Debate Magazine

Pick Yourself

By Stevemiranda

Many years ago, I was living in Seattle and looking for a new place to live. I searched the rooms-for-rent section of the newspaper and got busy making calls and setting up visits.

I went on numerous interviews in which I sat in the living of the house with the available room, chatting with the people who already lived there. They would dedicate the entire weekend, meet a dozen or so people, and pick the one they thought would be the best fit for their home.

After a while, it occurred to me: why am I waiting for someone to pick me? That’s when I stopped looking at rooms for rent and starting looking for houses for rent. I found a three-bedroom place in a cool neighborhood, plunked down a couple thousand bucks, and put an ad in the paper: room for rent.

Then, I spent the next weekend interviewing people I wanted to live with.

* * *

In school, students are taught to wait to be picked. If you want to speak in class, you have to raise your hand and wait until the teacher calls on you. If you want to be the editor of the school newspaper, you have to hope the faculty advisor picks you. If you want to gain approval from your parents and teachers upon graduation, you have to hope that Harvard picks you.

What if, instead of training students to wait to be picked, we encouraged students to pick themselves?

Instead of waiting for the teacher to call on them, we could encourage students to facilitate their own learning experiences, with support from a guide or mentor. We could encourage them to start their own underground newspaper. Instead of dedicating their high school years trying to please Ivy League admissions officers, we could encourage them to focus on the things they’re passionate about and help them create a personalized, customized post-high school plan that fed their soul and gave them a chance to make an impact on the world.

* * *

One of my favorite stories is how entrepreneur Richard Branson started Virgin Atlantic Airways. He was stranded in Puerto Rico trying to get to the Virgin Islands because American Airlines had canceled the flight. Branson got on the phone, found a charter flight company and hired a plane. He divided the total cost by the number of seats on the plane and wrote the price on a handheld blackboard. He walked around the airport selling seats on the plane until it was full.

When you decide to pick yourself*, you give yourself a chance to make a real impact on the world.

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* The premise of this post is stolen from Seth Godin, who writes an awesome blog on marketing. If you don’t read him every day, you should.

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