“From then on out, I was determined that I was going to choose my boss. I wasn’t ever going to carry somebody else’s rocks.”
Jeff Sandefer started his first business at age sixteen after a less than pleasant experience carrying rocks in the Texas summer heat.
After earning an MBA, he founded Sandefer Offshore, an oil and gas company that generated over $500 million in profits in less than five years. He then ran Sandefer Capital Partners, a multi-billion dollar energy firm.
Over the last fifteen years, Sandefer has worked with entrepreneur-teachers to build a nationally acclaimed entrepreneurship program.
You have to figure out what’s your superpower. There’s something you’re naturally good at, and I believe you have to put in the discipline and the deliberate practice to become so good at it that people will pay you a lot of money per hour for doing it.
In this episode, Isaac and Jeff talk about Jeff’s history with entrepreneurship, finding meaning in reimagining education, and insights on starting your career.
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Welcome to Career Crashers, where we tell the stories of those who are not content to wait around following rules and hoping for good things to happen. Great careers aren’t found. They’re forged.
It’s time to crash the party.
All right. Today on Career Crashers, I’m really excited to have Jeff Sandefer. With me and Jeff, I was actually just thinking back when I first launched Praxis, in like, 2013, I don’t even know how we got connected. But somehow we had a phone call. And I still remember to this day, it was a really interesting phone call. Really valuable to me as I was getting that started. And you had you had already started Acton MBA.
But just by way of introduction to listeners, Jeff is very successful entrepreneur, who kind of I don’t know if that’s how I would frame it, maybe you you can correct me, but kind of the first half of his life is building an incredibly successful business endeavors with business success factors. And then decided to turn his attention to helping more people become entrepreneurs more or less and think like entrepreneurs and find their kind of entrepreneurial journey by forming Acton MBA, which is a very, very well regarded kind of alternative to a traditional business school.
And then from there has founded Acton Academy, which are all across the country, and these are K through 12 schools that are a wonderful alternative to that approach. I’m actually on the board of the Acton Academy in Washington, DC that a friend of mine started.
That’s great. That’s wonderful.
Yeah, absolutely. So so that’s who Jeff is. And, Jeff, I want to let you kind of just freestyle, I only really have two high level questions. And I’m sure I’ll stop you with a few small ones here and there. But question one is just what is your own career journey? And question two is at Acton MBA and Acton Academy. How do you Why do you think it’s so important for people to find I’ve heard you use this phrase there, their hero’s journey, and how do you? How have you helped people to do that? So you can start with whichever one you want to start with?
Sure. Well, the story of me is not that interesting. I’ll start there. We’ll keep that one.
Oh come on, it has to be interesting.
No, I it’s truly not very interesting to me. I’ll say that. Okay. So I was born and raised in West Texas, in a small town called Abilene. My father was in the oil business and he was kind of a guy like you’d see on Dallas or on the giant if you if you favor old movies, so he was a wildcatter.
He was rich one year broke the next but our family always lived as if we had money because he wasn’t. He once told me when I came back from business school, and I said, it was 1986. And I said, Dad, you’re broke. You’re gonna have to sell your airplane. And he said, Son, I’ll tell you one thing. I may be going to the poorhouse, but they better have a runway because I’ll be damned if I’m gonna drive there.
So he was a he was a gambler. You know, fun guy. My grandfather was a depression baby. So had every penny, you know he ever made, never spent any money, drove and drove an old car. And I tell you that story to say I was I’m like my grandfather. So you know, some of us are hoarders and some of us are spenders. My sin is the sin of hoarding. So I’m an asset Fox, I’m a hoarder.
You know, I’m the kid that might have had a lemonade stand. But I did better trading baseball cards, you know, I was better as a trader. So I did that my seminal entrepreneurial moment. Actually, I owe to a man named Armando. And my father had me working in oil fields. And I was this skinny white kid, you know, working among older men who were primarily Hispanic, and a lot of men who were getting minimum wage and had drug problems, but it was a rough crowd, right?
So I’m working with him, and it’s hot in the West Texas sun. You get up at six o’clock in the morning, you’re in the field. You work until you can’t see anymore, which is probably nine o’clock at night, and it’s hot all day long. So all summer, I wanted it to rain. I’ve just one day, and one day it finally rained. And we went back into the shack, I knew we were gonna have to go out in the field, I was gonna get a day off from working in the hot sun.
Armando called me over. And while other all the other men played cards and had a beer, he said, Jr, he always called me Jr. and he didn’t like me very much, by the way. He said, Jr, you see that big pile of rocks over there? And I said, Yes, sir. And he said, I want you to move the pile of rocks from that corner over to this corner, like across the yard like 100 yards. So I carry these great big rocks all morning. And I finally got all those rocks to the other side of the yard and it was raining kind of lightly and I was moving them.
