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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Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That’s how we’re gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you’re rude, we’ll delete your stuff. Please do not put your URL in the comment text and please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name, as the latter comes off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation! (Thanks to Brian Oberkirch for the inspiration.)

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

    1. Why something new? Most likely to test Michael’s concepts from a clean slate. And his major concept is that it can be done in a year’s worth of work.

    2. Hi Tim & Darryl,

      The reason the competition has to be something new is that I want you brilliant readers of Tim’s blog to prove to me that I’m right! 🙂 I.e., to prove to me that job requirements and credentials in new fields can be “hacked.” So, for the sake of the contest, it makes most sense to have people all starting at the same place, i.e., absolutely fresh.

      If you want to apply the steps I outline above to something you’ve already been doing for a while, fantastic! More power to you, and please don’t let me stop you – the REAL “rewards” for anyone will be the actual results you get.

      But for the sake of the contest, it wouldn’t be fair to compete in a field you already have a few years experience in, against people who are starting completely fresh in a new field.

      So, go for it – not for the contest, but for YOU!

  1. Hey Michael, In the last 3 day I have read this post 3 times, finished your book, and watched the networking video. It has changed the way that I will approach relationships. I work full time as an engineer for an aerospace company, and I run a side business creating videos for nonprofit organizations. (Which is perfect for the help I can offer other people/organizations!) I just became a father so finding the time to do this has been tough, but I am persistent and burn through the midnight oil a few times a week.

    I am starting the challenge learning how to develop iPhone applications, as this is something I really want to learn and eventually make my day job, as it will allow me to be able to work from anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection and be able to work for myself.

    Here is my blog, already read 1 chapter and shared what I learned:


    1. I’m one of the people who Is looking for an alternative to get Legit hacker and decided to try Mr Jack Benson AKA Captain spy (captainspyhacker2 AT gmail DOT com) I’ve been using since for a while now for a long time and have been using him to gain access to my business since he is the only Legit hacker I know around.

  2. Acquisition Marketing – I’m on board. I don’t know a lick about it, but I’ve always wanted to learn. This will be a good opportunity.

    I’m going to win this, so I’m looking forward to speaking with you in a few months.

  3. Tim and Michael…….Thank You so much for this post!!!! WHAT A GIFT!!!!!!

    My passion is using my art as an expression of ideas….not only for my ideas but for others’ as well……i would bloody LOVE TO BE DOING THAT!!!

    Btw I am so passionate about self growth, personal empowerment, mind body medicine, creativity, neuroplasticity, nature…….

    Thank You so much…….again!

  4. This is a great guide! I’ve always believed the same thing. Although I have a college degree, I have never been “qualified” for any of the jobs I have had.

    For me, it was all about spinning the resume to suit the job and some networking.

    Most people who went to college really have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that you can be self taught in almost any area of expertise (except for rocket surgery…you actually need a degree for that). We really need to evaluate our educational system.

  5. Hi. all

    Unfortunately, I’ll have to be the critical voice of this post. I am very disappointed in the content. Why does this whole post sounds like a sale page for an info product which will never deliver? Sounds really shaddy. The more interesting question might be “if Michael Ellsberg is a skilled salesman, what is he selling to us right now?”

    First, the title of this post is off. The post should of titled towards job searching, or “creating jobs” instead of “getting what you want” which is misleading.

    Second, comepletely assumption that the books you will read will be by active practictioners and not theorist. There is a equal/greater chance that you will waste your time reading theorist/scam artist who simply wasn’t good a pushing their book to the masses.(bad sales pages, slogan. etc)

    Third, the example of Jena la Flamme is greatly problematic. I fail to see how it relates to this post. the simplified storytelling of (A)she was doing okay (B) read 4 hour work week (C) she’s making alot of money is quite dangerous. We can honestly assume that there was a whole lot more to it than that.

    Fourth, not compatible with the “4 hour work week” principle. Michael Ellsberg admitted to this. enough said.

    Fifth, I didn’t like the tone of “You do this for 9months and You’ll get paradise”. All that from a single blog post. Classic salesman pitch, is it not? Promising what cannot be delivered. And guess what will happen if 9 months passes and nothing happens. It is going to be the reader’s fault for not doing it correctly, or not being asserted enough, or some other obsure reason at the expense of the reader.

    Sixth, The fact that Michael Ellsberg interviewed people doesn’t have any value. Most interviews are pretty much garbage whether it is because less than stellar questions asked, flamboyant answers given, and/or terrible editing,

    Seventh, The cost for the “action plan” is greatly reduced from acutal costs. Of course, Michael Ellsberg forgot to include the cost of “breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks” for 10 business owners, even if you go dutch. The cost for the whole “action plan” is mostly several times more than $300.

    There are more but I’ll end it here.

    This post lowered my opinion of Michael Ellsberg. And it is sad that tim’s blog is increasingly becoming sales pitch and/or credibility boost for some salesman. probrably to fill the void as tim personally post less and less.

    All in all, this whole post could have been reduce to just embeding the video.

    Thank you for reading.

    1. Hi David,

      Interesting points you raise here. I’m in disagreement, but I think it’s fundamentally important to acknowledge and at least try to understand opposing points of view. You said in your post that there were additional points you would not be getting into? I’d be curious to hear them as well, thanks 🙂

    2. Hi David,

      Thanks for opening up a critical dialogue here. I always welcome that.

      I’ll try to address your points one-by-one.

      –> 1. “The title of the post is off.”

      True, if “what you want” is, say, to get married and have a happy family life, then my post may not be entirely relevant. But for nearly anything in the profesional/career realm, I believe it is highly relevant to getting what you want. The two big skills for getting what you want in the professional realm are networking/connecting and sales (i.e., persuasive face-to-face communication.) Master those and you’ll get pretty much anything you want in the professional realm. I stand by the title.

      –> 2. “Comepletely assumption that the books you will read will be by active practictioners and not theorist. There is a equal/greater chance that you will waste your time reading theorist/scam artist who simply wasn’t good a pushing their book to the masses.(bad sales pages, slogan. etc)”

      That is entirely up to you. I take it the subtle connotation here is that you regard my *own* book that way. Fine. Don’t have my book be one of the books on your reading list.

      But to say that there are *no* street-smart books out there by real world practitioners is an absurdity that reflects either total lack of experience, or an extreme cynicism that must have come from getting burned multiple times by bad choices in the past.

      In my own process of “hacking” my credentials as a commercial copywriter (which, as I said in the post, took a lot longer for me than 9 months,) I read three books that changed my life. One was “Tested Advertising Methods” by John Caples, one was “On Advertising” by David Ogilvy, and one was “Scientific Advertising” by Claude Hopkins. (The latter two men, by the way, did not have college degrees, and thus are perfect examples of the kind of credential-hacking I write about.)

      All three men were absolute masters in their fields, at the top of their game, and shaped nearly all modern advertising/marketing. And these books are cherished and recommended by nearly all practitioners of marketing I’ve ever encountered. To dismiss them as “scam artists” is profoundly naive. If you’re in business, a lot of the techniques you’re probably using to market your business were invented by these men. And their insights are available to you for the trivial cost of a book.

      –> 3. “Third, the example of Jena la Flamme is greatly problematic. I fail to see how it relates to this post. the simplified storytelling of (A)she was doing okay (B) read 4 hour work week (C) she’s making alot of money is quite dangerous. We can honestly assume that there was a whole lot more to it than that.”

      The relation to this post is quite obvious. It’s a post about hacking credentials. Most people who have wellness centers and/or who coach on issues of nutrition have either R.D. or even M.D. credentials. Jena does not even have a B.A. She hacked her credentials – the topic of my article. Couldn’t be more straightforwardly relevant.

      Yes, you can “honestly assume that there was a whole lot more to it than that.” Her story unfolded over 10 years. I told it in 7 paragraphs. Go figure. There’s a lot more detail and nuance in 10 years than can fit in 7 paragraphs. I told her story in outline form, and the outline I presented is accurate so far as any outline can be accurate.

