When I Almost Quit College

At some point, you get old enough and look at the crazy twists and turns and be like “ahhhhhh” that makes sense. In the moment, you wonder “why is this happening?” Years later bring perspective and the ability to see God’s divine plan in a situation.

One of those turning points is the end of my first quarter of my freshmen year of college. I went to the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). I remember visiting with my dad. Attending felt like it was meant to be.

RIT was on a quarter (10 week) system, although they’ve just switched over to semesters. The academic term went fast and the professors prided themselves on jamming 15 weeks (semester length) of material into 10 weeks. The joke was that if you missed your first week of class you’d be so far behind that you’re too far behind at that point.

Lansing, Michigan isn’t a tiny town by any stretch but it’s not a BIG city. I was always an A/B student or a 3.5 – 3.8 GPA. Everyone was BLOWN away that at 13… 14 years old that I’d learned HTML and was making websites for others. At RIT, my major was Information Technology, which is like applied computer sciences. It’s more application than theory.  Albeit to say, my confidence was REALLY high in my abilities.

Well, I’d gone from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. Everyone was like me and a lot smarter. Plus like I mentioned classes were INTENSE. My first quarter included things like Discrete Mathematics. I swear it didn’t use numbers for the first 4 or 5 weeks. I also had Intro to Java Programming. Programming in Java is VERY different than writing HTML. It came with a bit of learning curve.

I remember getting my first grades for my first quarter and it was a 2.7 GPA. I was DEVASTATED. I’d really felt like I was at RIT for a reason. This was my career path. Why wasn’t school coming more naturally to me?  I paced up and down the academic quad for hours questioning everything. Should I stay? Should I quit? I could always get a job at CompUSA (remember those?) or Best Buy back in Michigan.

I  made the decision to stick it out.

How’d I get through it? I had the grace of God and… I put in the work. I trusted that God had put me at RIT for a reason. So if I put in the work, it’d pay off.

So thankful for the love, support, and encouragement from my parents. They’re amazing and the best parents ever.

I also sat in every professors’ office hours that I could find. Most college students avoid office hours. I went to ALL of them.  It was free help. If others weren’t gonna use them, I was. Ha!

I ended up graduating with honors and a 3.75 GPA.

On the whole, college was hard. School was a 60-70 hour a week job, if not even more. It taught me…

  1. Hard work – I’m sure it sucked for my parents to see their boy face adversity but I’m so glad I did. It’s impossible to know what it means to work hard and overcome something until you face a hardship, which is going to be painful. Life is going throw you situations where you’ll have to work hard. In all those future situations I’ve felt so much more equipped.
  2. Working smarter – When you have a million things to do and it feels like the water is quickly going past your head, you have to think differently about how you work. It’s not about working harder. It’s about working smarter. You have to find new ways to squeeze every ounce of productivity out of the day.
  3. Getting thrown into the deep end – So much of school was learning something new. In one of my programming capstone classes, the final project was learning a new programming language in 3 weeks and then teaching it to the class. You just had to figure it out. RIT taught me how to learn and love being in situations that forced me to learn.

When I left college, I sought out people that shared these values.  After searching for jobs, I moved to DC to work at the Library of Congress. The first people that I looked for were people that wanted more than a 9-5. I looked for people that if a problem popped up, they’d find a creative solution to conquer it. I hung out with programmers, nerds, and entrepreneurs and it changed the rest of my life.

Life Lessons from Doing Puzzles with My 3 Year Old

For the last week-ish, I’ve been on winter break. We get off the week between Christmas and New Years. It’s been really fun to spend extra time with my family.

For Christmas, my 3.5-year-old Miles got some puzzles. They were really simple… maybe 12 pieces. But he’d never really been into puzzles before. I didn’t know how he’d react.

At first, Miles was really skeptical. As I showed him some tips for evaluating pieces and patterns, he got really into it. I got up from the kitchen table for a minute and I heard “I’m almost done.” I rushed back over to the table. He was so excited and I was being with pride.

He had two pieces left. He looked at each piece. He turned them around. He studied the surrounding pieces. He tried one way. It didn’t work. He flipped the piece around and tried it again. And it worked. He plopped in the final piece and he was done!

The experience got me thinking. How much better would life be if more of us approached our challenges in the way that Miles approached puzzles? He was skeptical at first but jumped in with both feet. He looked at what was in front of him. He assessed the situation. He tried something. Did it work? If not, he tried something different… over and over again.

Too often, we won’t even try. Or we’ll try putting two pieces together and then quit. We’re afraid of failure. We’re afraid of being wrong. We’re afraid of being judged by other people when we’re wrong. So, we don’t even try.

