The Personal Blog of Nathan Anderson. Dedicated to writing about learning, growing, and doing.
Habits shape people. Habits tell alot about you.
Habits determine why some are exceptional and some are merely mediocre.
Habits are also, by definition, difficult to break or cultivate.
I grew up with one older brother.
I grew up with one older brother. Let me rephrase that: I grew up with one exceptional older brother who has Down syndrome. Growing up, I didn't think much about the fact that my brother had Down syndrome. I remember telling people: "Yes, he is my older brother. Yes, we are the best of friends. And Yes, he has Down syndrome." My brother and I were always together and always having fun. What I didn't realize at the time was that my brother Preston has an unique was of managing his habits.
My brother and I were always together and always having fun.
Preston has had no shortage of habits himself. Now 21, he still has a few of his old habits but many of them he has abandoned. When I was around 10 years old, I remember one habit of his was opening and closing doors for what seemed like no reason at all. Sitting in the back of the car he would open and close his door as many times as he could before headed on the road.
Even in unfamiliar places, like the ice rink, he would find a door open it then close it and then repeat. He used to sit in from of the locker room door at the ice rink opening and closing the door until the manager forced him to go to the lobby. Despite the fact that not everyone loved all of his habits, it never slowed him down.
The thing about that habit is, I have no idea what caused him to give it up. He kept going when the manger kicked him out (there were many doors in the lobby of the rink) and honestly I think I got mad a few times from the unstopping repetition of doors opening and closing but none of that ever seemed to bother him. One day, for some reason, he just stopped. He opened and closed doors everyday for more than 5 years, then he just stopped.
He opened and closed doors everyday for more than 5 years, then he just stopped.
Preston doesn't just get rid of old habits, he also forms them whenever he sees fit. Just in the last year or so he has formed a new habit. Every time he walks past a mirror he smiles, waves, and points his index finger straight up in the air. I have no idea how he thought of this or why he decided to start but the fact is, it's his newest habit.
Simply out of curiosity, I have gone to Preston and asked him how he is able to handle habits in such a seamless way. His answer: "silence". He didn't say a word. He simply looked at me for a few seconds then gave me a hug.
He didn't respond. He simply looked at me for a few seconds then gave me a hug.
My habits tend to be slightly different from Preston. I don't wave at every mirror I see and I tend to only open doors when I need to walk through them. I do however strive to be as great at managing my own habits as Preston is. With how simple Preston makes it look you would think that simplicity may be the answer. In reality it is more complex for those of us who do not hold the exceptional older brother title.
At my home office I have been working on various projects at different companies since I was 15 years old and I have found this one thing to be true: habits make or break you. I started out simply "putting out the fires" everyday and nothing about my work was improving. I didn't take the time to look at what I could do better or why something fell through the cracks. Guess what? now looking for those cracks and filling them is a habit of mine. Every week I now take the time to look at what I need to do different then finding a way to implement it.
Habits can make or break you.
When I look at how my week went, I try to determine what habits I could benefit from by asking one simple question: "What happened this week?". It's not a three hour long review of exactly what happened everyday, it's simply asking: "What happened this week?".
"What happened this week?"
A recent example from my own life is what I did yesterday (Friday). I did a lot of work this last week for both companies I work at and I determined one thing: My task management software wasn't quite doing the job it needed to do. I noticed that I became slightly stressed looking at a long list of 50+ things that needed to get done and not having a real idea of where these tasks belonged. The software simply listed every task in one long list, making the list unorganized and daunting.
Without getting into too much detail, task management software provides a way to have a simple list of what needs to get done. These lists could be as simple as a shopping list, or as complex as a website redesign checklist. In my opinion, it is an essential piece of software because every time I get an email, that email usually has another task for me to work on. Since I can't do everything at once, I break the email down into a task and put that in my task management software making sure to assign deadlines where needed.
The software I had didn't allow me to have subcategories for my lists, something I knew I could use to get more organized and less stressed. I thought there must be different software that allowed me to organize my lists better. I was right. The entire process took about 20 minutes and now my entire task mangement process will improve as a result. All because of that simple question: "What happened this week?". Now you may ask: "why didn't you think of that before?". The answer is simple: "I never took the time to look at it. I never thought I needed a new solution because I didn't analyze my current situation." but after I looked at what happened last week, I found my mistake of choosing mediocre task management software and was able to fix it. Easily.
The entire process took 20 minutes and now my entire week will improve
Even with my process of finding new habits, I don't think I will ever get to where I can manage my habits as exceptionally as Preston does. Despite that, I will not stop trying to get there and I think everyone would be better off if we could truly dominate our habits like my brother Preston.
