This Book is For:

*Creative and passionate individuals who feel stifled by the "script" fed to them by modern society telling them that conformity and a college education will make them successful if they just take on enough debt and wait long enough.

*People who are unsure about whether or not they want to remain in the same job they already have, but who also want to maximize their chances of flourishing under any economic conditions that may come to pass.

*Anyone who is uncertain about their future and the future of the world economy, but who knows that there are much greater opportunities out there somewhere if they learn to search in the right places.


“I am passionately pro-education. There are few things I care more about than reading and learning constantly. Yet, the lives of the people profiled in this book show conclusively that education is most certainly not the same thing as academic excellence. We’ve conflated them, at great cost to ourselves, our children, our economy, and our culture.”
-Michael Ellsberg

Just because some of the smartest and most successful individuals in the world dropped out of college or skipped college altogether, does that mean that you should too?

Not necessarily; but in this book, author Michael Ellsberg makes the case that most of what you'll need to learn in order to become successful - by anyone's standards - are skills that you'll never see taught in school.

Doing well in school and getting good grades won't guarantee your success in the wider world outside of academia, and yet that's the narrative that gets pushed out so consistently to young people who don't yet have the experience to understand that they are being sold a lifetime of debt and missed opportunity, all in exchange for a "safe" future that never really existed in the first place.

Throughout this book, Ellsberg profiles and interviews numerous millionaires and billionaires, and other high performers in various fields who have done just fine without the alleged benefits of formal education. He also outlines several success skills that are crucial to develop if you want to attain real-world success, not just academic success.

To earn a decent living (or a spectacular one) in the modern economy, you don't need to go to business school, study 20th-century philosophy (although I love it!), or memorize a bunch of facts and dates. Instead, you need a working knowledge of sales, marketing, leadership, personal branding, networking skills, and more which Ellsberg and I explain in this breakdown.

Teaching any of those skills would require dozens of books for each one, and Ellsberg doesn't claim to teach you everything you need to know in these pages. But he tells you where to start looking, and what's important to look for.

He doesn't just give you a fish, or even go too deep in teaching you how to fish; he simply explains why you absolutely have to learn to fish, and where to go in order to learn most effectively.

The individual stories he tells in this book aren't all that important either; just because XYZ billionaire does 20 minutes of meditation in the morning doesn't mean that you have to as well. But the underlying themes and general principles are fundamentally solid.

Not only that, but if you're missing any of these critical success skills, you're handicapping yourself horribly and holding yourself back from all that you could achieve and become.

Key Ideas:

#1: Real-Life Success Skills are Rarely Taught in College

“The driving theme of the stories in this book is that, even though you may learn many wonderful things in college, your success and happiness in life will have little to do with what you study there or the letters after your name once you graduate.
It has to do with your drive, your initiative, your persistence, your ability to make a contribution to other people’s lives, your ability to come up with good ideas and pitch them to others effectively, your charisma, your ability to navigate gracefully through social and business networks (what some researchers call ‘practical intelligence’), and a total, unwavering belief in your own eventual triumph, throughout all the ups and downs, no matter what the naysayers tell you.
While you may learn many valuable things in college, you won’t learn these things there – yet they are crucial for your success in business and in life. Whether you’re a high school dropout or a graduate of Harvard Law School, you must learn and develop these skills, attitudes, and habits if you want to excel at what you do.
In this new economy, the biggest factor in your success will not be abstract, academic learning but whether you develop the real-life success skills evinced by the people on these pages, and how early you do.”

#2: Find the Intersection of What You Love, What You're Good At, and What the World Needs

“Paying your bills on time is a seductive feeling, and once you get in the habit of it, you won’t want to go back.”

"Follow your passion" is actually bad advice unless you have a way of making sure all your bills are paid too. Fortunately, however, in the new economy, you don't have to choose between your passion and your paycheck.

Opportunities for making a great living exist everywhere online, or you can choose a more "traditional" job that pays well, but the main thrust of Ellsberg's argument here is that artists today no longer have to starve. You may not be able to support yourself with your passion at first, but you can build up to it over time, and in the book he lays out four steps toward getting there.

Of course, there's always a risk that despite your best efforts, the global marketplace will fail to react positively to the skills and contributions you bring, but you can minimize those risks using these four steps.

Most people want to make a difference with their passion and to make the world a better place, but as a starting point, it's usually a bad idea. Start from a secure base first, and then leverage your strengths to realize your ideal future. Pay your rent before you try to save the world.