And I went in thinking, gosh, it’s lunchtime, I can have lunch and I finally get to spend the rest of the day inside and Armando said oh Jr, I have made a terrible mistake. I like the rocks back when they were at first. So I spent the rest of the day moving the rocks back over. And that was actually I don’t think Armando was necessarily trying to give me a gift but the gift was, I said, then in there, I will never again work for someone else if I don’t choose to.
So I you know, you everybody has a boss, you have investors, you have the bank, you have your wife, you have everybody’s got a boss, but I was determined from then on out, I’m just going to choose my boss. And that was actually a great gift that Armando gave me. I wasn’t ever going to carry somebody else’s rocks.
That’s incredible. That’s like, it’s like a fable or a parable, some someday your your kids or grandkids probably won’t think that’s true. They’ll think you’re making…
I can I can hear him on those words I can hear Jr. Right now. Among other words he used when you talk to me.
I’ve heard a handful of people I know have a career story that basically begins with a bad boss, or with a bad work experience. And sometimes, sometimes just having something be so bad that you know, suffering through something that isn’t making you come alive is not even an option is can be a gift in a way.
Well, you know, something, one of the things we seemat Acton MBA, which has been renamed, but we’ll come to that in a minute. Okay. But but you know, for years, we always teach this life and meaning course, and you see people come in with one of three drives. And this is almost always true.
Either they have kind of a father issue, they want to overcome a parent. And it’s very often a male with a father, it could be a female with a father, it can often be, you know, a tough mother, but it’s usually a father. So they want to kind of overcome, and I’ve got a dad issue. And if they do really well, at about age 40, they’ll probably do a lot of therapy, but but at least it’s a driving force to go forward. And that group tends to do pretty well, at least financially and with business success factors.
You get a second group. These are the Navy SEALs, the Olympic athletes, and people that have had a terrible tragedy, you know, worse than anything I just described, they came out of poverty. I mean, like real poverty, you know, they were beaten as a child and, and that group has seen the worst of life. And actually, every day is a good day. Like, every day, they’re not worried about risk. They’re not that whatever comes they can take it. And they tend to be actually more fun than the first group, which I fall into. They’re more fun to be around. But they’re also very entrepreneural, they’ll just try anything.
The third group is the most interesting to me. And it makes up about 25%, to a third of the group we attract. It’s a group that was captain of the tennis team, you know, valedictorian, went to a prestigious college, and has never failed. And far too often, you know, the group is living for an image or a resume, you know, to be something they’re not.
And my concern is always you have very little business success factors with that group, choosing a hero’s journey, or calling because they’re too scared to make a mistake. They’ve got too much invested in an image. And you know, over time, we’ve whittled that down. We don’t we don’t have many people like that in MBA program now. But those are the ones that worry me, because I don’t know how people can break through that image problem. You’re investing too much in prestige.
Man, that’s that’s such a. That’s such a powerful insight. And I don’t know where, yeah, I don’t know when it’s too late. Maybe it’s never too late. But there is some point where just you know, if, like you said, the investment in prestige. I know, I know, through running the Praxis program in the past. There were so many times with young people, but especially with their parents, where you would talk to a parent, and they would know, they would know their kid had the entrepreneurial spark. They’re already out there running businesses with business success doing stuff, crushing it, they’re happy.
But they were so invested, they had decided that business success meant going to a certain college. Yeah, and they wanted their kid to go there. Even if they were depressed and miserable. And they had, they had separated their kids happiness from the thing that they thought represented their kids happiness, and they, you know, it’s like the status. They thought it was one in the same but it wasn’t, and they just couldn’t let it go. And that’s a really hard thing to do.
What not, and in fact, it’s where we see the most damage at Acton Academy on the K 12 side is, you know, there are parents that I’m sure mean well, but, you know, they’re more worried about being successful parents than loving their kids no matter what. And so, you know, if I get if I send Isaac to Harvard, and he screws up after that, that’s on him. I got no, you know, and I got him into Harvard is the operative phrase, right.
And so I think it’s, you know, the parents success becomes tied up in the children’s business success. You know, I tell our kids, I mean, I’m sure I made more mistakes than any dad in the world. It’s like, you’re going to be in therapy for something, you guys will blame me for it and get over it. You know, you’re gonna have hang ups, you’re gonna have a shadow you’re gonna have me on we all we humans have it and, and I’m going to love you no matter what, you know, even if you screw up I got your back. I mean that’s you know, I mean you’re going to suffer consequences, I’m going to let the consequences happen to you.
And that’s an important thing even even for ourselves to say, you know, whatever whatever status I do or don’t achieve, I have to still live with myself, I have to still be happy with who I am.
So so you have this experience where you realize, you know, you wanted to choose your boss.
How did you kind of go about from a young man, you know, getting yourself into a position where you could do that?
