Two lessons from a haircut

I finally did it. After two years of experimenting with growing my hair and beard longer, I cut them back to my original look. Here are the two lessons I learned.

(1) You can’t live your life according to people’s expectations.

Two years ago, I was graduating college (for the third and final time) and several people suggested a new look might be in order. I started growing my hair out and have been trying to feel at home in my own skin ever since.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that I had no part in this (excuse the hair-related pun). But as I tried new look after new look, I was constantly asking people which one they liked the best. Buried deep in our nature is the desire for the approval of those around us.

But this is just a stupid haircut. And I’ve felt “off” for the last 2 years. Imagine the person who chooses a college major, or a career path, in an attempt to gain someone’s approval.

(2) Sunk cost bias can have a dramatic effect.

If you’ve never heard the term, it describes the decision-making process that starts with “well, I’ve already come this far…”

We tend to overvalue things that we’ve invested in. There were times when my beard was so long that you couldn’t even see the fact that I was wearing a tie. I didn’t like the look – but it had taken me so long to grow it that it “seemed a waste” to just cut it off. The result was that every day I grew a little farther from the look I am most comfortable with.

This makes me think of the person who realizes that they truly come alive in a different major or career path than the one they’re currently on. I’m not talking about the temptation to quit when things get hard: I’m talking about a genuine discovery of a new opportunity or something you didn’t know about yourself. But you don’t change because you already spent two years studying your current major.

There’s no time in your life that will be easier to change your mind than today.

At the Intentional Academy, I help people manage their time, get control of their money, and launch their dream careers. If you’d like to live your life in line with your true self, you should come sign up. I can’t tell you who you want to be, but I can give you the encouragement to figure it out! Sign up using the form at the top of this page.

Film School [@TonyBrainstorms Guest Post]

Great Teachers in Film.

Unanimous: they break the mold of sitting in rows. Students in their classrooms do more than follow instructions. They create. There is a scene with administrators yelling at them. There is a student who doesn’t get it, and the teacher fights for him. There is a scene in which the students fail and it looks really dark. And then they succeed. And then they live lives worth making movies about.

  • Mr. Holland’s Opus
  • October Sky
  • Dead Poets Society
  • Dangerous Minds

Buried in our collective psyche is the idea that school is supposed to be more than this. It’s time to embark on a journey of educational images. What do we want school to look like? Ask the movies.

Where are the elbow-padded professors, guiding students in lively debate in a wood-paneled office? Where are the students who spend time discussing what they read, because they love to learn, not because they were assigned to?


Today is an odd day for me. I am withdrawing from two “opportunities.” One is a paper for a conference, the other is a job application.

The paper represents the typical academic currency, keeps the “publish or perish” ledger in the black. The job represents my last offer to enter into the industrial research machine, and make the unremarkable changes that come from a place of absolute safety.

Both represent opportunity to move up a rung in the safe, professional ladder I have been climbing. There is a “typical” or “traditional” track to follow which is the expected and (seemingly safe) trajectory for my career, the natural continuation of the path that led me to this point. This path leads directly into the machine, and offers the opportunity to become a cog.

Cog (n) /kawg/ A crucial, but easily replaced part of a machine. Only noticed when it doesn’t work.

I can’t help but notice that if I don’t send the paper, the conference will go on. No one will miss it so much that they decide not to attend. The job opening that was “created just for me” came with so little communication and urgency that I have to wonder if this is just a sales pitch, a way to make me feel like a winner as I settle. Someone else will take the job. The factory owner wins when highly talented people join the “cog list” as employees. It is the highly talented new employee who suffers. This person must hand over the keys to his dreams in exchange for a “safe” career, with well-defined promotion tracks based on years of service rather than impact.

In either place, it is easy to test just how cog-like the opportunities are: If I walk away, will the long-term outcome change? 10 years from now, will it matter that someone else published their paper, or someone else took that job? Inverting the question: if I don’t do the work that I plan to do instead of these two “opportunities,” will the world miss that? I think so.

Today is especially strange for me because these two “opportunities” represent my last open lines to that safe track to cubeville. Letting go may actually burn the bridges, leaving me fully committed to the uncertain life of following MY purpose. Not someone else’s purposes. Not the expected path that has been trodden countless times. I’ll have no one to boss me, no one to blame for my success or failure.

But I’ll have a chance to matter.

Make Some Noise: Why You Must Use Social Media to Reach Your Goals

What is it that makes you an excellent candidate for that dream job? Deep inside you are certain that this is the fit for you. But does the interviewer sitting across the table know it too?


This situation feels very familiar to me, having been on the job market several times. During my undergraduate studies, I hoped for internships each summer (4 times). While completing my BS, MS, PhD, and Post Doc I investigated full-time positions at each break. During every interview the same question arises:

Interviewer: “What interests you about this industry?”
Me: “Things, so many things. I can’t list just one!”

These experiences taught me that while we are in school, we should spend time thinking about our place in the world. We should be building our place in the world.

Success, Today

People succeed when they possess industry-specific technical talent and form genuine human connections. Every student should create a genuine online presence.

Seth Godin points out (correctly) that the Industrial Economy has given way to the Connection Economy. You don’t have to look far to see it. The automotive industry’s big new feature this year isn’t gas mileage, power, or capacity. Its built-in LTE wifi.

In a Connected Economy, people who follow directions are easily replaced by someone just as effective, but cheaper. On the other hand, irreplaceable people create human connections that cause someone to change their mind.