Habits shape people. Habits tell alot about you. Habits determine why some are exceptional and some are merely mediocre. Habits are also, by definition, difficult to break or cultivate. I grew up with one older brother. I grew up with one older brother. Let me rephrase that: I grew up...
At the age of 10, my dad told me I had to play a sport. He didn't care what sport it was but I had to do something that made me go out, exercise, and meet new people. I tried a few different sports before deciding I wanted to play hockey. Reluctantly I took the basic learn to skate classes alongside my dad before jumping into the game. Once I actually started, I realized I loved playing hockey. I started out simply playing the game. I didn't watch any pro games on TV, I didn't know many other players in Knoxville, I didn't even know there were other teams you could play for in the southeast besides the team I was on. All I knew was, I loved playing hockey.
All I knew was, I loved playing hockey.
Moving down the road a few years, I thought I knew everything about the "hockey world" because it was what I had been doing for the last five years. With that thought in my head I tried out for the only big AAA hockey team in the south that didn't force you to move (there were no AAA teams here in Knoxville). After a few people dropped out, I made the team. I was thrilled, I thought "finally, I get to play more hockey and have much more fun doing it!" Well that's not exactly what happened.
I realized I didn't know anything about hockey pretty quickly.
The season felt like it started right after tryouts. It was not quite that fast but it was close. I was used to having nothing in the summer then starting the season later than all the other teams in the league. Right then I realized I didn't know hockey like I thought I did. I quickly learned the ropes but it was not the sort of routines I was used to. This was an organization, not just a youth hockey team. We were required to attend team dinners, workout on our own, be on time, and wear a suit and tie to every game. I had to buy a suit and tie just for that season of hockey.
I had to buy a suit and tie just for that season of hockey.
At the time, it looked like we had rules just to have rules. I thought: "Why would wearing a suit and tie to a game make me play better?". What that season really did for me was show me, for the first time, that everything you do attributes to what your goals are. I remember a coach from another team someone coming into our locker room after a tough loss and saying: "You all have to have the discipline to put all of the hockey gear in your bag the same way before every game, if you want to start winning." We didn't exactly know what to think of that comment until he explained to us that it wasn't about having tons of rules, it was about making hockey a way of life.
It was about making hockey a way of life.
That season of hockey did much more than help my hockey skills, it made me realize a lot about what it took not only to be successful in hockey, but in life. Hockey made the think about the future. We were so often asked about our plans moving forward, what we wanted to do, how we planned on getting there. I didn't know. I had no idea and no one had ever forced me to think about it. That season of hockey forced me to become interested in bettering myself.
That season of hockey forced me to become interested in bettering myself.
I knew that I needed to look ahead and as much fun as I had playing the game I realized the rest of my life wasn't going to be focused around me playing hockey. So I tried to figure it out. I knew I at least had an interest in technology so I started messing around with all types of computer software. I tried 3-D modeling programs, software programs, and I even took an old computer apart once. I found all those things interesting but I just didn't have a passion for it, a drive to do it everyday like I did when I started playing hockey. After trying all types of programs, I realized my passion was right in front of me, literally. It was the Web. That tool I used to research all those potential passions, turned out to be my passion. I finally found a new passion, but didn't know where to start.
That tool I used to research all those potential passions, turned out to be my passion.
I started learning how to design and build some basic websites and jumped at every opportunity I found to build someone a website. I created a company "Nathan Anderson Designs" which was just me doing consulting work but I thought "my company" sounded better than "It's just me figuring it all out". Once I officially started, it was time to find some clients. With only a few clients and just a touch of experience I thought I was ready to grow my company without thinking of the long term. I did not know how I could grow, what other requests people would have besides websites, and how I would turn this into something that made money. Starting out, my prices were so low I didn't make any money.
Then I read "The Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell". My uncle recommended the book to me and despite not reading much at the time, I made an exception for my uncle. Gladwell's book has a lot of interesting information but what stood out to me was the 10,000 hour rule. Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule as the minimum amount of hours someone has to have before are have truly "mastered" their field. The explanation of that rule had such an impact on me at the time. It made me stop and think "would I want to do 10,000 hours of this?".
Would I want to do this for 10,000 hours?
Gladwell spreads the average persons 10,000 hours at about 10 years. So that got me thinking: "Do I want to be doing this for the next 10 years?". The answer was no and yes, what I realized was that I didn't want to do any one thing for 10,000 hours.
I continued to take on small clients with the intention of growing at least my clients for the short term. I knew I loved having the flexibility of working from home and choosing what projects I take on but that was all I knew.