Well, one of the things I did directly after that which had a big impact is I didn’t want to work in oil field anymore. I was 13 or 14. And so the next summer I hired all the high school football coaches and their players, and we went out and competed against these oilfield roustabout groups that mainly painted tanks did kind of hurt dirty work.
But instead of charging by the hour, which makes your employees just hung around all the time, we charge by the job, and we change the incentives, we paid by the job. We could paint nine tanks, it took the group that took the group I worked for with Armando three days to paint a tank. We could paint three tanks a day, so we were nine times more productive. So we can charge two thirds of the cost of anyone else and still have 80% profit margins.
And these coaches worked, you know, they took their own trucks out there. So we didn’t have very many costs in that that summer. And this was in the 1970s. But that summer, we cleared $100,000 in the summer.
Which is a lot of money back then. There’s still a lot of money, but it was a lot more back then. Oh, I tell I tell that story. Because the thing I learned from that is that incentives matter a lot. And people don’t do things just for money. But if you set the incentives, opposite to what you’re trying to do, like paying by the hour, you know, you attract people not interested in getting the job done. And you have to manage them a lot more. So that was a you know, that was a big lesson.
I went on to get an engineering degree at the University of Texas, worked for a large company for years and went back to Harvard Business School. And, you know, there I learned I’ve been, I thought I was pretty smart. I mean, I was, you know, graduated high. My high school class, I could outwork the people, I couldn’t outsmart and I could outsmart most of the people I couldn’t outwork.
I got to Harvard, and it was a whole different planet. I mean, you know, there were people at HBS that work 23 hours a day. And there were people that on my best day I couldn’t keep up with intellectually. And so the lesson I learned from that was pick your competition, right? I’m going to go compete in the energy business, I’m not going to go compete, you know, against the best of the best at Harvard, I’m going to go pick a place where there are plenty of smart people, but where I can focus, have expertise, develop, you know, the knowledge of an industry and a skill. And so the lesson I learned there was, you know, pick your spot.
I love that that entrepreneurial story. I mean, it’s great for a lot of reasons. But that, you know, entrepreneurship, sometimes people feel like you have to have either a big technological breakthrough, like you invent some new software that nobody else has invented, or, you know, some some big innovation in the way that business success is done, or you create a brand new category of product.
But often, it’s really an insight. I mean, your your innovation was just realizing that the incentives were not very good in the way that things were currently being done. And that’s true, like, all the time, you can look everywhere. I mean, you know, there’s a lot of a whole sort of revolution in the way that training is being funded now. And it’s got pros and cons, but the idea of like income share agreements, and whatever, because somebody looked and said, it’s not that these boot camps are teaching coding in a way that’s never been done before. It’s that they looked and said, the incentive structure of you pay us tuition. And then we’re not accountable for what happens to you after that is not a good incentive structure. That’s a big innovation.
Well, and attracting the right people to the job, you know, you’re attracting the people who are gifted in coding. Our our daughter went to Galvanize and she was a straight A student, all the way through college hard worker, great kid, but with a straight A’s in the University of Texas, you know, in economics and math, she had no chance to get the job and she was smart enough to know that.
So she went to Galvanize and now she’s an AI person, you know, that turns away work every day. But But to your point, she told me, why didn’t I? Why didn’t I go to Praxis? Or, you know, or why didn’t I go to Crash? Or why didn’t I go to Galvanize she said, you know, age 15 I She goes, I could have done it. 15 I wasted six years of my life. You know, expensive prep school and and college and learned nothing.
Yeah, yeah. So, so you can’t you came out of business school and you realize I want to go into the energy business. What did you did you take over from your dad as a business success factor, or did you start something fresh and build your own business success?
No, I started something fresh. And I’ll skip through this part won’t be that issue listeners. But we basically drilled oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico. And at this time period, the major oil companies had spent a lot of money offshore. They were stuck with a lot of leases that weren’t worth what they paid for them, the price of oil had crashed. And they were going to expire.
And so like any good asset trader, or asset fox, you know, I saw an opportunity, there weren’t many competitors out there, no one had any money, I’d been at business school, so I hadn’t been caught up in the boom, escaped that. So what I did is I went around to each of the major oil companies and hired one of their employees, who knew where all the best leases were. It wasn’t a conflict of interest, because the companies were going to get rid of them anyway, they didn’t want them.
I managed to raise money when no one else could. And, you know, it’s getting back to incentives, I mean, back to incentives and kind of recognizing an opportunity. You know, we turned a million dollar investment in four years into $500 million in profits. And it was just, you know, picking up things no one wanted, turning them around, and holding an option on lots of extra acreage that later on can be worth something. So we got very lucky.
And in fact, I think, you know, I think if you work extremely hard, and I’ve heard this from lots of people, whether you’re flipping houses, or you’re running a jump dealership, I mean, we’re running a real business success, right, and you’re working really hard. You’re gonna make it, it’s not easy. But over a lifetime, you’ll make several million dollars, maybe $10 million. You know, you stick with it, like you said, there’s no magic, but you just kind of keep at it, and you build the reputation, you got to get really lucky to make 100 million.
