin would be the exclusive owner of the invention. But like a title straight from an Upworthy post, what happened next was truly inspiring. Franklin said no, citing a principle that has “ever weigh’d with [him].”

“As we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”

Ben Franklin felt that his fireplace was an invention that should be shared freely with everyone. It saved people money and provided a better standard of living. He didn’t care about the money; he cared about the good it did for his fellow men.

The Goal

As is evident in the story of the Franklin stove, Benjamin Franklin was dedicated to being the best he could be. In fact, from the young age of 20, Franklin had his sights set on moral perfection. In order to reach his goal, Franklin carried around a small notebook. In his notebook was a chart with 13 virtues in it. Franklin concluded that if he could master those 13 virtues, he would attain moral perfection.

“I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time.”

 

The 13 virtues Ben Franklin established are as follows:

Infographic_Ben-Franklin

Franklin carried his notebook around with him everywhere. Inside the notebook he had a chart with a line for each of the 13 virtues. Whenever he messed up, he would put a dot next to that virtue to signify that he had not accomplished his goal for the day. The idea was to have the least amount of dots—ideally zero—at the end of each day.

He even took things further by rotating which virtue was at the top of the chart. Each week the virtue at the top would be the one he was most focused on. After 13 weeks he would start over and continue his quest for perfection.

But alas, as you might have guessed,  Ben Franklin never did achieve moral perfection.

“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.

The Plan

History is full of successful people who advocate the practice of keeping a journal of some kind. There is power in being accountable to ourselves and hashing out our thoughts. Though Franklin used a physical notebook, we live in a day and age run by computers, and many people find it more convenient to journal digitally. Enter Degreed.

I have been quite inspired by Franklin’s devotion to becoming better. I’m all about that ‘being a happier person’ stuff. There is much to learn regarding moral perfection and a lot of it is available on the Internet. So I have created a Moral Perfection Pathway over at Degreed.com. I know I won’t be as diligent as Ben Franklin was, but this is something I believe in, and I will continue to update and improve the pathway as I find more worthwhile materials.

If you have any ideas for what I can add to my pathway shoot me a tweet or message me on Degreed!

Also, S/O to Art of Manliness for opening my eyes to Benjamin Franklin’s story.

In our August Webinar “Bring Your Own Learning” we explored the data behind the Bring Your Own Learning trend and discussed how you can manage the BYOL shift. As part of the data we shared, 77% of employees told us that their own self-directed learning was more effective towards helping them be successful in their profession. These are adults, they know what they need and they know what their strengths and weaknesses are. When we asked people how they find new information to do their jobs, 69% of them said the first thing they do is Google it and read or watch what they find. The behavior pattern here is critical: people expect immediate answers.

The takeaway is that empowering employee learning is the next big movement in education. Those who embrace it will thrive.

How can you start to manage the shift to bring your own learning? Here are 5 ideas for supporting employee learning in the new learning ecosystem.

1. Weekly lunch and learns. These are informal opportunities to tap into the knowledge and skills of employees, by having those people share what they know with their colleagues. We’ve seen this implemented with tools like Google Hangouts or Webcasts.

2. Tuition reimbursement and recognition programs. Increasingly we’re seeing organizations thinking about these programs differently to work for informal and self-directed learning.

3. Set specific learning goals. Consider reevaluating performance management processes to connect the idea of career advancement to learning in concrete and specific ways.

4. Curate and recommend resources. Look for resources that aren’t just formal; video, articles, webinars, MOOCs. Mix a variety of formats.

5. Recognize and value all kinds of learning and development. 

Jane Hart, Founder of Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies  has said regarding the future of learning “It will not be about designing personalized training nor managing people’s learning for them, but rather supporting their own personal learning strategies.”

Bring-Y

We agree, we also believe that accountability equals love. Organizations should think about guiding and empowering learning as much as they do enforcing .

Do you have more ideas for supporting employee learning? Tweet them to us @Degreed. Find out how Degreed can help you empower your learners here.

