This is a follow-up to my first article in which I shared observations and wisdom from 10 years in higher education. What I have learned from academia is transferable to every other field of endeavor. And the additional insights I share here are relevant to the lives of all men, no matter their level of education or path in life.
1. Learn To Think Tactically
Approach your life as a military commander would approach a campaign. Have fallback options and practice triage.
We’ve all heard the term “safety school,” in which a prospective university student sends out a slew of applications, including to a lower-tier school that is less-selective and to which his acceptance is guaranteed. Never count on a single course of action. If you don’t get into your top choice school, start up at a school to which you were admitted, take care of some prerequisites, establish a solid GPA, and transfer in your second or third year to a better school.
Similarly, if you weren’t directly admitted to a specific program, e.g., engineering, begin in a similar program, e.g., physics or chemistry, and transfer into the desired program later.
Rather than being routed when things don’t go as planned, execute a tactical withdrawal where you can remain on the offensive, advancing your goals and aspirations in the face of adversity. You must always be maneuvering, anticipating potential obstacles and setbacks.
And when presented with competing options, choose the one that best serves your interests. If you apply for two internships and you are selected for both, choose the one that is most prestigious or pays the most. A military tactician must be mindful of logistics. You have limited time and energy: invest them where the return is greatest.
Do not let considerations of abstract ideals such as “honor” or “keeping your word” factor into your decision. No one in the real world entertains such quaint notions and neither should you. Adopt a mercenary mindset. The question you must always ask is: what’s in it for me?
Implement a long-term strategy where completing one goal facilitates completion of the next, like a line of dominos. While aimlessly traipsing about campus, occasionally sitting in on a calligraphy class worked for Steve Jobs, such an irresponsible, haphazard approach to life will not cut it in today’s unforgiving world.
2. You Must Be Tenacious
People will not give you anything or do anything for you if they don’t have to. When I started at university, I was very meek and lacked assertiveness. I was afraid to push an issue and be forceful. If a professor didn’t respond to an email, I simply let the matter go.
Young women today are encouraged to “lean in” and to “ban bossy.” In a similar vein, you must not be afraid of being seen as annoying. Send email after email if necessary. If you find yourself being stonewalled, contact the unresponsive person’s supervisor or boss. If you are not seen as a priority (and you most likely won’t be), you must be dogged and resourceful to get a response.
Don’t come across as menacing, but be firm and persistent. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sent follow-up emails or stopped by in person requesting an update on the status of something (financial matters, authorization matters, etc.). You may be seen as obnoxious and exasperating but so what? It’s more important you get your way than be likable.
3. Save And Inventory Everything
Whether you are a student, teacher, writer, musician, or machinist, save everything. Every note you jot down. Every idea that comes to you in the middle of the night. Every PowerPoint presentation you create. Every CAD file. Every email.
And have an organizational scheme for inventorying everything that you save. I highly recommend you utilize Cloud services. Do not waste a moment of your time manually synchronizing your work on multiple devices. For $99 a year, you can get a Dropbox Pro account with 1 TB (1,000 GB) of storage. It’s well worth it. I have a desktop and two laptops and I can access any file on every device. I can edit a document at the office, leave my laptop behind, and pick up where I left off on my desktop at home. It makes your life much easier. In addition, back up your work regularly.
Perform a data dump to an external hard drive (do not rely solely on the Cloud) every month or so. If you ever lose your laptop or have your tablet stolen, you want to have to only replace the physical item and not all the work into which you’ve invested thousands of hours of effort.
I witnessed how my thesis adviser lost so much time due to his lack of organization. He was a very intelligent man but painfully absent-minded and disorganized. There were hundreds of icons scattered on his desktop. No organizational scheme to speak of. He had to complete the same form over and over because he couldn’t find the one he had already filled out.
I, on the other hand, have such a tight organizational and hierarchical scheme that I can track down any file (out of tens of thousands) in less than 30 seconds. Very often the key to success is not genius: it is organization. For instance, I can reuse grant proposals with very minor revision. Something that would take weeks of effort to write from scratch I can customize and tailor in a few hours.
You will never be prolific if you have to start from square one each and every time. Remember: you want to work smarter not harder.
4. Social Justice Policies Lead To Machiavellianism
Men are waking up and realizing the deck is stacked against them in academia and corporate America. In response, they are becoming craftier and more ruthless. If the standards are systematically lowered for females in an effort to achieve parity in numbers, then the remaining males who are permitted entry into a program or given a job will simply be the elite in terms of intelligence and abilities.
It is the men of average or lesser ability (who may still be more qualified than the most qualified women), who are being shut out and disenfranchised. Preferential hiring, retention, and promotion policies thus have an enriching effect, making the competency gap between females and males even more obvious.
And if academia and corporate America kowtow to affirmative action, men will simply devote their energies elsewhere, e.g., to start-ups and entrepreneurship, where for the most part, gender and race are irrelevant. Males are also banding together in solidarity, effectively recreating the long-reviled “Old Boys’ Club” by minimizing their professional dealings with female colleagues. Very often I have closed door meetings with male colleagues. And we do strike quid pro quo style arrangements that promise mutual benefit (financial compensation, co-authorship, etc.).
For example, if a competition or request for proposals (as funding opportunities in academia are often called) limits the number of entries you may submit to one per person, you may circumvent this by pulling in a friend, colleague, or underling to serve as the point man on the second entry you want to submit. It’s not fraud. It’s being clever.
Also, very often in technology competitions sponsored by universities or industry there will be a separate women’s category, in which the entries must come from female-led teams. That shouldn’t stop you either. Instead, bring in a female colleague or friend and get them to assume a nominal leadership role. You cut them in on the prize money, they get to put the experience on their resume, and you get the majority of the prize money.
I discovered the insights I shared here and in my previous article through trial-and-error and experience over many years. Hopefully, they can save you a good amount of effort and frustration.
Read More: 5 Insights From A Decade In Higher Learning