I mean, yeah, I mean, that’s, something’s got to happen, right for you. And in our case, you know, we bought low prices went up, we got lucky. And some of the things we found, and we sold well, and with a lot of leverage, and when that all happens, you know, you can really multiply. But we turn that million dollars into $500 million in profits, and I was 28 years old. And I don’t spend any money. So I had far more money. And by the way, I didn’t get all the 500 that went to investors and other people. But I got some of it, I got more of it than I needed.
I was pretty done pretty much done money wise, and never less motivated by money. So I had to find something else to do. And that’s when I started teaching, leading Socratic discussions, taking all the things I’ve learned from Harvard and the University of Texas, and I was gonna do it for one year, just to find myself I wasn’t doing it’s going to save the world. I was doing it. And you know, 34 years later, I’m still doing it.
That’s incredible. So I want to ask you about that moment, when you when you became very wealthy from this business success and these business success factors. I think a lot of times when people are in the grind, or they’re, you know, they’re looking to the future of what they’re trying to achieve. They kind of imagine this moment where they they make a bunch of money, and then they just like chill on a beach or something. And I think that’s, I think that’s almost never what actually happens.
And I guess I think there are reasons for that business success, that I’m guessing are reasons for that, that, you know, people need challenges and adventures to be fulfilled. But I’m curious from your personal experience after that happened? What was your mindset was like, Okay, I don’t, I don’t need to strive for money anymore. Dude, do I just enjoy myself What, what led you to kind of go in and take on a whole new challenge, which we’ll get into next with Acton?
Well, yeah, and again, everything you’re going to hear from this point on, and probably ever, every story until here is all a matter of kind of accidents happening, you know, fortunate accidents, not unfortunate but fortunate accident. So I was going out trying to save the world, I was trying to spend a year thinking about life and what I should do next. And in a very unhealthy way. What I had done is I had business success and had outdone my father, which is what I wanted to do, and I loved it. And somewhere deep inside, so so that was kind of over. Yeah, it was over. And I didn’t have that battle anymore. And so I had to sit and spend a lot of time thinking about what I wanted to do.
Because that had defined you in a way that challenge to overcome your father.
I didn’t think about and ways I knew about and I but you know, I that business success was over. I mean, it was over and it was over times 10. So that was no longer the driving mechanism. And I had to think a lot about what mattered to me. I cared a lot about freedom and free markets. And we did lots of philanthropic things after that, but but I had to stop and think what really matters.
And I’ve been, you know, helped a lot by Howard Stevenson, my Harvard professor who talked a lot about the life of meaning. You know, I just thought about it. I mean, I basically thought about it, and for a year kicked around and tried to decide what to do next.
I will say, you know, I love Howard Stevenson always said, you know, look, let’s get this clear. It’s better to be rich than be poor. So this idea that not having money is good, you know, people that don’t have money do terrifically right and I admire them. But it’s not fun to be really poor. I mean, I know. But I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.
But once you have more money than you need, it’s very uninteresting, and it doesn’t bring you much power. The toys you can buy aren’t very interesting. I mean it just so you know, people that want to make a lot of money. Once you have more than you need, whatever you need, it just turns out to not be very interesting, and won’t do much for you. So I came to that conclusion pretty quickly that, look, it’s great to have it. Because it gives you your freedom for your time, your time belongs to you. That’s the value. And also, that’s the responsibility.
Now, what are you going to do with it? Sir, that’s that’s the way I thought about it. I had more than I needed. It wasn’t very interesting. I need to think about what to do next.
So you started teaching at University of Texas? At what point? You know, I know, there’s, I’m sure a whole lot of things have happened in between there. And we won’t get into everything. But at what point did the idea for Acton NBA and you can tell us what what it’s been what it’s called now.
It was pretty simple. It happened the day we either all we had eight entrepreneurs at UT. We built one of the top entrepreneurship programs in the country. We were all teaching part time. In fact, eight of us part time we’re teaching 25% of all the elective hours in the school. Now this is a school with 140 faculty. So eight of us part time or two.
So if you did the math 17 people teaching full time could teach the entire program. And I was just always confused. Why do they have 140 people? So we asked some questions about that. And then one day, depending on which side of the story you want to listen to, we were all fired, or we all quit. There’s some truth on both sides of that. And we stuck around.
We realized half the students had come for our program, but we just left. So we felt really badly these first year students hadn’t gotten to take the entrepreneurship course, we said, Look, we’ll teach one course off campus. And it’s it’s $25 for the materials, and we’ll give you the money back. But it’s 40 hours a week, and it’s gonna be really hard.
