« April 2005 | Main | June 2005 »

My dad on NPR


Today's "Morning Edition" featured my dad in a segment I couldn't have named better myself:

When College Calls, And Dreamers Follow

Follow that link to hear my dad and see why we can call him Shrek without snickering. (Well, I guess we do snicker a little, but we love him.)

Then, e-mail the NPR link to all the people you know who might dream a little bigger than their parents are comfortable with. Better yet, send that link to their parents.

Link: NPR Morning Edition: When College Calls, And Dreamers Follow

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 30 May 2005 Permalink

"These are the times that try men's souls."

I can think of no other way to describe my friend's situation than to steal from Thomas Paine. May he forgive me. And may my friend -- whom I'll call "Tom" in honor of Mr. Paine -- have the courage of his new namesake.

My friend Tom is the kind of person who sends me stuff like this recent piece in USA Today about how it's okay to fail as many times are necessary to succeed if you're doing what you really love -- in this case, entrepreneurship.

• P.T. Barnum filed for bankruptcy, and then he started his circus.

• John Henry Heinz's company filed for bankruptcy in 1875. The next year he invented a nice little condiment — known as ketchup.

• Henry Ford's first car company filed for bankruptcy, and his second car company failed. His third business was the Ford Motor Company.

Lots of people are inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit, but even when they stumble upon an as-good-as-it-gets opportunity, they back down. I'd say that, given the opportunity, Tom is more likely than most to not back down, to stand up and take a shot at the dream. Well, we're going to see what happens this first time around...

Tom will soon graduate from college, and it's high time he decides what's next. Of course, he can do anything. The possibilities are infinite, as they are for you, me, and everyone else. But when Tom cut through the BS in a recent conversation, he revealed the two final options. Will he...

(A) take a highly coveted position in a company everyone is in love with? Pros: Interesting work, hefty starting salary, smart colleagues that work hard and play hard, no risk because they company is kicking butt, and congratulations/admiration from everyone he meets for being on the "fast track." Cons: He might end up thinking "I wish I were one of the founders" more than thinking about his work.


(B) become the second team member of a start-up technology company you probably haven't heard of? Pros: Technology development is already good and done and just waiting for someone to be a sales/marketing wizard to generate buzz for the company and cash out through an acquisition, Tom would make a pretty penny from his stock at the sale, chance to drink from the firehose and test everything he believes about himself, and chance to altogether skip the sick game that is "the fast track." (2 important pros I forgot to include initially: Tom has no debt from college, and it's likely that he could cover his living expenses with his salary from this start-up.) Cons: He could fail and be sad that he passed up option (A), which was completely safe.

I won't speculate upon what I would do or what Tom "should" do, but I will share two predictions:

1. If Tom's true to the rhetoric he spews (no way of knowing if this is the same as being true to himself), I think he'll choose option (B). And it will be seen as a very bold move by everyone, even if it seems very natural to Tom.

2. If Tom takes option (A), no one will bat an eye. Though I'll wonder if he's happy with the decision.

Still, I know that Tom will have to go through hell to choose option (B) -- the start-up. As much as he can say he embraces failure and point to stories about great entrepreneurs or other great ones from all walks of life and how they had their share of failures, he still doesn't want to fail. No one does.

But Tom's fear of failure is really strong, because he hasn't failed yet. I haven't either. Chances are that you, too, haven't failed. Sure, we've failed to do little stuff, like writing a good-enough paper that still got an "A" instead of writing the exceptional paper we knew we had in us. We've fallen a bit short of major goals of ours. I didn't win a state wrestling championship in high school. I won third and fourth place medals. You may have not been admitted to Harvard; instead, you went to Northwestern. Darn.

I'm talking about really "failing." I'm talking about stuff old women and newspapers gossip about like dissolving companies, going bankrupt, getting divorced, and going to jail.

If you graduate from high school and you graduate from college, you're sparkling in our society. And then there's this huge pressure to not fail and just keep building your pedigree. For what reason, I don't know. Putting one more well-respected, well-known name on your resume might make it easier to get hired in five years by someone who has the same name on her resume. But it won't make you happier. It won't get your butt out of bed in the morning.

It's not what we did in the past that lights our fires. It's what we do now, and what we do next.

I'm excited for Tom, because however difficult a decision he's making, he's exactly where he has long dreamed of being. And if, in fact, his heart and gut tell him to go run the start-up and he goes for it (even if he ends up failing!), he's going to feel what so many people never feel -- the greatness of chasing your dream, even if everyone else thinks you're crazy.

Jerry Maguire felt it.

(from the script of Jerry Maguire,
after Jerry writes his "Mission Statement")

I didn't care. I had lost the
ability to bullshit. It was the
me I'd always wanted to be.


Jerry in T-shirt stands proudly watching copies
pumped out.

