8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials

(Photo: ElMarto)

Michael Ellsberg has been a good friend since 2000. 

In the last few years, he has made a study of self-study. How do the best in business do what they do? Using his findings, he has:

– Overcome a debilitating case of bipolar II (here’s how).

– Landed one of the most powerful literary agents in the world.

– Published not one but two books from major New York publishers, the second scoring a 6-figure advance.

– Found the woman of his dreams and married her.

– Built a well-followed blog on Forbes.com with zero prior blogging experience.

Most recently, Michael has interviewed the likes of fashion magnate Russell Simmons, Facebook cofounder Dustin Moskovitz, Facebook founding president Sean Parker, WordPress lead developer Matt Mullenweg, and Pink Floyd songwriter and lead guitarist David Gilmour. Dozens of iconic figures pepper his list of case subjects.

Why? Because none of them graduated from college, and he wanted to learn how they educated themselves. His findings were then encapsulated in “The Education of Millionaires.”

In this post, Michael will discuss how uber-successful people leapfrog their peers without any formal credentials. By the end of this post, you’ll have a roadmap for hacking “job requirements,” degrees, and the lot…

In the words of Alfonso Bedoya in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre:

“Badges? We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any stinkin’ badges!”

There is a surprise ending to this post. Don’t miss it.

Enter Michael Ellsberg

A phrase you’ll see a lot if you search for a job these days is “BA required, MA preferred.” A recent New York Times article was entitled “The Master’s as the New Bachelor’s,” and ended with the following question:

Given how many people are now getting master’s to stand out from those with bachelor’s, “Will the Ph.D. become the new master’s?”

This anxiety around educational credentials has launched a million self-criticisms across the nation…

“Well, if I don’t have my BA, I better not even think about getting that ‘BA required’ job!” Or, for those who have a BA: “Well, that’s just like having a high school diploma these days. I better go back to school so I can spend two years and another fifty-to-hundred grand getting an MA. That way, I can stand out from all those BAs and compete with the MAs on an even playing field.”

The purpose of this article is to even the playing field for you, without the BA, MA, or MBA, and without the student debt. You can get those degrees for other reasons (if you feel they will enrich your life, for instance). But never again should you feel that they’ll give you a massive advantage in job searches or economic opportunity. For your typical job search, those advantages are massively overhyped. They can be sidestepped, outsmarted, and overcome.1

Forget the Formal Job Market—Focus on the Informal Job Market

At age 25, Eben Pagan had a resume that consisted of dropping out of community college after one semester, touring in a Christian rock band, and various stints at manual labor. Most people would say this resume qualified Eben for a life of asking “Would you like fries with that?”

Thinking that he might get into real estate, Eben signed up for a course by a real estate marketing and sales trainer named Joe Stumpf.

“I immediately recognized I had to somehow work for this guy and soak up his knowledge. But I didn’t know how I was going to do that. Here he was, leading big group workshops all over the country, and I was barely scraping by.”

Most likely, had Stumpf’s organization been advertising open positions (which it wasn’t), those positions would have had all kinds of job requirements attached to them. Eben, with his lackluster resume, wouldn’t have made the cut.

This, however, is where Eben began “hacking” the concept of job requirements and credentials.

“I started calling up his outbound telemarketers. These guys are trying to sell you on something, so they’ll talk to anyone! I told them about my experience at the workshop and became friendly with them. I found out they were all fans of Tony Robbins. Once, I found this set of Tony Robbins tapes at Goodwill for ten bucks, so I packed the tapes up and sent them to them. Things like that.

“One day, they sent me some audiotapes of Joe. I called them up and said, ‘The audio on this program is not good.’ I had a background in sound from my band days. So I talked to the general manager of the company, and I went to work for them, first doing audiovisual for their live seminars. I worked there for three years, rising up the ranks.”

The skills Eben learned in those three years, studying from a world-class master of marketing and sales, set him up for the massive business success he’s had in the rest of his career. Shortly after, Eben began selling info-products (mainly e-books, membership communities, Web-based trainings, and in-person weekend workshops) on the Internet. Today, Eben’s company, Hot Topic Media, now brings in around $30 million a year in revenue and employs about 70 people around the globe. He founded it himself, and grew it over a decade with no investors. He is a self-made multimillionaire, and would never have to work another day in his life if he didn’t want to. He runs his business off his MacBook, and spends his time either working from his home office in New York (which has a majestic view of the Empire State Building), or his beach-side home office in Miami.

The story of how Eben got this all-important first job demonstrates a distinction that will be crucial for you in seeking opportunities throughout your life, no matter the status of your formal credentials.

It’s the distinction between the formal job market and the informal job market.

The informal job market comprises all jobs that are not filled through someone responding to a job advertisement. Usually, these are jobs that are filled through relationships. Either there is a position at the firm that needs to be filled, and an employee at the firm knows someone who’s qualified. Or, the firm wants to bring a specific person they know to join the team, and they create a position for that person out of thin air.

If you do some Googling on the informal job market, you’ll learn something shocking: according to various estimates (on CNN, CBS, MSNBC, and NPR) somewhere around 80% of jobs get filled informally. In other words, only 20% of jobs get filled through people responding to job ads (the primary method of job seeking most people do).2

So, how does the 80% of hiring that occurs in the informal job market actually happen? The way Eben did it: by building up a professional relationship with people within the organization doing the hiring, long before the hire is made.

Connections. Referrals. Knowing people who know people.

This means that, in the vastly larger informal job market, human relationships and a solid network are far more important than GPA figures on a resume.

Yet, nearly all the educational and career advice you’ll get (focused on making your resume perfect for recruiters) optimizes you for competing on the much smaller and tougher formal segment of the job market, rather than on the informal job market. Seems a bit ridiculous, given that the informal job market is much larger and easier to “hack” into.

Employers Require Skills, Not Degrees

What’s the relevance of the course content for a BA or MA program to a typical corporate job? In most cases, absolutely zippo. What employers actually mean when they say, “BA required, MA preferred,” is that they want prospects with a certain set of skills, character traits, and attitudes. Specifically, they’re looking for organizational skills, the ability to follow instructions and make deadlines, critical thinking skills, writing and communication skills, research skills, and so forth. Plus, they want applicants with the general maturity, stability, perseverance, respect for authority, and work ethic required to get through a multi-year academic program.

In the formal job market, there’s no easy way for employers to rapidly assess all of those traits without some kind of objective screening tool. Educational attainment has become that screening tool.

So let’s get clear about one thing. Saying that a BA and MA is “required” to do a certain job is BS. These degrees are not actually required to do the job well. Rather, they serve as convenient screening tools for recruiters needing to wade through piles of cold resumes on the formal job market. That’s it, nothing more.

Your entire multi-year, six-figure education is reduced to a simple check-mark used to get past impatient screeners on the other end of a Craigslist ad.

For a person seeking a job or economic opportunity, this whole system of job screening is wildly inefficient.

What if instead, you focused on the informal job market, which is vastly larger and more accessible (especially if you learn some basic networking skills)?

The screening process in the informal job market does not happen through cookie-cutter grades, degrees, scores, numbers, or letters. It doesn’t happen through educational checkboxes and punchcards.

Rather, the screening process is embedded within human relationships: whom do you know, and who knows you? It happens through the layers of trust, credibility, and reputation that occur naturally within flesh-and-blood, offline social networks.3

Thus, in seeking opportunity within the informal job market, your networking, connecting, and relationship-forging skills are far more important than your academic test-taking skills. (I’ll be giving you some specific pointers on how to begin learning these real world skills in a moment.)

Formal credentials are not irrelevant in the unadvertised job market. All else equal, it’s still better to have more educational attainment than less. But that “all else equal” is the kicker, because within that is buried the “else” that actually matters in the informal job market: social-based credibility, referrals, your online and offline reputation, and your portfolio of demonstrable results achieved in the past.

Thus, the informal job market allows for many creative ways to hack “job requirements,” by simply developing relationships with the employers, as Eben did. People like to give economic opportunities to people they know and trust. Requirements be damned.

Create Your Own Damn Credentials; Create Your Own Damn Job

Most people wouldn’t dream of opening a designer wellness center, charging $500 per hour to coach VIP corporate clients on weight loss, if they didn’t already have some serious credentials to their name (at least a registered dietician, if not an MD or a Ph.D. in nutrition).

Unless you’re my wife, Jena la Flamme. Then you do it without even having an undergraduate degree.

Jena dropped out of college her junior year to travel around India for two years using the $6,000 she earned teaching English in Martinique. (You can get a great real-world education traveling around India on $3,000 a year, which is far cheaper than most colleges.)

She had struggled with overeating and binge eating throughout her teens, and was perpetually trying to lose twenty pounds. Through self-education in eating and nutrition, she was finally able to end her struggle with food, and lost the weight. She started coaching other women on how to do this, initially charging $100 an hour for her coaching sessions.

Reading The 4-Hour Workweek inspired Jena to build up an outsourced backend office in India, which allowed her to handle a higher volume of business and ramp up her coaching to the masses, offering one-to-many Internet-based classes. She began studying marketing and sales (learning much of it from college dropout Eben Pagan), and her business exploded.

Soon, Jena’s time became so scarce as her business grew that, if clients wanted access to her training, they started having to pay more and more for it — $200/hour, then $250, then $300 and up. Today, she charges more than a lot of lawyers and Ph.D. psychologists make per hour.

Her credentials? A large following online, free content in her blog and newsletter, a great set of real-world testimonials, her public image and reputation through great marketing, and her personal story.

Jena hacked her professional credentials.

By the end of this post, you’ll know how to do this for yourself.

Common Objections to Hacking Job Requirements, and The Yellow Pages Portfolio Fallacy

“But the higher the degree you have, the more you earn, on average!”

Yes, it is undeniable. The College Board reported the median income for various degrees back in 2010. This is what they found:

– High school diploma = $33,800

– BA degree = $55,700 (65% higher than those with a high school diploma)

– MA degree = $67,300 (21% higher than those with a BA)

– Ph.D. = $91,900 (36.5% higher than those with an MA)

Yet these statistics suffer from a rather serious problem. I call it the Yellow Pages Portfolio fallacy.

Imagine investing $1 million in the following manner: You are to call up companies in the Yellow Pages, in alphabetical order, and see if they’ll take $100,000 for a 10% stake in their company. The first ten companies that say “yes” will complete your investment.

That’s your $1 million portfolio.

Now, compare the financial future of two people who have an identical overall investment portfolio (stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.), except that one person also has this extra $1 million Yellow Pages Portfolio on top of all their other investments. Who earns higher returns from their overall profile of investments?

All else equal, the person with the Yellow Pages Portfolio.

Therefore you should invest $1 million in the Yellow Pages Portfolio, as well.

Uh, actually, no. That is the Yellow Pages Portfolio Fallacy in action.

All the example above suggests is that having an additional $1 million in net capital (no matter how moronically it is invested) is financially superior to having $1 million less in net capital.

The example says nothing about the best way for you to invest $1 million!

The above College Board statistics, which are the basis for nearly all public arguments about the financial advantages of higher education, are riddled with the Yellow Pages Portfolio Fallacy through and through.

All they show is that, on average, people who have invested more in their learning earn more. Big whoop. They will never answer the more important question: Is spending your time and money on formal credentials the best way of investing in your continued learning?

I’m not sure of a way to test that latter question with anything close to scientific rigor. However, we’ve seen that formal credentials have a much higher salience in the formal job market (which is the smallest part of the job market). Cheaper and more informal modes of career development, such as learning to become a great networker (à la Eben Pagan) have a higher bang for your buck in the informal job market, which is vastly larger.