Now, if you do end up rejecting the idea of a more traditional job and instead want to earn money directly from your passion, there are four steps that you must follow, according to Ellsberg.

The first step is to gain a solid footing financially and to build a secure base from which to explore. That means taking control of your spending, getting rid of debt (or at least managing it, with the eventual goal of eliminating it altogether), building up some savings, and probably keeping a less "purpose-driven" job, but one that actually gives you financial breathing room.

This first step isn't always glamourous - and it might look to outside observers that you're not "doing anything with your life" - but you'll know that you're on the right track when you're able to lift your gaze above your current financial situation and rest easier, knowing that whatever happens, you won't starve.

The second step is to create time and space for experimentation and learning. When you're not working three jobs to pay down your student loans and giving up your 168 hours a week to just stay above water, you gain your first taste of real, true freedom: time freedom.

In this phase, you're exploring a little more deeply what your different options are, and you're getting used to the idea of designing your own life, rather than just following the "script."

This phase includes lots of reading, great conversations with interesting people, listening to inspiring podcasts, and watching videos that spark ideas about what you want to commit yourself to once you do decide to go all-in on something.

The third step is to start some actual experiments having to do with how you'll make a living by doing what you love to do. You're looking for an intersection of three things: what you love to do, what you're good at, and what people will pay you for.

Two out of three isn't good enough here. Get the first two right without the third and you're basically right back where you started, get the last two without the first one and you'll dread going into work. Anything less than all of them working together is a recipe for frustration and dissatisfaction.

Combing all three is absolutely possible, but you may not get it right on the first try, so you have to be okay with failing a few times before you hit upon something that works. That's why it's so important to have that financial base; whatever happens, you'll still be okay, and you'll live to explore again.

The fourth step is optional, depending on the results of your exploration and your experimentation, and that is striking out on your own.

Now, you may not have to, if you find that your "real job" covers all the above bases. You can always keep your regular job going while you explore other options, but striking out on your is when you really take command of your own future and your own possibilities.

#3: Build a World-Class Network and Find Mentors

"I’m going to teach you two questions that, if you put them into use at parties, events, and conferences, will change your life forever and will grow your network faster than you ever thought possible.

Building your network of connections isn't so much about being impressive to others as it is about being helpful, interested, and genuine.

Our world is already more interconnected than it ever has been before, and you can find pretty much anyone's email address online (or at least their personal assistant's email address), but it's also never been more important to focus on making a contribution to others' lives; and especially before asking for anything in return.

The two questions that Ellsberg refers to above are as follows:

  1. "What’s most exciting for you right now in your life/business?"

2. "What’s challenging for you in your life/business right now?"

As Dale Carnegie observed in his classic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, the best way to become an interesting person is to become interested. People notice when you take an honest, genuine interest in what their lives are like and what they're up to, and they notice when you're being fake. Above all, never be fake, untrustworthy, or manipulative. It doesn't work anymore if it ever did.

One of the best ways to connect with powerful and influential people, says Ellsberg, is to make their lives better or easier in some way. You might think that they have everything all sorted out - after all, they're already wildly successful - but that's not usually true.

There are three areas of life that people spend the most time worrying about, and they are money, relationships, and health. "Health, wealth, and relationships" are the three "core desires" that most modern marketing addresses. Very few people - even incredibly successful people - have all three of these areas figured out, and if you can assist them in one or more of these areas, you can more easily bring them into your network.

It all starts with being interested, paying attention, and looking for ways you can contribute and help them out. Importantly, this should all be done without expecting anything in return. They don't "owe" you anything; you're doing this because you honestly desire to help.

Then, because most people usually wish to repay people who have helped them, they will honestly and genuinely want to help you. That's how you network without feeling cringy or being dishonest.

Everyone knows something that you don't, and it's a virtual certainty that you have some skill, ability, or body of knowledge that can truly help someone else. As Ellsberg points out in the book:

“Your self-study and learning in one of these areas of advice-giving is highly liquid; it can often be traded for learning in another area. Because few people are truly well-rounded, if you become well-rounded in these areas of marketing and sales, health and nutrition, spirituality and personal philosophy, and interesting hobbies and passions, you will almost always have something to help people with.”

Isn't it just awesome how the way to get ahead is to help others get ahead? How wonderful that that's the way the universe truly works!

A rising tide lifts all boats, and when you help others succeed, they will become interested in your success. That's how you build a world-class network and find people who want to help you in the areas where you're struggling.

