Makes Perfect

Renato, one of my Jiu Jitsu instructors, convinced me to get back into grappling in a kimono. “It will be hard at first,” he told me. “But after a few months, when you go back to fighting without the gi, your game will be better.”I know he’s right. But when he worked with me on it yesterday, I felt like a white belt again. He was slapping arm bars, foot locks, and collar chokes at the rate of one per minute.

At the end of my hour-long class, I was ready to cry.

I’ve been practicing this sport for seven years now. But when I put on that kimono, I regressed. Big time. Renato, who competes at 145 pounds, was tossing me around like a rag doll. And I outweigh him by 50 pounds.

I know from experience, though, that if I keep on practicing, I’ll get better. A month from now, after I’ve relearned my gi defenses and have regained a little confidence, I’ll be
giving away fewer submissions. And one day, I’ll give none.

 have no great natural talent for submission wrestling, but
 I am improving every day because I am willing to do what
 it takes. Making myself a better wrestler is no tougher than 
improving my Spanish language skills. I simply have to set
 myself specific goals, put in the time to practice, and keep
 at it until I succeed.

 is almost nothing you can’t accomplish so long as you are
 willing to put in the time. This is something I’ve been
 saying for years – and now there is a substantial
 academic work that confirms my view.

 Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State
 University, has studied the subject of “expert performance” pretty
 much his entire professional life. Thirty years ago, he performed
 an experiment in which he trained people to hear and repeat
 series of numbers. Untaught subjects were able to remember
 about seven digits in a row. After 20 hours of training,
 their memory had improved to the point where they could remember
 a 20-digit sequence. After 200 hours of training, they could
 remember a sequence of more than 80 numbers.

 experiments led Ericsson to conclude that whatever
 innate capacity a person might have for remembering, that’s
 nothing compared to how much he can learn by practice.

 of Ericsson’s research and findings were put together
 in an 800-page book titled The
 Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance. The bottom line: “Talent
 is highly overrated.”

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How to Get a Good Job Now… Even If You Are Fresh Out of College


Liam O’Reilly, a recent graduate from the University of Maryland, told The New York Times that he had applied to 50 employers. He was looking for a job as a paralegal or as a researcher for a policy organization or as an administrative assistant. He got a few interviews and no offers. So he took a minimum-wage job selling software.

“Had I realized it would be this bad,” he said, “I would have applied to grad school.”

My Number Three Son was due to graduate this year. But when he got accepted into a five-year BA/MBA program at his school last month, I encouraged him to do it. Like Liam O’Reilly, his prospects for employment are limited. They might not be better next year, but at least he can approach the market with another year of learning and an MBA to boot.

In 2006, when I wrote Automatic Wealth for Grads… and Anyone Else Just Starting Out, the economy was still bustling, American businesses were going strong, and unemployment was low.

Back then, any kid fresh out of college could have his pick of good jobs in preferred locations with plenty of perks.

Today, the economy is a mess, businesses are floundering, and unemployment is record high. As a result, college graduates are taking what they can get.

Many, not finding jobs, are forced to continue living with their parents.

(The situation is considerably better for kids with engineering and computer degrees, but otherwise the landscape looks bleak.)

Recently, I received this e-mail from a young reader:

“My name is Eric Ryczek. I am a sophomore at Drake University in Des Moines, majoring in International Business and Finance.

“I am currently reading your book Automatic Wealth for Grads — which my uncle bought for me as part of my 18th birthday/graduation present — and am loving every minute of it. And last week, he forwarded me an excerpt from your book The Pledge, and I am eager to read the rest of it.

“But I’m wondering if I am still too young for The Pledge, even though I am trying to do everything I can and gain as much knowledge as I can now to invest in my future. And I am hoping you will tell me that the book is beneficial for anyone, no matter how old they are.

“I know you have millions of e-mails to respond to, so if I do not get a response I will purchase the book anyway. I think it will be a good investment for my future.

“Hope to hear back from you.”

I’m worried for Eric’s generation. They are facing, without a doubt, the worst job environment since the Great Depression.

The economy is in shambles and, despite what the government is saying, it’s not getting better. In fact, it will get worse. Possibly a lot worse.

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Measure for Measure

One of the many examples of government-inspired mumbo-jumbo is the idea of measuring unemployment. I’m talking about the oft-quoted unemployment rate.

Why measure unemployment? There’s really no way to do it accurately… and so many ways to fiddle with the numbers. For example, the government normally counts as unemployed only people who have looked for work within the past five weeks. It does not count the underemployed – people who have given up looking for a decent job to work bagging groceries in supermarkets.

Here’s a better idea: Measure employment — the number of people in a given economy who are actually working. Wouldn’t that make more sense? It would not only be easier to understand but also more difficult to monkey with.

Taking this a bit further, we could also measure the amount of money that employed people make, comparing sectors and time frames and so on. Wouldn’t that be more useful?

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My Office

Like many male writers of my vintage, one of my literary heroes is Ernest Hemingway. Not just because I loved his stories and admired his prose but also because of the large, masculine way he lived his life. I liked the skiing and the sailing and the fishing and the boxing and the hunting and the bullfighting and the drinking and I even liked the fact that he shot himself when his end was inevitable.

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