So, my own unscientific guess is that, outside of fields which legally require credentials for licensure, there are far more efficient ways to go about investing in your earning power, rather than increasing your formal credentials. Just as there are far better ways of investing $1 million than in the Yellow Pages Portfolio.

“But degrees are an advantage in a tough market.”

Yes, and it would be an advantage for heightening my wife’s attraction to me if I showed up for our next date night in a custom $100,000 Alexander Amosu suit.

Talking about an advantage in absolute terms, without comparing it to the costs and benefits of other options (i.e. opportunity cost), is pointless.

To extend the analogy: Given the resources now available to me, are there ways I could go about increasing and maintaining my wife’s attraction to me which would be more effective, per dollar spent, than buying a $100,000 suit?

Using the 80/20 principle, I can think of a few things that would go 80% of the way towards increasing her attraction for me, without having to spend a lot of money. Perhaps a thoughtful handwritten poem, a home-cooked meal, a massage afterwards (or even something learned from, um, that section, in The 4-Hour Body). I could live without that last 20% of extra attraction the Amosu suit would get me (hot as it is), and save the hundred grand for other things, like a home for us.

There’s no question that increased formal credentials can give you an advantage. The question is, is it the best advantage you can buy with the amount of money and time you’re going to spend?

A master’s, for example, can cost two years, up to $100,000 in tuition (hmm, similar in price to that custom Amosu suit), and another $50,000-$100,000 in foregone earnings. Sure, that will give you an advantage. But the primary advantage it gives you is in slipping past screeners in the formal job market, where there are such things as “job requirements.” If you get creative in the informal job market (and outside of legally licensed fields like law and medicine), the notion of “job requirements” is—as we’ve seen—negotiable. Thus, the advantage a master’s gives you is far less salient.

I could think of a lot of ways you could spend $100,000 and two years that would give you a better advantage in the informal job market, over having a masters degree or even a bachelor’s. In fact, I’m going to outline an example of how I think you could spend a fraction of that $100K and get far superior results in just a moment.

“So… what should I do?”

There is no good data (and I don’t think there ever will be) on what the best way to invest in your own learning would be. There is only data showing that more investment in your learning is better than less. (Duh!)

In the absence of any data suggesting what the best investment in learning is, you will need to rely on your gut.

If your gut tells you that investing in your own continued learning informally would be the most effective for you, then don’t let the salesmen of formal credentials scare you out of it. The other option, of course, is to spend years of your life in an undergraduate or graduate program, dropping major cash on tuition, incurring foregone earnings, and going into massive debt in order to rack up ever-more formal credentials, so you can “compete” with millions of others getting the exact same credential each year.

If you instead decide to make more informal investments in your learning for success, over your whole life and career, my book is designed to point you on the path to getting started.

In the spirit of blogging, however, I’d like to give you a robust outline of how to go about investing in your own success in the informal job markets. This content is original to this post, and is not even in my book.

As I present this outline, I will assume that you are currently unemployed, and that you’re willing to devote full-time effort into finding employment or creating a practice or business. In other words, you’re willing to invest all the time you’d otherwise spend surfing Craigslist jobs sections, sending out resumes and cover letters (and hearing crickets), to hacking job credentials instead.

I did not follow the path below exactly—my path was much more random and meandering, and took about 10 years through trial and error. Instead, I’ve tried to distill what I’ve learned from this decade into something clear and simple that could be followed by a focused, determined person, in one year. If I were to do it over again, this is how I’d do it.

Without further ado, here are my 9 steps to conquering the informal job market within one year (at a fraction of the cost of a Master’s degree.)

Step 1: Choose Your New Field of Learning

Timeline: Month 1 (Starting out)

Figure out a field you’d like to build a career in. You don’t need to have great (or any) formal credentials. As I said earlier, the more creative and less regulated a field is, the more amenable it is to this kind of job credential-hacking. It’s easier to hack job credentials in programming, design, writing, sales, photography, multimedia, the arts, and entrepreneurialism, or in general “I need a job, any job!” type situations, than in accounting, law, or medicine.

So before proceeding to the next step, you’ll need to choose a field whose formal job credentials you’d like to hack. My field of choice was commercial writing.

Cost: $0

Time: An epiphany in the shower; a long walk on a beach; a few hours surfing Google.

Step 2: Showcase Your Learning

Timeline: Months 1-2

In this step, you will start a simple blog detailing your journey to learn everything there is to learn in this field.

But first, you’ll need to kickstart the learning process: Read one professional, business, or how-to book related to your chosen field per week. Choose a mix of classics in the field, along with some off-the-beaten-path books you discover through your reading and research. These books are typically written by active practitioners in your field; they are not the abstract books written by theorists, which tend to get assigned in academic programs. Thus, these books (written by actual, successful practitioners) will be infinitely more valuable in terms of streetwise content.

Then write one blog post each week detailing exactly what you learned from that week’s book.

This kills at least ten birds with one stone:

  1. You get the education of reading practical books related to your field.
  2. You demonstrate to potential clients/employers that you understand content related to your chosen field.
  3. You demonstrate your willingness and curiosity to continue upgrading your knowledge in your chosen field.
  4. You demonstrate your researching ability.
  5. You demonstrate your writing ability.
  6. You demonstrate your critical thinking ability.
  7. You demonstrate your creativity.
  8. Through your writing, you develop and demonstrate your unique professional personality and character, setting you apart from the zillions of faceless resumes.
  9. You develop and demonstrate your social media skills.
  10. You begin developing your professional brand, not as a job-seeker in your field, but as a thought leader in your field

Cost: $12-17/year in blog hosting; $10-$20 per book, or $0 per book at the library. (As Matt Damon said in Good Will Hunting: “You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for $1.50 in late fees at the public library.”)

Time: 1 hour to set up a WordPress blog. 10 hours per week to read two books. 4-10 hours per week to write two blog posts. Do this for 2 months initially, so you can accumulate a portfolio of 16 posts.

Step 3: Learn the Basics of Good Networking

Timeline: Still Months 1-2

Being a good networker is not an optional skill if you want to succeed in the informal job market. It is the skill. You’ll also need to be good at your craft and good at sales (we’ll work on those in a moment). But without a firm base of networking, you’ll get nowhere.

Here is a 1-hour lecture I gave on how to become a world-class networker. It’s the best breakdown of good networking I know of, and it includes two live demos of networking skills in action.

I delivered that presentation to the inaugural class of Thiel Fellows: 24 people under 20 years old, whom Peter Thiel is paying $100,000 each to “stop out” of college for two years and build businesses. Since they’re not getting traditional formal credentials, these brilliant young people are going to need to learn how to get past the screeners of opportunity informally—which is what I taught them in this hour.

If you’re more of a reader, here is a similar post on how to become a great networker. In my experience, the vast majority of people go about networking in exactly the wrong way. The video and article show you how to be one of the rare few who do it right.

Following the advice in the article, find three business owners per month you already know (either offline or online). Over the next two months, have conversations with them about what their challenges are, then do your damned best to start being of service to them. By the end of two months, you will have six new fans. And those are very good fans to have, because business owners know other business owners.

You’ve started to build what I call a “social economy”—a circle of successful business owners whom you support, and who support you. Keep building this social economy as much as possible during the time you go through these steps. It will be your secret key to success in the informal job market.

Cost: $0.

Time: 20 hours a week for the first two months. After that, fit in as much time as possible between the activities of other steps.

Step 4: Within Your Budding Social Economy, Start Working for Free

Timeline: Months 3-5

Begin to seek opportunities where you can practice your skills. Offer small, light services related to your chosen field for free to people in your network.

If you’re trying to hack credentials in design, offer free design services. If it’s copywriting or advertising you’re interested in, offer free copywriting or ad design to small businesses you patronize. (Small businesses rarely turn down free services!)

Say, “I’m training to become [X], and I’ve been meticulously studying the craft to learn how to do it well [link to your blog]. I’d like to offer you [some free services around X] as I build my practice. I don’t expect any payment at all. But down the road, if you like my work, perhaps you can refer me to other people you know who might benefit from it.”

Cost: $0.

Time: 20 hours a week spent in a combination of networking to get the gigs, and actually delivering services. Do this for 2-3 months.

Step 5: Develop Case Studies of Your Work

Timeline: Still Months 3-5

For 10 hours per week (when you are not networking or delivering services), blog about your experiences providing these services as case studies. Lessons learned, triumphs, mistakes, etc. Ask your client if you can use their name in the blog post, and show them what you’ve written before it goes up (so you don’t infringe on their privacy). Otherwise, hide and change all identifying details about the work.

Cost: $0.

Time: 10 hours per week, during the same 3-month period as in Step 4.

Step 6: Develop Relationships With Mentors

Timeline: Still Months 3-5

For the remaining 10 hours per week of this period, reach out to authors of the books you read and blogged about in Step 1, asking to interview them for your blog. The more time has passed since their last book came out, the more likely they’ll be willing to do the interview, as authors are almost always thrilled when someone shows interest in past work. (However, if they’re in the middle of writing or launching a new book, forget it! That’s like asking a pregnant woman for help when she’s about to go into labor.)

Now you are in the process of developing relationships with potential mentors in your field. This will pay off huge over the long run (for your career, personal development, and inner fulfillment).

Cost: $0.

Time: 10 hours per week, during the same 3-month period as in Steps 4-5.

Step 7: Learn Sales

Timeline: Months 6-7

Sorry, there’s no way around this. If you don’t learn sales, you will never reach the level of success you desire. Almost without exception, anyone who has achieved anything big in life was good at sales; if not literally selling products and services, then selling their ideas/vision.

Read SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. In my opinion, this is the best book on sales ever written. The focus is on deep inquiry into the customer’s actual problems, needs, dreams and desires — through asking the right questions and listening well — rather than through sleazy pitching. If you’re only going to read one sales book in your life, that’s the one you’ll want to buy.

Once you feel you have a basic grasp of the concepts in the book, find someone in your social economy (see Step 2) who has some kind of business, whether it’s products or services. The bigger the ticket price, the better, as there is a direct correlation between the ticket price of the sale, and the integrity, empathy, listening skills, and caring you have to have as a salesperson in order to sell it.

Ask if you can sell for them, with zero base salary. Perhaps you can get a commission, or perhaps not. But at this point, you’re not doing it for immediate financial gains. You’re doing it to get experience in sales, and to put what you learned from SPIN Selling into practice. The reason you’re doing it in an already-existing business (rather than your own) is that you want to get lots and lots of experience actually selling face-to-face with pre-qualified prospects, not trying to find people to sell to! My own freelance income nearly doubled when I learned proper, effective, non-sleazy, high-integrity sales.

Cost: $16 for SPIN Selling. And you might actually make money in sales commissions.

Time: Devote 20 hours per week to a combination of studying the book and putting the techniques into practice in a friend or acquaintance’s business; devote the other 20 hours per week during this period to continuing Step 3 and building your social economy.

Step 8: Sell and Deliver Your Services Within Your Social Economy

Timeline: Months 8-9

You’ve got the basics of your craft in place (credentials be damned!), you’ve built up your social economy, and you’ve learned sales. Everything is in place for you to start earning real money in your chosen field. Now you just have to go out and do it!

Have individual meetups with 10 business owners — the ones within your social economy — over breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks. Tell them about the portfolio of results you’ve achieved in the last seven months, both online and offline. Have honest-to-goodness conversations about their needs (a high-integrity sales skill you learned during Step 7).