Most people want to be around other positive people who are doing cool things and capitalizing on big opportunities, and if you make a name for yourself as a helpful, interesting, interested, and valuable person, then even more opportunities will come to you and pretty soon you'll have more of them than you know what to do with. It's a virtuous, upwards cycle the limits of which we will never know.

#4: Everyone is a Marketer and You Should Be Too

“The breakthrough realization for you is that you are in the marketing business. You are not in the dry cleaning or restaurant or widget manufacturing or wedding planning or industrial chemicals business.
You are in the business of marketing dry cleaning services or restaurants or widgets or wedding planning or chemicals.
When you embrace this, it makes perfect sense to set your sights on marketing mastery. If you are going to make something your life’s work and chief activity and responsibility, why not do it exceptionally well?”

Everyone is always displaying something about themselves, their personality, and their work, regardless of whether it is conscious or not. We can't not display who we are and what we do, so we may as become great at it and make sure we're sending out the right messages in the first place.

The kind of marketing that Michael Ellsberg focuses on here in this book is direct-response marketing, as opposed to brand marketing, which is an entirely different thing.

Brand marketing is something that larger companies like Apple or Coca-Cola do, where they'll just stick their logo in as many places as possible in order to make you think of them as often as possible, even if they're not directly asking for the sale.

Direct-response marketing, by contrast, is something that you encounter whenever you visit a sales page on a website, for example, where the person doing the selling wants you to take an action immediately - i.e. buy a book, purchase their online course, subscribe to the Stairway to Wisdom, etc.

Brand marketing costs a ton of money and the results aren't easy to measure (how exactly do you measure "brand awareness" anyway?). Direct-response marketing, on the other hand, is an incredibly valuable skill for solopreneurs and freelancers to have, and it can set you on the path to financial freedom more than almost any other skill.

And yet, how many people - even in business programs - are ever taught direct-response marketing principles in college? Virtually no one.

If you're going to strike out on your own and go into business for yourself, you need to develop your marketing skills, and especially the empathy that goes along with "entering the conversation in your reader's mind," as Robert Collier said way back in 1937. You need to meet people where they are, with a message that resonates with them, and gets them interested in deepening their relationship with you.

A great way to develop your marketing skills is to study the people who are already the best in the world at it. In the book, Michael Ellsberg links to the following people who are masters at marketing and suggests that you study what they do:

Copyblogger; Marie Forleo; Matt Furey; Jonathan Fields; Seth Godin; Gary Halbert; Gary Bencivenga; Dan Kennedy; Eben Pagan; Frank Kern; and Jena la Flamme.

Ellsberg suggests getting a second email address and signing up for all of their newsletters and programs. The second email address is so you don't get inundated with marketing messages all the time - you'll just go and search through those emails when you want to witness elite-level marketing skills in action.

If your budget allows, you may also want to purchase a few of the things that they're selling, and then reverse-engineer their process. Pay attention to what causes you to buy or become interested in something, and study the details of their methods.

You'll begin to notice common elements and strategies from which you can piece together your own marketing strategy and further develop your own skills.

The knowledge about how to be a great marketer is out there; it's only the will to learn that's scarce.

#5: Everyone is Also a Salesperson and You Should Be Too

“The key to making money, and therefore living a life of less stress, is to cause someone to joyfully give you money in exchange for something that they perceive to be of greater value than the money they gave you.”

Sales is almost completely different than marketing, but they are both crucial to master if you want to flourish in the new economy and take control of your own future financial prospects.

The main sticking point that most people have is the idea that they are somehow "above" learning how to sell in the first place. This makes sense, given that sales is often seen in the same light as cringy networking practices and slimy salesmen trying to trick people into buying products that aren't right for them.

Real selling is nothing of the sort. Sales should be about solving the customer's problems, at a price they can afford, and with a solution that's right for their current situation. That's it. Salespeople are problem solvers first and foremost, and that starts with listening to what people actually want.

"Discovery conversations" (asking questions about their situation and then listening patiently to the answers) are how you determine whether your solution fits the customer's problem, and if at the end of speaking with them you honestly don't feel as though they should buy your product, you have an ethical obligation to refer them to someone else.

Worst case, you leave your reputation and conscience intact although you lose the sale, and the best case is that that customer will be so impressed that they will refer you to someone they know that is right for your offer.

There are numerous excellent resources on selling, and the point of Ellsberg's book isn't to teach you everything you need to know, but merely to point you in the right direction.