      –> 4. “Fourth, not compatible with the “4 hour work week” principle. Michael Ellsberg admitted to this. enough said.”

      I’m not sure where Tim Ferriss has a rule posted which says that he only allows articles on his site which give advice that can be implemented in 4 hours per week. As I stated very openly, my advice will take much more than 4 hours per week to implement. But I believe it is broadly consistent with the message of Tim’s work and his first book, as it’s all about getting results in the most efficient, effective way possible – going for the 80/20 and cutting out all the BS.

      –> 5. “Fifth, I didn’t like the tone of ‘You do this for 9months and You’ll get paradise'”

      Your words, not mine. What you’re doing here is classically called a “straw man” argument. What I did say is that I believe a concerted 9-month effort along the lines of my program will have a very solid shot at beating a 4-year BA program or a 2-year MA program, in terms of the career results and earning power it produces. I stand by that. I didn’t talk anywhere about “paradise.” As they say, don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

      –> 6. “Sixth, The fact that Michael Ellsberg interviewed people doesn’t have any value. Most interviews are pretty much garbage whether it is because less than stellar questions asked, flamboyant answers given, and/or terrible editing.”

      I spent two years networking my way to some of the world’s most successful people who don’t have college degrees, and talking with them. I don’t know of anyone who’s talked to more dropouts who went on to become successful, than I have. If you’re interested in success outside of traditional academic paths, “I wrote the book on it” – and I stand by the value of the in-field interviews I gathered.

      If these people’s insights have any value at all, then interviewing them does have value, because most of them don’t take the time to write themselves – they’re too busy in their business. You try to get your way to self-made billionaires. I got to four of them (and dozens of self-made millionaires) and shared their insights on these pages. I believe in the value of the wisdom they shared for us.

      –> 7. “Seventh, The cost for the “action plan” is greatly reduced from acutal costs. Of course, Michael Ellsberg forgot to include the cost of “breakfast, lunch, dinner, or drinks” for 10 business owners, even if you go dutch. The cost for the whole “action plan” is mostly several times more than $300.”

      Good point. One other commenter made a similar point. I forgot to include the cost of the meals. My bad. True that.

      Since this seems to be a pretty cost-conscious group, let’s scrap the meals – you don’t HAVE to do meals for sales sessions, they are just a nice touch. I’ve found coffee works fine.

      Let’s say, very conservatively, that taking someone out to coffee at a decent cafe is $15, including tip. Multiply that by 10 and that’s an additional $150 I didn’t count.

      Which brings the total cost of my plan up to $450, not $300. That’s then .45% of the cost of a $100,000 undergraduate or MA program, not .30%. If that extra .15% margin of error set you off course in your decision-making around higher education, I’m terribly sorry, and I’ll gladly refund you the money you paid to have access to my article.

      –> “This post lowered my opinion of Michael Ellsberg.”

      I tend to be quite picky about whose opinions of me I let influence me

  6. Can anyone shed some light on how to go about getting help and or money for an idea for an unbelievable new type of product without the idea being stolen?? The obvious answer would involve patents but patents are easily circumvented with small tweaks…if i want advice and or help it feels shitty asking someone to sign a non-compete form….

  7. Simply brilliant. I had no idea that the informal job market was that large, very sobering stat. I would say that every high school kid out there needs to read this. I love the new world of education (or Un-education) whatever you want to call it. Something needs to change and you’re on the tip of the iceberg my friend.



  8. I couldn’t agree more on just about every point. I am a recruiter, entrepreneur and father so I’ve seen this from three very interesting angles. Nobody knows how to hire people properly, learning never stops for the successful and my kids are going to find their passion, find a mentor (or a few) and work for themselves as soon as possible. Cool post-thanks


  9. My Capricorn soul yearns for this! Plus the thought of doing this makes me want to throw up a little, which can often mean it’s exactly where I need to stretch next. (C’mon, I know you’ve all felt this before.) I need to get the f out of my own way.

    Setting up my plan and my support system now.

    Thanks for the kick in the pants, Michael, and I love that the contest is for something new. See you on December 29.

  10. For anyone at Step 7 – I have a business offering lifetime, wholesale vacation packages. The retail price is $11,000. I’m looking for salesmen who will receive $9,705 per sale after their third sale.

  11. Great challenge.

    I just recently quit dancing (Guess who’s now officially unemployed?) because I knew down the road I’d be mad at myself for doing it when I’m not as passionate about it as I am about illustration/graphic design, computers/programming, writing, and entrepreneurship/business (“Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.” ~ Po Bronson).

    Even though I’m an avid follower of my passions, at this level I’m more comparable to a librarian who loves books instead of an author – I’ve done nothing with my passion.

    Looking at my passions and the type of people I respect and generally want to be around (designers and thinkers) Website Design seems like a perfect pursuit for me.


    See you on Dec 29.

  12. Question:

    Is the submitted entry meant to be a description/journal of WHAT WE HAVE DONE to implement steps 1-9, or is it meant to be the actual project?

    I am looking at an information marketing direction, pitched to consumers…and I will want my website’s content to focus the topic I am presenting, not “Today I figured out how to install a customizable theme on WordPress….”


    1. Hi Jason,

      In Step 2 of the program outlined above, I suggest creating a blog to detail your reading/learning/research about your new field. The post on Dec. 29th. will be a single post (posted on the same blog that was created in Step 2), describing all you have done so far in implementing the Steps – as many of them as you have gotten to. Link to that post in the comments section here. Thanks!

  13. Very interesting indeed. I’m currently an MD student and have often wondered about the true cost in devoting what are arguably one’s most highly energetic, focused years to academics and residency rather than actually putting forth this effort in industry. Though one can argue that highly specialized and skilled professionals make a fairly well-to-do living, this level of expertise must be continually demonstrated and maintained over the course of one’s twenty-to-thirty-year career, which does not usually begin until the early-to-mid-30’s. While I certainly am not knocking medicine, this article is a poignant note to pre-medical students who are in it for status or financial gain that there are much more efficient ways to do so than becoming a specialist.

  14. Overall this is a fantastic post — but this is actually TERRIBLE ADVICE for the average student.

    100% of the T.F 20 kids are in the top 1% as far as self motivation/intelligence etc. (If you read the bio(s)– you’ll notice that multiple people were matriculated at top ivy league schools before their 15th birthday!).

    Peter is essentially crowd-sourcing entrepreneurship in a very smart way. Get a bunch of highly intelligent, highly passionate kids (none of which have gotten into the “corporate” job ladder yet), throw a very small amount of money at them (let’s be honest 100K is a GREAT deal considering what these kids are working on — literally the next generation of technology).

    You’ll be surprised how effectively things work when you leverage peer pressure in a good way.

    My Point: This case is a huge outlier and most people will fail miserably if they decide to follow this advice.

    Michael seems to agree: “…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. …”

  15. Hi Tim, Michael, Everyone,

    I am a keen believer that if you have passion for what your work is all about and the drive to leap out of bed each day to do your work you will succeed.

    If the work requires formal education get it and keep getting more. If you work does not need formal education you still need to educate yourself daily. The more you invest in you the more you have to offer others.

    A couple of key notes I learned time and time again that create life success:

    Under promise and over deliver

    Do for other people that you would love them to do for you

    Take the time to breath and relax each day

    Take the time to learn and apply a new idea each day

    These ideas I have learned from Napoleon Hill, Earl Nightingale and my Dad

    Best of Success to everyone on your journey


  16. Only those who have endured 4 years of schooling and $100,000+ in debt can truly understand how meaningless it all is.

    A Few Quick Stories:


    “4 Years of Flight Training in 14 Days”

    After coming out of 4 Years at one of the world’s top Aviation Programs, I head off to SIMCOM in Sunny Orlando, Florida for a Type Rating in the Citation II Business Jet.