Diana-Nyad-Advice

 

 

These were the 3 things uttered from the swollen mouth of 64-year old Diana Nyad as she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.

The span between Cuba and Florida is an elusive stretch of water: 110 miles through the home sharks, the volatile Gulf Stream, and the most venomous creature in the ocean, the box jellyfish… Continue reading to find out how Diana Nyad and her team accomplished her amazing swim.

 

Photo source: DianaNyad.com

 

Never, Ever Give Up

“You can chase your dreams at any age; you’re never too old.”

Those were the words uttered from the swollen mouth of 64-year old Diana Nyad as she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour swim in 2013.

The span between Cuba and Florida is an elusive stretch of water: 110 miles through the home sharks, the volatile Gulf Stream, and the most venomous creature in the ocean, the box jellyfish. No wonder those 110 miles have sent the greatest swimmers in the world packing since 1950. It wasn’t until 1997 that Susie Maroney finally made it from shore to shore. But even then, the accomplishment came with an asterisk: she did it with the safety of a shark cage.

Fast forward to 2010. Diana Nyad was determined to do Susie one better: she wanted to be the first to complete the swim without a cage.

Record-Breaking Beginnings

In 1978, Nyad was at the top of her game. Three years earlier she broke the record for the fastest swim around Manhattan Island by almost a full hour. Now she was going for the elusive Cuba to Florida swim. Though she swam inside the safety of a shark cage, the barreling waves and jellyfish stings became too much. Her team realized it was a lost cause and got her out of the water.

Then, just a year later, at the age of 30, she broke the open-ocean world record (102 miles) by swimming from the Bahamas to Florida. And she did it without a shark cage. After securing that major accomplishment, she decided to hang up her swim cap (or whatever you do with swim caps). Nyad had officially retired from swimming.

Just Keep Swimming

 It wasn’t until her mother died almost 30 years later—shortly before Nyad’s 60th birthday—that she began to reevaluate her life goals. She didn’t want to accept that her life had already been summed up. That’s when she decided to awaken her long-dormant dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida.

After intense training, Nyad was ready to go for broke. In 2011 her dream was cut short after just 29 hours in the water. A severe asthma attack, chills, and dehydration ultimately became too much to push through. She thought her dream was over. Little did she know she would still have to give it three more tries.

Her next attempt was only six weeks later. Things seemed to be going better than they had previously until she felt a pain like she was “dipped in hot burning oil,” and her “body [was] in flames.” A swarm of the deadly box jellyfish had attacked her. An EMT from her team jumped in to help but got stung in the process and had to get back in the boat. After what had to be an unbelievably excruciating experience treading water until the pain dissipated enough to endure, she continued swimming. Not long after, she was attacked again. At this point, she was on the verge of losing her life. The crew had to pull her from the water in order to save her.

Not deterred in the least, Nyad set out again a year later. She wasn’t going to lose to a jellyfish. This time she wore a protective mask, but the jellyfish again proved to be a formidable foe. The tentacles had found the only exposed spot on her face, her mouth. Still able to swim, Nyad pushed on. However, during this attempt, the heavens proved to be the most problematic. A massive storm circled overhead and churned the ocean waters. Nyad was stubborn and opted to continue through the storm. It wasn’t until lightning threatened the safety of her crew that she relented and got in the boat.

Fifth Time’s The Charm

In spite of endurance experts, neurologists, and even her own crew telling her it was impossible, Nyad stayed focused. She was not going to be conquered again.

She enlisted the help of the leading expert in box jellyfish and created a mask that would protect her entire face. The mask had a mouthpiece with two bite plates to defend her mouth from jellyfish tentacles. However, the mouthpiece wasn’t perfect, and she swallowed a lot of ocean water because of it. The salt made her throat swell and upset her stomach causing her to vomit. Which is pretty annoying when you’re trying to swim 110 miles, but at least it was better than dying from jellyfish stings.