And we thought nobody will show up, we will have kind of discharged our responsibility, and we’ll go do something else. 140 people showed up. Students, students and faculty drove from Rice from U of H from Baylor. From A&M, we had this following we didn’t know we had. And so that by accident, kind of lead the way to the acting and be able to you know, we always say the first year of an MBA is worthless.
Why don’t we just teach one? No, we didn’t know what that meant. Right? And then we just kind of made it up. First Year Princeton Review named our students the number one most competitive MBAs in the United States. Just a fluke. And we were off to the races with business success. And you know, that was 2002, 2003. So that’s been now 17 year run.
So what in that program? You know, because I know you’re really motivated by by helping people kind of find that find their call and why why do they want to be an entrepreneur? What is their journey? What is I love that you broke down those three motivations? You often see that people have?
How do you, for people who go through your program, and even to a degree through Acton Academy the K through 12? What have you found to be the most effective techniques for helping people discover a life of meaning and adventure? You know, a journey that’s worth that’s worth traveling?
Yeah, that’s, Boy, that’s that’s a long story. I mean, there’s I’m trying to think of all the things you need. But I’ll tell you, I think the three things you need to find it and then we can back into how you find those. And this will, this will lead in the story of we actually gave away that we gave back the MBA credential last year. We abandon the Yeah, and no one I don’t think anybody’s ever done that before.
We literally were in great business success standing. Princeton Review, just rated as top in the country again. And we went to the accreditors and said, Here’s your MBA, we don’t want it anymore.
Tell me why you did that.
We did that because the constraints on doing what we wanted to do next. We we we’ve been bound by the constraints for too long. And to be able to deliver better, faster, cheaper, I mean, much of what kinds of things you’re trying to do with Crash andd with Praxis, the lessons we’ve learned from 10 years of Acton Academy, we wanted to bring into serving kind of a high school age and so same kinds of things you’re doing.
We, we now are the Acton NGA, which stands for next great adventure. And it’s all about helping people figure out what they’re going to do next. Again, a lot of what you’re doing and I think the three things you have to figure out to do that and we want to help people do and this starts at age six, by the way. I mean, it’s six to 36.
But you have to figure out what your business success superpower. There’s something you’re naturally good at and I believe you have to put in the discipline into deliberate practice to become so good at it, that people will pay you a lot of money per hour for doing. Now that’s not to get the money by the way, that’s because it attracts better opportunities. But you’ve got to really work at that. It’s like karate or it’s like Jiu Jitsu and it’s it’s a it’s an art form you have to invest in so superpower, what am I going to be great at as a business success factor. And it’s probably something, I think it’s easy, because I’m already got a gift in it.
The second thing is, I need to master an industry or a domain as a business success factor. So I want to understand the players in this, you know, world, who they are how the competitive economics work the supply chain, I just want to understand the battlefield. That’s another way to think about it. And that’s gonna take some time, I can accelerate it. But there’s a lot of pattern recognition, I need to read the history books about the industry, I need to understand the economics all the players. But so I want to master that domain for business success. I’ve got a superpower.
And then I want to figure out where do I want to be as a business success factor. And that’s probably a city and a culture. I’m, I’m more of a Google guy or more of a Microsoft person, I’m more but I, you tend to see in these companies that they they take on the founder’s DNA. And and they don’t necessarily work because of that they work I think, because the founders DNA, a lot of hard work and opportunity all show up at the same time. But there’s a certain flavor, some people run a pirate ship. Other people talk about this is a family, you know, other people I mean, so it’s, you know, other people, like engineers, think of it like a machine, you’ve got companies that are more like machines.
And I think you know, all of us, each of us has a special culture will do well, and you’ve got to think about, do I want to work in the machine on my pirate? Do I want to be in a family atmosphere. And so the third thing you need is this sense of place, that also probably involves city too. Frankly, I think you can pick any one of those three, and find the other two later. But you got to, you got to choose.
That’s really interesting. So I want to I want to talk specifically about number two, because I found with young people in particular people who are kind of looking for their first career opportunity for business success. They they often know kind of that they would understood they wouldn’t see it as a superpower. But they kind of know what they’re good at. And they kind of have a skill area loosely identified. And they, they often at least think they have a sense of place.
Now in my experience, a lot of times their, their idea of a sense of place, especially when it comes to city is very limited because they’re not exposed to a lot. So a lot of kids, for example, are afraid to move away from their hometown. And they tell themselves, it’s because they want to stay there. But it’s really just they just don’t know how much more opportunities and business success factors are out there.
But the area where there’s the most question is that number two, industry or domain, so many people, you know, with Crash, for example, we’re trying to give job seekers the tools to run an effective job hunting to pitch themselves to companies instead of just clicking apply. And we often say like the best opportunities to pitch yourself to are often startups and they’re often relatively small startups that don’t have big HR departments that are full of bureaucracy. There’s those are just really cool early career opportunities and business success factors.