    Day 1 – I walk in the door cocky and ready to kick ass. After 15 minutes, it’s clear I have no idea what is going on. With 2 Airline Pilot parents and 4 Years of Aviation Training, I have no F***ing Idea what the instructor is talking about.

    Open Mouth. Insert Firehose.

    Day 5 – First Day “Flying” a $20 Million Dollar Box on Stilts (The Citation II Simulator). We practice starting engines. It’s a 10 step process that requires looking at precisely the right instruments at exactly the right times. Don’t mess this up or you’ll cook a $500,000 engine.

    Day 8 – Instrument Approaches. 5x Faster than I’ve ever seen. Afterwards I sit in a parking lot staring into space for 45 straight minutes while my brain reboots. This is the single most technically difficult skill I’ve ever attempted. A 6-Month training period distilled down to 8 days.

    Day 14 – Test Day. Engines are failing on Short Final 100′ off the ground. Fire bottle lights are coming on during climbout. Alarm bells are ringing literally the entire flight. I’m sure at one point every single system had failed. Me and Dave Whitehead (sim partner) looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator. Stone Cold. The flight was like watching Chuck Yeager fly the space shuttle. The instructor got so comfortable that he put his feet up and started reading a chapter book.

    I learned more in 14 days than I had in the previous 4 years combined!


    “Forcing Multi-Millionaire Stephen Pierce to Give you a Job”

    Sophomore year of my “student debt tour” at Kent State University. I picked up this little known book titled “The Four Hour” something or other…

    …It gave me the strange need to start a business.

    The itch didn’t go away. 3 Years later I was still struggling away at the money-making game.

    At some point in the shuffle, I went to a Stephen Pierce “Make Real Money on the Internet (MRMI)” seminar.

    For those of you who don’t know, Stephen Pierce has devoted a good portion of his waking life to Internet Marketing, built HUNDREDS of online income streams, and made himself a multi-millionaire 50 or 100 times over.

    He’s also a rock of monk-like discipline.

    Up at 5am. Workout till 6am. Run one Business until 10am. $50,000+ revenue per-weekend seminar until 5pm. Run online coaching until 9pm.

    He sleeps 4 hours per night and is completely ok with that.

    By the third day, I realized I needed what’s in Stephen’s brain. And I didn’t have $20,000 per day for coaching.

    So I did the next best thing. I walked up to him and said

    “You have people working at the front desk. I will work the front desk free at every seminar. Where is your next seminar?”

    There was no question in my voice. Stephen seemed a bit confused and then said, “Charlotte, North Carolina” (we were in Cleveland).

    “I’ll see you there.”

    This was my all-in move. I was either going to win big time or die trying. And I wasn’t about to ask permission.

    The first seminar I drove to. 9 Hours of driving in the middle of the night.

    Having around $150 in my bank account, the only option was living in my car and taking “Mexican Showers” in the hotel lobby bathroom before changing into a suit and acting like I didn’t just sleep in a Honda Civic.

    (Don’t feel too bad, Stephen’s staff found out I was living in my car and comped me a hotel room. Score!)

    The next 3 months working Internet Marketing seminars was like getting hit with Defibrillator Paddles over and over.

    Those seminars were more of an Internet Marketing education in 12 weeks than I had in the prior 12 years.


    “The VERY Informal Job Market”

    Following the Stephen Pierce adventure, I underwent 6 months of flying a King Air F90 (8 Passenger Turbo-Prop) then got back into Internet Marketing.

    This time specializing in SEO – that’s “Search Engine Optimization” for those who are still searching on AOL and running 2.5″ floppy disk drives.

    My nights were spent reading BacklinksForum threads on my iPhone for 3-4 hours in bed. Something about the Google game was captivating beyond belief.

    Can you really fool Google? Can you really get that much traffic?

    After a few months, I wrote a (now outdated) eBook “Google Domination Method”. At 177 Pages, it’s most likely larger than everything else I’ve ever written in my entire life combined.

    SpaceBalls Quote: “OK, The Short Short Short Version!”

    2 Months later, after being contacted out of the blue by Adam Feinberg, I was offered a job as an SEO analyst with his company.

    There is no “JD Power and Associates” for SEO, but if there was, Maryland Web Builders would probably get an award for “Most Aggressive SEO Company.”

    Fast Forward 6 Months

    One of my personal sites, a “fun side venture” is now ranked #1 for the 2 Largest Weight Loss words in the world.

    One of my sites is pushing annualized $70,000 per year on auto-pilot.

    Another, one I started 3 weeks ago, is around $30,000 per year. Also passive income. That’s growing at around $20,000 per year every month. And I’ve tapped about 5% of the marketing opportunity.

    Judged by talking to hundreds of other SEO’s on a daily basis, I now consider myself in the top 2% of SEO’s in the world. The information I have learned in the last 6 months is not available in any SEO eBook or Print Book worldwide. And trust me, I’ve read them all.


    Guys and Gals – Trust me when I say this. Traditional Education will make you just that…Traditional.

    Tim Ferriss said something a month or so back in his private Q&A for Four Hour Body Forum readers:

    “If you want to succeed, you need to specialize. Pick one thing and stick with it until you’re the best.”

    That same comment has been resonated by Billionaire Felix Dennis (Owner of Maxim Magazine), among many others.

    If you want to succeed, you have to FOCUS and SPECIALIZE.

    Let nothing distract you.

    Remember: No matter what the sirens are singing, stay the course.

  17. Hi, Michael

    I’m sorry to say that I cannot agree with your post. First of all, you forgot to add the cost of breakfast, lunch, dinner or drinks with other 10 business owners in Step 8, This alone could skyrocket your estimates at least to $600. double your original estimated cost. We can all agree that these action plan will inccur many miscellaneous cost that would triple your original estimates.

    I never thought that “College equals Security for Life” to be true. However, I also have to question your post that “9 step action plan plus only $300 dollars”(which already proven to be non-realistic) equal “better than college degree and deliver what a college degree didn’t”. In fact, it is very dangerous. This post might be “proper, effective, non-sleazy, high-integrity sales”, but aren’t you selling the same impossble dream like all those late night infomericals?

  18. I’ll get your book, the story you tell about life is exactly what I wanted to hear when I was still in school.

    It’s regretable that some of us are smart enough to be extremely bored by formal schooling but not smart enough to realise that we can do without it.

    Hopefully your message will find it’s way to many young and ambitious people.

  19. Thanks for the post Michael! (and Tim, too)

    I’m a junior computer engineering student, and I’m completely apathetic towards completing my degree.

    I just returned from a three semester break of school, during which I started doing freelance web development and used techniques learned online to jump from a $12/hr student webmaster job to $50/hr rates (increasing soon because of school).

    The engineering degree is a great screening tool for potential hires (work ethic, etc), but I’m lightyears ahead of everyone I know at school in social economy and job skills. If I want to make straight A’s, I would need to spend less time doing things that are actually moving me in the direction I want to go and more time doing homework, labs, and projects at the snail’s pace of traditional instituions.

    Working 15 hours a week at $75/hr, I would make $90k over the next ~1.5 years. With college, I’ll be losing >$10k a year in tuition in addition to the time I could spend educating myself and working on my own stuff. I have a full time job (engineering) and I’m working at least 60 hours a month to support the bad habit, college.


    After your post (and Steve Jobbs death), I’m going to make a change. Jobbs said, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

    It’s time for a change.

    I’ll be diving into mechanical engineering plus drafting/CAD.

    The link on my name will send you to the blog where I will document my learning, as well as the link below. I’m going to keep it fairly detailed, so it may help others in the future.


  20. Thanks for the post Michael! (and Tim, too)

    I’m a junior computer engineering student, and I’m completely apathetic towards completing my degree.