If they have a need you can address, use your SPIN Selling skills to get them excited about the idea of working with you. If they don’t have a need you can address, connect them with someone else in your social economy who you think can help them. (This is Networking 101: refer people to the best solutions for their problems.)

Tell them about the specific type of problem and/or business owner you can help, and ask for their best three ideas for meeting that kind of business owner. You’ll usually come away with several great ideas, and possibly even some referrals.

If you have been following the steps diligently, you’d have to get worse than a 1/10 closing ratio to not get a sale. If you can beat that (pathetically low) closing ratio, you’ve got a sale.

Congratulations! You’ve just hacked “job requirements” in the informal job market.

Cost: $0.

Time: 40 hours per week spent networking, conducting sales meetings, and delivering services on the sales you close.

Step 9 (Optional): Rinse and Repeat

Timeline: Months 10 and beyond…

If you continue to build on all the skills in Steps 1-8, you can carry on as a self-employed freelancer, working on your own schedule (often from a remote location), for the rest of your life. It’s not a 4-hour workweek, but it definitely allows you to “Escape 9-5” and “Live Anywhere.”

This is the lifestyle I’ve built up for myself over the last decade. As I mentioned, I took a much more meandering path than the steps above to get there, but if I was to do it all over again, that’s how I’d do it.

The steps I’ve described above take about 9 months, the time of one academic year. The cost is around $300, mostly for books (less if you go to the library). The entire cost of this program is less than the cost of 2-3 textbooks in college, and is an infinitesimal fraction of the cost of a year’s tuition at a private college. Yet I believe the results you could get from this 9 months of self-study and $300 will far surpass the career results you could achieve through a BA or MA program. With the right focus, these steps can guide you through the basics of getting started in just 9 months. Instead of birthing a baby, you are birthing a new life for yourself, of freedom, and prosperity.

Contest: Win 6 Months of Private, 1-on-1, Free Mentoring

The thing that frustrates me about all the statistics around dropouts vs. graduates, is that they always compare people who stayed in college, to people who not only dropped out of school, but who also dropped out of learning.

Take two cohorts of good, smart, motivated, ambitious 18-year-olds with similar intelligence, discipline, creativity, and work-ethic. Put one through a BA program, and one through the 9 months of self-study I’ve outlined above. I believe the cohort of self-studiers—the kind of people I spent the last two years traveling across the country to find and interview—will kick the BA group’s asses.

In the absence of means to conduct such a formalized study as above, I’d like to propose my own little informal contest.

I’m going to give one reader a chance to have my own mentorship on these steps, free of charge, for six months.

During this mentorship, you’ll have two in-depth phone conversations with me per month, along with follow up emails in between. And, if it makes sense, I’ll try to connect you with some amazing people in my network.

This contest is for any and all readers who were inspired by this article. It doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, if you’re a high school dropout, are in school now, or a graduate of Harvard Law School. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been unemployed for years, or are successfully employed now but wanting to switch careers.

The only rule for following this is: you must choose a field you have absolutely no work history, credential, or experience in. It must be a completely fresh field for you, starting from scratch.

If you don’t have full time to devote to this, due to school or work obligations, and can only devote your off-hours to this, no problem! I’ll take into account the whole picture of your life in choosing the winners. But no matter how much time you devote to it, the area you compete in must be completely new and fresh to you.

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Commit to yourself to follow the 9 steps above for the next 9 months
  2. Create a blog exclusively dedicated to detailing your journey of self-education along these 9 steps (as per Step 2.) It must be a new blog, not one you already own.
  3. On December 29, 2011 (three months from the date of this post), I want you to post a URL in the comments that links to a post on your blog detailing your progress. I will pick one person from these links to mentor for the remaining six months. I am looking for QUALITY of results achieved in three months, rather than speed of working through the steps. I would rather see someone get up to Steps 4 or 5 really really thoroughly in three months, than get to step 7 in a slipshod manner.

There you have it. My curriculum for excelling in the informal job market. Go out and make it happen 🙂

Final Thoughts

You might think that college dropouts who become successful are “outliers,” and if you look at the statistics, that is true.

But that statistic is misleading, for a simple reason pointed out to me by my mentor Victor Cheng:

Most people who drop out of school also drop out of learning.

If you drop out of learning, you’ll always be stuck in jobs that require little more than a pulse, such as mopping floors, or asking people about their desire for fries. That’s why most dropouts are in dead-end jobs.

However, there are people who drop out of formal education, while still maintaining an absolute passion and discipline for learning—informally, non-institutionally, in the real world (and without the tuition bills or student loan payments). Those are the types of people I interviewed in my book, people like Eben and Jena. They dropped out of school, but they never dropped out of learning.

I spent the past two years interviewing the world’s most successful people who have the least formal credentials for their success. I’ve interviewed almost 40 millionaire and billionaires, all self-made, and none of them finished college. In interviewing them, I was consistently struck by one thing they all had in common: a complete lack of regard for socially-sanctioned formal “requirements” for bringing success into their lives.

No wonder they have so much success!

I’ll leave you with a simple question: What barriers, check-boxes, and credentials do you believe in that are keeping you from the jobs, opportunity, and success you desire?

As you’ve seen, nearly all of these barriers can be sidestepped, ignored, or hacked. It just takes some creativity and a few months of work.

What’s holding you back?


  1. This approach works better in some fields than in others. I do not recommend trying to “hack” the requirement of a bar certification or a medical degree, if you want to practice law or medicine! This approach should not be used for fields that require state licensure, obviously. However, for non-licensed fields such as programming, design, PR, marketing, IT, entrepreneurship, solo-preneurship, self-employed consulting and service businesses, journalism, sales, non-profits, the arts, and for your average “I need a decent job pronto!” type job searches, these approaches are golden. Back to Text
  2. There are some debates about exact numbers and percentages. After all, it’s very hard to measure what’s going on informally behind closed doors. However, virtually all career experts I’ve seen quoted on the matter agree that vastly more jobs get filled informally than get filled by people responding to job ads. As Steven Rothberg, founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, says on the MSNBC article, “[a]bout 90 percent of job openings go unadvertised, yet about 90 percent of candidates apply only to advertised job openings.” Back to Text
  3. Online social networking can be used to enhance/facilitate networking that is also happening offline, but it will never be a replacement. You can’t status-update a handshake or a good look in the eyes, and you can’t replace a two-hour dinner conversation with a tweet. Back to Text

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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398 Replies to “8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials”

  1. haha I absolutely love this:

    “Create Your Own Damn Credentials; Create Your Own Damn Job”

    It’s so true. I did this with a juggling course that I now sell online and through some affiliate niche blogs that generate me income.

    I’ll definitely be using these steps for more products that I create. Thanks for sharing!

  2. If I had kids I would still tell them to get both (education and skills). Neither one is the end all. Great education guarantees nothing. Neither does self education.

    In my experience a great education + rigorous self education and skill building will produce enormous synergy.

    1. That’s very true, but it’s not always possible. I would love to go to college to learn to become a strength & conditioning coach/personal trainer, but the school situation is ridiculous in Estonia.

      I would have to study either physical therapy or physical education. Both of them have a lot of classes that have little to do with my field. School also requires me to take tests, which require me to study facts, and I simply hate that. And I also think learning in college is extremely slow and ineffective, because you can’t design your own schedule very effectively. Besides, I just enjoy freedom to choose so much.

      If you went to college here in Estonia, you’d have a very hard time finding people that are as passionate about learning as I am.

      The thing is… I believe that life should be enjoyable. There is nothing enjoyable about seeing sad faces (very few people like to be in school; most feel they have to). There is nothing enjoyable about learning stuff that really doesn’t seem to be that relevant for what you want to accomplish. It’s also too theoretical; I also want to practice my skills, not just study some out-dated material.

      1. Risto,

        You are so right. There is a lot of wasted time in college, in individual classes and overall. There is also a lot of issues with school and college in the U.S. that are beyond reform. It’s at a point of revolution. School and college really have changed much in 200 years. But as time passes, not only is there change but sped up change. And if everyone is going to average several career changes because of the creative / destructive nature of capitalism, there needs to be change. I don’t coach or teach knowledge. What I teach is self-sustaining techniques, attitudes, and skills that enable the individual to not only learn but learn better, faster, to retain the knowledge, to be a more creative, intuitive problem solver. I teach the student how to self-teach for education today more than ever before is individual not institutional. They’ve been doing it poorly for so long that it’s catching up to schools and colleges. Change is coming, and it’s here.

    2. Hey Kris, having both is of course better than having either one. But you only have so many hours in life. If you want to pursue a formal education, ask yourself what else could you be doing with that time? Is getting a BS the best way to spend your time?

      Michael illustrated that with the Yellow Pages Portfolio.

      That’s the whole point of the post.

    3. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case for everyone though. I think having a clear end game is more important than having a clear path. It ultimately depends on what the kid wants to achieve. Yes there are situations where college is absolutely necessary. Yes there are situations were college will be synergistic with skills. And then yes there are situations were college is just flat out not necessary.

      You can’t support a one-path-fits-all when no one has the same end game. The beauty is in the difference and the wisdom is knowing which one works best for the situation.

  3. I am a firm believer that the traditional methods of education are getting pushed to the wayside. The power of our information age and the opportunity to tap in is completely at our disposal. Times are changing brother and the years to come will be wild to watch.

    Living the dream baby!

    Patrick Hitches

  4. When I entered the workforce during the Pleistocene Era, I was told the main reason many companies wanted college graduates is because they came with a built-in network accumulated over the 4-6+ years spent @ university. If you can demonstrate that you are capable of building and influencing a similar network without such credentials, you’re probably way ahead of a recent grad who make have book learning but can’t carry on a conversation in either real or virtual time.

    1. Bonnie,

      I’ve heard of that, but I think schools and colleges in general need to speed it up, steam line it, and enable self-sustained learning via acquisition of proper attitudes, awareness, and skills. We should be training people to think creatively and intuitively, for this is the age of the creator what with 1/2 of all money made in the states coming from the creative sector. Like never before we need self-learners what with the change and complexity afoot.

      1. I agree. But if schools were all about the students, and imparting self-education, then they wouldn’t be increasing construction and raising tuition just because they can due to the artificially increased demand the government creates via guaranteed student loans, grants, etc.

        A very basic rule of economics is people act in self-interest. A second basic rule is throwing money at an industry raises prices due to increased demand… and increases the engagement in it.

        People who bought slaves to free them only stimulated more slaves capturing. Outlawing drugs makes selling them profitable, that dealers will give out free samplers to get people hooked, ultimately increasing usage.

        Following same spirit as this blog, the only answer to prosperity ever lied in freedom.

    1. Well I didnt want to be rude with my language but I really was thinking this is like porn to my ears. Makes my brain squeal in delight to know that I’m not a crazy rebel just doing my own thing. Of course I don’t mind being a crazy rebel if it works…and it DOES!

  5. Michael Ellsberg: this post convinced me to buy your book. There is a lot of wisdom in here and I can totally related, because I’ve been doing this for the last 5 years.

    In today’s world, access to people is crucial. For people who are looking for company to work for, I would recommend the company where you have the opportunity to work with someone you want to learn (mentor) from AND where you can expand your people network.

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. I’m a big fan of Eben and I did not know he was in a rock band! Haha.

  6. I feel like I’m spreading myself thin! I just started the last $1M challenge. I’m also a mobile chiropractor making house calls (and not charging as much as I should). After reading this post, I realize I was doing it wrong on some parts, and right on others. I’ll start following the guide above, and can’t wait to see where it takes me. Thanks for the post!