At night, the crew couldn’t use lights because light attracts sharks and jellyfish. In the pitch black of night, Nyad’s crew relied only on the sound of her arms slapping the water to know she was still there. In those lonely, dark hours, she would sing songs to herself to keep her mind occupied.

Nyad was in the water for 53 hours straight. When she finally reached the shore, physically exhausted and elated at finally realizing her goal, she had three things to say to the crowd that had gathered:

1. Never, ever give up.
2. You can chase your dreams at any age; you’re never too old.
3. It looks like the most solitary endeavor in the world, but it’s a team.

Diana-Nyad-Advice

Nyad’s words are a fresh reminder that no hour of our life should be wasted, and that no one can accomplish anything great alone.

In a TEDWomen talk from 2013, Nyad had the following to say about her accomplishment:

“It wasn’t so much about the athletic accomplishment. It wasn’t the ego of ‘I want to be the first,’ that’s always there and it’s undeniable. It was deeper. It was ‘how much life is there left?’ Let’s face it; we’re all on a one-way street. What are we going to do as we go forward to have no regrets looking back?”

What are you going to do to move forward with no regrets?

Tweet Braden your goals and how you plan to accomplish your dreams. You just learned about personal development, get credit on your Degreed profile.

Photo Credit: DianaNyad.com

Humble beginnings, unflinching determination, and a dog named Butkus.

Most people have seen the 1976 film, Rocky—which took home three Academy Awards including best picture. Even if you haven’t seen it, it’s likely you have seen at least one of the myriad training montages mimicking the original montage from the film. Though the film has resonated with millions of people, the story of the man behind it all, Sylvester Stallone, is just as moving.

While enduring a rough childhood with his younger brother Frank, Stallone found himself in a high school for troubled youth. After that he bounced around to two different colleges and eventually dropped out to pursue acting.

As is the fate of many aspiring actors, Stallone had a rough time landing anything substantial. To support himself while he pursued his dream, he bounced around doing odd jobs and even took a role in an adult film.

In 1974 he had a small stroke of luck co-starring in The Lords of Flatbush. However, the film wasn’t much of a success, and Stallone became frustrated by his seemingly endless stream of rejections. Fueled by his frustration and the fact that he was teetering on the edge of poverty, Stallone decided to focus more of his time on writing screenplays.

It was during this time that Stallone came up with the concept for Rocky. In 1975, lowly boxer, Chuck Wepner, stepped into the ring with The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Wepner was physically outmatched but mentally prepared. Wepner took hit after hit for all 15 rounds—ultimately succumbing to a TKO in the final round. Stallone watched the whole fight play out. He was mesmerized and inspired by Wepner’s determination.

”I was watching the fight in a movie theater, and I said to myself, ‘Let’s talk about stifled ambition and broken dreams and people who sit on the curb looking at their dreams go down the drain.’ I thought about it for a month. That’s what I call my inspiration stage. Then I let it incubate for 10 months.”

After his self-appointed incubation stage, Stallone got to work. Stallone wrote the entire first draft of the Rocky screenplay in just 3 1/2 days.

“I’d get up at 6 A.M. and write it by hand, with a Bic pen on lined notebook sheets of paper. Then my wife, Sasha, would type it. She kept saying, ‘You’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it. Push it, Sly, go for broke.”’

Once his writing was finished, Stallone began shopping his new screenplay around. He knew he had a hot story when he began fielding six-figure offers.

He turned the first offer down because the producers wanted a big-name actor to play the role. Stallone was adamant about playing the role of Rocky, and to him not being able to star in his film was a deal breaker. It was his way or bust.

To give a little depth into the magnitude of his decision, at the time his wife was pregnant, and he had next to nothing in the bank. Eventually he was offered up to $265,000—still with the caveat that he couldn’t play the lead.

He turned that down too.

While he waited for a producer that would work with him, he began to make sacrifices in other areas of his life. In what had to be one his lowest points, Stallone sold his bullmastiff, Butkus, to a perfect stranger. He tied the dog up at a store with a sign that said “100 bucks”. He got $50 for him.