Wired college students, band guys, other Copy
People of the Night nearby.

I printed it up in the middle of
the night, before I could re-think

Industrial, multi-pierced Kinko's copy guy examines
the first printed copy of the Mission Statement.
He nods approvingly, taps his heart in tribute.
He slides a copy across the counter, for Jerry's

(The Future of Our Business)

That's how you become great, man.
You hang your balls out there.


Good luck, Tom.

UPDATE 2005.11.07 -- Tom chose "B."

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 25 May 2005 Permalink | Comments (5)

3 Things You Should Consider Before You Take a Job "For The Money"

I've enabled comments on this entry and future ones. You can add yours by clicking the "Comments" link at the bottom of each entry.

1. People say you'll make a lot of money if you pursue a certain profession. But if you're bad at that profession, you won't make squat.

My friend Annie's father is a lawyer. Annie told me recently that her father never pressured her to become a lawyer (like so many parents who want their children to follow in their footsteps), because he "got it." He told Annie, "If you're a bad lawyer, you won't make any money." Given Annie's interests and disposition, it's better for her to do something else. Right now she's headed towards working in higher education -- doing career counseling or residence life or whatever else she likes. And she's going to do that very well.

Of course, Annie or you or I could be good lawyers, too. It's entirely possible to be good at something we don't like. It's just not likely that we'll be GREAT. And it probably wouldn't be any fun. So the better option is to pursue work you love simply because you'll enjoy yourself more. A common side-effect is that you'll work harder and longer without even noticing, which will probably lead to earning more money anyway.

2. You're not going to become wealthy from your day job. You have to do that in your spare time.

It's too bad that our education system is only set up to provide us with an academic education, and even that is done with limited success. If you're lucky enough to stumble on a good professional education program in college or elsewhere, then that gives you a bit of a leg up. But when it comes to financial education, you generally need to have wealthy parents to learn from or you're on your own.

If there's a shred of your brain that thinks you're going to get rich from working for the man, you've got a lot to learn. Here are a few ways to start.

Start by reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad.

Play the "Rich Dad" board game, Cashflow 101. (It's expensive for a board game, but it's cheap for changing your mindset.)

And to quickly cover some basics and continually learn about personal finance issues, check out my friend Ramit's site at

3. If you need a high salary to justify your self-worth to your friends or parents or whomever, there is treatment to help you get better.

If you and a friend were both offered two jobs, one paying $60k and the other $50k, please don't worry about feeling less cool or important than your friend if you took the lower-paying job. But if you must assign dollar values to yourself and your friends, at least assign them by the offers you receive, not just the ones you take.

Actually, if you need a high salary to justify your self-worth, then it's probably a good move to purposely win a job or two that pay tons, just to turn them down. Sounds weird, I know. But the time investment to win a job that pays well but you might not like and then turn it down is much lower than it is to win the job and work in it for several years. You can always say you're worth whatever number someone offered to you. And then you can do the work you really want to do with peace of mind.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 23 May 2005 Permalink | Comments (1)

Why shouldn't it be you?


I spotted a free magazine outside the MIT careers office called Women For Hire. It's one of those publications with ads literally on every other page, but I started flipping through it anyway and was pleasantly surprised (and that was before I learned you can get all this year's issues for free -- just click on the pink or blue above!). Women For Hire speaks my language! The company's founder and CEO Tory Johnson writes in her opening letter:

"When talking to women about their careers, I often hear examples of self-doubt -- ranging from "Nobody would take me seriously in that position, so I won't even apply," to "They'll never pay me more money so I won't even ask."

"I'm reminded of interviewing Michael Gelman, the executive producer of Live with Regis & Kelly, for our second book, Women For Hire's Get-Ahead Guide to Career Success. He recalled his college years when he asked professors for advice on how to land a job in TV. All of them suggested pounding the pavement in small markets and even offering to work for free. But he had other plans -- bigger plans -- for himself. Gelman told me he assumed that someone had to get the big national jobs in New York City, and he figured, "Why shouldn't it be me?"

"That attitude and perseverance landed him a coveted spot on Regis Philbin's popular daytime talk show, and in just a few years, Gelman rose through the ranks to be named executive producer, where he remains today."

Sadly, I saw the same kind of self-doubt last Thursday. I met a bright college sophomore who graduated from my high school and now attends a local 4-year university. It took me at least 20 minutes of prodding to get him to tell me what he really wants to do. (And we were there to talk about his career! How was I supposed to help him get "there" if he didn't know what "there" was?)

Finally, he told me he dreams of working for a pro sports team. He was afraid to admit it because the dream seemed too "big" to him.

If you want to do something that society might consider "small," that's fine. That says nothing of its importance or how fulfilling it will be. My dad has been a high school teacher and coach for some twenty years. And however little our society respects school teachers, I respect him because I know his work is absolutely crucial.

