Other People's Secrets

My goal was to make a video that captured my friends as they look and sound in 2016 so that I could always have a piece of them frozen in time as I leave college. I also wanted the video to be meaningful and have a purpose. This is what I came up with:

Thank you so much to everyone that participated. None of this would have been possible without you.

Are You Really "Wasting Time"?

Somewhere in my mind the idea of “wasting time” has become synonymous with “not engaging in income generating or portfolio building activities”. If I take a nap - I’m wasting time. If I go for a hike - I’m wasting time. If I watch one episode of The Office - I’m wasting time.

“A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”
- Charles Darwin

I read this quote the other day and it got me thinking. Sometimes you need to sleep in the middle of the day, there is a lot of value in being out in the wilderness, and I love the way Pam and Jim’s awkward flirting makes me feel. Calling my time spent napping, hiking, or watching The Office “wasted” is not what I mean or believe that time to be. Considering that time “wasted” is conditioning. It’s what I was indirectly taught in school and by the popular culture of 21st century America.

As I dug into this further, I found my own definition of “wasting time”. Wasting time: Doing things that do not make you happy, do not get you closer to your dreams, and do not get you excited or make you feel fulfilled in any way.

Wasting time is not napping, it’s mindlessly going through Facebook when I can’t focus. Wasting time is not hiking, it’s sitting through a class that I know is just bullshit. Wasting time is not watching The Office, it’s living for the weekend - if you have to slog through 5 days just to have an enjoyable 2 then you should reflect on your current situation a little bit, your life is passing you by.

Even with my new definition of “wasting time”, I still find myself feeling like I need to earn my play time, and even then I feel a little bad taking time for myself. I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, which saddens me. Luckily (or not so luckily) this is due to conditioning, and conditioning can be changed. When I’m taking time for myself and start to feel this way I remind myself that these times of play are what make life worth living. You work to live, not live to work - the natural state of the world is play and somehow we’ve forgotten that.

No activities are inherently a waste of time. There is no textbook definition for wasting time. Take a minute and ask yourself what wasting time looks like for you, and don’t be stupid in the eyes of Alan Watts.

“If you say that getting the money is the most important thing, you’ll spend your life completely wasting your time. You’ll be doing things you don’t like doing in order to go on living, that is to go on doing things you don’t like doing, which is stupid.”
- Alan Watts

My Last Week as a Formal "Student"

This is my last week as a student; my last week in formal education. This is a day I’ve thought about since 4th grade when I would wonder who I’d be then and what I’d be up to. It’s finally here - and I’m very excited for it.

However, I also find myself a little torn, and it’s a kind of funny feeling. There are a lot of things I have done in College that many others have not, and vice-versa. As I walk through town on these last few days and see everyone out and about, I’ve been reflecting on the things I never did - and it has reminded me of a quote that I really love:

Lincoln

If I didn’t do something in College, that’s because I didn’t think it was the best thing to do out of all the options presented, and I take comfort in that. Now, sometimes I missed things, but hindsight is 20/20.

The things that I didn’t do fall privilege to the Daisy Buchanan Effect. Having not been a part of these activities or organizations and not having anything but my imagination to ground me in them, I am allowed to build them up into something quite amazing that they could never actually live up to, i.e. what Jay Gatsby does to Daisy Buchanan throughout The Great Gatsby. I have to remind myself of that sometimes. Especially with social media these days, things often look a lot more fun than they were.

I don’t regret anything, I wouldn’t trade my time here for anything. Without this experience I would not be the person I am today, or where I am right now. I’ve met some amazing people, many of whom are going to be present in my life until we die. Wondering about the past and if you missed out on anything is natural. Hopefully you can look back and say to yourself, “I have simply tried to do what seemed best each day, as each day came”, for that is all you can do.

You're Funding Student "Startups" All Wrong

Penn State is a huge research university. That’s great - unless you don’t like research. In branching out into areas other than research, this strong history is creating a lot of problems - specifically in how Penn State is encouraging entrepreneurship.

Research is expensive. I’m not going to try and say that it isn’t. You need materials, equipment, subjects, there’s a lot there. You also need to maintain the labs. None of this is cheap. When people are looking to start new projects they need funding. This is the reality of research. This style of thinking is strangling the entrepreneurship ecosystem at Penn State.

Most student companies don’t need funding out of the gate. People think they do because the media highlights astronomical seed rounds and ignores those who are bootstrapping away - until they make it big. Startup life is also portrayed as this lavish party where investors bankroll you until you fall ass-backwards into success. This misconception lines up perfectly with the research mentality of needing money to get started.

