Education

Is Grad School In Your Future? Answer These Questions First

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I have not gone to graduate school.

Sure, I have taken a class here and there and workshops galore, but I do not have an advanced degree. A lot of people to whom I talk about my business and my career ask what kind of advanced degree I have. In fact, quite a few people presume that I must have one. But I do not. 

The rules have changed over the last ten years about the significance of graduate school degrees. I started hearing more buzz about it all the way back in the 2012-ish era. I grant that many careers required graduate school, rightfully so, such as those in medicine, law, and mental health care. My opinion as the individual I am with my own set of circumstances and goals is that I do not need graduate school. That is my situation, though. I work with a lot of people who are changing careers or entering careers and graduate school is often on the menu as a side option in conjunction with or even in place of the main job.

I also know a lot of people who have unfortunately attended graduate school because they did not get a certain job they wanted or with the sole purpose of avoiding the workforce altogether.

That is so much money and time put to something that may or may not have any return on the investment or career relevance.

My standpoint is not an emotional one. I will not emphatically proclaim that graduate school is pointless and nobody needs it. Instead, my standpoint has always been practical. As a case of need. As a logical means to an end. I have not needed graduate school thus far as a factor of what my career interests dictated. I have applied a couple of times to two different kinds of programs and thought about applying a couple of other times, but no matter what it was not about to make or break my career direction.

Several years ago, I was talking with my parents about the job I had at the time and one of them made a comment about "not waiting too long because you'll have to apply to grad school sometime soon". I had expressed interest in graduate school before, but I was alarmed by the urgency. Like it had to happen. That was before I started my business.

I am currently in Las Vegas for a Business Mastery program in which I will spend twelve hours a day for five days immersed in trainings for the sake of my personal evolution and entrepreneurship. Call it a doctorate in business administration.

A business coach friend of mine casually trained me in his company's model of supporting clients' career exploration one afternoon. Call it a masters degree in career coaching. 

He said it best when he stated "BOOM, you are certified."

Professional experience and specific trainings have been my graduate school thus far but, again, I am not opposed to the idea. There is a full masters program in which I am interested that would bolster my current skillset, but I do not feel the urgency of need quite yet.

Let us think practically. In addition to his own experience and personal opinions about graduate degrees, the author of a 2016 article bluntly titled "Millennials, Don't Waste Your Money On Graduate School" poses four questions to anyone considering graduate school in their professional timeline:

  1. Why do you want to go to grad school? --- plain and simple. Necessary for a job? Because you are bored? Because you are hungry to learn? Because you want to avoid a job?
  2. Will grad school actually help you achieve that goal? ---  the goal is not enough. How perfect is the program for that goal? What criteria need to be met for your goal to be fully satisfied?
  3. Are there alternative ways to achieve that goal? --- certifications? Seminars? E-books? Online courses?
  4. Can you afford it? --- seems obvious, but a lot of people do not stop and answer this by writing down their finances and budget and forecast them over the next two, three, or six years. What would you need to do to pay for it?

Many people only need to focus on one of those questions to determine whether graduate school is a proper and practical choice. Often it is the financial question, but I encourage people to always start with the Why (shocking, since that is what my whole blog is about). I know my Why is to augment my skillsets and add value to my clients, so my practical evaluation is about when and how to pay for it.

Either you or someone you know is considering graduate school. Encourage them to answer these questions for themselves. Make a game out of it and quiz each other. Just make sure it satisfies your true genuine outcome.

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part Two: PREPARATION

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Last week we spoke about the purpose behind starting a business, a certain job, or even a hobby. This week is about Preparation. The article to which I referred last week spoke to the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs who are lured in by the title of entrepreneur start their businesses without really comprehending what goes into running the business day to day and, as a result, the majority of small businesses fail. Their founders are blinded by the shiny diamond of business ownership and do not stop to wonder what kind of pressure that diamond has to endure to become shiny in real life.

This is why, as the article states, passion and a big idea is not everything. A lot of background knowledge and preparation are needed as well. 

Preparation comes in a lot of forms, though. I will not say that there is one absolute requirement, but there must be something. The article mentions how the allure of the Entrepreneur title also comes with the mindset of diving in, taking risks, and failing in order to succeed. Even though all three of those things occur in the life span of a business, starting off like that with no training wheels is a bigger risk than should be taken. And a rather arrogant one.

Think of it like going into a job interview without doing any research about the company or the position. The candidate is either arrogant or oblivious, neither of which bodes well for sustainable success. 