    I just returned from a three semester break of school, during which I started doing freelance web development and used techniques learned online to jump from a $12/hr student webmaster job to $50/hr rates (increasing soon because of school).

    The engineering degree is a great screening tool for potential hires (work ethic, etc), but I’m lightyears ahead of everyone I know at school in social economy and job skills. If I want to make straight A’s, I would need to spend less time doing things that are actually moving me in the direction I want to go and more time doing homework, labs, and projects at the snail’s pace of traditional instituions.

    Working 15 hours a week at $75/hr, I would make $90k over the next ~1.5 years. With college, I’ll be losing >$10k a year in tuition in addition to the time I could spend educating myself and working on my own stuff. I have a full time job (engineering) and I’m working at least 60 hours a month to support the bad habit, college.


    After your post (and Steve Jobbs death), I’m going to make a change. Jobbs said, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today? And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

    It’s time for a change.

    I’ll be diving into mechanical engineering plus drafting/CAD.

    The link on my name will send you to the blog where I will document my learning. I’m going to keep it fairly detailed, so it may help others in the future.

  21. Prizes? I don’t need no stinking prizes!

    Both Noah (“How to Create a Million Dollar Business in a Weekend”) and Michael (“8 Steps to Getting What You Want…Without Credentials”) presented practical, actionable ideas that I am incorporating into my life. I don’t need more prizes. I collected my prizes today when I opened my RSS reader and read both amazing articles.

    Thank you.

    (that doesn’t necessarily mean that ya’ll won’t have to worry about this white haired unemployed gal who’s old enough to be your Grannie on December 29th!)

  22. To answer the last question in the Final Thoughts – “What’s holding you back?”

    ME! That is the most frustrating answer in the world, but it honestly is the only thing hold me back.

    And as for your contest, Tim, challenge accepted!

    1. Heck no! Use whatever blogging platform you like! I’m a big fan of WordPress, but if some other platform floats your boat, go for it!

  23. This is a great post. Very, very detailed & concise. I believe that my main problem is networking. I am very creative, determined & persistent & yet I always fail at maintaining relationships. Over time, I have learned to dismiss it, but I also have learned that networking is a vital skill not only for sales but for building a rep. I wholeheartedly agree that college is not where it’s at (for everyone) in particular for me. It just seemed too boring. Over the course of reading this blog and deciding to initiate my own endeavors I have learned that the easy way is not always most efficient. Are there any suggestions that you could give to someone who spends time primarily on the computer for vital networking vis-a-vis & applying that to the above aforementioned. Thanks, Tim & thanks Michael

  24. Hey David, I guess this is not for you. I hope you rethink your position of pesimism.

    For others out there reread his post and pay attention because you will have to dodge many of these motivational vampires in one form or another disguised as well meaning advice.

    Some of the advice has value and the rest is negativism disguised as realistic “real world advice”. Just note it and move on. File it under potential challenges. The truth is complicated and never straight foward.

    So some red flags to avoid all or nothing viewpoints given with no real substance.

    Michael thank you for this post and Tim thank you for creating this platform.

    There is nothing magical about this approach. It is merely using the tools of today and rethinking strategies to get results.

    To succeed you have to fail but I prefer the positive word “learn” so then I never really fail I just learn and then rethink.

    Attaining knowledge and applying creativity and rethinking.

    The hardest part for me is to filter out all the negativity and keeping focused and keeping in the zone.

    People who take failure or “opportunities to learn” poorly and become cynical and negative have a tendency to pull others down with them.

    Misery loves company.

    It gets tricky trying to filter out this garbage. You will find people that are well accomplished and skilled in one or several areas let this confidence go to their head and then they become overconfident in dishing out advice on things they don’t know enough about. (AKA KnowItAll).

    People listen to these accomplished people because of their stature and don’t question the advice and even pass it on to others and it spreads like a virus because others who have ‘failed” love to have an easy escape route to validate themselves as merely victims of bad advice.

    I’ve heard well accomplished people say SEO is just a con game, or none of that stuff works even though it does and easily scientifically proven.

    BEWARE! Alot of bad advice comes from very intelligent people not to say you can’t learn anything from them. You can even learn what not to do as well.

    I think what ads credibility to Tim and the people he brings here is they are hackers. They are constantly experimenting and testing and seeking results.

    To do that I think you have to throw out your ego, the security of all preconceived notions and follow the data.

    BEWARE! watch out for those you do the reverse of the above. They have an agenda and/or a philosophical stance that they rigidly believe AND the research they do or gathering of data is to support what they already believe to be true which is junk science.

    Challenge your own thoughts and beliefs. Question them constantly. Who was the philosopher who believed in attaining knowledge through discourse rather the aggressive and antagonistic debate of the rhetorical speakers who defend their theories to the death with whatever trick they can use or illogical personal attacks.

    I think in studying history you can see the challenges of the great thinkers in the cultures and societies they lived in.

    When I hear criticisms against Tim’s 4HWW I think about what it must of felt like for whats his name that said the world was round.

    So one thing I am working on is staying motivated, finding ways to

    re-energize myself and staying in the zone.

    Without that you will certainly not progress. It is the biggest killer of all dreams and ambitions..

    I work in Mental Health and I see the destruction of lives and potential and torture people suffer based on thought patterns, attitudes, hopelessness, poor self esteem. I have been a victim of these thought patterns myself as many many of have been whether we admit it or not.

    So for these 2 reasons I know I have to keep my faith, confidence and humility strong and have plans in place to deal with major setbacks or even avoiding them if possible.

    I believe we have much more control over our thoughts/ and our emotions than most believe.

    You can choose where you live, who you associate with, what you read, what you watch or listen to, what you eat, smell, taste, what you wear, what you say. what you think about, what you talk about etc….

    I am far in being a master on this myself but I am learning.

    The main thing is to be aware and mindful of where your mind and emotions are going and find ways to control it. Experiment.

    Hey Tim how about the next book “Mind Hacking” 🙂

    Meditation, Self Hypnosis, Visualization, Day Dreaming, Lucid Dreaming.

    Self Crisis Management, Avoiding triggers to defeatism, Laugh Therapy

    There are many great sources out there on this Topic such as

    “Positive Psychology”

    Alltop.com has a section under work-life for Positive Psychology Blogs

    Thanks again Tim & Michael

  25. Hi Michael. First lot of books just arrived. Got a direction. I’ve been chatting with some business owners this weekend who thought the idea was sound. I just need to double check this is open to citizens of UK? It doesn’t matter too much if not, I’ll do it anyway. Not really had the courage before, but looking forward to making some positive professional developments. Thanks, Faye

    1. Hey Faye – go for it! This contest is open to citizens of Uzbekistan, if they hear about it and follow the guidelines. Certainly the UK! Look forward to seeing what you come up with – and I do like your go-getter attitude – you’re already in action, and that’s great.

  26. The biggest hindrance I see in applying these 8 steps in 9 months is that I can’t imagine getting up to speed in anything in 9 months! Any field I would want to get into would require a great deal of learning. That is what it means to me to be “into” a field. Perhaps you can have natural talent in writing copy or interior design, for example, but to me these types of fields are exceptions, or at least the rarity among the crop.

    Then again, I do suppose you could get “intern type” work in just about anything after 9 months of self-learning — except for medicine maybe. But to challenge the notion, do you really think it would be possible to hack….theme park design? What kind of “light” services would you start offering to your social circle?

  27. Really awesome post… I look forward to partaking in the challenge. Quick question Michael- I want to explore entrepreneurship, specifically running an internet start up… I don’t have any experience with that, but DO have some internet marketing experience. Do I still qualify?

  28. I run a small business (40 employees) and need more information on what appear to me to be conflicting perspectives. On the one hand, you avoid all meetings and conversations, requesting your team to email you. On the other hand, you stated that direct conversation is the best way to solve a problem (with which I agree). None of us like wasted time with meetings or conversations but we do want input and buy-in to decisions. Can you please expand on this? Thanks.

