A Millennial Who Will Make It
This morning I was working in a Starbucks when I struck up a conversation with a young guy in the next chair. I’ll call him Jimmy. He was working on two laptops simultaneously, which occasioned our conversation (I needed to use one of the outlet plugs he was using).
Jimmy is 23 years old, and on hiatus from college halfway through his undergraduate engineering degree. He said it made no sense to him to spend so much time in college accumulating debt that would take him a long time to pay off, assuming he gets a job out of college. He dropped out temporarily to build a couple of online businesses that he hopes to be able to run when he goes back to school. Jimmy explained the things he was working on, and how the more deeply he goes into setting up networks, the more he realizes that he’s wasting time in college.
Had we spoken for a while, I would have talked to him about the benefits of education, but this was not going to be that kind of conversation. Besides, I could tell that he wasn’t the kind of guy who would be the least bit interested in talking about Homer and Dante. He was intensely driven to create things; this was obvious. Talking to him, it occurred to me for the first time what an art entrepreneurialism can be. Here’s what I mean. Listening to Jimmy talk in depth about the work he’s doing, and the passion he has for it, I realized that if he were speaking of writing, I would completely understand him and relate to him. But he’s talking about creating businesses. Maybe it’s because he was so intense, but the raw passion he had for his work made an impression on me. With this kid, I thought, the money is beside the point; it’s all about the creativity, and his creative passion is in business creation.
We talked briefly about high school, and his impatience with what he had to learn there. In Jimmy’s voice I could hear my father’s voice from many years ago, talking about how he wasted his time in getting his college degree. My dad has that same restless creativity, that desire to make things. I’ve written here before about how brilliant he is, and how he had such a profound, intuitive sense of how mechanical things work that he could have been much happier had he been given, or taken, the opportunity to do things like Jimmy is doing with regard to making businesses. But my dad went to college because that’s what people like him did in those days, and his family expected it of him.
Daddy’s case is a great and memorable example of how college isn’t for everyone. He got his degree, and found himself chained to a desk for 20 years. He’s said many times that he ought to have gone to trade school, because it would have enabled him to hone his particular intellectual gifts and pursue his passion. Listening to Jimmy this morning, I was strangely grateful that for all the disorder and anxiety attending our current economy, an aggressive, self-assured and self-contained young person like Jimmy has the freedom to do what he’s doing. I’ll probably never see him again, but I would be surprised if he goes back to college at all. He told me that two years of college taught him that college is all about getting certified, nothing more. For people like him, I think he’s right. He doesn’t know this, but I suspect he will never darken the door of the university again. And I predict he will go on to make a good living, and be very, very happy because he will be doing what he is made to do.
And if he does go back to college, he will graduate with no debt. That’s not nothing.
Anyway, the point I wanted to make here is that for somebody like me, with my head in the humanities cloud, it was a pleasant surprise to meet a kid who approaches entrepreneurship (unconsciously) as an art. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Oh, and there’s this. Talking to him, I thought, “This guy must have a touch of Asperger’s. He talks about building businesses with the same intensity and attention to detail with which my son talks about space.” Sure enough, Jimmy said, “I find that I’m really good at seeing patterns, so that’s why I’m trying to get into some low-level stock investing.”
I told him about Michael Burry, the Aspie in Michael Lewis’s The Big Short, a hobbyist investor who used his deep pattern recognition to guide his investment decisions, and who became extremely rich because he saw the 2007-08 crash coming. “Ever heard of Asperger’s syndrome?” I asked. No, he said, he had not.
A country that lets a kid like this use his talents and his passions to go as far as he can is a great country indeed. I am reminded of what the immigrant scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory told my son Matthew last month: that simply by living in a country where a guy like him, a foreigner, can rise to the very top of his field based not on who he knows and which family he was born into, but on the basis of his knowledge and work ethic, puts him (Matthew) at a far greater advantage than most people on this planet.