Ironically, Stallone finally sold the screenplay not a week later to two producers who would let him star in the film. He sold it for much less than he had been offered before, but he got a 10% stake in the earnings. He immediately tracked down the guy who bought his dog. The guy gave him the business and had no intention of selling the dog back. Stallone eventually had to pay $3000 to get ol’ Butkus back. Fun fact: both Butkus and the guy who almost didn’t sell the dog back appeared in the film.

Looking back, Stallone says he never would have settled for the money without the leading role:

”I never would have sold it. I told my wife that I’d rather bury it in the back yard and let the caterpillars play ‘Rocky.’ I would have hated myself for selling out, the way we hate most people for selling out. My wife agreed, and said she’d be willing to move to a trailer in the middle of a swamp if need be.”

Though the movie was shot in 28 days with a budget of only $1 million, the film brought in over $117 million in the domestic box office. From his humble beginnings to his first big hit, Stallone went on to become the only man alive with a No. 1 box-office hit in five consecutive decades.

Stallone had a dream and an unyielding desire to achieve it. Unrelenting in his determination not to sell out, he eventually found himself at the top of Hollywood. You can tell a lot about a person who can turn down a large sum of money while struggling to even put food on the table. But Stallone knew he was more than just a writer: he was a star.

And the moral of the story, in the words of Stallone himself (speaking on the film in an interview from 1976) is:

“If nothing else comes out of that film in the way of awards and accolades, it will still show that an unknown quantity, a totally unmarketable person, can produce a diamond in the rough, a gem.

 

Catch Braden on Twitter. You just learned about pop culture and personal growth, get credit for it on Degreed.

There is a legend of a Persian king who asked his wise men to come up with a sentence that would offer him good counsel in all times and situations. According to the legend they provided him with a ring, inscribed with the words “This too shall pass.” With this simple phrase, the king would be comforted in bad times, and humbled in good times.

This advice is great counsel that is often forgotten. In my experience, most people have a tendency to project their current situation into the future indefinitely. When things are bad, we feel they will never improve and when they are good, we tend to believe we have it made from here on out. This may seem like a relatively innocuous quirk of human nature, but its effects can be debilitating.

The Bad Times Don’t Last

My junior year of college, I almost dropped one of my majors (I dual-majored). I had had it up to here with Political Science. I was bored with my classes and my research and, as a consequence, I wasn’t performing up to my standards. I figured this meant that studying or working in political science would always be boring and unfulfilling, so I could see no reason to keep with it. I can’t remember what kept me from quitting (it was probably aversion to the idea of starting over with a new major) but ultimately I did stick it through, which is good because I quickly returned to loving the subject matter.

I had confused a mood for something bigger, and forgotten that it would pass. Things get better and then they get worse and then they get better again. Our interest in subject matters waxes and wanes. In our bad times we often forget this. We believe things will persist in their current state in perpetuity, which can cause us to abandon things that ultimately bring us happiness.

The Good Times Don’t Last

Additionally, the delusion that things will always be great can also be damaging. In the book Engineering Happiness, authors Rakesh Sarin and Manel Baucells define happiness as reality minus expectations. Happiness can be lowered just as much by inflated expectations as by a poor experience. When we start into a particularly interesting field we often fail to account for the fact that it will not always remain so all the time.

I was talking with a friend who works in the field and for the exact company that he had always dreamed of. Unfortunately, he has recently been feeling a sort of boredom and malaise at work. He asked me, “What do you do when you’re bored with your dream job?” I couldn’t think of an answer on the spot, but the more I think about it, I think my answer would be “You keep working. Things will get better.”

The Best Advice For Any Situation

 

Making Grounded Decisions

My mom likes to tell a story about going through a tough time when she was a teen. She can’t remember what she was sad about but something had set her off and she was crying her eyes out in her room. My grandpa with his usual wit and Irish wisdom poked his head through the door and said “It’s just weather of the soul, honey.” He understood that it would pass.

