“Pick yourself. It’s that simple, really. Two words. Society isn’t organized to teach kids to pick themselves, but some do….It’s a cultural instinct to wait to get picked. To seek out the permission and authority that comes from a publisher or talk show host or even a blogger saying, “I pick you.” Once you reject that impulse and realize that no one is going to select you–that Prince Charming has chosen another house–then you can actually get to work. If you’re hoping that the HR people you sent your resume to are about to pick you, it’s going to be a long wait. The myth that the CEO is going to discover you and nurture you and ask you to join her for lunch is just that, a Hollywood myth. Once you understand that there are problems just waiting to be solved, once you realize that you have all the tools and all the permission you need, then opportunities to contribute abound. Not the opportunity to have your resume picked from the pile, but the opportunity to lead. When we take responsibility and eagerly give credit, doors open. When we grab a microphone and speak up, we’re a step closer to doing the work we’re able to do. No one is going to pick you. Pick yourself.” -Seth Godin
Part of our aim at Praxis is to help participants think and act like entrepreneurs by pairing them with one of our business partners and giving them the opportunity to regularly engage entrepreneurs, produce value for customers, solve challenging problems, and build useful skills while they develop and refine their own creative ideas. It’s a multifaceted experience that I prefer to describe as an academically-infused apprenticeship.
One of the entrepreneurial lessons they’ve been recently learning is the value of identifying various ways in which they can signal their skills and experiences to the marketplace. In 8 Steps to Getting What You Want… Without Formal Credentials, Timothy Ferris challenges all aspiring young professionals, regardless of their educational background, to “create your own credentials.” Credentials are a way of signaling a message to the world that says “I can create value” or “I have experiences, traits, and abilities you might be interested in.” Author and entrepreneur, Elan Divon, highlights the importance of learning how to signal value in the recounting of an early life lesson he received from his uncle:
My uncle Barry tried to warn me. A wise street-smart New Yorker who has done extremely well in business, Barry always said: “Elan, if you want to make it in life, get into sales. Sales are everything. No matter what you do with your career, it’s all about sales.” Think about it: if you are a diplomat you are selling a country. If you are a politician you are selling a policy, or a political agenda, or a health care plan. If you are a non-profit director you are selling the work of your organization to potential donors and volunteers. An actor? You audition. A journalist? You pitch stories. You, me, all of us — we’re constantly selling. But here’s the kicker and where my seeming naiveté may receive some vindication. Beyond selling products, services, and ideas, you and I are really selling one thing and one thing only: ourselves.
As a first step towards practicing the art of marketing themselves through the creation of their own credential, we challenged the members of our Fall 2014 class to build a website that could serve as a platform for developing their personal brand, highlighting their experiences with their business partner, and showcasing what they’ve learned so far through the Praxis curriculum experience. We gave them three weeks to build their website from scratch. Here’s a sample of what a few of them came up with:
Click on the screenshot images below to see their websites in full
Mary Kate Crockett
Business Partner: Tranquil Seasons – San Antonio, TX
Business Partner: Sam Jackson Inc. – Lubbock, TX & LevelWing – Charleston, SC
For the next segment of the Praxis curriculum experience, our participants are working their way through the Entrepreneurship & Life Skills Module. One of the books they’re reading is The Startup of You by Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha. The central message of that book comports with our own educational philosophy quite well:
“All human beings are entrepreneurs…As a student or as a young professional or even as a midcareer professional you need to look at your career like an entrepreneur looks at building a company…you need to think and act like you’re running a start-up: your career…If everyone’s the entrepreneur of their own life, they also have to have a brand.”
Another text the participants are currently reading is a manifesto by Richard Laermer called “How to Fame.” In that manifesto, Lanier says the following:
The point here is not to be famous. Being famous is a job best left to those who care about little else… Yet Fame is no longer defined as a Paris Hilton-style pseudo-celebrity. It’s deeper than that. Fame is the way folks view you minute-to-minute. Faming is creating and maintaining a consistent image that reinforces your credibility and professionalism, which then builds confidence in others about your ability to get the job done… The promise of the American Dream inspired millions to believe that through an honest day’s work alone, we would all find success. At best, that’s a romantic notion and although it worked for many, particularly those who never stopped toying with new ideas, relying solely on such a construct today will no longer suffice…Sadly, it doesn’t matter how fantastic you are if others’ perception of you is … off…Standing out (and up) with good-hearted yet aggressive techniques is the new Fame. If you aren’t standing out, you’ll be forgotten. If you’re trying “to fame” too late you’ll be left behind.
Once the participants are done delving into the plethora of lectures, panel discussions, podcasts, articles, and manifestos in the Entrepreneurship & Life Skills Module, they’ll begin the Professional Skills module. In the Professional Skills module, they’ll be challenged to hone their public speaking, professional writing, interviewing, networking, and résumé building skills.
One of our main goals is to inspire our participants to think of themselves as their own personal brands. This means learning how to make their voices heard, their presence felt, and their value seen without relying on their diploma(s) or degree(s) to do all the heavy lifting on their professional path. We want them to know that having a diploma, degree, certification, or skill isn’t a substitute for thinking creatively about how to differentiate themselves from the competition in their quest to find fulfilling work. We want them to see that creativity is the ultimate credential. That is, their chances of succeeding are best when they place more faith in their own ability to make things happen than in someone else’s willingness to make their dreams come true simply because they followed a set of conventional instructions.
Through activities like their website assignment, their business partner experiences, their portfolio projects, their professional development workshops with a diverse range of entrepreneurs, and their academic/entrepreneurial coaching sessions with Praxis faculty and staff, our participants are learning how to rise above the “pick me” mentality of those who merely wish for opportunities to come to them as a reward for being discovered and they’re gaining the competitive edge that belongs to those who strive to see their professional lives as artists see their art: something they played a role in creating.
In the meantime, create a great day!