  29. Hey Michael, have you ever thought about how this process, or the concepts involved in the process, could be applied to other fields? Like, say, politics and international diplomacy? I see an incredible correlation between what is happening with counterinsurgency efforts overseas, and with the breakdown of the formal education system domestically. Increasingly, I feel people are starting to realize it’s about engaging other people that can bring about change, not just the “official” people designated to the posts at the top of the formal hierarchy. For example, we’ve learned that the most effective way for U.S. forces to engage the people of Afghanistan is to skip over the “central” government in Kabul and go directly to local village elders, asking them what they need and what we can do immediately for them. This seems very similar to your suggested practice of forgetting about consulting with the “central” educational institutions for your education and going directly to local business leaders and figuring out what you can do for them immediately. What do you think about this comparison?

  30. As always your posts are inspirational. This one especially so.

    It is good to know that I am not the only one out there thinking in non-traditional methods of generating income. And real live examples help a bunch!

  31. What an immense article.

    I haven’t finished reading it yet. But boy is my brain rewiring in so may different ways. I’m totally surprised that more than 80% of jobs are informally placed. It doesn’t leave much for the rest of the 20% of job seekers.

    Yet, when looking back most of the people I know where referred one way or another to their current jobs. Rarely they did get it off a job board. Unless it’s a 7/11 kind of job.

  32. Tim,

    Searched for this topic on blog and website but couldn’t find reference. Please forgive me if I missed a post that deals with this subject. The slow-carb diet has worked well for me. I’ve lost close to 20 pounds with only one real drawback: since starting the diet, I’ve lived with a bitter taste in my mouth and bad breath. I’ve read that this has to do with ketones, but I’ve also read that the legumes that are a regular part of my meals are supposed to solve the ketone problem. Any suggestions on what I’m doing wrong or how to adjust my diet to deal with this? Thank you.



  33. Michael, it’s 3 AM and I’m still up enjoying your book. Is there anyway we can read Rock Star Envy online? I’m dying to find out more about this ecofeminism you speak of 🙂

    Seriously though, great book. I’ve found it very motivating so far.

  34. Hello Michael and Tim,

    My short story: I have been working for others for 12+ years and 7+ years for my present employer, and now I just do not feel respected anymore. So I will do anything necessary to leave. The pay is very good and conditions are ok, but this is not the point.

    October 7th – decided to leave the company, not yet did it 🙁

    October 14th – by chance, bought Tim’s book “4 hours…”

    October 15th – started reading it

    October 17th – read Noah’s ideas on this Blog

    October 18-19th – contacted 13 possible partners (from my LinkedIn network) to team-up for an on-line business – I missed on Noah’s prize, but I will have my 1 Mil Business soon.

    October 19th – decided to sell my house and free myself from the pressure of the mortgage witch is keeping me in the “rat race”

    October 20th- read this: I decided to go into programming and first stage is for web design as I totally disregarded this till now and I feel like I lost 100 years. But soon it will be all fixed. (I have to ask somebody to teach me how to design my Worldpress blog – so I qualify as starting from scratch.

    I will go head-by-head with my new business and with my new credentials earning (programming will also help develop my business).

    Michael – count me in for December

    Tim – thank you for you being financially free and sharing this with us all

    Noah – great orange on your shirt, great method of business testing. Revolutionary.

    God give me the strength.

    1. I was so excited that I missed on the dates.

      It is 7 instead of 14

      8 instead of 15

      and so on until today: 12 instead of 20th of October.

      I just realized: Today is October 12th, the Birthday of my youngest daughter.

      This is my present for her.

  35. Loved this post, I am switching careers and this came at the right time. I’m going to buy SPIN Selling. Thank you for the thoughtful post.

  36. I really love this post! Its amazing that in the last couple of months material such as this continues to find a way in my life when I need it most! I am a veteran who has gone back to school under the G.I bill. I have been given the liberty to educate myself while having the free time to explore other ventures. I now find myself more passionate about the side project I have started, and use my education as a self-goal that enriches my life but I could care less about what job prospects I get from it.

    As mentioned above I recently started something I am very passionate about, first with a blog and now supported with a collection of shirts. I want to move this whole brand in a direction of charitable giving, so these steps mentioned in your blog are going to be of great value! I love your book, and love the blog just as much!! …..THANK YOU for so openly sharing your wisdom!!

    – I Heart Travel-

  37. Great article.

    I have thought about this quite a bit over the years, but not done the extensive research that you have.

    I have spent many years basically doing a version of, ‘do you want fries with that?’ all the while, a part of me burned, knowing I could be doing something more with my life.

    Those are some interesting percentages that you threw out there. I have not thought of it that way, in the 80/20 etc. I completely resonate with the idea of what someone could do in a year vs someone going for a degree. I have for a long time carried the notion that it is the only way to an above average type of success, as I see our conventional means as being really limited, and you verified that even more.

    Thanks for laying out the steps you would take, had you not taken the meandering 10 year course, focusing your wisdom from 10 years into a theoretical 1 year time line. Great suggestions.

    I loved when you mentioned that I am assuming you are unemployed now, as I am. and I am determined to make something better for myself than the trail I have behind me, and ideally, a 4 hour work week type of thing would be excellent, or something I wouldn’t mind doing for 80 hours even if I wasn’t compensated.

    You give a lot of real tangible hope to people with this article, with concrete suggestions that someone could implement right away.

    I am in the defining phase, of what exactly I want to do, which I am not uncovering really easily.

    It’s amazing how years of not setting goals etc. has a sort of dulling effect in that region of your intellect.

    Thanks for the inspiring and thought provoking article.


  38. Hello Mr. Ferriss and apologies for having to resort to internet contact.

    I have read your book 3 times (before and after the improved edition; very smart by the way) and it is wonderful. It has answered 99.99% of my questions and now I’m stuck.

    I am curious what route someone should take in the event that they’ve built their entire career around themselves as a personality?

    Please don’t get me wrong… I work very little and when I do work, it’s doing something I love (I’m a fly-fishing personality, columnist, TV host, and BC fishing guide).

    The problem is that the email volume is outlandish and, as you know, everyone wants something (most of them, for nothing)…

    I work closely with Patagonia and have fished with Yvon enough to know the strengths and weaknesses of the fishing world that I need to capitalize on (the man doesn’t even have an email address!) This gives me more time to do conservation work, etc.

    I have staff that answer most emails, and have even looked into getting a manager. The catch is that most managers are clueless when it comes to fly-fishing and the areas of the sport that can make or break a career (conservation, politics, etc.)

    So… long story short, how does one sincerely apply all of the concepts, when the business is built 100% around themselves?


    April Vokey

  39. Michael, your words, ideas and book couldn’t have landed in my life at a better time. I find myself re-reading parts of your book and running hungrily towards posts like this one to continue the discussion. Looking forward to Dec. 29th…are you only picking one??? 🙂

  40. Absolutely fantastic article. Loving the ‘Hacking’ style of things. I literally took a few pages of notes while reading this because it’s exactly along the lines of a new product I’m looking at making for the job hunt today. Great work

  41. I started my blog !!!

    Its a blog about taking care of your body and looking after yourself.

    @everyone: Check it out and let me know what you think (via the contact page). I’ve only got the one post up…but it’s a great post!


    @Michael: I’ve started networking. I’m really enjoying it. I’ve signed up to about three breakfast meetings at insane o’clock in the morning. There are a few groups that meet monthly…and thats about it. You recommended about 20 hours a week. How do you network for 20 hours a week??? Any suggestions?

    (Great post by the way!).

    @Tim: I love your blog!

  42. I started my blog !!!

    Its a blog about taking care of your body and looking after yourself.

    @everyone: Check it out and let me know what you think (via the contact page). I’ve only got the one post up…but it’s a great post!


