Is Cheating by Colleges Just Another Clever Marketing Ploy?

Cheating

by Brooke Allen

Should “caveat emptor” be the operative philosophy when colleges market to students, or should they hold themselves to a higher standard than, say, a drug dealer?

Emory University confessed that for 11 years it has been fudging data it sent in for U. S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings. The publisher said that, “Our preliminary calculations show that the misreported data would not have changed the school’s ranking in the past two years (No. 20) and would likely have had a small to negligible effect in the several years prior.” (Read the article here.)

This second confession by U. S. News only serves to prove that their ranking methodology is deeply flawed. Since integrity is such a major part of character, confessed cheating should drop you to Dead Last in the rankings, and a cover-up should get you barred altogether pending review by the accrediting authorities.

Of course, despicable behavior by colleges may be just another clever marketing ploy intended to send a message to the vast pool of students who embrace cheating: “Come here; you are our kind of people.”

Continue reading “Is Cheating by Colleges Just Another Clever Marketing Ploy?”

Hiring in a Dysfunctional Job Market

business people conflict working problem, angry boss argue scream to colleague businessmen and women serious argument negative emotion discussing report meeting at outdoors cafe during the lunch.

For 2 decades, I have made a living deploying mathematical models to find hidden value in the securities markets. This is a difficult problem because these markets are very efficient, meaning that it’s very hard to do better than just showing up and stating your needs. Consider the stock market: If you want to buy a share of Microsoft stock, you can have your order filled within seconds, knowing that you are within a penny or two of the best price on the planet and that every share is identical to every other one.

On the other hand, you can spend months looking for the best house, because the real-estate market is inefficient. Each house is different, and you won’t fully understand your needs until you begin looking. Your reward for investing time in the search is the pleasure of living in a much better house than one you could find in an afternoon.

As employers, we are also in the market for human capital, which is even less efficient than the real-estate market. Many of the best people are almost impossible to find.

Continue reading “Hiring in a Dysfunctional Job Market”

If you manage your time terribly, you’ll get more done

Red Alarm in the black bin. 3D rendering
Red Alarm in the black bin. 3D rendering

by Brooke Allen

I’m terrible at doing what people tell me I should do, but I still get things done. I’m not sure why this is, but here is my best guess:

I manage my desires more than my time.

In high school, I never seemed to find time to do homework I didn’t want to do. It got so bad that in 1969 my high school calculus teacher, Mr. Foster, told me that if I did one single homework assignment, he’d base my grade on my tests—meaning I’d get an A. But if I continued to do absolutely no homework, he’d base my grade on the homework and give me a zero.

So I decided that if I was going to do only one homework, I would make it suitable for hanging in a gallery. I spent a big chunk of my savings to buy a mathematical font attachment for my parents’ IBM Selectric and I typeset my answers. In my dad’s sculpture studio I was able to use fixative to emboss my answer sheet and mount it on a wooden backing that I carved by hand. Mr. Foster was so thrilled that he wore my homework around his neck the entire day. Other teachers saw it and they all demanded one homework from me, too. Damn!

To this day, before doing something I don’t want to do, I try to transform it into something I’m eager to do. For more on this I refer you to that great 20th century philosopher, Mary Poppins, who said, “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and—SNAP—the job’s a game!”

Don’t do hard boring useless things

Continue reading “If you manage your time terribly, you’ll get more done”

The secret to a higher salary is to ask for nothing at all

i want more, 3D rendering, rough street sign collection

by Brooke Allen 

More than twenty years ago, I developed a powerful approach to negotiating that goes beyond “win-win.” It involves starting by offering the most and asking for the least. It works extremely well, but I was unable to explain why until I read Wharton professor Adam Grant’s excellent new book Give and Take.

Adam identifies three types of people: Takers try to get as much as possible from others, matchers seek an even trade, and givers contribute without expectation of return.

Previously, I’d thought of things more in terms of debt and honor.

My parents raised me to believe that borrowing and then not returning is the moral equivalent of stealing. Put in the language of giving and taking, borrowing is a form of taking where I get what I want now and put my honor at risk in the future. Repaying my debt later only elevates me to the status of matcher, but not giver.