But, if you really do want something "big," be honest. Whatever you want, be honest. This is your life we're talking about. There's no time to mess yourself around. Life's going to do enough of that to you already.

When my new friend admitted his dream (that's such a sad phrase -- admitting your dream), he was fearful that I'd tell him No Way, José. But I was excited! I was immediately thinking of my friends he should talk to and ways to reach the other types of people he needs to meet.

The saddest part of it all is that I think I'm the first person to learn what this guy wants to do. I don't think he told anyone else before (I pray he's told a few more people since). His big dreams were getting farther and farther away each day he wasn't going after them. And no one could help, because they didn't know what to help him with.

Now he's got me in his corner. He's going to need a lot more people behind him, but I hope I at least got him thinking what Michael Gelman thought: "Why shouldn't it be me?"

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 17 May 2005 Permalink

Why would parents do anything else?

Tuesday night I was having dinner with my girlfriend and an(other) old friend from back in Southeast Kansas, and, inevitably, the discussion turned to pondering how we all managed to leave and see a little more of the world.

There were many things that helped us along the way. (And not one was money, because none of our families have much of it.) We were dreamers. Whenever we heard about someone who did something great, we simply thought to ourselves, "Maybe I could do that, too."

We also had the good fortune to stumble upon and attend summer programs where we met other kids from around the country who dreamt as big as we did.

And our parents, though they didn't proactively drive our "careers," mostly said they supported us and stayed out of our way. Pat said of his parents, "My parents pretty much let me do what I wanted to do."

Then yesterday I was flying from Cleveland to visit my family in Kansas, and I read an inspiring story in the inflight magazine of Continental Airlines. 'Twas a profile of Broadway headliner Sutton Foster and her remarkable rise to being an "above-the-title star" at age 30. And sure enough, she cited as a secret to her success...

"My parents raised me to...go after the crazy dream of being a Broadway actor when they could have told me it wasn't a realistic goal."

Countless magazines and television shows constantly feature stories of great human achievement, and a good portion of them involve parents at least staying out of their kid's way.

Furthermore, these stories don't elevate the aspirations of only young pups like me. There were plenty of old dogs on my flight yesterday reading and smiling about Miss Sutton Foster.

And this is why I get so angry when people tell me stuff like "It's always been my dream to go to art school and paint, but my parents think it's silly because I've already got a bachelor's degree in engineering. So I really should get a master's in engineering."

Why do parents recommend to their own children such boring stuff they think is safe? I would argue that it's actually very risky to contribute to your child's unhappiness. (Kids remember that stuff at holidays and when it's time the 'rents go to old folks homes.)

Why wouldn't parents support (or at least stay out of the way of) their children's dreams to do something remarkable, something that would get them profiled in magazines? More to the point, why would they do anything else?

- Thanks, Moms and Dad, for letting me chase my dreams.
- Click here for Sutton Foster's website.
- Click here to read the profile in Continental's magazine.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 12 May 2005 Permalink

It will be NoBS for me.


I just received an e-mail describing business school in a surprisingly honest way.

(from an ad for a seminar put on by the MIT Club of Boston)

Applying to Business School: Why and How

Are you thinking about applying to business school or just curious? Many see it as a great way to switch careers, increase earning potential, or tap into a great network...

That description of business school isn't surprising because it's not true. In fact, it's right on the money. I've just never seen it in writing. People say that the reasons to go to B-school are to switch careers, make more money, and network, but they never put it in print. All the ads I've ever seen for B-school are like "build the business skills that will boost your career." But it's no secret that that's bogus.

At least once a week someone asks me if I'm planning to go to business school. I kindly tell them No and quickly explain that I can learn more about business by reading books, talking to experienced people, and doing business myself. Then, if they're in the know enough to say "Oh, but business school is really for switching careers, making more money, and networking," I give them the full story.

I'm not worried about changing careers because instead of doing three miserable years on Wall Street because "everyone else does it," it seems "safe," or it's what my uncle recommends, I gathered up the guts to get into the work I love from the start.

Furthermore, none of the things I want to do involve applying for a job with a company dumb enough to require an MBA in order to justify paying me more money.

Finally, there are endless opportunities to "network." B-school is just one. It's a good one, but it's just one. Also, I consider myself ahead of the game (if that's possible) by starting to build the relationships I need now, rather than waiting until business school to start "networking" with purpose (like so many people do). By the way, the latter is a really bad idea. It's like my boss often says: "Once you're un-employed, you're not networking. You're job-hunting. Networking is what your sorry butt should have been doing for the past five years so that when you need something, you could make twenty calls and have five offers waiting for you."

Going to business school -- Kellogg, Wharton, Stanford, Sloan, HBS, you name it -- might very well be a good thing for you. But for me, it will be no business school or NoBS.

Posted by Ian Ybarra on 5 May 2005 Permalink