    @Michael: I’ve started networking. It’s really fun! I’ve signed up to about three breakfast meetings at insane o’clock in the morning. There are a few groups that meet monthly…and that’s about it. You recommended 20 hours a week. How do you network for 20 hours a week??? Any suggestions???

    (Great post by the way!).

    @Tim: I love your blog!

    1. Joshua,

      20 hours of networking is pretty simple. You probably are already doing it at the moment and not realizing you do. Living in NYC, I network everywhere I go. Whether you are at the supermarket, on a train, or at an event, you can network! Anywhere and everywhere is my motto. As mentioned in the video, as long as you have a “giving” attitude towards people you meet you can pretty much attract positive energy everywhere you go. You never know who is who…

  43. Well I finally picked something—something quite difficult if I’m looking for work within the next year. I’m going with programming (and computer science). I bought http://www.codenoobs.com and have started learning C++, a difficult programming language.

    It seems like I’ve taken a swipe at most of the other things or even went deep into them (music, marketing, writing) but I am excited about this.

    Did anyone else pick programming?

  44. Hi Michael,

    great article!! Congratulations!!

    I’ve jus put your book on my Must Reading Watchlist and I’ll buy it a.s.a.p. !!

    Anyway, it has been published another book ( already read ) which deals with this matter:


    But your book sounds more practical because you offer real life examples!!

    “An ounce of practice is far more important than tons of theory” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    All the best!!

    Fab, greetings from Italy.

    PS All in all, in western countries, most university education is just a business to make money and not to make the real interests of the students!!

    What a waste of money and time…!!

    But people still have a choice, so in the end:

    Todo Depende….!!

  45. WOW! So much great info here, I will definitely be back to recap because there is so much to take in. A lot of what you have written here is what I am half way through at the moment with my blog http://mattkinsella.com/blog-2

    I did not have the luxury of a college education mostly down to the fact I was in a homeless hostel from age 17 to 19 but I still managed to turn my life around and become a successful entrepreneur and in the process worked for top medical companies, Goldman Sachs and Citibank. Doing it all with no valid credentials has proved to me that attitude, work ethic and enthusiasm will always take you far.

  46. The author makes a major judgement error here – he assumes individuals not attending university, etc. are automatically motivated to generate Money and be Successful:

    Think back to when you were 17. If you hadn’t gone on to higher education, do you really think your main focus would have been to become successful (likely less than 2% of people)?

    Going to college, etc. is not all about making “money”. It’s about shaping you and providing focus during formative years – a time when you could easily go down the wrong path (it become LESS Likely with further education, not impossible)

    To the Kids reading – get your education first, worry about the money second.

    As my parents always said “money will come and go, but no one can ever take your education away”

    …..BTW, thought the article was great – just thought the education bashing was abit biased and one sided 😛

  47. Hey there!

    Has anyone already bought the book and can tell me if it’s worth reading after this post? I.e., has the book merely empirical content (yx did this in that way), or are there additional topics covered for which there has been no space here (like “Using SPIN Selling in this or that specific situation”)?

  48. This post has sooo much great information. I found it very interesting and I definitely agree that the traditional way of educating is quickly becoming useless. I am a current college student and I learn far more outside of the classroom without any professors help then I ever do in class. With the internet and all of the other tools we now have to access information and connect with others, sitting in class almost always feels like a waste of time. I am almost done with my bachelors degree now so I am going to finish it up, but I didn’t have a scholarship I might have thought twice about going to school right away.

  49. Somewhere between occupying wall street and volunteering at Clinton Global Initiative (my only foray into the formal job market since graduating with a BA last May) I realized that what I had learned in the last four years about what would happen at the end of those four years was inherently backwards. Maybe it was being surrounded by extremely qualified people either chanting at the fact that there are no jobs or swimming laps with the bottom feeders in a ultra bureaucratic setting ranging from fifth-time volunteers to world leaders, celebrities, and CEO’s (meanwhile I’m having my foot stepped on by others trying to shake hands).

    What I know is true is that there is conflicting information for youth today. We are told that we can change the world, that our skills, knowledge, and dedication have value in the job market. Yet I find myself competing for jobs I could get with a GED. This is the myth of formal education, that we must perpetually keep attaining these check marks in order to get to the next check mark, never mind the fact that we can get where we want, right now. If we just believe in the fact that we have that power, and seek out, as you suggested, tailored knowledge to our chosen path instead of skimming increasingly exclusionary job ads. More and more graduates are already realizing that the formal route is not as easy as we have been fooled. They are joining orgs like Americorps, and new programs like Venture for America, all to gain that experiential knowledge that we are somewhat deprived of in the formal education setting. Yet these programs are also touted as ultra competitive and are turning into another form of a checkmark. Another delay into the fabled real-world.

    This is why we need to abolish the fear mongering of career centers telling us our resumes should be formatted this way and continuing the myth of career fairs. (Okay, I may be exaggerating) but for real, I’m forwarding this blog to “self-employed” graduate I know. And I’m taking myself up to this challenge. Nothing’s going to get built without first laying out the foundation. (Once I start botching idioms, I know it’s time for me to wrap it up).

    Thank you, times infinity, plus one, for this post. You and Tim both are much needed voices on encouraging self progress, and therefore world progress!

  50. Time to “rinse and repeat.”

    This model REALLY works! It’s a lot of work but it’s a heck of a lot more fun than the “traditional model.” I started doing freelance design work at age 22 and have used networking to land bigger and bigger clients. Now I have too many clients to handle and I am starting to expand my business. I found a field that I liked, studied my brains out and then went out of my way to impress the big dogs. It was tough but worth the struggle, and the benefits continue to multiply!

    I’m inspired to use your process to continue to expand my knowledge and network. It really helps to see the steps laid out so simply. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  51. I am trying to figure out how to get my kids to get both a formal education and an informal one at the same time. I’m trying to think in terms of “Both/and” not “Either/or”. I can say that my bias is definitely toward formal education, but I can see the enormous benefits to unconventional learning.

  52. Hi,

    Great posting. Thank you!

    It actually lead me to start a blog. Unfortunately, I probably can not enter the contest since I plan to write in german. Also, it is hard to say if I really start “now”. The most important thing is however, that this post is part of a series of literature which made me realize I have one more skill I never really thought of.

    I startet rather early to be interested in learning techniques of various kinds. I allways saw it as a tool to get other things. So I got without much struggle a diploma in a natural science, (nearly) highscore in the TOEFL test, became a black belt in a martial arts, learned advanced juggling, playing guitar..etc (some of this actually only for the fun of the learning progress). Since I am heading towards my Phd at the moment, there is no urge to sidestep the usual jobmarket. But it would still be awesome to become an expert in learning, since that is actually what is most fun for me. I just never saw it as an actual skill.

    Still very nice of you to start the contest and good luck to all participants.

    At some point I will probably translate my blog into english. So maybe at this point I will have sidestepped this contest and come to a guest posting to one of the blogs of you guys 😉


    1. Hi there everyone!

      It’s really a great blog and I’ve read a lot of interesting and inspiring stories but I do have one question for all of you guys.Maybe not one but a few and maybe your answer will help to let of people also,me included.

      The thing I’m strugling with is routine work doing for myself not for somebody else. I don’t have trouble at all to get up and go to work at 7 o’clock or whatever time needed to perform tasks/job related work for other people but when it comes down to do the things I need to do for myself I am strugling. What I mean is if for instance I need to do push ups or some kind of diet that needs to be done for a long period of time , I found out that after a week or two I get distracted by some kind of BS and eventually I fail at my individual task involving only my personal growth.

      In my personal opinion for me and for all other people wanting to become a successful in any kind of field it is essential to keep doing what is needed when the initial enthusiasm fades away. So I would really appreciate if somebody who struggled with something like this could share their story and how they overcame it. I think my question is related to the general idea of doing the steps Michael shared with us and not stopping in the middle of the process.

      Wish you not to let your hands down achieving your dreams!