And so many job seekers are like, Well, where do I find good startups to work for? How do I like learn about the startup environment? What is the that domain? And? And it’s a very hard question to answer because I didn’t know anything about startups. When I started Praxis, but over time, it’s like, well, I’ve just followed a lot of people on Twitter and listened to a lot of podcasts and like, little by little, now I’m, like, very immersed in the startup ecosystem.
But I can’t tell you like where to start, that that just sort of happened over time. So how do you address that number two, people who have no, you know, and young people especially, they always want to pick like a sexy sounding industry, like I want to work in travel or something like that. And it’s just because they don’t know anything else. But how do you help people explore industry or domain for their business success?
Well, there are a couple of ways. You know, at the Academy, one of the things we do that I love is starting at age 10. Everyone has an apprenticeship, and they’re out working in the real world. So we have a whole process that they would go through for business success. And my guess is it’s similar to Crash. It’s similar to what color’s your parachute. I mean, you know, we all know that.
I’m going to think about my gifts and my business success factors, I’m going to pick 10 places, I’m going to narrow the list, but they do that at age 10. And I also learn how to write an email people can’t say no to to get a phone call where you can explain what you’re doing to get that in person meeting where you can say, will you give me a chance one day, let me prove myself. And so it is 10 or 11. They’re picking up. Well, I was at a law firm last year. I work construction this year, and I think of it as like trying on different kinds of sport coats. jackets, you know, do I like this color? does this fit work well.
So the more you know, people are out working doing something. I mean, gosh, how much you could learn it a Chick fil a right? I mean to play so well run or a Starbucks or. And so I think the best way to do it is to start early as a business success factor. We had this funny when I talked about my daughter who’s went to Galvanize, in our 10 year old son was riding in the car one day, and she called from Denver, and she said, Dad, I’m at college, I’ve got to get an internship. And I googled internship in Austin, and I can’t find anything.
So I talked her off the ledge and worked with her and hung up the phone. And my son who’d been listening said, you know, Doesn’t she know you just write an email people who can’t say no, to get the phone call, ask if you can have a chance to narrow down your opportunities, make the pitch, he went through this whole list. He’s like, How stupid can she be? Acid Sam, she’s never heard any of that.
And so my point being start early with a process, get lots of examples for business success. If you don’t do that, because you went to college, you didn’t work during college, it’s okay. But you got to start doing real work somewhere. And I just think you have to choose. I mean, I, in fact, we run a series of where the Acton NGA students, the older students actually make a pitch. And they tell their Hero’s Journey story and where they’re going.
But towards the end of the program, if they can’t choose, they have to throw a dart at a dartboard. And they have to choose where the Dart lands. Then they have to explain to the group why they couldn’t make a choice. And we have to use that much pressure. I mean, our programs 100 hours a week. So people are either Navy SEALs or Olympic athletes, and these are workers. And yet we have to put them under enormous pressure to get them to make a choice for their business success.
So that’s such an interesting, you just get out and try things. I think there’s, there’s like a preparation mindset that people can get stuck in, which is I don’t want to try anything until I know for sure that it’s the thing, right? And that’s where I think people can misconstrue the idea of, you know, a hero’s journey or finding your passion, they think, Okay, well, I can’t do anything until I know for sure. This is what I’m gonna do the rest of my life. And a way that I’ve found in my own life to de stress that is, instead of trying to pick the perfect thing, just eliminate anything that I know I hate.
Then everything else is basically fair game. And I won’t know what’s going to be good until I try it. So just getting out there. And I tell job seekers often to like, if you’re not sure an industry or an area to start, you don’t even have to go get a full time jobs, start doing projects. If you think you’re curious about design, try designing some websites, try learning some stuff, try going out there and offering some you know, services, find somebody you can job shadow. For god’s sake, before you pay for law school, go shadow a lawyer and see what the day to day is like.
One of the things we do in it, the launch pad or high school level at the Academy is you have a choice, kind of starting your your first year, you can either get a job, an apprenticeship that pays $25 an hour minimum, or a minimum wage job, one of the two. But but but the point is, if you really want to be good at something and have business success factors, people will pay you $25 an hour. It’s not crazy at all, and it but they’ll say Well, nobody will pay me that and said well not if you’re not good at something.
So go find some freelance clients for design, if you’re good at design, but you’ve got to focus on it be good and deliver for customers. So I love the way you’re doing exciting. If you narrow the if you narrow the range, then go do something you find out pretty quickly. But people don’t want to make that choice. And I think it’s ego, it’s fear. They also expect the world to come to them. I’m so smart. I’m so good. I shouldn’t have to go out call on the world. It’s like, sorry, we also Yeah, everybody’s got to go out there. And so and you know, so this ego keeps them from being. Because they’re gonna say no one reject me. It’s like, of course they are.