To that end, he recommends the book SPIN Selling, by Neil Rackham, and I would also recommend The Way of the Wolf, by Jordan Belfort, Sell or Be Sold, by Grant Cardone, and $100M Offers, by Alex Hormozi. You can buy all four for less than $50, and over the course of your career, they could make you millions.

#6: Invest for Success

“If you invest in being better at marketing, sales, and leadership, then the sky’s the limit to your success. There is knowledge in the world about how to do these three things well. They may be a mystery to you, or they may not be, but they’re not a mystery at large.
There are actually simple things that every one of us can do to be quite good at these things. In fact, the bar is so low, for marketers, salespeople, and leaders – the bar is so laughably low – that you have to get like a D in these things to be extraordinary. It’s the easiest class you’ll ever take.”

There's nothing "wrong" with being a normal, regular, everyday person with a day job, some friends, some hobbies, and maybe a family, who may never be famous or a recognized expert, but who nonetheless lives their life well and enriches the lives of everyone they meet. However...

If you do want to stretch your limits and strive to create something extraordinary and special with your career, then you're going to need to invest in your own skills and earning power.

What you'll find when you start doing this, however, is that it's like no one else is really even trying. It's never crowded along the extra mile, as they say, and even though there is a ton of competition for "average," there is almost literally no competition for extraordinary, for world-class.

Investing in your own success means everything from taking care of your physical health and mental vitality, thereby ensuring that you have the energy to attack each day and make the absolute most out of every opportunity that you're given, to investing in the development of your sales and marketing and leadership skills, and everything else that comes with being a high-performing expert.

The bar is so laughably low for this kind of effort, like Michael Ellsberg says, that if you start doing this work, you'll quickly separate yourself from "average" and move up to world-class.

Professional athletes spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year maintaining their bodies, but if you're just starting out you probably don't have that kind of cash and that's okay. Start where you are by keeping expenses low (Key Idea #2), and using any "extra" money to buy books, buy courses, hire trainers and coaches, etc. Anything and everything you can do to increase your earning power and make yourself more valuable to the global marketplace.

This is a long process, and you won't attain "expert" status overnight (overnight success usually takes ten years, as they say), but if you read 100 books a year, take 1 online course a month, and introduce yourself online to just 1 new person a day - and you do this for 10 years - then by the end of that time you will have read 1,000 books, taken 120 online courses, and networked with 3,650 people, all of whom will have gained something from their association with you and may be in the position of being able and willing to help you succeed.

If you do this for long enough, then eventually you will become impossible to ignore and you will be miles ahead of everyone who chose to sit back and do nothing.

#7: Ditch Your Resume and Build a Personal Brand Instead

“Your brand is what people think about when they hear your name.”

Nobody cares about your resume anymore. If it even gets looked at at all, and even if you have a somewhat decent one, it's just going to end up being Good Resume #177 in the pile of thousands of resumes sitting on someone's desk gathering dust.

The actual way that people land incredible career opportunities nowadays is to create and cultivate a personal brand online, and Michael Ellsberg explains exactly how to do this.

First, you have to assume that people will look you up online shortly after meeting you. That's basic. Now, assuming that that's what they're going to do, what it is that they're likely to see? That's your personal brand, and for most people, it doesn't make them look particularly good, not to mention employable.

Next, what you have to do is curate what people see online when they search your name, and you do this by creating and sharing stuff on the internet.

Write blog posts about the important topics you're thinking about and what you're working on; record videos where you talk about what you're learning and how it can help others in the same line of work or pursuit; land speaking gigs or guest appearances on podcasts to build your brand as an expert in whatever it is that you've decided to double down on.

All these things and more help to establish your personal brand, and it's these things that are going to appear whenever someone looks you up on the internet.

Importantly, what you want to make sure of is that there is a Google trail leading back to the valuable, interesting, and impressive things you're doing online. It helps at this point to get a website URL with your name in it like and post everything you're involved in there.

Your personal brand will be seen many thousands - perhaps even millions - of times more than your resume ever will, so you have to put a great deal of thought and care into putting your best digital foot forward. Appear in as many places as you can without burning out, be gracious and generous, avoid sensitive topics and controversial opinions (unless it's a calculated move on your part), and let your online brand represent you wherever you go.

Book Notes:

“Despite sixteen years or more of schooling, most of what you’ll need to learn to be successful you’ll have to learn on your own, outside of school, whether you go to college or not.”

“There is literally no job too shitty or low-paying for which you won’t get a river of BAs desperately asking you for the work.”