    Dr J

      1. I started about March 2011, so here’s what’s happened so far.

        Step 1 /right/: Defined my business. Had to write business plan to get a loan, which got turned down twice, gave up buying a practice and instead went mobile, very low overhead.

        Step 2 /right/: Started blogging once a week about topics my current clients are facing. Starting to think about writing for clients I want to have. Also set up facebook and twitter. Have not updated linkedin in 3 years.

        Step 3 /right/: Sorta. Networked with friends/family, which got me started but referals plateaued. Will use techniques from your video

        Step 4 /right/: Instead of free, accepted donations and forwarded them to charity (Japan Tsunami). This’s also how I figured out my pricing: “Donate what you think my service is worth.”

        Step 5 /wrong/: HIPAA privacy prevents me from doing testimonials. Changing names to keep them anonymous defeats the purpose. Not sure what to do here. Obtaining patient consent to testimonials haven’t held in my state. 🙁

        Step 6 /right/: I have a consultant, and have good relations with other chiropractors, but haven’t found another mobile chiropractor, which’s what I do.

        Step 7 /right/: Took me 2 years to get this down. I have a pretty good closing rate. I’ve started adding more value and service, and bumped up my price, but still 1/2 of where I think it should be.

        Step 8 /wrong/: Fear. Fear of rejection, fear of success. I’ve got a script and email to pitch to local business owners, but haven’t done anything. I’ve got script/email/brochures for non-profits and charities, but haven’t even contacted 1. FEAR!!! Fear of unknown. 🙁 But one-on-one, my closing rate is good.

        I still want to take on your challenge, and expand. So I’ve chosen to get into government contracting. I think I qualify, this’s brand new to me, I’ve got no experience and know nothing. It does require some licensing/certification, but still something that anybody can do. So count me in, will set up a wordpress blog tomorrow, head to library and pick up a book, and start networking for this.

        Thanks for writing this up, and thanks for personally responding, I feel like I’m talking to my idol. I’m shaking as I type this, :)~ Would love to get any tips/pointers especially about asking for referals, step 8, and fear. Thanks and good night!

      2. Hi. First of all I would like to thank you and to thank Tim for this amazing post. I really liked it. Don´t get me wrong Tim. I´m a 4hour fan but this is the first time that I make a comment. Maybe because of the similarities between what Michael describes and what it has happened to me on the last year and a half. Too bad I already started my adventure.

        I agree with most parts of what you said but I would like to say that the rules are really different depending on the country you talk about. I have been lucky to visit the US a few times and there are always some people willing to pay for new adventures, new ideas… Very different from my country (Spain) where there is almost 0 opportunities for entrepreneurs. I believe that being part of this reality everyday, makes everything much easier.

        But if any reader, outside of the US, think that these steps can´t be applied to his or her life because they don´t have the same opportunities there, either because of their cultural or social pressure or because of the lack of income (I had 0 euros. Well I had debts so it was less than 0). I would suggest to adjust these steps before not considering at all. I wish I had read this article the last year. It would have saved me a lot of time. And tough situations.

        In my case, my background (Licensed acupuncturist, wich unfortunately is not a university degree) is different from my passions (languages, and designs)

        I started to teach Spanish to English speakers via skype and gchat almost by accident, after the Spanish economic crash (well, I can´t really tell we are out yet). Little by little I started to create my own method to teach Spanish based on the repetition of a large variety of exercises to “work out” (that´s how I like to call it) the specific parts of the language you need to practice.

        Creating a system to “train a language” instead of learning a language was a good idea but I paid the price of my naiveness. And that is why I believe this post can help a lot of people everywhere.

        Building your network and having sales skills are the most important things to start anything. You can have the greatest idea ever (of course I´m not saying that is my case) but if you don´t have a good network you will be sad, disappointed and also depressed because of the lack of results. In my case I became obsessed to teach faster and make people to learn Spanish from 6 months up to 1 month. And of course that is not healthy and it doesn´t guarantee better results.

        So I hope people with tough economic situations like Spain, Greece, or even tougher like Colombia, Ecuador… don´t give up and keep trying new ways to do things. And of course, read this priceless blog.

        Thanks Michael and of course thanks Tim.

  7. this is a great article!

    i’ve basically followed these steps to become a filmmaker. my big regret is not focusing enough time and energy on networking. networking is definitely one of the most important factors in becoming what you want to be in life.

    1. Yes, more and more I have come to believe that relationship-building (which I actually think is a more accurate term than “networking,” even though I do use that term in the article) is *the* place to be focusing your energy for your professional development. It’s not a nice afterthought, it is not something to do when you have some free time. It is *the* thing, if you want to get to a higher place in your career than you are now. Much more, actually, than improving your craft further.

    1. Actually, hope to see you in 3 months! Post a link here to what you come up with Dec 29th, 2011. You could win mentoring for the next 6 months of the steps!

      1. Hey michael,

        my website is http://www.furiousversions.com. Be sure to first click the page ‘more about this project and the author’ before reading my posts. It contains a letter addressed directly to you.

        Best wishes with your choice,


  8. Michael,

    Great post! Funny, I just started this process in regard to “Making” and DIY culture. I now have a regular column on Make Magazine’s blog, Zero to Maker. Can we still enter if we started the process a month ago?

    Rock on,


    1. Wow, like you’ve come a very long way in a month! I’m not saying that facetiously, but with sincere congrats. But to be fair, for the contest, everyone who wants to compete needs to start from scratch. You’re already quite far into your craft, my man. Which is great. Keep going with it. Follow the steps and you will go far. And post your progress anyway, for your sake and for our inspiration.

  9. Combining this methodology with Ramit Sethi’s Earn 1K course produces some unbelievable results. Which is exactly what I’ve done.

    Got my BA 10 months ago, took Earn 1K 8 months ago, blended it with many of these same strategies, and now I make several thousand dollars a month.

    This post is the real deal. Think I’ll go grab a copy of “The Education of Millionaires” right now.

  10. wow, this is exactly what I need. I’m starting my web dev / seo business right now and I’m going to use everything in this to get going.

    I’ve already started, so I’m not exactly a candidate for the contest, but who cares.

    And I’m sharing this with all my friends who are saying they need school to get somewhere.


  11. Interesting article. I totally agree with SPIN Selling being one of the best, if not the best sales book ever written. The article also contains some Napoleon Hill philosophy, which appeals to me. Reading Hill’s ‘Think and grow rich’ it became clear to me that school education isn’t necessarily an absolutely needed must-have in order to be successful (see Henry Ford, Thomas Edison,…). Other qualities are much more important than an MBA or so.

    Regards from Greece,


  12. This is something that I believe in greatly. A degreed / certificated / arbitrarily authorized individual has no monopoly on achievement. Personally, I have worked as a musician, computer programmer, stand-up comic, college professor, writer and entrepreneur with no formal training in any of those endeavors. Sometimes “a way” of doing something can inhibit “your way” of doing something. Success and achievement does not have “a way” either. It is “your way” or comes about individually based in a great variety of backgrounds, perspectives, understanding, etc. A very successful marketer once said that even on any give day he doesn’t know what he’s going to do, even though he does have a daily plan. But he stays open to what is happening at the moment (thinking on one’s feet a critical success skill) to inform him what to do. We all need to be able to self-educate and self-inform, especially today. For like never before things are speeding up and the greater variety is coming and going faster than ever before. One needs to be open and flexible in their thinking, not closed and on dimensional. Amen! ;o)

  13. I graduated college with an associates degree & plans to continue my formal education and get my BSc, but 5 years later that has yet to occur. This has been causing me to stress out and worry excessively about the damage I may be doing to my career path the longer I wait to finish.

    Since then although I’ve earned other industry credentials and have attained a position of some authority within my company, the real money has yet to appear.

    This post has given me some great ideas for networking with professional contacts to promote my own business; something which is in fact encouraged where I work, but that I have yet to do. I still want to finish my degree, but growing my own business is what I need to do to finance that education.


  14. I’m using this principle in a rather unusual venue… farming! With a location independent, flexible-schedule, software job providing income on the side, I’ve spent several hundred hours this summer with mentors offering free labor on their farms in exchange for knowledge and skills.

    This winter, my husband and I will spend 3 months in Hawaii, also on a (tropical) farm, escaping the bitter midwestern winter, also for free (except airfare over – $600 for 2 tickets). Our labor in exchange for free room and board. All of this has cost me nothing but time, and has given back to my mentors free labor in exchange for knowledge and experience.

    Perhaps a different type of learning than the post, but it sure has worked fantastically well.

  15. Absolutely fantastic blog post, Michael!

    Really resonated with me. Learned a few of the principles you teach from Keith Ferrazzi’s “Never Eat Alone” – specifically the chapter “Build it before you need it”.

    I’m actually going through the process of of folding my failed startup and I’m relying on the relationships I’ve built (through my giving) and asking for help, but only showing that I’ve demonstrated some value and ability to get things done to my network in some tangible or intangible way.

    Will have to reinvent myself in the next year as I transition careers and I’ll refer to this blog post extensively 🙂



  16. I’ve been seriously considering dropping out of college. I hate it and feel the only thing I’ve learned is to listen to lectures (I haven’t bought books the past 2 semesters), write essays (my average is 3-4 hours for an A paper, this is start to finish) and take tests.

    I’ve been telling people for months now that I would drop out in a heartbeat if only I had some other “real” project to work on. This contest could not have come at a better time, as I’m currently taking the semester off before I’m supposed to transfer to a 4-year university in January.

    I’m very excited to participate in the contest! You’ll have my link to my blog in three months.

    1. Wilma,

      I understand feeling like school is a waste of time – it really can be. However it sounds like you may be at a junior college at the moment. In my case transferring from a community college to a 4 year school made a huge difference. In most of my classes I learn a lot and I am able to build a network while I’m learning. I think another thing that can make the “college experience” worth every penny is living in community with other people that you like. Living and going through school together with other people is a great way to grow deep friendships.

      Just some thoughts as you consider your next steps.

      1. @Tim Ferris Pura vida? You wouldn’t happen to be in Costa Rica right now would you? 🙂

        I’ve been doing a LOT of homework on CR lately. I’m seriously considering expatriating to there.


  17. Learn Everything. Be THE black hole of knowledge acquisition.

    Find your spark and pour gasoline on it.

    It’s not the credentials that matter, it’s the thirst and drive toward knowledge in all forms- academically, and in the real world- that will take you to great heights.

    The truth that I’ve come to lately, is that EVERYONE has something to teach you. And that sounds hokey but when you put that idea to action, it’s amazing.

    That weird guy who you normally don’t talk to: he knows something that you don’t. Through conversation, SEARCH for what that is.

    We get so tied up sometimes in talking and trying to assert our own perspective, we don’t LISTEN.

    If I shut up for a second, and listen to what an “oddball” has to say , not only do I increase my insight into the world and become better, but that person feels appreciated and respected as well.

    Don’t discount anyone, because everyone has something to offer.

    1. Chase, you are so right. Orson Welles commented that he was never bored because everyone had a story to tell, something to teach. Think: Wellesian sponges. 😉

  18. Tim, I’m looking to make a donation of lighting and lighting accessories to your room to read fundraiser, can you direct me to the right contact?………I’d like to donate aprox $100k worth of product

  19. This is exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve really let my lack of degree be an excuse for too long. Thanks for lighting a fire under my ass.

  20. This text is awesome! I’m a BA Communications student and lately I’m thinking a lot about these topics. I will build a plan for my self based in these hints and hope this work well.

