Review by Brian McCarthy
People go to college thinking they need a degree in order to achieve success in life. In The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn in College About How to Be Successful | AmazonMichael Ellsberg argues otherwise. Putting faith and effort towards earning a degree or certificate simply has not led people to the happy, successful lives they were promised. Rather than trusting an education system that doesn’t deliver he urges us to focus our efforts elsewhere. Through interviews with about two dozen self-made millionaires and billionaires (none of whom completed college) he introduces a new path to personal and financial success.
Ellsberg suggests people should look to develop mindsets and skillsets that actually correlate with success in business and in life. What follows is a brief rundown the path he advocates, including why college can be bypassed and what skills people should look to develop.
College is fine, but hardly necessary
As a society we’ve created this story: Do well in school – so you can get a college degree – so you can land to a good job. If you skip college, you’ll be stuck as a garbage man all your life. Those are your options.
Yet when we look around we see that this story is bullshit. Sure we learn a good deal in college, but very little of it has any practical application in the real world. College simply doesn’t give us the skills we need to become successful, happy adults.
A a four year education now costs $100,000+ and rising, yet graduates find themselves working the same kind of jobs right after college as they had before graduating (at this point it’s tough to find a barista or waiter that doesn’t have a B.A.). It begs the question, what exactly are we paying for? And why do we continue down this path without questioning it?
Instead of focusing on getting a degree and hoping that degree will translate into a good job and a happy life (it won’t) Ellsberg argues we should spend our time developing useful skills and mindsets. He lists seven “Success Skills” that every person should work towards developing in order to have a meaningful and financially rewarding career.
Below is a very brief overview of 5 of the 7 skills covered in The Education of Millionaires. (The two skills I don’t cover ‘Build the Brand of You’ and ‘Investing in Your Own Earning Power’ have a lot of great information. But a summary can only be so long…)
Success Skill 1: Become Rich through Meaningful Work
People fall into this trap in thinking they must choose between a job that pays well but isn’t satisfying (Wall Street) and a job that doesn’t pay but is meaningful (Peace Corps). However, making money and having a positive impact on society do not need to be mutually exclusive. You can have both; it just requires creativity and risk.
You want to look for jobs that combine high income with work that if meaningful to you. Of course it’s entirely possible this job doesn’t exist yet. There’s likely no set path that combines your strengthens and desires in the way that suits you. If the job you want doesn’t exist, then you’re going to have to create it.
Free yourself from the mindset that you can only have a position that’s given to you. If you want to make an impact in a certain way, you might have to do it yourself. As for how to ensure you’re financially successful in doing this, we’ll cover that in skills 3 & 4.
But make no mistake, this is a risky proposition. It’s entirely possible that you will fail and as a result make little money and no positive impact. Then again, if you choose not to take this daring action, you confine yourself to knowing that you never even tried to live the life you wanted. When viewed in that context, suddenly doing something like creating your own business doesn’t seem like as big a risk.
For people looking to eventually give up the 9-5 and make a positive impact that will be generate money, here are the beginning steps Ellsberg provides to get you started:
- Become financially stable. Manage (or eliminate) debt and bills so you don’t have these outside obligations holding you back.
- Make room in your day to experiment. Whatever idea is in your head for the kind of change you want to make, give yourself time to work on it and bring it into action.
- Strike out on your own. Whether you start doing freelance work or start up your own private business, get out there and start making the impact you think is important. Keep the overhead low, start small, and build one piece at a time from the ground up. Avoid large bets (taking small steps means you likely won’t get wiped out by one misstep) and allow yourself to learn through trial and error. This is how successful enterprises are built.
Success Skill #2 Building Connections
In order to succeed you’ll want to surround yourself with exceptional people. You want people who can challenge and teach you. You want to build your network – connecting with mentors and other influential people. Knowing the right people will make the road to success much, much easier.
If you’re looking for a way to make these kinds of connections and find mentors the second chapter of The Education of Millionaires has it covered. In short, creating a network all comes down to giving. If you want to work with successful people you’ve got to make contact with them and then give as much as you can – with no expectation of anything in return. Help these successful people become more successful and reward is likely to follow. It may be in the form of mentorship, money, a job, a recommendation, or simply a larger business network through which to operate. If nothing else, it gives you experience producing results which is what the real world (employers and clients) want to see from you before they start handing you money.
Now you might be asking: “How would I network with some big-shot? What would I possible have to give them?”
Ellsberg reminds us that every person is currently facing some problem/challenge in his life. He breaks these problems down into a five spheres: business, relationships, health, hobbies/passions and spirituality. Not everyone has mastered all spheres so when looking to build a connection, see which area you can be of service.
Successful businessmen, for example, often become successful in that area at the expense of neglecting another area. He may be a rich CEO, but he may also be overweight or has trouble keeping a steady girlfriend. If you can help him in one of these areas you’ll have made a meaningful impact on his life and you will have made a powerful friend.