“Depth of knowledge is rarely sufficient, all by itself, to turn someone into an [indispensable artist]… Art is a human connection that causes someone to change his mind… The more people you change, the more you change them, the more effective your art is.” – Seth Godin, Linchpin, assembled quotations

This imperative crosses all industries: authors, engineers, and cashiers all must demonstrate an ability to move beyond technical work and perform emotional work as well. The only way to demonstrate that you are capable of creating these human connections is to do it.

”You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford

The days of isolated interviews in which you rattle off answers to HR-approved questions are gone. With the enormous number of students graduating college each year, companies have their pick of talented individuals. Now they seek (in addition to technical talent):

  1. “Notes of recommendation from three people I know and respect
  2. A past project I can review
  3. Media buzz about what that person has already done
  4. Leadership of a group on a social networking site
  5. A regular blog that is compelling and engaging
  6. A high EQ (Emotional Quotient) vs a high IQ
    Don’t have these things? Then why would someone see you as an outstanding candidate?” – Dan Miller, 48 Days to the Work You Love

I’ll give you a hint: you won’t find these items in a lecture, homework assignment, or test. You must connect. Your dream job is being offered to someone who did.

Its Time, Right Now to Build Your Place On the Web

This three step plan will get you connected to the community in your industry of choice.

  1. Create a blog. This is your digital home on the web, if someone wants to know more about you, this is where they land.
  2. Create social media profiles. Several popular/effective platforms are Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. On each platform, join/create groups that center on topics that matter to you.
  3. Contribute regularly, with substance. Create new content (blog posts, digital portfolio of projects). Share your new content (via social profiles, let your people know you’re contributing). Share other’s content (via social profiles, recognize great ideas and help your followers access resources you found useful). React to others’ content (comment on blogs, respond to social posts).

Its never too soon to start, but it can be too late.

Your goal is to demonstrate a track record of engagement with important topics and people who are actually working on them. Think: Digital Portfolio. The conversation is happening, participate! You will interact with the movers and shakers of your industry. And as a bonus, you’ll have a chance to frame genuine answers to the question, “How are you interested in [insert field here]?” Remember,

“Thoughts disentangle themselves when they pass through the lips and fingertips.” – Dawson Trotman

What can you do today to start building your community? How are these uses for social media different from the ways you use social media now? Leave a comment below.

Iterate and Grow

Start Iterate Grow

A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week. – George S. Patton

We iterate and grow, not prepare and then go.

We didn’t forbid you from speaking until you knew fluent, Shakespeare-level English.

Learning is a continuum. Not discrete steps. I’m still getting better at calculus. I didn’t have to know all things in calculus before moving on. A class, or a degree, is not a finite thing to complete before you’re ready to contribute. Contribute now and refine as you go. Or spend your entire life preparing and never actually shipping anything new.

We spend our lives waiting for someone else to tell us we’re ready. No one is qualified to do that. No one knows you well enough. No one can tell you your place and if you’re ready to fit it because there isn’t one. Your life is a continuum. Don’t wait to reach a destination that isn’t there. It’s like chasing a mirage that keeps moving away.

I’ve got an image of a person being pushed onto a stage in front of an audience for the first time. Don’t wait for that moment. It doesn’t work that way.

How many projects, ideas, or even dreams do you have that you’ve never started, waiting until you were “educated enough,” or “ready” for? How many partially complete? It is far better to deliver SOMETHING, and then improve it, than it is to never ship your product.

One author spent 7 years writing a book. When it was “perfect” he published it, and no one was interested. Wouldn’t it have been nice to find out no one cared about the subject before spending 7 years? Another started by printing drafts into three-ring binders and selling them. Using feedback, he refined his book until it was perfect. All the while, he got paid. Then he published the book. Which author are you?

Don’t wait to prepare and then go. Start, iterate and grow.

Perfection, Failure, and Experimenting

 Schools have spent the years teaching you NOT to experiment. Think about it. The system rewards you for getting good grades. But we all have had the experience of torpedoing our grades due to ONE BAD DAY. You can be on it, “perfect” for an entire semester. And then destroy grade by having a bad day on the final exam.
This conditions us to believe that we must always be “on.” We can’t have a bad day. We can’t submit anything other than perfection. We can’t try something if we aren’t sure it will work. This is a holdover from the industrial days that birthed the modern school system. Who wants a factory worker at Step 14 of the assembly line trying new things? This screws up the entire model.
This destroys our ability to produce because (1) it scares us away from experimenting, (2) it teaches us to be perfectionists who have trouble actually “shipping” a completed project. Rather, we want (1) a clearly defined set of instructions and a rubric for how we will be evaluated, and (2) we work until the last possible moment before the deadline to perfect our product. Have you ever stayed up all night working on something the night before it was due? Procrastination is a symptom of perfectionism. Your mind finds other things to keep you busy, while the project sits out there un-started, because the mental picture of the completed project is so huge you’re exhausted before you even start.
Action habit: figure out what the minimum really is. No professor gives feedback when you go above and beyond other than, “Nice job, A.” You’re left believing that the only way to achieve is to OVERACHIEVE. If there were a grade higher than A, you probably earned it. The best grade you can get is one that meets 100% of the requirements , but you may have turned in an assignment that meets 150% by creating additional self-inflicted requirements.
The result is that you spend too much time on that assignment, so something else more important suffers. You could have been working on another assignment, or spending time with someone, or growing your business, or exercising, or experimenting with something else. All of these are more important that overdoing an assignment.
So instead, consider trying to get a 91% (in a course who gives 90% an A). Anything above this is wasted time and effort. How can you do this? (1) Challenge a professor to point out where you went “above and beyond” the requirements, and/or (2) allow yourself to get a “B” by turning in something less than perfect. See what happens.
Are you overworking without realizing it?