Preparation for starting a biz can be many things:

  • graduate school
  • undergraduate classes
  • a relevant workshop
  • relevant work experience
  • interviewing business owners you know
  • reading Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • listening to a podcast
  • keeping your day job
  • waiting a few years
  • praying to God
  • moving back in with your parents
  • all of the above

The cool thing about this modern age is that graduate school is not required for so many jobs. The positive of this is that more opportunities are available and people can take more risks on their own, but the negative is that people think that they are qualified for the pursuit. Even worse, they think they are qualified and dive in to something like entrepreneurship equipped with nothing more than their self-righteous determination. 

I thankfully had numerous levels of preparation when I started my company:

  1. I kept my day job
  2. I had four years of relevant work experience
  3. I knew multiple people who had started businesses and had interviewed them
  4. I had wanted my own business for so many years that the idea could marinate 
  5. I had a support system for the business inception
  6. I had an exceptional level of common sense and adaptability

I did not need to go to graduate school, I did not need to move back home, and I did not read a single book on entrepreneurship or business.

That six part prep I had gave me enough of a foundation to comfortably start a business, but by far the most important tool in my toolbelt was years of relevant work experience. 

I knew it was time to start my business when I realized how my skills could be offered in a valuable way on their own. I was able to assign a monetary value to them at the outset and I was working with clients before I even had a website, company name, or email address. Having not gone to graduate school for a MBA or having not started the business with anyone but me, myself, and I, I have had to adapt A LOT over time and change so many things: my business model, my services, my prices, etc.

But I was able to adapt with confidence because I had a strong foundation of my own unique preparation.

As my business continues to evolve, so does the kind of preparation that I need. 

Now let us extrapolate for those of you who are starting a new job or new hobby:

  • What kind of background knowledge or preparation do you need for that new job?
    • What kind of research should you do for it?
    • What questions do you need to ask?
    • Who do you need to ask?
    • What are you personally interested in knowing?
  • For a hobby, what kind of supplies are needed?
    • What background knowledge do you need to know about the activity?
    • Who could you ask about it?
    • What does the activity entail?

Even though diving into something is thrilling and makes for a great, risk-taking story, it is still a risk. In a later post we will talk more explicitly about the challenges of entrepreneurship, but for now continue to consider these two questions:

What kind of preparation do you have for your current ambition?

What kind of preparation do you still need?

How To Innovate, Evolve, And Do What You Want

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If you followed my gospel from last week, you have already begun to rephrase how you do things "right or wrong" into doing things that are healthy for you and things that you genuinely want to do. Now that the pressure is lifted, how do you evolve? By innovating. 

I feel like no word is safe anymore because innovation, though an old word, is now such a buzz word in the business world. Ever since that fruit company (Apple, is it?) got in the habit of pumping out multiple products in a calendar year, businesses took the importance of making new products more seriously instead of relaxing on those that have worked for years. 

Humans need progress to feel adequate. 

No matter how small, one new step makes a big psychological difference in someone's self-worth. The past two weeks' posts have revisited the concepts of Commitment and Resilience in practice. Following the sequence, this week is about Adaptability. Now that the pressure of doing things right or wrong is alleviated, you have the free mental space to innovate, pivot, adapt, or transition in order to evolve in your work.

WHAT TO DO

The cool part is that judging decisions and risks based on what is healthy / what you want is now your secret weapon that can be employed in your product innovation as well. Here is how. Innovation can occur in three ways:

  1. You design the new product and implement it yourself because you want to and it feels awesome. 
  2. You design the new product and delegate its implementation to someone else because you only enjoy the design aspect and implementing it is not a healthy use of your time.
  3. You know that you want to innovate something new but you do not enjoy designing the new product or implementing it, so you delegate the whole project to someone else and act as its supervisor to approve whether it aligns with your vision.

Notice how all three of those were about what you as the owner wants and finds to be a healthy use of your time and skills? Pretty awesome how that works. And easier than you thought, huh?

REAL TALK

Even though the pressure of doing it right or wrong or perfect is gone, of course there is pressure involved with innovation. Market research is important so that you know what customers need and so that you can innovate to those exact requirements instead of guessing and praying. Amongst the pressure, listening to your genuine interest barometer helps you prioritize what ideas to pursue. 

I started my business as a creative and had to balance it with the business logistics I committed myself to learning over time. As a creative, it should be no surprise that I have a surplus of ideas that I would enjoy creating for my business. Because I am the only member of my team at the moment, I prioritize the little things that I can add for clients right now to augment the experience of working with me. "Well sure, Taylor, that makes sense because you have to do that for clients in order to stay in business." Yes, but ONLY BECAUSE I WANT TO.

I repeat: because I want to.

I am facing the need to innovate in lots of ways right now, and I am doing the market research for it, but I consistently decide how to spend my energy based on what would be healthy for my goals to work on in this moment. 