People often cite the statistic that "95 percent of businesses fail," but Michael Ellsberg points out that this isn't exactly true. In the U.S., that number is taken from the number of businesses that file "Schedule C" forms (and other forms related to business activities) and then stop filing those forms at some point - for whatever reason.

So, it could be that they failed, yes, but they could also have been acquired for cash (which is a good thing), they could have been making money but the owners just decided to pursue some other opportunity, etc. So the numbers are a bit misleading.

Also, Ellsberg comes up with a dating analogy to highlight another point. He supposes (admittedly, with no evidence but just as a reasonable guess) that 95 percent of dates don't go anywhere either. Even if that's true, should people just give up on dating altogether?

What's more, even if the first few times you go out on a date you have no idea what you're doing and you make a bunch of horrible mistakes, eventually you'll learn what to do and what not to do. Business is the same way. You only have to succeed once, and as long as you don't lose everything in one failed business attempt (or date), you can just keep going until you succeed.

“You are a reflection of the 20 or 30 people that give you the best advice.”

“The three areas of life the majority of people spend most of their time worrying about are money, relationships, and health. In my experience, very few people have all three of these areas buttoned up in their life, at least not as much as they like.
If you’re talking to someone whom society deems more successful than you, it’s probably the case that they are more successful in only one area (business, marketing, sales, fame, etc.).
In my experience, almost every person I’ve met who is, by societal standards, much more successful than I, is also struggling with at least one area or issue about which I know quite a bit more than they do. They’re human, just like you and me, and humans have problems.”

“The wealthiest people are not the ones who are hoarding the most value – they’re the ones who have the most value flowing in and out of their lives.”

“Accountants talk about stocks and flows. The money in a bank account, for example, is a stock, while the deposits and withdrawals are a flow. When we talk about wealth and affluence, we usually have in mind the amount in the stock.
What Simmons and Seth Godin and Run are suggesting is that affluence is perhaps better indicated by the amount of the flow. The more value that flows in and out of our lives, the more we and others benefit, and the more affluence is generated.”

“Most charities, non-profits, and advocacy groups in general would not exist if rich people weren’t funding them.”

“Nothing happens until something gets sold. Ever.”

“Nothing sells like humor.”

“No single skill you could possibly learn correlates more directly with your real-world success than learning sales. And yet – surprise, surprise – it’s nowhere to be found on the curriculum of formal education, from elementary school through graduate school.
No wonder there are so many broke and unemployed people with undergraduate and graduate degrees. (And don’t tell me that there are more broke people without the degrees. True, but besides the point. If they learned to sell, like nearly all the dropouts I feature in this book did, they wouldn’t be broke for long.)”

“If you can get people who don’t know about you to know about you (marketing), and you can convert them into customers (sales), and once they’re customers, you can lead them from Point A to Point B, you can accomplish anything on the planet.”

“It turns out that nearly everyone I spoke to for this book has this in common: a serious passion for lifelong learning.”

“Any job you can get because you have a resume probably isn’t a job you want.”

“Great jobs, world-class jobs, jobs people kill for…those jobs don’t get filled by people emailing in resumes. Ever.”
-Seth Godin

“In my own case, I will leave it for others to decide if they think I'm 'remarkable.' But one thing I know for sure is, since the beginning of 2007, not one penny of my income has come from any source that has had anything to do with my having shown a resume to anyone.
All my work for the past four years, as a freelancer and author, has come through personal referrals, and a growing track record of demonstrable results and projects if you Google my name, all of which are aspects of my own personal brand I've been cultivating.
You don't develop those things in college or grad school, you develop them by doing stuff in the real world. And then making sure there's a Google trail related to what you've been doing. That's your brand.
Create stuff. Sell stuff. Market stuff. Lead stuff. Make sure it's good stuff, then make sure there's a good Google trail about it, so when potential employers or clients Google you (as they all will), the brand impression they come away with (the thoughts that come to mind when they hear your name again) are, 'This person gets shit done.' Or simply, 'Wow.'"

“It’s easy to sell when you believe in stuff. I call it 'Radiate and State the Facts.' You just pound out your devotion, your commitment to what you're doing. Then state the facts in a very measured way about what you're doing. That's it. I am going to radiate and state the facts and if you get it, great. If you don't, then we're not right for each other."
-Danielle Laporte

“The reality is, no matter what vocation you're in, you end up working for a business of one kind or another. Thus, everyone's vocation is business. No matter what you're doing, your vocation is business. The more you can understand the machinery that you're working in, the better off you're going to be."