Yeah. You know, it’s it’s funny, especially with Crash, which is very laser focused on sort of the job hunt phase. Everyone’s frustrated by the job hunt. But I’ve seen a lot of people who, when they get an actual offer, for a company, that there’s nothing about it that they dislike, it’s right up their alley, they kind of have a freakout moment, if it’s their first job, where they don’t want to take it. They’re looking for excuses not to take it and I think what happens is, as long as you haven’t made a choice, you exist as an infinite possibility set.
And, and like a concrete opportunity is not because that has an opportunity cost. It means you’re doing that one thing, you can’t do anything else. All of those options, well, I have options. Well, I’m still exploring and becoming something and that’s kind of the process of growing up. Like becoming a concrete thing instead of a cloud of possibilities. That’s a scary first step. And the pressure like has to be right. It doesn’t like there’s no major cost.
And you know, my first job was like at a grocery store and delivering papers. Then I’ve worked in politics, which I now would never do again. And I want nothing to do with politics. But that didn’t cost me, that was beneficial to me. I learned from that. So just that idea that like, I’m gonna be screwed if I picked the wrong thing. Or if I become something concrete, then I can’t be this cloud of possibilities. But cloud of possibilities is nothing. That’s just, those are all theoretical, you know?
Also if you’re working hard, even if like you were an IHS, I think even if you go there, and it’s not your thing, if you learn how to write well, you know, that’s a fun, new foundational skill, it may not be your superpower in mind, but it’s certainly one of those skills, you have to be able to write and think and so there’s no wrong answer.
I, I think this is why the hero’s journey is so important as a business success factor because you and by the way, it’s a big part of the whole NGA story. It’s not even a job pitch the way we do it. It’s okay, here’s what I come from. You know, here’s what, and I remember, we had one Navy SEAL that started and he said, single mom, brother, 11 cities in 14 years, children sleeping on a park bench. 9/11, join the seals. And then he went on with his story.
At the end of the story comes back to what he wants to do. And he wants to develop residential real estate to help people with homes and your income and homeless. He goes, You know, I don’t know why. But something inside me really wants to help people find a home. That guy got 15 offers a partnership and investment the day you made that pitch. He is a seal. He’d sent out 55 resumes and tried to get a job and nobody wanted him.
But when he understood, there was something deep inside him. That place mattered and something about having a home and he had these skills and software he learned at the sea. So it’s the hero’s journey, you hear a call, you cross the threshold to go do something, and then you expect to meet monsters. And you know what, heroes don’t always win. They get knocked down, they get bloodied. And you think if you get up enough times, the hero always wins. It’s not true.
But the hero does always get back up. The thought that I’m gonna get knocked down, I’m gonna get my nose bloodied. And I’m gonna get back up. That’s the point, not winning.
I think, you know, going going out to raise venture capital, which I’ve done a couple times now. It was such a phenomenal experience for me for self knowledge. Not so much that I want to talk to 50 investors on the phone and go, there’s a there’s a whole lot of it, that’s just sucks, right? But there’s something so cool about having to make a pitch deck and boil down a pitch that has a narrative arc to it.
And there’s a way in which it forces me to look back on my own past, and to say, Oh, the reason I’m here today, it’s all connected. Like, it’s like, of course, I’m here. Of course, this is the next step in my journey. And to be able to see that and to like retell the sort of biographical facts of my life in a way that has a narrative arc to it is such a powerful skill that like helps me just feel motivated and more connected to what I’m doing.
And it’s so much more compelling. Instead of like, Hey, here’s our product, here’s our market, here’s our credentials, give us money. It’s like, No, I want you to feel like I was born to do this, because that’s how I feel. And learning to do that put put some narrative structure around your life is very powerful.
All right, I think it’s incredibly powerful. And so I think that’s why the hero’s journey, this idea of failing, if your narrative arc and your story is, you know, that you expect to fail and it’s going to be hard, then you cross the threshold and you go do it. It’s not a failure. And by the way, this whole thing about like, failure is good is nonsense. Failure is horrible, right?
Nobody’s like, oh, failure is good. And we say, you know, we want to fail early, cheaply, and often. But that doesn’t mean… failures is terrible. If it doesn’t hurt, it’s not failure. It’s just necessary. And so you don’t get in this thing of like, oh, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just go fail. It’s like, No, no, that’s not the point.
The point is, it’s necessary and it hurts. And you get back up, and that’s courage. You know, one of the things we do at the beginning of the Acton NGA program is you have to sell door, you’ve got a quota. And if you don’t make quota, you’re out of the program. You’re done. It’s, you know, your checks, cashed, you’re done.
And you’d be amazed how many doors you lock on, and in the point isn’t to teach people to sell. It’s to do what you did when you were pitching. You know, it doesn’t work. You go pitch one more time, and you pitch until it works and you visually get pretty good at it. But the point is 99 doors, people say no, you knock on one more door, whatever it takes.