When making career and education decisions, it is important to make decisions based on the things that never or rarely change, rather than the weather. The one question I always try to ask myself before making a decision is “Did I feel this way one month ago? If not, what has changed?” Always gut check yourself before making a big decision to make sure you’re not making a long-term decision based on a short-term mood because, after all, this too shall pass.

 

Catch Ben on Twitter, and don’t forget to get credit for reading this article on Degreed.

Innovation is a lot like learning. It works best when it’s just part of how you work . Here’s how BP shifted its learning culture, practices and infrastructure from courses to resources.

The Challenge:

In 2011, BP’s Director of Learning Innovation and Technology, Nick Shackleton-Jones, noticed that the energy giant’s onboarding program — which revolved around eight hours of e-learning courses — wasn’t actually getting new hires integrated into the company. Many felt “thrown in the deep end,” and very few completed the modules. One group told him that only 15% of what they knew came from formal training. So he started to explore how people really learn. His conclusion? “People aren’t data squirrels. They don’t work by hoarding knowledge. Rather, they look for guidance when they need it.”

The Innovation:

That realization changed everything. In 2012, BP began approaching its new employee onboarding in some radical new ways:

First, BP stopped developing conventional e-learning. “No one goes out and searches for an e-learning course,” Shackleton-Jones explains. “People go out and search for useful web sites and videos.” So he and his team started to replace courses with new kinds of resources designed to help people get up to speed more successfully, in specific moments of need — for example, step-by-step how-to guides, articles, videos featuring advice from BP employees and executives, and games, infographics and animations. A simple checklist ended up being the most popular content in the induction process.

Second, BP bypassed their LMS. Shackleton-Jones and his team wanted the solutions they came up with to be, “solutions that people choose to use …indistinguishable in quality from the best that our people see every day in their lives as consumers.” So BP designed and built an open, user-friendly portal, Discover BP, to make the content and the experience, “as simple as possible and as accessible as possible.” And they did it with a team that included marketing professionals, social media specialists, user experience designers, and digital agencies and game design studios — not just established e-learning vendors.

Finally, BP is encouraging and empowering its workers to learn like honey bees; to engage with resources, not just consume them. That’s no easy task. “Most people come to an environment like that because of what they can take, not what they can contribute,” Shackleton-Jones says. To attract learners and inspire them to contribute, he and his team started by pollinating Discover BP with 900 videos featuring BP staff from all around the business. “We’re not just pushing stuff out,” he  points out. “We’re actually taking their expertise and their learning and bringing it to a central point where it can benefit everybody.”

 

The Impact:

Discover BP has has attracted 170,000+ visits and close to a million page views since it was launched, making it the most heavily used learning content at BP. In fact, its use has spread beyond new starters. Existing staff are  leveraging the resources there to move into new roles within the company, too. Just as importantly, Shackleton-Jones says, “it showed that you could do something really quite different with online learning, and that did not have to be a miserable, cheap option. It got lots of people really excited.

That, in turn, has given BP’s learning team the credibility and the confidence to invest £2m in radically overhauling the way the company develops its 25,000 business leaders and managers. The company’s new “SatNav for leadership” initiative is extending the ideas behind Discover BP with a whole new series of portals, simulations and apps inspired by Nike’s FuelBand fitness trackers. By targeting advice, information, practice, connections and feedback at major career transition points, Shackleton-Jones and his team are now aiming to reduce the time it takes to get BP’s future leaders ready for their next roles.

 

The Takeaways:

Here are three things you can learn from BP’s new approach to learning:

  • Be a bold, decisive leader. To lead innovation, you have to take some risks. Stop doing things that don’t make sense to make room for the ones that do. Push your team to challenge the usual conventions. Inspire them to value utility as much as instruction.
  • Put informal learning first. Start by asking people, “how can we help you do your job?” — not “what should we teach you?”. Design content and experiences that help them solve their work problems. Think more like guidebooks and less like textbooks.
  • Experiment, learn, then operationalize what works. Work with new kinds of people and different kinds of partners. Try new things. And stay agile. Learn from your mistakes and invest behind what does work to scale up your successes.