  53. I loved this article. Although I just read it and may be a bit late to enter the contest. However, I will start implementing all the steps mentioned into my life and my new business. The video was great and made a lot of great points. Sometimes we forget that giving is so powerful. I’m glad you reminded us of that simple rule of life.

    The url link I posted is to a fitness company I am currently building for my boyfriend’s business. I start cosmetology (hair) school in March 2012 and have been considering starting my own blog site where I can share my progress and knowledge in the beauty industry. Your suggestions strengthened my belief in myself and my ideas. Thank you so much for sharing.

  54. @Yanka,

    Thank you for your response 🙂

    I always talk to people about my new project when I’m out and about (I don’t even count that, thats just me being me).

    I guess my question should have been: What are the best places to meet business owners for 20 hours a week?

    I have found a networking group for just about every day of the week. Almost everyone is a business owner at those meeting. Certainly enough people to meet for the next two months. Most meetings last about 2 hours each (so thats 10 hours).

    I have also searched the local library for “buiness-y” talks and found a couple that would probably attract business owners (lets say an extra 3 hours a week at best).

    I have signed up to all the local tax education meetings (WHICH IS A FANTASTIC WAY TO MEET OTHER BUSINESS OWNERS, for anyone else on the challenge). Thats about another 2 hours a week (because they tend to be monthly rather than weekly).

    …and I still havn’t hit the 20 hour mark!!!

    In his video, Michael mentioned hanging out in places where business owners congregate. I was hoping he could give us a heads up on some of the best places for this (given his experience). Networking groups are great, but they are also quite expensive (and if you go to one very day it adds up).

    Any suggestions are welcome 🙂

  55. Ellsburg is on the money. A couple months of reading the top books in a field may give you most of the foundation you need in a lot of fields. The tendency to read too much, actually, bogs down people like me who like to read a lot and absorb information. But I’m developing a skill I call “Book Hacking” which is largely just speed reading and speed researching techniques but it is part of a larger skill I call “Knowledge Hacking.” A good student in general, I think, makes a topic, or subject, or material, his/her own. You personalize it and consume it in the way that makes the most sense to you and you get out of it what you want. For many professions, this kind of learning can be done outside of academia, but you have to add back in the social elements that academia provides. Great post!

  56. Michael,

    Thank you so much for this great opportunity! Your book The Education of Millionaires and this challenge have convinced me to learn about the business of copywriting, which I will document my new blog http://www.jumpstartcopy.com

    I was inspired to create my own business from this challenge, so win or lose, I thank you for the motivation to create something on my own.

    Thank You!

  57. @Sam

    In Italy there is a famous “Learning Coach” whose name is Daniele Mattoni.

    Here is his website:


    You could get in touch with him via email to get some useful cues.

    He knows English very well.

    To translate Italian into German or English, you may use:


    All the best!


    PS his book “Eight Steps for Learning to Learn” is a Masterpiece!

  58. Tim, Thanks for this great article.

    I just read it and am sure by this time there will be a Winner for the contest.

    When a person loses a job and transitions to an Entrepreneur, he is faced with two major challenges

    1. Lack of self esteem/confidence/proper direction and getting stuck.

    2. Money to invest/OR not sure if the it is worth investing in unknown territory

    In this article, you have provided various low cost/free options to transition to an Entrepreneur, by making a commitment to learn skills as a trainee and become revenue a generator.

  59. Great article as it finally encouraged me to start my own blog and enter the competition. Reading The Education of Millionaires and watching the videos on networking got me so excited that I have decided to give copywriting a go in my free time outside of my regular job.

    Win or lose thank you for inspiring me to go out and create something on my own.


    (I apologize for posting the URL in the comments before. It may sound contrived but I was literally so excited to post I did not check the comment rules.)

  60. Hey Michael and Tim,

    you really rock! Thank you so much for this post. I think it’s one of the very most inspriring posts I’ve EVER read! I LOVE to read stories like that. They really push the people who read it further in life. Now it’s time for action!

    I’ve never set up a blog. I’ve never started an Internet business. But I am so absolutely in! Just waiting for my “epiphany in the shower” tomorrow.

    Can’t wait to start, nervous like a child…

  61. My problem, as an educated person, who has been through a lot of serious education, and has been forced to be great at everything is that I struggle to find a career path. I feel like I can’t find my way, and no one wants to be a mentor in Hollywood unless you’re related to them or they can sleep with you for breakfast.

    1. Hey Alexandru, I just wanted to say that I think this is a common problem. Some people have too MANY interests. Others can’t start, others can’t finish. Others have a few specific interests, but can’t prioritize. Still others are always let down with the final product when they finish something. There are a number of good resources to turn to, but I’ll keep it simple. Here is one: I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was by Barbara Sher. I found this very useful in clarifying, specifying, analyzing, and motivating. Best of luck!

  62. Michael,

    At first I felt convinced by what you write. On a second thought I see a problem with the approach. As I understand you would suggest that the most important means of learning from the elected mentor would be to help him with what you are good at. Then, to use a geometric analogy, wouldn’t you try to learn about something that is parallel to the mentor’s know-how by doing something that is orthogonal to it? How does this go together? Or do I miss something?

    Anyway, very good writing! Thanks!


  63. Good advice, with a comment and a caveat:

    – What college is worth, compared to starting a career right away, has been studied a lot by economists. It’s called “return to schooling” or “return to education”, like “return on investment”. Unfortunately you can’t google for it, because you’ll get a bunch of pages about going back to school. So you can read about it in Arrow, Bowles, & Durlauf, “Meritocracy and economic inequality”. One year of college increases your salary by about 5%. If you have to take out a $40,000 loan and forego $60,000 in wages for that year, AND the stock market returns 7% over inflation in the long term, then you’d be better off economically putting the money in the bank and collecting the interest. (Returns for college vary by the student’s race and sex, but they vary more by their major and the rank of the college.)

    Some things that change this calculation, though:

    – Student loans are often at low interest.

    – You learn things at college. More than you can on any job. Maybe you won’t learn as /useful/ things, but you’ll learn /more/ things. If you’re into math or biology or chemistry or medicine or some other fact-filled field, school is the way to learn it – not on the job.

    – Returns on going to an elite university are another matter altogether. America is run by people who went to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and a few other places. If you go to those places, it will open doors for you for the rest of your life. And if you don’t, certain doors will always be shut to you.

    Basically, in America, community colleges can be worth it, and elite colleges can definitely be worth it. The colleges in the middle are questionable.

    (If you want to be a research scientist, you must begin by going to one of the top 15 institutions in your field of study /as an undergraduate/. This has been true since about 1975, based on a study I did of all American Nobel-winning physicists.)

  64. Thank you for a wonderful post Michael! Perfect timing.

    I’ve recently resigned from my corporate job and put off further graduate education and now my family and friends think I am crazy!!

    I will definitely be following the steps you outlined and picking up your book + SPIN Selling.

    Thanks for the motivation!!!

  65. Honestly, most people that drop out of school are just plain lazy. I don’t think it wise to encourage people to “hack” the job market when they are even too lazy to get an education.

    No one has to or even should spend $100,000 on a college education. If a person wants to learn real skills in a field, he can go to a technical school, community college, or training program to learn. This exposes a person to valuable skills and people without going into huge amounts of debt.

    Articles like this make it seem as if someone can just contact people on Facebook or Twitter and end up making a boatload of money in a few years. Get out of here! A person could have a degree and a job in the time that it takes to play games with trial-and-error games like the ones described here. Poor things.

  66. Shoot, just read this now. Only 2 months left, will it be too late? (no matter, I’m still going to go through the steps regardless)

    Thanks for the post to both Michael and Tim.

  67. I read this post 3 weeks ago,

    3 weeks later I already have 2 paying clients and a third interested!

    So, all in all we can safely say this is a great article and could well be the kick in the a** many people like me needed!

