Happiness doesn’t depend on any external conditions, it is governed by our mental attitude.
- Dale Carnegie
The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.
… that’s what it’s all about: taking action. Without action, the best intentions are nothing more than that: intentions.
- Jordan Belfort
Sometimes people ask about my qualifications.
It’s a fair question with a simple answer: I have none.
There’s absolutely no reason I should be doing pretty much anything I’m doing these days.
I was a high school dropout and a juvenile delinquent. I learned to drive by stealing cars, but since I was a slow learner, I kept crashing them into mailboxes. (A long, true story.)
I wasn’t especially dedicated to my first part-time job as a 14-year-old dishwasher. Whenever I received a pot that was especially difficult to clean, I walked outside and threw it in the dumpster. This strategy worked well until the restaurant ran out of pots. The owner and I had a discussion, and it was agreed I should find another means of employment.
I abandoned a series of other part-time jobs by not showing up to work. No notice, no phone call, no request for the check to be sent in the mail.
I did make it to college, where I performed fairly well—once I learned to work the system. My degree was in Sociology, a fun and interesting subject that led to exactly zero job opportunities. By the time I graduated, I didn’t want a job anyway, so I bought and sold coffee instead.
I never learned higher math—not any kind, and not at all. No algebra, geometry, calculus, or anything else you’re told is essential for adulthood. I snuck into grad school without taking the GRE, which is a good thing, because when I took a practice test later, I placed in the 15th percentile for quantitative. (To which I wondered: Wow, who are all the people less than the 15th?)
My first quarter in grad school I had to prove competency in statistics by passing a course. This was a disaster from start to finish. Imagine being thrown into a classroom where every word is foreign to you. Sink or swim, right? There’s actually another strategy: just tread water. My strategy was: show up to every class and never be late. I sat in the front row and asked meaningless questions to demonstrate I was paying attention. (“Could you repeat that last part?” “What would happen if you switched those two numbers around?” “Oh, I see. That’s interesting.”)
On the day of the final exam I looked at the paper and understood virtually none of the questions. I wrote gibberish on the front side and drew an arrow to indicate something on the reverse side. On this side I composed a list of “Top 10 Things I Learned During Statistics Class.” I made sure a few of them actually related to assigned materials, even if I didn’t understand them.
I somehow received a B- and placed a thank-you gift of coffee beans outside the professor’s door. Then I dropped out of the program, but that’s another story.
When I first went to Africa, I was given a job carrying boxes around and managing a warehouse. I was fairly good at the box-carrying part, but then I learned that more skills were required. Dude. The boxes need to be placed on pallets. The pallets need to be shrink-wrapped. Talk about bait and switch!
Someone showed me how to shrink-wrap a pallet, and then someone else showed me again. Then the first guy showed me one more time—“Hey, let me give you some help with that pallet”—but soon they could all tell I was a lost cause. I’d dutifully wrap my pathetic-looking pallets, with way too much shrink-wrap and boxes protruding from all sides, then someone would come along after me and do it right.
I never learned any languages, but one time I got roped into doing French-English translation at a conference. I had very low expectations for my ability to handle this task, and these low expectations remained unmet after the first session. I approached the organizers: “Uh, it’s OK if you want to bring in someone else,” I said. “Oh,” they said, “we already have.”
These stories may sound like they are from long ago, before I found my way in the world. Perhaps. But let the record show I still have virtually no marketable skills of any kind.
Among other deficiencies, I don’t know how to do anything mechanical whatsoever. I used to say I could do nothing more than screw in a light bulb, but then light bulbs started getting complicated. It’s off the list now.