 

Your Turn:

BP is not a Degreed client, but we really admire their learner-first attitude, their audacity and their ability to really — truly — reinvent how learning works for their workforce. How is your L&D organization innovating?
 
Degreed is a next generation continuous learning platform that can help you put learners first and leverage the entire learning ecosystem. Click here to start making the shift.

No emails, large amounts of money, or begging required

Having mentors is a game changer. People can confuse “mentors” to mean learning from some old guy who speaks only in proverbs. Mentors can be anyone who has been in similar shoes before, gained experience, and can help you on your journey. Roy H. Williams had a great quote;

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.”

This is why professional athletes consistently reach out to veterans for advice. Mentors alone can potentially save the rising athletes years of mistakes and failures.

hakeem-olajuwon-dwight-howard

Veteran Hakeem Olajuwon coaching NBA Star Dwight Howard

But how do you get a mentor? And why would they want to help a random person like you?

This is the question that I’ve been trying to solve for the last three years. To my luck, I’m extremely grateful to have successful entrepreneurs like James Altucher, Tim Ferriss, and Pat Flynn as some of my mentors.

What’s my secret? Simple. I read their books. I listen to their podcasts. I consume their work.

Another illusion about mentorship is that the “mentor” has to be right by the “mentee” holding their hand. But if a mentor is someone who has been in similar shoes and is willing to help you out, aren’t books and podcasts technically a form of “mentorship”?

Take James Altucher as an example. He is a famous investor, author, and entrepreneur most known for his authentic writing style. James has over 20+ years of experience over me in areas like business, writing, and life. I’ve consumed a significant amount of James Altucher’s work including his most recent book, The Choose Yourself Guide To Wealth

That book single handedly inspired me to develop a daily practice and improve myself in four main areas of my life: Emotionally, Physically, Mentally, and Spiritually. James’ Podcast Episode 21 titled, College Is A Scam, was the tipping point for me to drop out of school. Ep. 23 with Steve Scott, an author of over 40 e-books, sparked my interest to write my first book which is up on Amazon right now! Ep. 90 with Jack Canfield, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, helped me reflect on my life identify what I truly wanted in life.

What mentors can offer

When a prolific author writes a book (or appears on a podcast) and distills their knowledge into a condensed piece of art, it’s time to pay attention! I would even argue a few life-changing books would be more useful than an entire year of college classes. My favorites are:

How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau

On top of consuming their work, I took it a step further and started my own podcast. This gave me a chance to interview brilliant people every week including, Charlie Hoehn (Former Director of Special Projects for Tim Ferriss), Ryan Porter (Tech Entrepreneur & Youth Speaker), & Dave Fontenot (Hackathon Leader).

You can learn ANYTHING from the BEST people in the industry for less than the cost of your next lunch at Chipotle. Podcasts are free (including starting your own). YouTube is free. Quora, Reddit, or any blog on the internet is free. Online college courses are free! Scott Young got an MIT education at the comfort of his own home. He also made a bunch of MIT students incredibly envious from the amount of money and time he saved. Books are dirt cheap, especially on Kindle. Online Courses are embarrassingly affordable (most are free). Make the world your classroom and keep track of your learning with Degreed!

To say that James Altucher and other mentors had a big impact on me is a huge understatement. Although I never met James, Tim Ferriss, or Pat Flynn in person, their mentorship has been one of the biggest factors in accelerating my learning.

If you want to have your own high-class mentors, start with these three basic steps:

1. Go find 3 people in your space that you admire and want to learn from

2. Consume their work: Books, Podcasts (See if they have been interviewed on other podcasts), Courses, Blogs, Video.

3. Use their advice and take ACTION
Bonus step: Send your new mentors an email telling them how much they have changed your life. They will seriously appreciate you, trust me.