    1. Wow, Mark, that’s amazing!! What field are you in? What did you do that changed everything? I wish I could say something similar, I’ve been going for the same amount of time and am lucky if I get 10 views a day on my blog showcasing my growing expertise.. I guess it does take time for some more than others, so I’m staying patient!

  68. Hey Tim,

    I wish I had read this post much earlier to get in on the contest. I appreciate the advice though and can say that this is the best thing I have read since your book.

    I am currently finishing my undergrad degree in computers even though I have no plan to actually go and work somewhere with that degree. I have been teaching myself different programming languages for the past 4 years like php, javascript etc and have stayed in school because everyone tells me to. I started doing programming for people a couple of years ago for $50 here and there building up my portfolio and now I charge around $300 per hour for my services. Funny thing is I still have a hard time when I think of quitting school and continuing with my informal education (which is the only education I have ever enjoyed).

    Anyway in a nutshell I just wanted to say thanks for the advice and hopefully I can find some courage to do what I want and not what everyone else expects.

  69. Dear Michael,

    I want so say Thank You from the bottom of my heart for writing this article. I am confident that you made some great change in the world and because of you people start doing what they are passionate about in financially rewarding ways. You motivated me and gave a meaning to the things I do in life.

    I am currently studying an Undergraduate degree in Engineering at a British University. I am from Germany myself, and was (like other people above) not quite sure if I could participate because of the language/location thing. But I guess, like many times in life, if the desire is big enough, you can achieve anything. So I started a blog about my learning experiences in the field of hypnosis:


    Why Hypnosis when I study Engineering? Because I am in my third year of the Engineering degree, and the more time has passed the more I couldn’t find any sense in studying those things, because they don’t make an impact in the world. I don’t know if you have mentioned it before, but one huge point on the negative side of a University education is that people are “produced” to fit certain criteria, and not a single person is prepared to make a real change in this world . And in Hypnosis, a field that I have been interested in for almost my entire life and never even tried to learn it, I actually SEE how I can make a difference in the world. I see a meaning in helping people to overcome their difficulties in life.

    Nonetheless, I am not planning to quit University for now as I’m almost finished anyway. I’ll let it run on the side to have an “option” in life, so I can still go back to working in oil industry should I ever feel like doing so.

    But in the meantime I will combine your thoughts with Tim’s thoughts and have in mind to produce a “muse” with my newly gained knowledge as soon as possible

    Thanks again for this highly motivating article.

  70. Well, I probably can’t add anything that hasn’t already been stated in the article or the comments… but this new way of getting educated serves as a great “revision” of an outdated, stuffy approach to learning. Glad this is finally happening.

    I went to college for one reason, and for one reason only — to study English. I loved it, and I wanted to dive right into it. The core requirements were the only thing that really annoyed me about school (as well as the requirement to be physical present!). And truly, I am now using ZERO of those “core classes” knowledge in my daily life now.

    Did anything I learn in college end up applying to my actual work? Not really — unless you count the deepening of my critical thinking, reading, and analytical skills. Did college open a huge door for me that wouldn’t have been opened had I not had a BA? Probably. For the record: it took me 8 years to finish my undergrad degree, as I was working full-time while in school. 🙂 At that more relaxed pace, I was able to get a lot more out of my classes. (Never understood the insanity of taking 4-5+ classes per semester. How do you really learn anything in that type of environment??)

    I plan to pursue a graduate degree at some point in my life, purely for fun, and probably not for many years. The challenge will be deciding on what degree to pursue, as I have many, many interests. Until then, life and business will continue providing me with awesome, hands-on schooling and constant learning.

  71. Hello Michael(and Tim): It will be superb to get to learn from Michael in person! One question is, my target clients are chinese, so basically my blog is mainly in Chinese. Will that be ok for me to join this contest? writing my self-education blog?

  72. hey, it’s an article with the “wahouuu !!” effect !

    just someone who is really passionnate can write an artlicle like this 🙂




  73. Hi Michael,

    First of all great to see all of the comments, and a few of them from people I know too 🙂

    Getting involved in the fourhourworkweek community and also reading Ebens DYD newsletter of those top 10 reasons why it didn’t work out with my first girlfriend and dipping my head as I realise 8 of those I was doing wrong are all what Steve Jobs would of said is “connecting the dots”.

    I started my company 18 months ago and have met some amazing people and challenged myself both personally and professionally. The one thing I would add to what you’ve written about is that as an early stage business finding people who you can work with who specialise in each of these, for example sales is my specialism, however now as a business owner I get involved in blogging, speaking, and now I want to improve my copy writing skills.

    I always take time out to read blogs on a Saturday and have to say that was well worth the 1hr or so it took to read through. Hopefully I will be visiting NYC next year and would love to meet you and buy you a beer!

  74. I’m in, I chose coaching, but I have some other projects in my mind for a long time, probably will make blog posts about those too, we will see.

    I’m from Hungary, and I can’t name any popular coaches, the area is not too popular here, and not many people hire a personal coach or trainer, we will see how this works out.

    My blog:


    Good luck to all of you with your projects!

  75. I still believe it’s who you know (or connect to), what you persuade you can do, and how determined and enthusiastic you are. Jobs based on skills are part of history. CV stands for Confident Voice on 21st Century Earth.

  76. @Tim

    Fantastic post. Like in all the other things you do Tim, you give us rich bouillon when most give us watered down soup. Kudos.

    What importance do you put on remembering and using people’s names?

    (Dale Carnegie preached this as a big one.. though you are even more influential now!)

  77. I began to wonder why I wrote my blog in english when I’m hungarian, hmpf, then it popped: I need to make two blogs, a hungarian and english version. F’ it, who knows when someone from a foreign country hires me! lol

  78. Your posts all sound pretty good and I think they will give hope to many people. But please don’t forget, that it sometimes is more about being at the right place at the right time.



  79. I love step #5. Case studies show how a client morphed from when you started working together to the current time period. They are a great way to show the linear transformation and what is possible!

  80. Hi Tim and Michael and Everyone,

    I am a sahm. My husband and I are both college dropouts (20 yrs ago), and ever since, he supports us with his own self-built businesses.

    Being a business owner, my husband knows the value of real world experience, skill, work ethic, common sense, etc. and finding people with those qualities is worth almost anything to him. He couldn’t give a hill of beans if they have a degree.

    Because he’s taught himself everything he knows, he can confidently teach them. Then they are equipped for growth, and it’s all very positive and motivating.

    I happened to spend the summer 2011 learning WordPress, and, before I found any of this, I started a blog about self education because I want to learn independently in my area of interest (architectural

    drafting/drawing/illustration/writing???) while I’m at home so someday (empty nest), I won’t be starting from scratch.

    It just made sense to me that there had to be a way to at least get general education courses done, practice independently, create a portfolio, gain experience, get to know people in the field, etc. before ever setting foot in a school, or even getting formally hired.

    While searching for news and info for post topics, I found Michael’s blog on Forbes, which led me to this post. I’d love to dive right in, but I’m not at all in a position to spend full time on it.

    But it is time for serious exploration of how personal responsibility and unique talents and passions can replace or minimize the need for formal education. College is a good thing, and there is a need and place for it. But not nearly as often, as long, or as extensively as it has gotten. It is becoming a novelty, so people are forced to dig beyond the degree anyway, to see what backs it up.

    I will still be using Michael’s steps, just not for the competition.

    I just wanted to leave a note to shout my hurrah for all of you, and let you know I’m out here learning how to self educate too, and hopefully together we can increase awareness about it, and help make it a more openly available life option.

    I felt crazy when I started researching it, like I was naive. Now I don’t feel that way.

    Go get ’em guys.

    And PUBLISH IT. LET PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING AND HOW – even if you don’t win the contest. There are a lot of people who want to do this, but don’t know they can, or feel very intimidated by it.

    Thanks to all of you, Jenny