With no intention of doing so, I became a freelancer. My clients slowly transitioned from single jobs to contracts with bigger and bigger companies. I went from "the web designer" to "the media guy" basically going from only making websites to covering anything that needed to get done related to any form of media. I found out that what I truly enjoy is being a part of everything.
I found out that what I truly enjoy is being a part of everything.
I now spend my days jumping from web design, web development, project planning, customer support, and anything else that comes up. I don't know where I will end up but I am sure I will have a good time getting there. Who knows, maybe I'm already there.
With that season of hockey 4 years behind me, I think of how everything has changed. I am not sure what would have been different if I had not played that one season of AAA hockey but I know I couldn't have asked for a better outcome.
I now work for many companies and I do many different things everyday but perhaps the most significant, is the work I do for a company called TPH, that same hockey company that let me play for their AAA hockey team for one season 4 years ago.
At the age of 10, my dad told me I had to play a sport. He didn't care what sport it was but I had to do something that made me go out, exercise, and meet new people. I tried a few different sports before deciding I wanted to play...
I thought I would start off my blog with that big question about college.
Why? Because as an 19-year-old the first question anyone asks me is: “Where are you going to college?” My answer to them is always: nowhere, because I don’t have a reason to go to college.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn I can’t get enough of it. I am simply not convinced that the “college Experience” would truly benefit me more than the real world can. Why? We will dive deeper into that soon. First, an introduction of me, Nathan Anderson, and what sort of work I do.
My current learning schedule is 30 minutes of a book and 30 minutes of news reading daily. Books like The Education of Millionaires: It’s Not What You Think, and It’s Not Too Late by Michael Ellsberg are my preference. I also just finished up Work the System by Sam Carpenter which was a recent recommendation that I really appreciated. Along with some good books and articles, I work on either Treehouse or CodeSchool classes every weekend. I try to get some more skills in the coding languages that I don’t necessarily need to use on a daily basis but my day changes, so I have to be prepared. Besides reading and online classes, I learn on the job everyday.
I always tell people that the best part about my job is that I don’t really have a job title. I simply do what needs to be done. Yes, there are regular things that need to be done such as design, development, or marketing but these terms are not as specific as most people think. I don’t consider myself a “developer” because I don’t spend all day with lines of code debugging and building systems. I do spend some time with code though. I spend time with the coding languages that directly affect what people see (HTML, CSS) and don’t spend time looking into complex problems in thousands of lines of code (that would be one thing an actual developer would do).
Despite my title-less job, I am referred to as a designer, developer, and marketer for the numerous companies I work for on a daily basis. WebMedley, the Digital Marketing Agency I work for, is a great example of a company that is aware you have to actively change with the times (yes, some companies still don’t do that). WebMedley has been around for a long time and they haven’t always used WordPress because WordPress is still considered a new tool, it has just recently turned 10 years old. The thing is, it’s now used by over 30% of all websites around the world. That’s a lot of websites. It’s the preferred choice by most companies now, including WebMedley.
WordPress is the method of choice for over 30% of the world’s websites
I also work for a company called Total Package Hockey (TPH). TPH is one of the top hockey service providers in the US, especially for the southeast. TPH has two youth hockey teams, a school in Detroit, and a new Juniors team in Alabama (Junior hockey is what everyone plays after high school, but before college).
With WebMedley and TPH there is a lot of work to be done with little room for error so learning from your mistakes is critical. All in all I have been at WebMedley for about 4 months now and TPH for about 7 months. I don’t simply work on the same tasks everyday, it’s quite the opposite, I don’t know exactly what I will work on this month or even this week. I have worked on WordPress sites, static HTML sites, records for servers, e-newsletters, iBooks, support and may other things that I either hadn’t had the opportunity to try or sometimes hadn’t even heard of before having the tasks handed to me at TPH or WebMedley.
When I explain to people what I do, a question that I get asked a lot is “Is that what you want to do the rest of your life?” The answer is that, I’d love to but what I’d love to do is keep changing. If you were to take any given task that I do on a regular basis and tell me that is the only thing I can do for the next 10 years, I would go insane. What I am passionate about is jumping to all of the different elements involved on a daily basis and most importantly, learning about new technology/advancements. The last year for me has been change, and that is what I like. Changing and evolving with the new technology. If that means I am not at the same companies in 10 years, great. If so, great.
Things change quicker in business and technology than anything else, maybe more-so now than ever, a great example of this quick change is simply my work for me in this last year. After graduating high school I went from making cold-calls and trying to grow my own clients to referring people to the Marketing agency I work at and growing my consulting base, not my client base. I did not expect this sort of thing to happen, but it did and I am thrilled with it.