 

Tam is a speaker, entrepreneur, and podcast host. He writes regularly to his exclusive newsletter at Outside Of The Classroom, hacking the education that school never gave you. You just learned about career planning and personal development, click here to track this article on degreed.

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Photo Source: James Altucher

The following is a tale that some have called one of the most daring rides in history. While Paul Revere’s midnight ride is better known thanks to the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Jack Jouett’s midnight ride was absolutely more difficult. Jouett’s story is not only a story of being in the right place at the right time but also a story of taking action.

We can’t will ourselves into situations like Jouett’s, where we are in the right place at the right time. But if and when we do find ourselves in those circumstances, we must make sure we have sufficiently prepared ourselves so that we don’t just sit by idly, afraid that we might fail if we try. Jack Jouett’s experience is a refreshing example of someone with great determination who was ready to act when it mattered most.

The Backstory

Jack Jouett was a captain in the Virginia militia stationed in the Charlottesville area. On the night of June 3, 1781, Jouett was sleeping soundly on the lawn in front of the Cuckoo Tavern. Sometime late that night, the rustle of horsemen drew him out of his slumber. He awoke to find a hefty unit of White Coats: a notorious regiment of British Dragoons led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Right time, right place.

Quick Thinking

Jouett was an astute son of a gun, and he quickly anticipated the intentions of the White Coats. Jouett knew that Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and a slew of other notorious rebels were meeting just 40 miles up the road in Charlottesville at the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, Virginia hadn’t seen much in the way of battle, so most of the able-bodied men were up north with General George Washington. The remaining men in Virginia only added up to a small militia who were not sufficiently equipped to put up a fight against the White Coats.

Jouett knew that if he didn’t take charge and outpace the White Coats to the General Assembly, Tarleton and his men would have an easy victory in Charlottesville. The ride would be extremely risky and very likely impossible.

When Paul Revere mounted his horse in Boston headed toward Lexington, he had roughly 10-12 miles ahead of him on established roads. Jouett had to ride four-times the distance of Revere and he had to do it on rough, Virginia back roads! Assuming Tarleton had advance scouts on the main road to Charlottesville, Jouett couldn’t risk taking the main road at any point of his ride. His only option was to try and beat the White Coats to Charlottesville through the dark, overgrown Virginia backwoods.

In a quote by Virginia Dabney, the difficult obstacles that lay before Jouett were described in eye-opening detail:

“The unfrequented pathway over which this horseman set out on his all-night journey can only be imagined. His progress was greatly impeded by matted undergrowth, tangled bush, overhanging vines and gullies…his face was cruelly lashed by tree limbs as he rode forward and scars said to have remained the rest of his life were the result of lacerations sustained from these low-hanging branches.”

Photo Finish

Though seemingly insurmountable obstacles lay before Jouett, his determination edged him out over the White Coats. He made it to Jefferson’s Monticello home just as the dawn light painted the Virginia landscape. By the time Jefferson and the few Virginia legislators staying at his home made it out, the White Coats weren’t far behind. Once Jouett had alerted Jefferson, he mounted his horse again—bruised, bloody, and exhausted—and rode into Charlottesville to alert the rest of the Virginia Assemblymen.

In 1926, 145 years later, Stuart G. Gibbony, President of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, laid to rest any qualms about the significance of Jouett’s historic ride to Charlottesville:

“But for captain Jack Jouett’s heroic ride, there would have been no Yorktown and the Revolutionists would have been only unsuccessful rebels.”

Jouett was truly a man of honor who was motivated by a cause greater than himself. When opportunity came knocking, he gave it everything he had.

Sometimes we have the choice to ride through metaphorical, overgrown backwoods or to go back to sleep. If we choose the road less traveled, and do it for a cause greater than ourselves, we can know that it’s at least worth it to try and possibly fail than to never try at all. I hope we can all take a page from Jouett’s book and live with a little more determination and a little less fear of failure.

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