The Learning Curve

The unemployment numbers lately have been pretty bleak. But for recent college graduates they are even worse. Almost half of all recent grads are either unemployed or underemployed, meaning there are a lot of very educated people flipping burgers and serving cappuccino. I’ve been there. It’s the learning curve.

learning curve

learning curve

I used to dodge the question I would always get asked “So, where did you go to college?” “Um, oh, a school you’ve never heard of”, and drop the subject. I always felt like I was missing out on some kind of secret party that everyone had been invited to except me.

The truth is that I could have gone. I’m sure my parents would have scraped together the money somehow or borrowed it if I had pushed the issue. But I didn’t. Instead I saved up a few hundred dollars and as soon as I turn 18 I left my small town and jumped on a plane headed to NYC.

I had no idea where I was going to go or what I was going to do when I got there. And I didn’t know anyone at all in the city. Talk about not having a plan! But fate had other plans for me.

I got off the plane with my modeling portfolio and headed straight for an agency. No appointment. I just showed up. This is where fate comes in. I was sitting in the lobby and saw a girl from my small town with her mom. We started talking and it turns out that they needed a roommate. I was in for a shock when I realized it was in a gang neighborhood.

For the next few years I learned how to fend for myself and became quite streetwise in the process. I thought about what I might be missing in college. Art, history, science, foreign languages, keg parties. I was busy dodging drug dealers and working odd jobs to survive. And then there was the time a gang member, high on PCP, broke into our apartment and started reading poetry to me. (long story!)

What I was really building up was my street savvy intuition, my entrepreneurial skills and my leadership abilities. I worked my way up from the bottom of low paying jobs and turned them into a gold mine of opportunities.

It didn’t take long before I was creating my own jobs, some of them were six figure jobs. By then I had graduated to a nice apartment in the city and my visions of college had faded. I had graduated from the school of hard knocks.

Since then I’ve been rich and flown around the world in a private jet sipping champagne, and I’ve been dirt poor, getting my meals from a food bank. Sometimes all in the same year.

I’m not knocking college, but I can tell you there’s not one thing I could have learned in a classroom that would have prepared me for the life of a bootstrapping entrepreneur. It’s a career you have to learn on the job.

All I can say is that if you choose to be an entrepreneur as a career you had better be prepared to get your hands dirty. You have to be prepared for the ups and downs that come with it. You have to be willing to start at the bottom and wear every hat, no matter how long it takes. And you have to believe in yourself, because there will be long stretches of time where you are the only one that will.

So, when do you know when you’ve graduated from the school of hard knocks? You never do. It’s a lifetime learning curve.


  1. Julie Austin: Thanks for sharing your story. Sometimes the learning curve could be pretty rough! I went to Manchester, NH, for my business studies. But I did it after working for about 10 years. I have been both an employee and sole trader. Right now I am a “poor” capitalist, hustling with different income streams and some new startup ventures in the pipeline… 😉 2014 will be the break-through year! 🙂

    • Martin, like the podcast idea! You can never be TOO prepared. You have to keep planting the income streams. Eventually they will all starting growing at the same time and you’ll have to start hiring. 🙂

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