“A key aspect of the entrepreneurial mindset is seeing the world around you as largely made up. Sure, there are societal rules, but those rules are often arbitrary and outdated, and can therefore frequently be broken, bent, bypassed, or just plain ignored, to good effect.
The people we've met in this book, with the entrepreneurial mindset, look out at the world and see malleability, elasticity, plasticity, flexibility. They see how they can bend currently accepted 'reality' toward the reality they would prefer.
Those with the employee mindset, in turn, look out and see a world full of protocols, rules, regulations, fixed hierarchies, established orders. They bow their heads down and 'stick with the program,' hoping that if they just do what they're told and what's expected of them, it will turn out all right, just as Mom or Dad or Teacher or Professor or Boss said it would."

"Most people don't see that they have options beyond what society tells them to do. That's the biggest problem. They honestly believe that compliance is the shortcut to success."
-Seth Godin

"There's more wiggle room, more flexibility at the joints of society, than you might have imagined. You just have to look for it."

“Am I saying that every person born in some god-awful slum in Rio or Nairobi has the opportunity, through the entrepreneurial mindset, to become a millionaire, and that the people remain poor simply because they've adopted the employee mindset? Of course not; that's pure propaganda for the status quo of vastly uneven resource distribution in life.
People are born with different chances in life, which vastly influence their chances for affluence. The simple fact that I was born learning English in America, versus Swahili in Kenya, gave me a massive leg up in the pursuit of wealth and success in the world, from birth. To suppose otherwise is sheer self-delusion - it's being 'born on third base and thinking you hit a triple,' as they say.
However, there's not a doubt in my mind that, whatever station you're born into in life, whatever era and whatever country, rich or poor, adopting the entrepreneurial mindset gives you the best chance of raising your station, and the only chance at making your biggest dreams come true.
Thinking otherwise - for example, thinking that Big Brother government is going to save the poor - is as delusional as thinking that we're all born with equal opportunity. The entrepreneurial mindset may not be a guaranteed bet, but it's certainly your best bet."

“If you always asked yourself how you could make a greater and higher-leveraged contribution to the people you work with and the situations you find yourself in; if you focused like a laser on the actual outcome of the projects you're involved with, rather than the output of your time and effort; if you were relentless about taking care of what's actually needed in your workplace or team, rather than just doing what was requested of you; if you started running toward the big decisions in your organization, rather than away from them, whether or not your job description called for it; if you became a diligent student of the ways in which social reality is more flexible and malleable, and less predetermined than you think it is - if you did all these things, is there any chance you would come out behind?"

“I hope this book has inspired at least a few disobedient thoughts.”

Excellent Sheep, by William Deresiewicz:

If you left university with just a degree and a pile of debt, you were robbed. Somewhere along the way, colleges and universities drifted away from being centers of higher learning and loci of self-discovery, into being commercialized profit centers, and students themselves became "customers," or, worst of all, commodities.

William Deresiewicz is a former Yale professor with a deep, infectious passion for higher education, which is self-evident throughout Excellent Sheep and which leaps from every paragraph. He cares; he cares so much, and his distress at the decline of educational standards in the United States and elsewhere is shared by myself and a multitude of other educators who know what school can really do.

Universities today often force students to choose between learning and success; the straight path to riches and prestige is prized above real education, real introspection, real meaning, and the creation of one's own real life.

Higher education should be about the cultivation of our highest potentialities as individuals, and it should prepare us to meet life with optimism, intelligence, dignity, and care. In the final analysis, whether our educational system helps or hinders this process is up to us.

Sample Quotes from the Book:

“The purpose of college, to put all this another way, is to turn adolescents into adults. You needn’t go to school for that, but if you’re going to be there anyway, then that’s the most important thing to get accomplished. That is the true education: accept no substitutes.
The idea that we should take the first four years of young adulthood and devote them to career preparation alone, neglecting every other part of life, is nothing short of an obscenity.
If that’s what people had you do, then you were robbed. And if you find yourself to be the same person at the end of college as you were at the beginning – the same beliefs, the same values, the same desires, the same goals for the same reasons – then you did it wrong. Go back and do it again.”

“The system manufactures students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but also anxious, timid, and lost, with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose: trapped in a bubble of privilege, heading meekly in the same direction, great at what they’re doing but with no idea why they’re doing it.”

“This is your shot. This is your chance to become, not the person that you want to be, not the person you’ve decided that you’re going to be, but the person that you never could have dreamed of being.”