This attitude or mentality just doesn’t work. Life is going to throw new challenges at you daily… hourly. If you live your life afraid to try, you won’t get out of bed in the morning. I’m wrong ALL THE TIME but I don’t let that stop me. When I make mistakes, I look at what happened, why it happened, and how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s really all you can ask.

We all just need to be a bit more like Miles 🙂 or really just like a child. Children don’t have the same base of experience. They’re so willing to take a leap without knowing what’s going to happen on the other end. As a parent, this is terrifying but at times admirable.

Sometimes naivete can be an advantage. When you know too much about something, you’re held back by those experiences and less likely to try something new. You need to be able to look at issues with a fresh set of eyes and take a risk.

Building Habits — Reminders & Tracking Progress

I think a lot about the habits that I want to build. Habits are something automatic. They’re muscle memory. When an action becomes a habit, you don’t have to think about it. You just do it.

There’s a bunch of activities that I want to turn into habits. I want to be consistent about reading the Bible every day, drinking more water, picking up house at the end of the night, and reading a least 10 pages of a physical book.

There’s a number of iPhone apps that’ll track your progress and give you reminders for building your habits that I’ve found to be really helpful. I’m currently using Productivity but I’ve also used Coach.me. I know that I’ve heard of others. They’re great!

I’ve been using Productivity for several months. First thing when I wake up in the morning is to read the bible on the He Reads Truth app. Throughout the day, I’m filling up a massive reusable water bottle. I barely think about it.  Now, I need to think about what are the next habits that I want to build.

Time is a precious commodity. If we turn daily actions into habits, we can spend our time actively thinking about other things and not that.

The only kind of stupid question

So, for most of my adult life, I’ve been the young guy. I’ve been on the bottom of the ladder. Those above me have always gotten to know me really well because I ask a lot of questions.

In college, I learned quickly the magic of office hours. You could ask any and every question and soak up the answers. Suffice it to say I was a fixture. 🙂

Now I’m a little bit older and have the distinct privilege of managing an incredible team of marketers. So, now I’m the guy who gets the questions and I love it.

Something that I’m trying to blot of existence is someone saying “can I ask a stupid question?”

You should never be ashamed to ask for help or inquire about something. It’s when you don’t ask questions or assume the answer that you’re so much more prone to make mistakes.

I usually say back that “the only stupid questions are the ones that don’t get asked.”

Now when the actual question inevitably gets asked, I may not give you the answer you’re looking for. I may just point you in the direction of where to look. But you always need to feel comfortable to ask the question.

We live in an era where you ALWAYS have to be learning. That means you always need to feel comfortable asking questions.

My Inbox Is NOT My To Do List

With a house, wife, kids, and a job that's getting increasingly more complex, I have to be productive. I have to know what I need to get done and then get it done.

There are so many inputs. I have email. I have a text messages. I have instant messages. I have social media. I have work group messaging. Everyone is vying for my attention. Everyone is asking me to do something.

For work, we especially love email and group chat. It's far too easy for it all to fly back 'n forth. You lift your head and find that you haven't actually gotten anything done for multiple hours.

I work very hard to not use email as my to do list. I use Apple Reminders as my to do list. I work off of what's in Reminders. I'll regularly check what's in my email, evaluate it, decide how it compares to what else is on my list, and add accordingly. If needed, I'll re-prioritize.

I'll do something similar with a number of different inputs.  I go through my meeting notes, look for action items, and put them in Apple Reminders. I go through my project planning in Trello and put my to do's in Apple Reminders.

My goal is that I have ONE LIST that I use to manage what I want to get accomplished during the work day.

Apple Reminders has been really great for my family too. You can share your lists with others. That way my wife and I have common lists for joint projects, things I need to do, shopping lists, etc.

Net net -- It's important to find and be disciplined about a system that works for you, where you can prioritize what you need to do and be in control.

Important Things Are Hard

Sometimes some of the biggest and deepest truths are the simplest. I've had one on my mind lately... important things are hard.

We all have those things that we want to do. We want to be successful entrepreneurs, we want to be thinner, or we want to be richer... you get the idea.

I was on Facebook and friend posted something to the extent of "Do you want to be thinner without putting in all the work?" And instantly everyone said YES, YES, YES.  Well it's all a lie. Losing weight and being thinner isn't something that you can do without making sacrifices. It may mean not eating that ice cream that everyone else is.

I want to have more time to read by myself in the quiet. That meant I had to get up earlier and forgo sleep. There are days that it's REALLY hard. I have force myself out of bed but I'm always glad that I do.

I want to get back into writing more often. That means I'm going to have to set aside time to write more often. That means I'm going to have to not do something else.

It's almost like we're trained to try and look for shortcuts. We want to be lazy. By cheating the process, you're gonna not get where you want.