WHAT IS NEXT

Hey all you non-entrepreneurs out there! This works for you as well. For those of you who work in a corporate job, what evolution do you currently seek? What is your ultimate goal in your current role? What innovative steps do you want to take to get there? This could be a conversation with a boss, collaborating with a colleague in a different department, or taking a weekend workshop to acquire a new skillset.

Let us break it down.

#1 Starting: Whether you are an entrepreneur innovating a new product or a corporate employee hoping to evolve within the company, start by thinking like a creative. Start listing out any bit of an idea that comes to mind and break it down a little more if you can. Map it out if you can. Draw a flow chart of what it would need to be born. If you do not identify as creative, then only list things out. Stick to words for now. Write down whatever comes to mind.

#2 Learning: Whoever your audience or community is, fire up the ole Google and research whether the ideas' keywords you wrote down relate to any current need in the market. If it does not, that is okay. It may down the road, so do not erase it. Move on to the next one. 

#3 Acting: If you found an idea that strikes in the market, ask yourself whether or not that is interesting for you personally to work on.

#3a  If it is not interesting for you to work on, is it still interesting to you to have in your business? If so, what kind of help do you need?

#3b If you do not know what kind of help you need for it, who is someone you know that you can ask: "hey, do you have advice on who I would ask to help with ________?" Simple as that. 

#3c If it is interesting for you personally to work on, how do you go about starting? Do you have the necessary knowledge or skills to do it? If not, with which requirement would you want to start?

You will feel pressure at every turn of your business or job. Your interest in your professional evolution gives you motivation. Your motivation faces up to the pressure in the moment. Asking yourself what action you want to take from there is the positive step forward. 

The Simple Way To Turn Your Life Into Grad School

How many of you out there would love to just go to school for the rest of your life? 

I know a lot of people who would immediately raise their hands like Hermione Granger. I know a ton of people who would say absolutely not, and that is fine too. 

I do not know where it came from when I was born and began to evolve my own sliver of primate consciousness, but I have loved learning for as long as I can remember. Not just hearing new information - truly learning it. Letting it seep into my muscles and marrow and the very folds of my brain. 

If you read a few posts back about my one-day stand with calculus, you have an idea of my relationship to math. But even math I find fascinating - not enough to keep learning for the flipping fun of it, but for what it is, why it exists, and the way that problems are identified and solved. The logic and the systems of it. 

I have come to realize that my interest in math, for example, is the same interest I have in the human mind. The logic, the systems, the way that we face changes and challenges and adapt in order to address them. 

Information that we absorb we process and integrate in our minds based on our unique learning styles as well as our biases toward what we have enjoyed learning in the past. I am fascinated by math because of the way human beings invented it, now interact with it, and how math plays a role in explaining so much about the world, not by the act of solving a proof in my high school classroom. Similarly, I am fascinated by physics because of how it explains the universe and how chaotic systems have led to planets and species evolution, not by the idea of solving one of the foreign language formulas that fill up chalkboards in a lab.

I have come to peace with the fact that I may not get the chance to learn most things I would like to in this lifetime (Perhaps I will read about them during retirement in my leather easy chair and velvet robe I will own and with the sun setting perfectly outside the window), and accepting the classic constraints that time places on how much I can learn enables me to happily open myselfto learning everything I can every day.

Access to information is at an unprecedented level and even saying that is becoming redundant with the pace by which apps and websites and companies and programs are evolving while I write this post. 

This is profoundly so in the world of business/narrative/branding/marketing/strategy. I just spoke with a colleague and fellow Narrativeologist who said "You are never ahead or on top of how fast the industry and media is moving." 

(Sooooooo we created a monster...? Table that for now...)

The solution? "Honesty," he says.

"If you accept that you will never be able to get ahead of the world, it will be much easier to tell a client 'Hey, I have not thought of that before. Let's talk about it' when they offer a counter-perspective on your solution. Being honest about not knowing something opens the door to solving problems as a team."

Learning is collaborative. My company's tagline is Confidence through Collaboration and I mean it both ways. There is no such thing as a true expert but I know things that clients find helpful to learn either about themselves or their brands.

Simultaneously, every client knows so many things that I do not know and presents the opportunity in every conversation to teach me something new about myself, my company, and what I think about the human experience. 

A lot of my clients are inundated by the billion things out there now to help them grow their businesses. It is my job to simplify things for them, but I cannot do that unless I learn from them what math problems they are facing or what chaotic systems are affecting their evolution. 

The opportunity for learning is just that: an opportunity. It comes from something. Whether it is something subconscious like a personal motivation or interest that presents itself, as customary as a teacher presenting something new in class, or as tangible as the pressure to figure out what makes you stand out in your industry (Pro tip: that is why you come to me...), inspiration must be there from a separate source. 

So maybe it is not about going back to school for the rest of your life. Maybe life is all the schooling you need.

What is the source of your inspiration? What are you dying to learn about?