Read the Full Breakdown: Excellent Sheep, by William Deresiewicz

The 10 Pillars of Wealth, by Alex Becker:

The 10 Pillars of Wealth will help you cut through the noise and filter out the nonsense that stops most people from being successful. It's an excellent mix of powerful mindset shifts and extremely practical applications that will elevate your business game above all of your competitors.

Not being wealthy has nothing to do with your intrinsic human worth, of course, but becoming wealthy is also not just going to happen by accident. You have to make it happen, you have to will it to happen, you have to align all your efforts and your thinking and your resources toward making it a reality, and it's books - and teachers - like these who can help you rise above the statistics and become rich.

Sample Quotes from the Book:

"By wanting to become wealthy, you are also saying that you want to accept the challenge to be better at making money than 99 percent of the people on this planet. Just by attempting this, you are going to have to accept the fact that you must not just be good, you must be incredible."

“People rarely become successful if they are comfortable in their current situation.”

“It might take you ten years, but if you never give up, you will have something to show for it.”

Read the Full Breakdown: The 10 Pillars of Wealth, by Alex Becker

The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, by Eric Jorgenson:

Being rich and happy are learnable skills. One of the greatest lessons you'll learn from reading books like this one is that where you start off doesn't have to be where you end up. If there's a skill you lack, you can learn it; if there's a big scary problem looming over you, you can overcome it; if you want more out of life, you can have it.

One of the biggest takeaways from the book is the emphasis on leveraging specific skills - skills that you can't be trained for. If there's something that you can be trained for, someone else can be trained to replace you, so you have to cultivate specific, valuable, domain-specific knowledge if you want to be maximally rewarded in the marketplace.

Sample Quotes from the Book:

“I was born poor and miserable. I’m now pretty well-off, and I’m very happy. I worked at those.”

"Let's get you rich first. I'm very practical about it because, you know, Buddha was a prince. He started off really rich, then got to go off in the woods."

"If you're a perpetual learning machine, you will never be out of options for how to make money. You can always see what's coming up in society, what the value is, where the demand is, and you can learn to come up to speed."

Read the Full Breakdown: The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, by Eric Jorgenson

The Great Rat Race Escape, by MJ DeMarco:

An extraordinary life is won on offense and then preserved on defense. This book is about increasing your offensive capacity - and, specifically, about creating an income that will enable you to live free forever - while avoiding the mistakes and pitfalls that derail so many other well-intentioned people as they try to make a big move forward in life.

The Great Rat Race Escape blasphemes against the current “economic religion” of the world, which tries to convince people that they “wouldn’t be too unhappy” working away for 40+ years at a job that they “kinda-sorta like” (or, in many cases, passionately loathe), just so they can maybe - hopefully - get their freedom back fifty years later when they can finally enjoy their money from the safety of the nursing home.

That sounds like a waste of a perfectly joyous life to me, and M.J. DeMarco teaches how we can avoid that fate by starting a business and taking advantage of the internet gold rush that we’re currently experiencing. The creator economy is absolutely booming right now, new businesses are appearing all the time, entrepreneurship is “hot,” and our time is now.

Sample Quotes from the Book:

“Our culture thrives on mediocrity and obedience. It is the world’s business model.”

“Anything that can be improved is a business opportunity.”

The CENTS framework that will help determine whether your business has solid fundamentals:

Control – You have full control over your business and you aren’t in danger of losing everything because someone else made a decision that you can’t control.

Entry – It’s too difficult for someone else to enter the market with a similar product or service and compete with you.

Need – Your product or service is something that fulfills a genuine need that exists in the marketplace.

Time – Your profit is divorced from your time so that you don’t physically have to be there when your product or service is sold or generates money.

Scale – Your product or service has no marginal cost of reproduction, meaning that it’s easy and cheap to make more of what you’re selling without you having to put time and money into inventory or creation.

Read the Full Breakdown: The Great Rat Race Escape, by MJ DeMarco

The View from the Opposition:

No one's ideas are beyond questioning. In this section, I argue the case for the opposition and raise some points that you might wish to evaluate for yourself while reading this book.

#1: Sometimes, College Really is the Best Option

This is something that Michael Ellsberg would agree with, and it doesn't necessarily refute his main message in this book. It's just that there exist additional success skills that they virtually never teach in college that are absolutely critical for success in the modern economy.

These include everything we've been talking about so far: sales, marketing, leadership, as well as an enduring passion for self-development and the ability to think like an entrepreneur, not just an employee.