    A suggestion: don’t think in linear steps. I think you’ll get better results if you apply at the same time as many “steps” as you can.

  21. Great read. I am living proof of one who dropped out of college, but did not drop out of learning. I have read many business/ finance, marketing, exercise science text books that I could get my hands on. Also, I recieved personal trainer certifications from different organizations all of which I completed studying on my own. All of the aforementioned led to the creation of a personal training program for a corporation that was not there before my arrival on the scene. For a period of time I would offer my services for free and started a networking program with those that recieved my pro bono services. Now I am the owner of a personal fitness training service business that has been going strong for the last 16 years. I say all of this not to impress, but to validate, all of the techniques in this article work!

    1. Hi Jay,

      The mentoring is with Michael, who is killer at what he does. How he’s built his network, among other things, in the last 12 months is the best I’ve ever seen.


      1. Yo Tim, I’m in search phase of starting a sports nutritional supplements company. I’ve come to realize that in business, most people won’t help you…they just want to sell you something. I know you started bodyquick, I was wondering if you had some advice for me in this industry.

        Thanks man, your truly an inspiring person

      2. You will never get advice asking for advice. That is too general and frustrating to answer. I have only a taste of this and can imagine what Tim has to put up with.

        A better question to ask would be:

        – What’s one book you most recommend for a nutritional supplement startup?

        – How can I distinguish between people who want to help me and people who suck up for the sale?

        A fitting comment I thought for this great article covering mentorship and your social economy.

        I see this test by Michael being like Tim’s test in the 4 Hour Work Week. If you just did it, you’d probably win it. Will I do it? no… lol. I’m already enjoying myself helping guys make friends and influence people. Definitely will apply the steps though.

  22. Tim / Michael,

    Thanks for publishing this blog post. I enthusiastically agree with the core message of this post. I scored an internship at IBM in Auckland, New Zealand by skipping the traditional interview processes and simply having a casual coffee with key decision makers. Everybody else had rigorous screening processes applied to them. I didn’t. As it turns out I didn’t particularly like the job and it turned out that I was working at a real-life version of ‘Initech’ (for all you Office Space geeks out there). But the ideas in this blog post are true and really work.

    Great post… keep them coming.

    Tim: Thanks for writing both books. They are priceless. I’ve dropped 10kg and gone from 27.5% bf to 16% bf in approx 9 months. My dad has gone from approx 35% to about 18%. I’m sure it has increased his potential lifespan. THANK YOU.

    1. So glad you got outta there Sean! I have pretty much the same story, but I still had to have a formal interview.

      That was seriously the most intellectually messed-up job I’ve ever had. The bureaucratic b.s that went on there drove me mad! And don’t even get me started on Lotus notes haha…

      Glad to see you’re doing well – I’ll send business your way if I can.

  23. I’ve never understood the argument against college. Even ignoring the numbers, everyone should go to college for as long as possible….because college is awesome.

    There is no networking like the networking that happens while you brush your teeth at the bathroom sink, at a tailgate, or while hanging out in office hours. These are the people who you will be friends with for life. Assuming you attend at least a decent college, you’ll be force fed access to brilliant people on a regular basis who are paid to talk to you and give you advice.

    Should you also spend a huge portion of your time building a business during college? Sure. I did and it failed miserably, but I wouldn’t have a successful business now had I not run a bunch of projects into the ground when my income wasn’t dependent on them.

    You don’t need to go to college to be successful, and in some ways it hinders you, but go if you can go. Everyone always quotes the 100k+ numbers for college and more for grad school. I went to a top 10 business school for about 4 grand a semester and grad school is only a couple thousand more. It’s all the beer that makes it expensive.

  24. Many people who are recruited because of their credentials & formal education may never gain the skills and mindset that result from the “rite of passage” suggested in Michaels post. Moreover, a formal education may impede a person from developing the wherewithal to reliably teach themselves.

    The ability to teach yourself, with confidence, under your own self direction, without the formal guidance of an institution, is *hugely valuable*. This ability is literally a pillar of personal freedom…. a self directed learner who can navigate through lots of knowledge with some guidance from savvy mentors and an awareness of real world needs is well positioned for enduring success in a rapidly changing World.

  25. oooh cannot wait to try this out. ive been thinking about this sort of thing ever since i watched charlie hoehns talk on ted.com

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5qUR3tpEdA#! (recommended )

    just finishing up my second masters and preparing for a gap year off anyway so will be worth while trying this out.

    Michael/Tim do you think this sort of advice would be suitable for people in the science engineering sector as well?

    My two main interests are physics/engineering and social development.

    Ideally i’m looking to get work in a science type NGO that helps poorer countries develop their knowledge/tech base (examples include engineers without borders, or any other research firm that does some sort of international development work abroad).

    What i would love to do, is be a freelance consultant on this.

    Problem, ive got two masters specialised in physics but the marks weren’t exactly 1st class so cant get in the normal way, any suggestions?

    either way loving this article and Tim you should recommend more of this sort of thing! 🙂

    1. Science and engineering are two areas that tend to look very carefully at your formal credentials before letting you into the door into established organizations. And there is some good reason for that–those are two areas (as opposed to say, entrepreneurialism) where success is determined to a good degree on a specific knowledge base that you can learn in an academic context.

      Yet, the irony is, a great deal of technological innovations in particular come from people who are totally outside of the established engineering/education/technology establishments of their day. These are areas with a long, rich tradition of “tinkerers” who go on to change the world. Thomas Edison is a great example of that. Silicon Valley is full of examples of that.

      If your academic marks are not that great, then you’re going to have a hard time elbowing your way into limited spots within a highly-competitive NGO that is judging job candidates on narrow academic metrics.

      If you’re truly interested in helping people in poor countries solve technological problems – what better environment to sidestep academic credentials! I can assure you, the people in Africa who need your help do not care what grades you got on your tests, so long as you can truly help them.

      I’d need to know more about your specific circumstances, but I’d say, you can start your own damn NGO. It’s not going to be easy. But nothing truly worth doing in life is easy. Many many young people today, who have far less academic credentials than you have, are starting NGOs and nonprofits that do amazing work. And they’re not waiting for resume-screeners to give them “permission”. They’re *taking* their permission.

      I think you’d be a great candidate for the contest. Remember, I’m not expecting you (or anyone else in the contest) to be far along in the delivery of services by 3 months. You don’t need to be in Africa building bridges in December.

      Just start building up some serious *informal* credibility around your interests, by reading and writing intelligently about the topic, and showcasing to the world that you are on a very rapid path of self-education in this field and that you’re learning quickly. Show us that you’re a force to be reckoned with in this field – and people will start reckoning with you, grades be damned.

  26. Tim & Michael

    Great stuff! I got the book last night via kindle and dived right in. I am trying to figure out what I learned in college and how it applies….still pondering that…still pondering.

    Thats it! Awesome stuff!

  27. I have 92 college hrs and only an associates degree to show for it. I was going for a 2nd associates but I kinda stopped going to class after I took my field classes (criminal justice). Some classes are deemed ridiculously difficult. If you want to be a crime scene technician for example, why do you have to write a paper for every freakin class according to MLA standards and get doced if you dont do it according to your teachers preference? A teacher who doesnt even teach the field of study you are getting into…… I had a thiurst for knowledge about the criminal jsutice field and anted to enrich myself with information without having to take a hard algebra class to lower my GPA and cause undue strain on my academic strategy.

    So I stopped going to class. Financial woes was another reason. On my Resume I put A.A.S. degree in communication with “CONTINUED STUDIES IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE”….and that to me is worth its weight in gold as much as an actual (and maybe worthless) A.S.S. degree in a frame.

  28. Very weird, i started almost this exact process last week, except that i’m experienced in the field and have an attack plan and network built. Though the blog, and self education in further sales is in my plan as well. The working for free part is going to be in place too, but i’ve figured out a way to do the work up front for free to provide a service (website for budget-strapped mom and pop shops), and receive compensation on the backend (if successful).

    1. I have something that might interest you very much. It’s an inexpensive incentive program that would help mom&pop shops retain clients, expand client base dramatically, and increase conversions (lookers to shoppers, budget-buyers to higher-ticket sales).

  29. A great post indeed. I did a masters in property which on completion I realised I knew 90% of the course content already…..I had major property development experience in my own rite and the course content was mostly one persons opinion on the property industry. Anyway, its ironic that your post has coincided with the day I am starting to learn forex trading. So I have set up a blog as you suggested which you can see here http://thelongandtheshort.tumblr.com/ and I am off and racing.

    Thanks for the great post and some extra motivation

    Nick Jordan

  30. Wow! The Clinton “Reality Distortion Field” post and now this post, Michael Ellsberg is one clever mofo. Looking up ‘The Education of Millionaires’ on Kindle str8 away.

  31. I’ve been waiting for post like this for a long time, thank you. I always believed that the benefits of college have been exaggerated and make sure that people around me know that education does not equate to intelligence, just an ability follow instead of lead.

  32. Awesome post, Michael. You’re so right…..Employers Require Skills, Not Degrees. I really appreciate you sharing the story of Eben Pagan. It goes to show that if one is really determined, he/she can find a way to make it happen.

    Thanks for sharing.

  33. In 100% agreement: hacking is the new education.

    All it means is experience trumps sedentary classroom education most of the time.

    It also makes you a much more interesting person to know.

  34. Tim, wonderful post. Thanks for getting back to the reason I came here in the first place. “The Four Hour Workweek” concept. I cannot understand why you choose to have the “Body” stuff here. I stopped coming because of it. I found it incredibly boring since that was not my reason for coming here in the first place. A lot to catch up on. Also thanks for being the inspiration behind my website. I’m doing pretty darn good and I don’t even market and I have hundreds of better products to add. I’m still doing “few” thousands per months in sales while holding a job. This week alone I did 1700 dollars.

    I can’t imagine what I will do when I leave my job in a few weeks to concentrate on building my brand. Thanks again man.

  35. What a great message,thank you.

    Before my current role as the National Marketing Manager of a company turning over $1.3b I was the Marketing Manager of one of our National Sporting teams here in Australia. I would get many calls from people asking how they could get a job like mine, what was my career path? I could’nt tell them I left school at 15 and just got lucky, so I would suggest  they volunteer their services for experience. 

    I used to believe I had that job and all my others because of  luck but it wasnt luck afterall, it was opportunity and I didn’t wait for the opportunity to come looking for me, I reckon I went out and, maybe subconsciously, made my own opportunities.

    They are sometimes in the least obvious place so be sure to keep an eye out for them everywhere.

  36. This was an amazing article Tim!! This is why I have you on my Facebook wall!! This guy Micheal hit it on the head. I am going thru some of the things that these other college grads are going thru: working at a job that I have been doing for years that is a deadend and does not require a degree (just a pulse), putting out resume after resume after resume and getting no feedback, and watching my student loan bills go higher and higher. I am going to give this a shot. I will purchase his book and the other ones he has mentioned. By the way I am going back to school for design ( a passion of mine) and I was really inspired by the section ” create your own damn credentials!” I will.

  37. Michael and Tim- Great post, especially since I have been working on a product to help with informal learning! One other important factor that is not covered here is the fact that the cost of ‘formal’ learning is skyrocketing. According to the Department of Ed, it increased 37% in the last decade. On the other hand, access to ‘informal’ education is getting easier thanks to the proliferation of web.

    With both of these trends, it has become even more difficult for people to justify getting formal education. The only huge drawback is that there is no easy place to accumulate all the informal learning so you can share, grown and gain credibility in a ‘skillset’.

    Would love to talk to both of you about this more offline and show you what I have been working on!

