How does one succeed in education? How does one succeed as an entrepreneur?
These three words define me and my path through life. I grew up comfortable – not rich by any means (my father was a math professor after all and even though he was ridiculously intelligent and a workaholic, he was a math professor in the 1970s and 1980s of my youth). My parents afforded me unbelievable opportunities. Private school and boarding school. Toys and books and sports – all the things important to a young boy. Each opportunity came my way, and more often than not, I failed at realizing each one. Not that I ever worked hard at them. You see, I had an older sister, and she set a bar I felt I couldn’t reach. I know, typical story, right? So my parents thrust all these opportunities my way – all of them wonderful and some of them potentially life-changing. But I failed, over and over again, by choice.
I failed at realizing the opportunities my parents so kindly placed before me. Because I was convinced I couldn’t meet the bar my older sister set. I accepted these failures, but didn’t learn to learn from them until I was much older. See, failure, it turns out, is the most powerful learning force there is. Fail at something, feel like shit, ashamed, embarrassed, guilty, angry, humiliated . . . whatever the feeling it’s not pleasant. Stand up and choose to learn from that and I promise it’s a powerful learning experience. I kept failing and not learning. Until I figured out that there are good choices and there are bad choices. My sister would always outdo me when it came to good choices. She wasn’t a goody-two-shoes. I always thought of those types as ones who really tried at being good, they had to work at it, and it was awkward. My sister didn’t try, it was just natural. It was her spirit. I couldn’t compete with that. I quickly found bad choices, and realized I could be really good at those. I didn’t fail any more! Now I was a success. And to be a success at the bad choices, I had to hustle.
We all hustle. It’s that drive that pushes us toward a goal. It’s that fire that wakes us up, that gets us through the day, that keeps us up at night. Some of us hustle for good, some of us hustle for bad, some of us hustle for ourselves, some of us hustle for others. But make no mistake – we all hustle. It’s a beautiful thing!
I saw opportunity all around me – kids getting high and paying lots of money to do it. I had failed many times at trying to be “good”. So I turned my hustle to dealing drugs. I was good at this hustle. For many years. Learned to read people, learned to negotiate, learned to sell, learned about numbers and cash flow and profit and loss. Learned about customer relationships and supplier relationships. Learned about . . . way a second, sounds real similar to the kinds of things my business school courses claimed to have taught me. You know what? I don’t remember shit from those courses. But I remember all kinds of lessons I learned from the hustle. So if we could make education a system where students hustle to realize opportunities and learn from failure, students would have a better learning experience. That’s my hypothesis, and I’m sticking to it. So what are these three elements about? Why are they so important?
Opportunities bombard us every day, through every one of our senses. They seriously do – while I at times enjoy this sensory overload, most days it drives me bananas. Any time we hear someone bitching about something BOOM! that’s an opportunity. Any time we see someone struggle with something – physically, mentally, emotionally – BOOM! that’s an opportunity. Anytime you see or hear giddiness, BOOM! that’s an opportunity. And then there are those times in the shower, in your car and other private moments we don’t need to discuss when those seemingly stupid ideas flood the dull moments. Opportunities never stop – we just have to be alert to them. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, just someone who is in tune with their surroundings, and with them self. Just pay attention to what the fuck is going on around you. Stop trying to create opportunities and look and listen – there are more than enough already there waiting to be realized, there’s no need to undertake the impossible task of creating one.
So the opportunities are out there, so what? So pick one that’s interesting and act on it. Take a class, talk to a group of interesting people, learn a craft, try a new food, travel to a new location, reverse-engineer a product. The list goes on – but only if you care enough to hold down the off button and be alert.
If someone wants to try and learn something, or wants to try their hand at entrepreneurship – if these are the opportunities that they seize, hate to say it but they’re likely going to fail. So what? We’ve been failing all our life – since we were trying to figure out how to roll over unsuccessfully. Seriously – think about it. You failed in school. You failed in sports. You failed socially. Failure is as much a part of life as are opportunities. They co exist and keep us on our toes. And give us a chance to hone the most valuable skill possible: hustling.
Some people cringe at the word. It kind of makes me glow. I love to hustle. I love to figure out how to make something happen. I love to work under pressure. It’s a beautiful thing! Because it’s a universal language of getting shit done. No matter where you are, no matter who you’re talking to, no matter how different you are, everyone understands hustling. Because in order to avoid failure, we hustle. In order to take advantage of opportunities, we hustle. It’s a glorious cycle of sorts I guess. It’s the action that connects opportunity and failure in an enduring circle. Learn from one, then experience the other.
Education: Back To Why We’re Here
So what does this have to do with education? Education is at a crossroads, on a precipice, whatever one wants to call it, it’s a critical juncture. We can proceed with the standard Baby Boomer model delivering education. Or we can implement a more Millenial standard of hustling. There are so many opportunities now being created in the educational technology space. Technology enables educators to share resources and experiences in real-time. The opportunities are endless to disrupt this tired, broken model of education. Failure is inevitable, because we’re dealing with extraordinarily bureaucratic support. Because it’s a new frontier. Because while the possibilities are endless, it doesn’t mean all of them are good ones. But we need to start trying them out. We need to start hustling. No more talking (you hear me you stodgy old academics?) Get off your asses, forget about your conservative ways of approaching education, and start disrupting. Be entrepreneurial. Hustle!