For some things, however, you're just going to have to go to college. The classic example - and one I always give myself - is that if you want to become a doctor, then you absolutely must go to medical school. There's simply no way around it.

That being said, once you graduate and you become a doctor, how do you attract patients? Assuming that you don't end up working in a hospital, you're going to have to let people know about your services and convince people that you're the best doctor to visit. In other words, sales and marketing.

"The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald

Questions to Stimulate Your Thinking:

#1: Do you really believe that the average person knows what's best for you better than you do?

#2: If you want to live an uncommon life, then why would you listen to commonplace advice?

#3: Do you value your freedom and autonomy enough to make you want to strike out on your own? Or are you perfectly comfortable pursuing your passions outside of work? (There's no wrong answer)

#4: What do I have to offer that's rare and valuable and that other people would want to receive from me?

#5: How can I increase my ability to contribute? What can I offer the world that I love doing, that I'm good at and that the world needs?

Action Steps:

So you've finished reading. What do you do now?

Reading for pleasure is great, and I wholeheartedly support it. However, when I'm reading for a particular purpose, I am intensely practical. I want a result. I want to take what I've learned and apply it to my one and only life to make it better!

Because that's really what the Great Books all say. They all say: "You must change your life!" So here, below, are some suggestions for how you can apply the wisdom found in this breakdown to improve your actual life.

Please commit to taking massive action on this immediately! Acting on what you've learned here today will also help you solidify it in your long-term memory. So there's a double benefit! Let's begin...

#1: Reduce Your Liabilities and Start Building Assets

This is the very first step toward financial independence, and it's a crucial starting point on your entrepreneurial journey. You need to be able to lift your gaze above your current financial situation if you're ever going to be able to move toward anything better, and gaining control over your debts and liabilities is how you do that.

You can barely help anyone if you're poor, overworked, or stressed, so you need to get this right first. It's essential if you want to be able to think more clearly and make better decisions.

So right now, today, list everything you owe and every financial or time obligation you have and put together a plan for eliminating much of it. You don't want to owe money to anyone, and you want to have as much control over your time and your schedule as possible.

Even if the total amount seems intimidating today, the important thing is just to get started and, perhaps just as importantly, avoid adding any new obligations. Instead of buying a new car or upgrading your hotel room when you go on vacation, reduce your expenses and financial outlays and put that money toward building your dream, even if you don't know yet exactly what that life will look like.

#2: Read 10 Books on Marketing, 10 Books on Sales, 10 Books on Leadership, 10 Books on Business, and 10 Books on Human Nature

Most people don't read at all, and if you read just 10 books in each of these key areas - and study them closely - you'll put yourself at the very top of your field in a very short period of time.

Hardly anyone is doing this, and if you do, then you'll be at an immediate advantage, and people will also have a hard time catching up to you.

You don't need to know every little tiny thing about these major topics, just the broad, underlying principles. Then, when you've developed a baseline understanding of things like sales, marketing, and leadership, the next step is to go out and apply what you've been learning.

#3: Reach Out to Someone You Can Help with Their Problems

A huge part of building your network is simply realizing what other people are struggling with and offering your unique contribution toward helping them solve their problems.

You don't have to be well-known in order to do this, you just have to care enough to show up, offer your support, knowledge, and encouragement, and do this without expecting anything in return.

People will often reciprocate, and you'll build extremely strong connections by doing this, but it's also one of those things that are worth doing for their own sake. If nothing else happens except you help another human being with a problem they're struggling with, then you can safely call that a win.

About the Author:

Hi, I’m Michael Ellsberg! Currently, I’m writing Joyful Pessimism, forthcoming from El León Literary Arts (Spring 2023). I’m releasing advance chapters via that link—so read along as I write! :)

I’m the author of The Education of Millionaires: Everything You Won’t Learn in College About How to Be Successful (Penguin, 2011), and the co-author of The Last Safe Investment: Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever (Penguin, 2016). I’m also the author of The Power of Eye Contact (HarperCollins, 2010).

I was born in San Francisco in 1977, grew up in Berkeley, and graduated from Brown in 1999 with a degree—that I’ve never used—in International Relations. I now live back in Berkeley.

Find me on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Instagram.

Additional Resources: - Main Website

How to Connect with Powerful, Influential People

Should YOU Drop Out of College - YouTube Book Review

This Book on Amazon:

The Education of Millionaires, by Michael Ellsberg

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