    1. Ritu,

      You said >> The only huge drawback is that there is no easy place to accumulate all the informal learning so you can share, grown and gain credibility in a ‘skillset’.

      Perhaps you can just compile your results into your own personal portfolio. Keep records of measurable outcomes that you produced with your skillset/s. Tim Ferriss learned the tango — his proof of competency in that skill was his placement in the tango competition. Ditto for his Chinese boxing and his Japanese language skills. You can do the same.

      Success to you!


  38. Hey,

    Great post. I love this topic and it is so important with the cost of education skyrocketing and the saturation of individuals with degrees in the job market. I think a book titled “The Four Hour Student: Hacking Education” would be a great compliment to The Education of Millionaires. Maybe after the Four Hour Chef comes out! (which I must say is not a topic I’m as excited about). What do you think Tim?

    1. Wow, “The Four-Hour Student” – THAT would be a bestseller! Seriously! Tim? I’d help you write that one, man! You’re creating a “Four-Hour” empire here, and eventually some thoughts on education should be one of the topics of your empire, especially given how many young people are fans of your work.

      @Blake: Yes, you’re absolutely right about “degree saturation.” That is a central dynamic behind my post here. A lot of our current thoughts about education, particularly those thoughts drilled into us by our parents’ generation, were formed during a time when having a BA truly set you apart.

      Now, the guy pouring you your coffee at the cafe in the morning has a BA. Having a BA allows you to join a club with millions of members all competing for the same jobs on the same narrow metrics.

      In my book, PayPal cofounder and first outside Facebook investor Peter Thiel says “It’s this weird generational thing from the baby boomers to the millennials. The baby boomers were too different [my note: i.e., “flower power,” etc], at a time when that was the wrong strategy [for career success]. Now the millennials are too conformist, at a time when that’s the wrong strategy.”

      I hope my post shows a way to compete by *sidestepping* the herd, instead of by elbowing your way through it to the front. If you’re behind a thousand people all trying desperately to squeeze through the same narrow entrance to get in – take some initiative find a back entrance! That’s the basic message of the people I interview in my book.

      1. Yea, It hurts to give up some much (friends, time with family, and income) to get a degree which now seems like a fancy High School diploma, to the working world, with huge debt tagged on the end.

  39. I’ve followed this blog since around 2007. This post and Kagan’s have been some of the most inspiring (and applicable) things I’ve seen online in quite a while. Which is why, I suppose, that this blog still blows the competition away in the business/life style genre.

    I’ve also dealt with the frustration of Bipolar II myself. It’s no fun (well at least the “downs” anyway).

    I’ll put this framework into action and see what I can do with it. I’ve always had an interest in internet marketing and web dev, so now it’s time to get a blog fired up and get things moving.

    Also, thanks to Ellsberg for sharing his wife’s site. It’s a great illustration of how you can overcome barriers in business (and life) by deeply understanding your customer’s needs.

  40. I went to a business conference today. It was a free one that I found through Facebook.

    I’m actually looking to become a personal trainer in a commercial gym in the beginning and later build my own training studio. Of course, I also want to work self-employed a large part of the time.

    I still think that attending business conferences is a valuable thing for me to do. Unfortunately, their aren’t many events about nutrition or training coming up here frequently.

    Unfortunately, I just froze at the event. I wasn’t able to connect with anyone since I felt I didn’t have anything in common with the presenters and it was also very hard to approach other people, because I had absolutely no information about them.

    This article is definitely helpful, but I have a lot of personal thinking to do to get the solutions to my issues.

    1. Hi Risto,

      I used to be incredibly shy at events and unable to talk to people then I found out the following:

      If I ask people to tell me about themselves with a simple question like ‘what do you do for a living?’ people start to open up. Then I ask ‘what is it you really like about that work?’ and ‘what makes you succeed at that work’ then the conversation continues.

      I have learned tons from other people just by listening to them. If I start talking about right away they tune out.

      Everyone loves to share their story. Micheal most likely got the people he interviewed just by using questions like these.

      Is that true Micheal?

      Great article Time,

      All the best,


  41. Awesome post! Looking forward to December 29th!

    Quick question for Michael –

    I’m currently working full-time for a small telecommunications company. I’m transitioning from the marketing department to sales.

    Completely voluntary on my part and I know absolutely nothing about sales. Funny correlation upon reading this post, before reading it I had just started to thumb through SPIN selling a couple days before. Though I haven’t fully immersed myself in it yet.

    My question: I have zero history in sales, but have been working for the company for about three years on October 20th. First as an intern, then in the marketing department and now about to start in sales.

    I truly am starting from scratch. I am even training myself on our commercial service offerings and sales techniques.

    Am I eligible for the contest?



  42. We need to cultivate entrepreneurs and creators, not manufacture drones. Great post Michael. This should be required reading before college.

  43. I think Michael would not disagree nor would TIm, that a credential is a sometimes good idea. Who says that you will seek the education on your own? Yes, you could do that. But you could also budget, eat healthy, exercise everyday… yet most people don’t do it… for some people, going to college, even at a great cost may be a good idea… those that are not disciplined to seek info on their own… those that need to be compartmentalized in a building for four years in a desolate location to be able to concentrate on books. I am just trying to add a contrasting voice. The piece by Michael is EXCELLENT!!! Thanks TIM and MICHAEL!!! or should I say MICHAEL and TIM…. Anyways…

    1. I agree with you, Ramiro, that not everyone is up for following the kind of path that I outline here. Some people, if left to their own devices, will just fritter away time, watch TV, or worse, get into trouble.

      In fact, one of the greatest criticisms of my book (by people who haven’t read it yet) is: “Well, this path you outline only works for the most motivated kids. A lot of kids [i.e., subtext they usually mean here is, “MY kids”] couldn’t handle the kind of self-education you talk about. Some kids need more discipline than that.”

      Absolutely. But then, what we’re talking about in that circumstance is babysitting, not education. Yes, some kids truly do need babysitting through their twenties. Indeed, some adults *still* need babysitting!

      Those aren’t the kids I’m writing about (or for). I’m writing my book for motivated, disciplined, ambitious, serious young people. I believe too many of them are funneled into what amount to expensive babysitting programs, when they could be out in the world already, building stuff that matters.

      I have absolutely no expertise in how to turn unmotivated, unambitious, unserious kids into disciplined, motivated, ambitious kids. That’s just not my area of expertise, and there are people who know far more about that than I do.

      I do believe, however, that many kids only “appear” unmotivated and unambitious because they don’t happen to give a $%^! about *academics*, and adults are trying to stuff them into an academic box into which they won’t and don’t fit. There are countless kids who couldn’t give a crap about doing well on a test spouting back history dates, and who appear “troubled” in that context because they won’t do it. But then–if you gave them the time and tools to build some kind of online community or movement or website, or to fix or rebuild a car engine or something, they would jump to it and take it seriously.

      I think the great tragedy of our education system is that we think there is only one kind of education–academics. It’s a one-size-fits all system. Yet kids, as we know, come in many sizes, not just physically but mentally– they have different passions, different forms of brilliance, creativity and initiative. Our current system for the most part squashes and quashes all forms of passion and interest in kids that don’t fit into narrow bands of the academic subjects we think (for reasons that are not entirely clear to me) we should spend their entire youth studying.

      I find this very sad. Here’s an analogy. I’m a very passionate, motivated, and ambitious person, obviously. And for the right tasks, I have an insanely long attention span– I put in 24-hour straight writing sessions for my book, taking only water and bathroom breaks.

      But put me in a room where I have to learn and take tests on, say, medieval poetry, something I care little about, and I would in that context appear to be extremely unmotivated, unruly, fidgety, rebellious, and with a low attention span.

      Dope me up on some Adderall and Prozac! I must have ADD! I must have “oppositional defiant disorder”! I must be a “troubled kid.” It’s truly, truly important that I come to respect and appreciate the importance of memorizing and taking tests on medieval poetry.

      Uh, no. Actually, you just put me in the wrong context for my flourishing. Put me in a different context, learning something I care about, and I’ll flourish.

      I believe we as adults “manufacture” a great deal of the disfunction, disorder, unruliness, and attention and discipline problems we see in young people. Not all of these problems, but a great deal of them. We put them in circumstances so dull, boring, and irrelevant to their lives or interests, that *we* would be bored in them if *we* were put there as adults – and then we get upset at them and drug them up if they don’t behave. This is the Matrix. I’m trying to help the smartest, brightest, most motivated ones unplug from the Matrix.

      1. Hi Michael, I tend to agree, but it seems to you that every person that goes to college is because of the “babysitting” factor… I would say that we humans are inherently lazy, and in this I follow what BJ Fogg says, regarding habit creation. We are lazy so we need things to be simple. As for myself, I do seek information and education on my own, but there is a big benefit to being forced to study when you are miles and miles away from home and in a desolate area. What I would say in favor of self-education, is that education in the U.S. is very expensive. Inflation in education in the US is crazy. I was born and grew up in Argentina where there is free education through college. So you can be a lawyer with ZERO debt. Granted, there are many many holes in public education, but there is something positive about having the opportunity to study even if you are from a humble background… I kind of disagree with the fact that education in the US is a commodity and that there are few inexpensive options. I am not saying other countries don’t have many MANY problems of their own, but… anyways. Thanks for the reply and the discussion…

        PS: I know both systems, the Argentinean because I went to law school in Argentina, and the US system, because I applied to law school here in the US and I stopped before selling my soul for tens of thousands of dollars… I decided that the legal education here is so commoditized that it is ridiculous and really soul crushing… anyways, thanks for your answer!!!

      2. Also, just a side note, it’s really cool that you went to Buenos Aires and stayed around San Telmo. As youngster I used to work as a messenger on foot around the area called “Microcentro” in Buenos Aires and I used to know the area by heart, every street name, every bank. I live in Chicago since 2000 but I remember those times walking around San Telmo. It is a bohemian area, oldish looking, kind of European. It has some charm. People tend to be friendly there and maybe you got the change to attend a soccer game in La Boca. Anyways, take care and thanks

  44. Here’s my shot. Will be looking forward to talking with you in December.

    Motivation to Become ?


    1. Hey ShimmerGeek,

      As a super-introvert, maybe I can help. I usually like to keep it to a few very close friends and sit in my head a lot and think (a little too much). Having said that, maybe turn a few more high-profile, high-quality, successful people into that kind of friend. I think as introverts we tend to think it turns us to shit-ins, but we met the friends, co-workers and acquaintances we have now and introversion doesn’t mean we can’t meet more.

      I think it might mean more a matter of using a certain style or techniques to meeting and building relationships, but super-introversion shouldn’t stop us from getting out there and talking.

      Hope this little tidbit helps.

  45. Great read. Without really knowing about all this and reflecting on my past I can relate and just say that all these steps are very true. I started figure skating at 19 which is “old” to start out. Without no traditional coaching, no money and a bunch of self-built opportunities I was able to bust into the scene of ice shows. It took me many years but it was a break from convention that only people who have been skating their whole lives and have been given proper coaching could accomplish a paying job to perform on the ice.

    Passion, “beginner’s mind” and some good fashion hark work put in the right places are all the credentials you need.

  46. Hey guys,

    as ever, this is an amazing post. For the bipolar type II’s and hypomanics reading this (Which if you read this blog avidly, you really might be. You should definitely look it up.), I would HIGHLY recommend reading the Hypomanic Edge by John Gartner. He’s a Princeton trained psychologist, and his theory is that Hypomanic flight of ideas are wonderful for creativity and drive, and profiles Andrew Carnegie, Alexander Hamilton, David O’Selznick, and Craig Ventner in the book. You should discover this strength in yourself, and consider a responsibly executed career switch to something that rewards it. Good luck!