I didn’t actually go straight from cold-calls to consulting, but it felt like it. I started getting my own customers on my own about four and a half years ago at the age of fifteen. I thought since I was messing around with computers and websites, why not try to get some money for it? I started with a monthly rate of $30/month. With that small monthly start, I promised hosting, domain, and regular updates and changes from me every month. First of all that was way underpriced, for example I could not cover all of my costs for hosting because I took on only a few clients. And with that low cost, I took on two non-profit clients off the bat and didn’t charge them anything. Yes, I made a lot of mistakes with those clients and honestly the quality of work I did probably wasn’t worth much more than $30/month when I started, but I started and I improved. I worked with some extremely difficult people, I had billing issues, people getting upset over what I thought was nothing, and of course those clients that promise you their business and 6 months later you’re stuck with nothing and a bill for the upfront cost of their test site.
I couldn’t even cover my clients cost with the small fees I was charging.
I didn’t make much money with all those issues, but I really didn’t need to. I was in high school and only needed to cover a few cheap expenses which I could manage to cover. The impact that starting had was that for a while I could learn as much as I could handle with little consequences.
So why not just get a college degree, that way you can have something for your resume even if it is just for those companies that require it?
It’s a question that has come up a number of times. “So why not just get a college degree, that way you can have something to look good on your resume for those companies that require it?” Well first of all, I don’t have a resume. I did when I thought it was actually necessary and they forced you to make a good 1980's approved Resume in high school, but I know better now. While seeing what you have done can be helpful, it does not judge a person’s ability to work. Sometimes you could use it, for a lot of things now you can’t. My method of interviewing is more along the lines of “let’s work together on a project or two to see how you work, then we’ll talk” — FYI that is how I got both of my contracts.
A 1980's Resume makes sense in the 1980's, but it looks silly in 2014
Second, here is the current college situation, the average student takes 5 years to graduate and spends $160,000. Okay, so lets assume I take the cheap and quick route. Let’s say 4 years and $30,000. With 4 years, I could do much more than I could do with that $30,000, why? Because I would be able to actually go learn. Many students graduate from college only to land an internship (paying little to nothing) at some large company that then has to spend time and money to put them through training because they don’t actually know what they need to know for the job. With all of that, it’s because most of the courses are not helpful, yet you are required to take many of them. It’s a pretty insane concept to me, if I am going to commit 5 years of my life and give you $160,000 why can’t I learn what I want to learn? Basically if I pay you money, then you tell me what I can learn, how I learn it, when I learn it, and where I learn it?
What about letting me learn on my own terms?
You can’t learn about new features and capabilities in WordPress or learn about new developer tools that Google and Apple have while in college, instead you learn who created the internet and what it was like to develop in 1999 or 2004. No, it’s not a crazy amount of time for most fields, but for the internet 10 years is a whole lifespan. In 2004 there was no iPhone, no Android and therefore no Apps. There was no need to develop websites and e-newsletters for smaller screens because they did not exist. There was no WordPress, no responsive websites, no mobile first thinking. These are all basic things you have to think about today.
Today over 50% of all users are mobile, 10 years ago mobile didn’t exist.
That’s why the term “mobile first” is used so often and 10 years ago there was no mobile. I don’t suspect the next 10 years to be any different, I think if anything it will change more rapidly. Google just announced programs for their smart watches (round and square) and Google glass (smart eye-ware) so right there that is at least three new screen sizes to start designing and developing for not to mention the marketing opportunities for that kind of new technology.
When the college topic comes up, most people start by asking “Where do I want go?, what courses do they have?, what scholarships can I get?, where are my friends going?” I think the first question should be “What do I want to do” then, “Should I go to college for this, do I even need to?”
I don’t think the new average should be jumping into college assuming it is the right choice. I also don’t think you should assume you will figure it out in college. If you want to figure something out, take a gap year and figure things out. Why would you waste some of your time in such an expensive environment assuming you will magically figure everything out?
With everyone focused on going to college there is always talk of reforming education and I think that is no longer the question, the real question is: Who will revolutionize education? I think programs like Uncollege are good options to start. And being able to learn online at sites like Udemy, Coursera, and edX gives everyone huge opportunity. With all these new options out there, I think college is best left to people who want to be college professors.
So What do you think?
1. Do you think everyone should go to college?
2. Do you have an argument for me to go to college?
I thought I would start off my blog with that big question about college. Why? Because as an 19-year-old the first question anyone asks me is: “Where are you going to college?” My answer to them is always: nowhere, because I don’t have a reason to go to college...