As a result, in order to support entrepreneurship, the University is wrongly focusing time and energy into securing thousands of dollars to hand out here and there - most of the time it is distributed through pitch competitions (I could write a whole other post on these competitions, they are the fastest way for the University to squander away money. Most students do them just to pocket the money and never intend on moving forward with their ideas). The Summer Founders Program is the best way I’ve seen funding for early stage student ventures be done. Student teams go through a rigorous interview process, and then if accepted, are given $10,000 to work full-time on their idea. This removes all distractions and lets the teams move very fast.

These thousand dollars here, thousand dollars their efforts (pitch competitions) are not effective. I haven’t actually seen them achieve their desired outcome before. You get the vanity metrics of business cards, t-shirts, and Onward State articles, but after a few weeks, these teams disappear and are never heard from again.

Here is the assumption Penn State has made and not validated: student startups need funding to get up and running. Now I don’t think any faculty member would say, “yes, startups always need funding”. But that is how they are all acting. This causes a lot of harm. Resources are already incredibly limited, and are being handed out in large sums to a select few - so only a handful of students get to see any benefits. Of the teams that get resources, 95% of them are either doing it for the money and/or an ego boost. In order to win these competitions you just have to be the loudest, not the most qualified. As a result, the students that are busy building cool things get overpowered by the wantrepreneurs who just want to live the Hollywood depicted startup lifestyle. This is detrimental to the entrepreneurship community.

The wantrepreneurs and the University like vanity metrics, and that’s what they bond over, which creates a vicious cycle that will ultimately deplete the resources without creating anything - except business cards and newspaper articles. The students the University claims to and wants to support become marginalized and eventually disappear, often upset and demoralized.

The Solution

Students are stereotypically poor, and giving us a few dollars for our side-projects (usually mislabeled as startups) can be extremely useful. We don’t need $3000, but only $50 to cover 5 months of server costs or $15 to pay for a domain name. I bought a second monitor, a few months ago, for $40 from Lion Surplus. A little can go a long way if you really want it to. When students come knocking for these micro-grants, the University needs to push back a little at first too. Ask them “Why?” a whole bunch of times. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly if they are just stealing $50 or are really trying to do something big with your money.

Students should also be taught how to write cold emails asking for discounts or free credits. Most companies have great student deals that no one ever seems to utilize.

Penn State could leverage it’s size to help students out and not even have to put up its own money. They should put together an “Entrepreneur Launch Kit”, or whatever they call it, which is a collection of free credits or downloads that the University has gotten companies to provide for their students - similar to the Github Student Developer Pack. The companies get students into their ecosystems early on and the University helps remove barriers for us students - it’s a win-win.

A $50 grant is more powerful than what it can buy. It shows students that Penn State cares and thinks they are worth investing in. It makes them feel like they are a part of something - this is huge for the entrepreneurship community! Now instead of 3 teams with $2000 each, we have 120 people who are excited to be a part of something awesome. But the University can’t see a direct return on investment in excitement, community, and belonging, so they’ll never invest in it. To them, it’s the companies that make money, not the students. They’ve forgotten that there are people behind those dollars.

From "You" to "I"

I want to highlight something that is very important and rarely talked about. I noticed that all four Elevate workshop facilitators hit on it, but it wasn’t until I was talking it through with William the other day that I really got it.

Have you ever had someone offer you advice that felt irrelevant, cliche, or even the opposite of what you were going for? In some cases, the advice was even to go and have experiences that you were intentionally trying to avoid for good reason. Being in College, I’m pretty sure that every other thing out of the mouth of someone over 23, that is intended for me, is advice. It’s terribly frustrating. Especially when the advice is based on a future that I don’t plan on having. For example, I have returning alumni always tell me to, “live it up before I get to the real world because the real word is just not fun”. No, I’m sorry you made some poor choices and are doing things you don’t want to do, but I’m not you.

That’s the problem. Advice often comes from a place of “you”. “You should do this…”, “You should do that…”. That advice is only relevant to the giver. It’s a projection of what they miss, regret, or wish they had the courage to do. It’s not helpful, and in some instances it can cause harm. No one knows anything. We have experiences and perspectives that we can share with others, but no one has the answers. We need to share from that place. The place of “I”.

When you speak from a place of “I” you make yourself vulnerable. You’re sharing a personal experience and what it meant for you. This makes your advice become more “take it or leave it”. “This is what happened to me, this how I responded, and this is the outcome/takeaway. Take it or leave it, I was just sharing a story.”

We’ve all lead very different lives and live inside realities with different goals and possibilities. By speaking from a place of “you” we are trying to force the rules and expectations of our reality on someone else instead of welcoming them into ours. And who knows, when you let people in with an “I” they may find the answers and help that a “you” could never have provided.