  47. Cool post I am planning to watch your entire video on networking it really is an essential skill and important to master.

    I do not see any harm in trying this approach full out for a 1-3 years and then reevaluate to see if a formal education path is necessary.

    Thanks again


  48. Sounds a lot like Charlie’s RPGrad.

    But Ellsburg’s book sounds interesting. I’ll definitely pick it up when I get the chance.

  49. Very, very well-written post. Thanks for sharing. I’m kind of on step 2 already, so I can’t be part of the contest, but I’ll definitely use a lot of your takeaways as a blueprint going forward!

    And thanks for the tip on SPIN Selling – just bought it from Amazon . Your book is next on the list, but I’m following Tim’s advice for now: just one non-fiction book at a time 🙂

    1. SPIN Selling is awesome (linked to my avatar). It will totally change the way you talk to customers and prospects. Brilliant for larger orders (eg. We’re not selling knives door to door, we have to have real conversations with our prospects). I’m working in Envirotech sales in Asia, and deal with large orders with customers. I’m constantly having to come up with creative ways to save them money, and help them make more money. It’s not about pushing a product–you’re selling them on a business model! That means we’re all on the same team 🙂

      Actually I’ve been doing a ‘Non-Fiction’ Book site, 21tiger, for a couple years now, and curating a recommended reading list(left side). Everything is free, of course. Love this stuff. Continual self-directed education can really inspire you to do anything! And it’s gotten me back into writing again, which I absolutely love!

  50. So, I had a thought… Ellsburg says this “hacking credentials” doesn’t work for the medical field, but Ferriss kinda exemplifies an exception to that statement.

    I think I saw in a speaking event on video Tim was asked by a crowd member, who also happened to be an MD, if he (Tim) was interested in contributing to (ie. helping oversee) a clinical trial. I mean, that sure sounds like building influence in the medical community but without any formal credential. Sounds like “hacking credentials” to me. Surely, I wouldn’t want a self-taught surgeon to operate on me, but I think that this method *could* be useful in, say, the medical research arenas.

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Ben,

      There are ways to circumvent bureaucratic hurdles. Instead of actually going into law, learn solid economics and politics, and become a person of influence. Instead of taking a decade to become an MD, do what Tim did, or what a lot of Crossfitters do: experiment with your own body and display results.

  51. Tim I f-ing love you & your friends, you guys continue to surprise your readers w/ content ( for free of all things ) that is meaningful, applicable & delivered in plain English( Usually, your prone to get alil nerdy sometimes ). I wish I could get my pell grant forwarded to guys like you, Ramit & Michael because I’m learning more from this and your blogs than from the 90+ cr hrs I’ve gotten so far. Keep up the great work( like I need to say that…), amazing guest post & don’t you ever stop networking, you have some of the coolest friends in existence & we get access to ’em! Thanks man, seriously!

  52. Started my first ever blog! Very inspiring read thank-you.

    I’m trying to start work in the financial services industry which is very hard in the current climate. I was considering saving to study for a £15,000 (~$23,500) qualification and a friend sent me this link.

    I’ve already researched my role so I’ve done step 1. And I had started step 2 by creating a reading list – although this has since changed after reading this article..

    I’m not sure if this discounts me from the challenge? (although I currently have no work history, credentials or experience in any financial role). But I think I’ll continue regardless. My moral has been running quite low (I’ve been unemployed for 6 months) so I think updating a blog will motivate me to work harder.

    Should I post the blog website now? Or leave it secret until the 29th of Dec? I wouldn’t mind following a few other people who have pledged to do this task too. I think it’ll help boost moral to see what other people are up against.

  53. Well done Michael.

    I am in. All the “dropping out of school vs. dropping out of learning” reminded me of that old Mark Twain adage: “My education is too important to trust to a school.”

  54. This gave me an idea:

    Instead of money-making as a goal in masterminds, try networking and skill-building as a goal.

  55. Wow, incredible post, but to be honest I don’t think I would suggest my child not to go to college, I want her to go because I didn’t and I have one of those people who are shunned because I don’t have a degree. It’s so friggin frustrating I work in the pharma/medical device industry in the SF Bay Area (San Jose) as a quality specialist, these are skills that are mostly learned on the job, through self education, and through organizations like the American Society of Quality. So, because my lack of degree I completely rely on social relationships, these are people who know I have mad skills, I live by Linkedin because it helps me keep in touch within my network. Although even though I have these relationships, there are still road blocks like my former co-worker was building a quality team at her company and she wanted me because she knows my work ethic, but the company would not allow her to bring me in because I don’t have a degree. So, this is the lame part I am a left brain person, so most likely my degree would not have been in science but possibly in art or literature… but they still would have hired me because I had a degree…it could even be in basket weaving, and it still would be a degree. So the bottom line, is just in case, I want my daughter to have the experience of college, and build long term friendships, BUT if she finds her self coming up with a great business idea, and develops it ala Mark Zuckerburg then for sure I don’t think I would mind too much if she dropped out : ).

    1. Same with me, I got constantly passed for promotions and special projects because of company policies. Getting A+ annual reviews did nothing, they want a degree. Because of screening, in the Communication and PR business if you are not connected (tough to connect when you are an imigrant with no previous network) it will get you nowhere. You can get a job with no degree if you are someone’s son or daughter, for all the others, you need an education and even then you might be skipped over.

  56. Michael:

    I stayed up late last night because I felt so understood after reading both this article and your journey with Bipolar II. I’m in the running for the contest – I’m going to go for it.

    Thank you for this opportunity. What a breath of fresh air.

  57. Great post. Definitely gives me some more tools to get started. Oddly enough instead of getting a degree in order to make money I plan on making money so I can go to college and take whatever courses interest me.

  58. Wow…I can’t think of anything I would wanna learn and blog about, at least not something unique and niche enough to not already be over saturated.

  59. Hi,

    Awesome post. I’d like to enter, but I wanted to check two things first:

    1. Can the new field be tangential to one we already know? I’m an expert on one of the standardized tests, but so far have mostly used that for tutoring. I want to self-publish books, to switch it from a service to a product. I have no publishing experience. Can I use that as my new field that I’m learning?

    2. I signed up for http://www.myname.com just two weeks before this, and have about five posts. Could I use that as my blog, rather than register some arbitrary domain to comply technically? I like the idea of using my real name while networking.

    Either way, I’m going ahead with my publishing plan. I’ve had some initial success selling them as a pdf through a related blog, but I suspect there’s even more potential from actually self-publishing the books, and selling them through Amazon.

    Thanks so much for your books. They’ve been an inspiration. It’s so exciting to be working on something that I can release to the world, and have it be within reach.


  60. “What’s holding you back?”

    nothing anymore Michael! your post was inspiring! Thank you! and Tim, always bringing unconventional people to blog here! 😉

    I’ve already spent some hours googling … annnnd here is my Credential Hacking project: Documentary Filmmaker (just add as “Dreamline” as well:-)

    btw, after reading 4HWW I transformed myself into a (dropout) mobile traveler involved in x projects, yet I may have after some 80/20 analysis 20h/week for Credential Hacking.

    You can count me in!

    Fabio Santos

  61. This is fantastic. I’ve recently gotten my main income almost entirely passive (Obviously thanks to the 4HWW) and I’ve been wondering what to do with my time. This is a great motivation to fill that time with something productive.

    I’ve always had an interest in my topic, but never really took any steps towards it. This is that “shove” I needed to make this idea take off. The potential is blowing my mind right now. Thanks. ~Ryan

  62. Eben Pagan…. Eben Pagan…. Where have I heard that name before….?

    Oh yeah! That’s David DeAngelo’s real name.

    I think you forgot to mention the part where he teaches guys to pickup women. That’s the ‘coaching’ part you alluded to. The guy’s superich, using NLP techniques to pickup girls. And he has been one of the best online marketers in the Pickup community for about 10 years now. I bought his first eBook for about 40 bucks years ago.

    He wrote the first eBook in about a weekend. Cha-ching.

    1. By the way, I’ve linked to a SPIN SELLING review (my avatar). Just an amazing book.

      I’m working in Envirotech sales in Asia, and blogging about my favorite non-fiction books.

    2. @Michael. I bought it too. It changed my life. I went from 0 game to dating awesome women. I dread to think what my life would be like if I haven’t read it.

  63. Thank you. This just changed my life. I am going for this! This just freed me from a lifetime of suffering. I stumbled upon this gem of a website just yesterday through one my many late night research efforts aimed at improving myself and my understand in general (when I should really be doing homework!). Every single article I’ve read so far has had a profound effect on me. Michael, thank you, I now realized I have bipolar II, and I’m also beginning to realize that I may not be the failure I, and so many others, have believed me to be. The conventional path is not for me, nor has it ever been. I’ve spent my entire life trying to force myself into a system that suppresses my ability and my joy. I’m a 22 years old community college student, high school drop-out, unemployed, parent of a 4-year old, tens of thousands of dollars in debt, husband to chemistry PhD student, and just overall mess. To be honest I have some doubts at to how I will be able to accomplish this. Reading of Eben Pagan and Michael Ellsberg has provided me with motivation and confidence. I’m just going to start hacking away at it the way you said. My new life goal is to successfully complete this program and win the menteeship. Look forward to hearing from me soon, and I’ll look forward to hearing from you in December. Again, my deepest thanks.

  64. This post caught me just in time – I’m returning to Israel after 9 years living in New Zealand and am debating between getting a job or being an entrepreneur which another recent post caters for. Thanks Michael & Tim.

  65. So in short Michael, what I understand by what you said was:

    Think only of the things you can do, and act accordingly.

  66. “Employers Require Skills, Not Degrees” This is very true. I realized that when I was still applying for a job. You’ve got to have the skills, degrees are like add-ons to a resume because what the employer wants to see is your proficiency and of course, attitude.

  67. Dear Mr.Ferriss,

    My name is Fiorenza Ji. I’m from China. I am 17years old, and I go to a Canadian-Chinese highschool in Zhejiang Province. I would really like to interview you. I have a project about “My Dream”,and my dream is to build up a business that I can earn a lot of money for my parents and I. The problem is, I don’t know what kind of business I can do. Iwant to earn lots of money, but the same time, I will be able to rest and travel, also educate myself, just like mr Ferris. My teacher,who is a big fan of yours, suggested that I could try to contact you and ask for some advice, because I want to get a job like yours, too. Please e-mail me if you see this comment ;D It will help a lot over the rest of my life, because I really need a guide to the right way. Thank you very much!!!


    Fiorenza Ji from China

  68. Tim, thanks for another great guest!

    Michael, will be posting on 12/29! Thanks for an amazing article and kick in the pants. I have been toying with an idea so now am finally going to get off my arse and try it!

    On the education aspect, I have been teaching in HS & community college last 2 yrs, just starting my 3rd. I am a practicing attorney, and taught in law school for 12 years. People constantly ask why am I teaching here, even kids. A few reasons: I moved to a rural area, with no nearby university/law schools; after years of complaining about quality of education, lack of entrepreneurial skills taught and other issues with the system, I decided to do something rather than complain.