I love that. I love that just getting the understanding that at the foundational level, like just persistence is is one of the first building blocks you need to get. And it doesn’t matter if you learn that selling vacuum cleaners or working at a gas station or some prestigious job, you’ve just got to get that trait somehow. That’s, that’s really cool.
I’ve found that giving people a challenge. When they say I want to level up in my career, whatever I will often say, publish a blog post every day for 30 days, because there’s no barrier to entry. You can do it from anywhere. I don’t you know, and like, that’s, I’ve never had someone who actually did it 30 days straight. they came back and said, yeah, that wasn’t really worth it. Everyone’s like, wow, okay, I feel like I leveled out.
Very few people can actually do it. And it’s not about writing per se, it’s not about like you said door to door is is not about actual selling. It’s about showing up every day and doing something and turning, turning that into a discipline rather than like, well, when when the winds blow the right way I feel inspired. And then I do something, you know, so.
Well, you asked, how do you get people to do this, and of course, you’re a master at it. And I think the book Atomic Habits is so good about forming habits. But at the Academy, when we can experiment so much and you know, the Academy is not like a school, it’s like a big game. It’s like a series of games. We’ve it this particular Acton at our campus where I am now we have 100 young people and only two adults. So young people run everything.
But you get into this kind of argument or discussion with with adults, they’ll say, you know, is extrinsic matter more or intrinsic, or it’s like it all matters, group squad, individual tribe. Every trick matters of what you can get to get people to stay on that path to write 30 blog posts. And so we’re going to stay use, and we’re going to use everything we can to get you in that habit of looking not at your own navel gazing at your navel worrying about yourself. To thinking one day ahead and a week ahead and a session ahead then a year ahead. And worrying not just about you. But the people around you while you worry about you.
I mean are you still care about what you want, but then you’ve got to get in. So managing that tribe, and using all the different levers you can use to get people on that journey and keep them on the journey. And then having them learn those levers.
We had something interesting happened at the at the launch pad at the high school this year. Our sons, one son just graduated one son still there. And they had developed this elaborate culture, I mean, really healthy, like I mean, like Google is really an incredible culture. But it got pretty complicated. So on their own, they decided to wipe out all but three rules in the studio. And the new rule was, before you add back another constraint, and a consequence, you must ask yourself is this for more than half the people in the studio. Because if it’s for only one or two people, we’re going to ask them why they don’t want to be here anymore.
We’re not going to design a case to hold a snake. Because there’s something we love the people here. But if they’re violating things out of the wrong spirit, there’s something wrong with the way they’re thinking about what we’re going to reach out to them. And now instead of having a couple of 100 rules, I think even after a year, they’re back to like seven rules.
But one of the things is if somebody’s not in the spirit, we’re not going to kick them out, we’re going to have a conversation with them about what are the consequences if they don’t want to be here, but what’s wrong? So just that that is the kind of cultural knowledge that those different experiments at a young age build, you learn to manage your own world.
I love it, Jeff, we’re gonna we’re gonna link to Acton NGS, in all of your stuff in the in the show notes. And I absolutely encourage people to check it out. Because this is Jeff’s been in this game. Speaking this language, I think longer than anyone that I know, like, you know, I I and a lot of people in my sort of mill, were late comers by comparison. And so he’s got a lot of wisdom and his programs are phenomenal.
I want to leave you Jeff with a final, you know, this, this show is primarily listened to by people who are early in their career journey. And they kind of they kind of know, there’s a big step that they want to take, and they don’t quite know what it is necessarily. And they’re kind of thinking about how do I how do I make that next big leap in my in my career and in my life? Any final thoughts you have for our listeners?
Yeah, this just came to me. Um, you know, I think often when people are in that position, when I was in that position, you key on the word passion, and you say, I want to find something I’m passionate about. And you made the comment about, well, if I don’t, if I don’t, if I don’t go down one path, then I can’t. I can’t get rid of all the other paths. I can’t face reality.
But what’s fascinating to me is if you look up the root of the word passion, it means to suffer for. So passion isn’t every day is sunshine and wonderful and I never have a hard time. Passion is picking the thing that you care enough about solving. And I mean, really solving not talking about on Twitter or not. I mean, really getting in the trenches and working hard.
And so I think if you flip that word and you really go back to the root of it is what would I really invest in, suffer for, knock on the doors, make the pitches do that hard work. That’s what that leads you to down the right path. And it is not suffering. It’s fun. It’s so fun. You know, it’s a lot of fun to work hard, but you got to start with the idea that it’s gonna be hard.
I love that. It’s it’s not so much that you’ll be suffering all the time, but you have to be willing to suffer for it. That’s a great test.
Hey, Jeff, thank you so much. This has been a blast and keep up the good work.
Thank you. Great to be with you.
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