Ellsberg recommends becoming well versed in all these areas. That way whatever area someone is struggling in you’ll be able to provide advice, support, and point them towards helpful information.
If you can’t offer help in any of those areas, you can simply show you value what this person has to offer. Let’s say you email a potential mentor for a piece of advice. Send that mentor a ‘thank you’ and briefly mention how you followed his advice and the positive result you got from doing so. This lets him feel like he’s making a valuable impact. You also separate yourself from others by showing you’re willing to listen and follow through. It’s a great first step in adopting a mentor.
Success Skills 3&4, Learn Marketing & Sales
I’m sure plenty of you rolled your eyes the instant you saw the words “marketing” and “sales”, but stay with me. Those words used to make me cringe too, but Ellsberg makes some really good points here.
Remember that first success skill, where we talk about taking something you’re interested in and learning how to make a positive impact on the world? Or the second skill, about how if you can help people in certain aspects of their life, such as business, you’ll be able to develop powerful friends and a strong network? Well, two tools that will help you in both those areas are marketing and sales.
The fact is there’s always a seat at the table for someone who is able to generate more business and bring in more customers. You don’t have to be an expert but if you’re well versed enough in these areas to bounce ideas around, provide some helpful meaningful advice, or just point a person towards helpful advice, you’ll be able to create a lot of business relationships. It’s a skillset that can be taken and applied to any business.
Also, remember the point about “striking out on your own”? That’s going to be very difficult if you don’t know how to sell and market yourself, your company, or your product. Without these tools there is no business. You can find a pill that cures cancer but without effective sales and marketing that pill will sit in a drawer and be of no use to anybody.
It all comes back to that simple truth: everybody’s got problems. There are a lot of products and services out their which are quite good at solving these problems. Without sales and marketing however, nobody would know that a solution to their suffering exists (they’d only find out through word of mouth, which can take a long fucking time). So while people can be turned off thinking sales/marketing are sleazy tactics, they’re not. They’re tools and like all tools can be used for evil (scam people) or for good (alert them to something that will make their life better).
At the end of the day, Ellsberg argues, being a good salesman isn’t about tricking someone into giving you their money. It’s about matching a commodity with a specific need so that the customer is happy to give you their money. If you have a product that benefits people you’re almost obligated to learn to sell/market it. Otherwise you’re depriving people of something they need.
Success Skill 5: Develop the Entrepreneurs Mindset
There are negative mindsets people have which lead them to get stuck in unfulfilling, dead-end jobs their whole lives. Successful entrepreneurs on the other hand, think a bit differently. They have more positive, opportunistic mindsets. While developing these mindsets do not guarantee success, it’s pretty hard to succeed without them.
Here are just a few of the differences in the way entrepreneurs think vs. the rest of society:
See your circumstances as illusory and temporary, not fixed and permanent: Lots of people look at the job they have and feel stuck. They resign to think “this is the shitty hand I was dealt and there is nothing I can do about it”. Entrepreneurs however, choose to see it differently. They see it as a stepping stone to something greater. For instance Ellsberg mentions a story about former hotel waiter who never saw himself as “just a waiter”. Waiting tables was just a temporary stop on his way to the top. He used the position to learn all he could about the hotel industry and looked to take on additional responsibilities. He worked his way up and eventually started his own hotel chain, The Ritz-Carlton.
Focus on contribution and get rid of any entitlement: Most people focus on what they feel they should have. “I’ve got a degree so I should be making X amount per hour” or “I’ve been here 2 years and am entitled to a promotion”. They think their employers (and the world) owe them something simply because they showed up. Well, nobody really cares that they showed up. The real world cares about one thing: results. Your focus should be your productivity and your ability to produce. Concentrate on what you can contribute and how you can add more value to the overall goal of the organization and people in it. If that’s your focus it’ll be hard not to succeed.
Sort for what’s needed, not just what’s requested: Entrepreneurs look to fix problems, not just follow orders. At the end of the day if you’re the guy that can fix the bottom line problem you’re going to be noticed and rewarded. Following orders or saying things like “that’s not my job” is a great way to tread water and never really rise to a high impact (and high paying) position.
For anyone looking to be inspired and to see how they can achieve more success in their career The Education of Millionaires is fantastic. It’s not just the inspirational stories that make it great (though they are very cool), but the practical advice you can follow and implement into your own life immediately. It’s much more than the typical “believe in yourself, do what you love and you’ll succeed!” platitudes we see from so many other authors. He balances the idea that anyone can succeed doing work they enjoy with the realities of business in the real world (yeah, you might have to read a few Dan Kennedy books on marketing. Deal with it). He lays out the path used by so many wildly successful people and shows how you, by developing certain skills, you can have those same results. And you don’t have to spend 4 years and $100k to get there.