    I have developed 2 new high school classes that focus on international business & economics and on business & entrepreneurship, that kids love. Despite having advanced degrees, I always talk to kids about other alternatives, gap years, and pursuing their dreams and especially to do an opportunity cost analysis of going to college. There are some kids that do well in college and thrive in that structure, and on the whole it is a great experience – place to grow up and learn how to learn and to network. One thing that I see that is horrible is the push by guidance counselors and even parents to push some kids to go to college who are not cut out for it, or would do better seeking alternatives. Also, the colleges desperate for tuition dollars continually lower admission standards, with a corresponding higher attrition rate. The thing that burns me is when kids that clearly are not cut out for college being pushed to go, then drop out after a year or two with $20K-$40K in debt and looking for work. They would have been far better to pursue their own education. Similar problem is with students going to top schools for education, incurring up to $150K – $200K in student loan debt, and then looking for work as a teacher earning $20K-$30K. The math just doesn’t work.

    I have had multiple careers, and aside from law and the required education, have been self-taught in all other fields. I am a big believer in this, but it requires the person to be self-disciplined and motivated.

    Sorry for rant, happy to contribute examples and ideas for 4H Education is you pursue that, or…maybe that will be my post in December. Actually, will be pursuing a new idea for SMM and SEO services and trainginig for attorneys. Hope to be working with you next year.

  69. Thanks for the great article Michael (and Tim)! This is definitely not the often mentioned and followed “normal way” and in fact its quite the antidote to “normal”.

    Lifestyle design on acid starts here!

    Thanks again!

  70. This is true it really comes down to how much you believe in what you are doing and how hard you are willing to work to get the success you want. I believe a piece of paper is not always the only way to be considered an expert …experience can be too.

  71. Michael,

    Just bought The Education of Millionaires and SPIN Selling! Thanks for the suggestions!

    I am currently a student and refuse to conform to what is expected. I will do something different and worthwhile! I wont be participating in the competition because i am currently working on something of my own and that automatically disqualifies me. I believe its great work and will continue to do it. That being said, i would be glad to help the participants in any way i can!

    I would also suggest that people read “Designers Don’t Read” by Austin Howe

    Joel Ponce

    P.S. Tim Ferriss – I’m currently working on my senior thesis and plan on incorporating many of your great suggestions such as: 80/20 rule (which i am obsessed with now), minimum required dose, and the basic notion of quality of life.

  72. This is one of the best post that i have ever read. Now more than ever there are tons of people with advanced degrees that are working average jobs or unemp[oyed and yet there are others who are creating what they want from scratch . The differnce is what you think and believe about yourself.

  73. As much as the entrepreneur millennia ago needed the horse to plough his field of grain, high tech entrepreneurs today need MS and PhD workhorses to plough their field of superior communication satellites and low-power chips. I am glad I am not a workhorse, but in its own way it is as admirable as its master.

  74. Great article.

    I have studied Eben Pagen for years, and he’s just a flat out genius. One of his first projects was “Double Your Dating”… you can Google it. What a story book success that was.

    This blog post could really help some young folks coming right out of college.

    I have been an entrepreneur since age 17, and now 32. I can say that this blog is one that I follow on a regular basis.

    Great Job Tim!

  75. Thanks Michael for a great piece & thanks Tim for publishing it.

    I’m right in the middle of the journey you’ve outlined with my blog (and business-to-be) http://www.thefeelgoodlifestyle.com, and it’s very encouraging to see that I’m taking the right steps.

    To your point of “Showcase your learning”, today I’m going to publish my first video book summary, as I’ve just finished reading Enchantment by Guy Kawazaki and want to share my learnings with the world.

    All in all, I picked up a few tricks and this read definitely gives me a double dose of motivation to keep pushing ahead! Cheers from Australia!

    PS Just downloaded the audiobook for Spin Selling, looks like another powerful weapon to add to my arsenal.

  76. Awesome Article, and Awesome pic. You always seem to have really good pictures for each post. I have a question about that with regards to flickr and copyrights: Is it okay to post someones pic then link back to their profile? It seems like this would be beneficial to the photographer but also they make be angry that you used their photo… I’d love to hear your thoughts.

  77. Life’s little coincidences are astounding, Michael you have just illuminated the pathway to the life I’ve been dreaming about living without really knowing how to get there. I thought I would have to go all the way to a PhD qualification to be a certified psychologist in order to help people improve their lives while at the same time having a family and travelling the world with them.

    Now I’m 19, taking a year out after an unsuccessful year at university (I was studying something ‘useful’, not interesting to me), and will definitely be posting at the end of the year about my progress in the field of psychology and NLP – this article made me realise I could be living my dream without the 7+ years of study and debt.

    1. You remind me of myself around your age. I also thought that I did not need a degree in psychology and could get away with just having a license as an NLP Practitioner or a Trainer. After years of experience I realized that there is limit to how much you can do with NLP certification.

      You have to remember that most NLP trainings today are usually a one week course. However, taking a one week course does not make one an NLP practitioner or a master practitioner or a trainer. It takes years of studying and experience to become a true practitioner.

      I had to go back to college and get my degree in psychology to develop better credibility in the field of psychology. One positive thing that came out of all of this is that when I went back to college, I actually knew why I was doing it and what I needed to know vs. what I needed to skip.

      BS in Psychology on top of my NLP licenses and other certification allowed me to better understand the mind, the brain, the body and the spirit. Today I feel like I know what I am doing rather than just repeating an NLP technique when I work with people. However, there is much more to learn.

  78. Thanks for the great post and video, Michael and Tim.

    I was wondering if one or both of you could comment on Michael’s recent article “The Top 4 Reasons Why Passive Income Is A Dangerous Fantasy”. From his Forbes blog three months ago: http://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelellsberg/2011/06/24/the-top-4-reasons-why-passive-income-is-a-dangerous-fantasy/

    It’s interesting that a guest poster here would have such a strong public stance against one of the primary tenets of the 4HWW book and blog.

    I think most of us here are looking for ways to improve our lives through financial independence and the pursuit of meaning, so a public dialogue between you two on this topic you seem to disagree on would be highly beneficial to us.

    Or at least a comment from one of you about it?

    In my case, what I want to do with my life is write short stories. It’s almost impossible to make a financial living doing only that, so even the most successful and famous short story writers today usually have another job – most often teaching at universities.

    The problem is that teaching requires so much time (especially teaching English or writing, where you have to review essays all the time), that finding time for actually writing in addition to spending time with family after hours can be really hard. Plus teachers aren’t exactly well paid. So in my case, it seemed like the best route is to pursue passive income for my finances while pursuing short-story writing as my passion. But after reading Michael’s article over at Forbes, now I’m not so sure.

    Michael, would you still discourage me from trying to develop a passive income?

    Thanks again for the great guest post (and killer blog too).


    1. Ha! This is an interesting juxtaposition. I could see how one could possibly see that article on Forbes as somehow being “against” 4HWW (even though it does not mention that book in particular.) But I know many many people who work 70HWWs (including me) and who LOVE 4HWW. How can that be? How could someone who works an 70HWW love a book with the title 4HWW, without being self-deluded?

      Because 4HWW is about *efficiency* and *effectiveness*. If you make a process more efficient (more output per unit of input), and more effective (outputs are better aligned with overall goals), you *can* choose to work less for the same amount of output. OR, you can choose to have the same amount of input (70HWW) and have WAY WAY more output, i.e., cause a way bigger mark on the world. That’s how I read 4HWW, how I relate to it.

      I know a lot of people who are up to big things in the world. Most of them cringe at the idea of “passive income” – setting up your life so as you don’t have to work (much). Most of them, including me, are *obsessed* with their work. And most of them also love 4HWW. No contradiction – Rather, they (we) are very big proponents of what might be called “active income” – making your work and your purpose align totally, day in and day out. And 4HWW offers many tools for helping in that.

      OK, onto your next question. Your question about wanting to write short stories is a very good one, and I’d like to take more time to answer that in more detail. Gotta run this moment, but I’ll be back very soon to answer that. Thank you.

      1. Hey Michael,

        Thanks for you clarifying response to my first question (on Oct. 3rd) about a perceived clash of philosophies between you and the 4HWW. Your interpretation of the 4HWW methods as tools for increased effectiveness and efficiency — whether employed for reducing working hours or increasing the effect of the same number of them — makes a lot of sense.

        But I’ve been on the edge of my seat for your response to my second question! At this point I think maybe it slipped through the cracks, so if you still don’t mind answering it I’ll paste it here:

        “In my case, what I want to do with my life is write short stories. It’s almost impossible to make a financial living doing only that, so even the most successful and famous short story writers today usually have another job – most often teaching at universities.

        The problem is that teaching requires so much time (especially teaching English or writing, where you have to review essays all the time), that finding time for actually writing in addition to spending time with family after hours can be really hard. Plus teachers aren’t exactly well paid. So in my case, it seemed like the best route is to pursue passive income for my finances while pursuing short-story writing as my passion. But after reading Michael’s article over at Forbes, now I’m not so sure.

        Michael, would you still discourage me from trying to develop a passive income?”

        Thanks again for the responses, this post, and your blog over at Forbes (for anyone who hasn’t read it, you can check out some more great stuff at http://blogs.forbes.com/michaelellsberg/).


  79. Thanks Michael AND Tim! And, as always, prefect timing due to:

    a. I’m off to a networking function tomorrow and

    b. I am considering adapting (rather than changing) my career into next year and caught myself thinking “I don’t have the experience to do XYZ”

    Now I can get off my butt and put a few of your steps into action!

  80. What a mind-blowing post.

    Kudos to Tim for sharing, and Michael for writing.

    I’m not sure if I’ll be able to enter into this competition in time, due to my currently living on my parents expense in foreign country. Still, this is definitely a plan that i will follow for myself, regardless of whether or not a mentorship package is up for grabs.

    I always imagined that as a writer, the most satisfying kind of feedback you could receive would to hear that you’ve changed someone’s life. So I hope you’re getting a warm fuzzy feeling right about now, cause I’m definitely one of those people whose outlook on life-after-college has shifted by 90 degrees (anti-clockwise, just to be more rebellious).

  81. I always wanted to run a business, but I didn’t believe that it’s best to be your own man. Now I do. I would like to terminate cooperation with my business partner. I would like to pay all my liabilities. After this experience, after reading a lot of new foreign books and newspapers (and blogs : ) I found a wonderful work position in new place. I would like to start over, but first I want to close down my old issues, clean up everything and be open and prepared for new. For new projects, for new workplace, for new work colleagues.

    Today is October 3rd. I have only 27 days to find 30.000 usd to pay debts off, be free, and on November 01st could start over with “clean card”.

    I am still looking for an investor for my father company. (www.veramoni.pl) He runs a clothes company. He has been selling a lot of clothes from his collections, but once customers have stopped to pay on time. “Customers” mean owners of stores, as he had only one company store, all clothes he has sold to different stores in Poland as well as in Europe. Then world crisis became and it stopped his production. He had to fired almost everyone. From 100 employees only 8 people still work in his company.

    As hard as possible we try to find a good solution for his company. We have everything what we need: production floor, qualified stuff, recognizable trademark. The only one thing we miss a lot: a helping hand that will help us to pull ourselves by our bootstrap. Just be back on our feet.

    Something I used “we”. “We” means me and my sisters. My father has a four daughters and everyone says to him “poor guy” : ) 4 girls. But we feel wonderful being together.

    Someone said that sth “There is bottom to bounce away from him”. I hope and I truly believe that very soon we will be jumping to the sky.

  82. Thought provoking post. I think formal education is necessary to get them on the right track. I believe it is good to give them a formal education to get young kids tolearn the right things before allowing them later on to move on to something less formal. Formal education + self education + determination to learn and succeed will most likely beat those who only choose to do either self education or pure formal education any time.