Eventually, I came to see that getting paid a salary in advance of delivering value is a form of debt. In 1992, I accepted a job that came with a bonus guarantee. Almost immediately, the unit I worked for was disbanded and they paid both the guarantee and a severance. It was the first time in my career that I was paid more than I delivered, and I felt I was left with a debt I could never repay. That is when I changed how I negotiate contracts.

The typical approach is for both sides to demand something unreasonable—but not let on that they consider it unreasonable—and then negotiate a “compromise” in the hopes that you will end up closer to your side than the midpoint. Even when the final agreement is declared a “win-win,” this approach backfires because it begins with acts of unreasonableness, selfishness, and distrust.

The next time I had to negotiate a contract, it began in typical fashion with a prospective employer sending me a lopsided agreement and asking me to counter-propose. I said I was incompetent to do that and suggested they write a new contract as if they were me, putting in everything that would be in my best interests, and then taking out everything they would never agree to. Since that would be the best I could get, I would accept it subject to agreement on compensation.

We started with base pay. I wrote down the least I would work for and asked them to write down the most they would offer a perfect person, irrespective of whether I was that person or not. If when we exchanged papers, their number wasn’t higher than mine then we could stop there and save time. Their number was twice the best base pay I had ever received in past jobs, and my request was for $0. I explained that my goal is to live a debt-free life, and therefore I wanted to give value before receiving compensation. Continue reading “The secret to a higher salary is to ask for nothing at all”

To get a job, write your story instead of a resume

woman-writing-in-diary-1055085by Brooke Allen 

I am 61 years old and I have been doing paid work since I was 16. I’ve been a grocery clerk, camp counselor, film projectionist, sound man, light man, cameraman, freight loader, computer programmer, teacher, operations research analyst, manager, salesman, writer, consultant, and for the last 30 years I’ve been a securities trader and hedge fund manager.

Yet I have only once gotten work by answering an ad. Even then I was turned down at first, but it led to a different job six months later after I established a relationship with the hiring manager who had first said no. And I’ve never been asked for a resume until after I received an offer, and then only because HR always needs something to put in their files. I haven’t needed a resume to get work because my resume doesn’t reveal my work. I am my work, and to know my work you need to know me.

Here are some things I’ve discovered about finding worthwhile work that have helped me, and that might help you.

Lead a thoughtful life

The secret of a well-written cover letter is to learn to write well. The secret of an interesting resume is to have done interesting things. So do interesting things and learn to write about them. Ben Franklin said, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” You might do one or the other but it is better to do both; that’s what Franklin did.

Learn to think. Reading On Writing Well by William Zinsser is a good place to start. He says, “Writing is thinking on paper.” In order to think deep mathematical thoughts you must write formulas, and similarly you cannot think deeply about much else without writing words. Learn to think mathematically because otherwise you cannot say you know how to think any more than you can say you can drive a car but can’t turn left. Likewise, saying you can think without knowing how to write is like saying you can’t turn right. If you live long enough and you only go straight ahead, then eventually you’ll drive off a cliff.

Get your story straight

Resumes are your life in bullet-point form. The story of your life is more interesting than can possibly be expressed with a list of sentence fragments. Skip the resume and write the story.

Good stories also have a beginning, a middle, and an end. In your case, you are in the middle. Continue reading “To get a job, write your story instead of a resume”

How to find a calling instead of a career

Young nun in religious conceptby Brooke Allen 

In my Quartz piece, To get a job, write your story instead of a resume, I talked about the value of finding a purpose in your work, and suggested that in order to do that you reflect on your life and write your own narrative. I talked about how economics is about the scarce resource, and in this age of abundant goods, services, and knowledge the scarce thing is a reason to do what we do, a purpose.

You don’t want a job, or a career; you want a calling

That story was about how to get a job, but you don’t want a job. You don’t even want a career. What you want is a calling. This point is made eloquently in Aaron Hurst’s book The Purpose Economy that is coming out April 2.

The people who say they only do their jobs to pay the bills are the people who are working without a purpose—and they are the ones you want to hire last and fire first. People who say they want a career are often worse. They don’t care about doing the job; they care about how the job will advance their career. I don’t like to hire people who want careers; I want people who want to do the job.

But the people who say, “I cannot believe they are paying me to do this” are the ones who I want to hire first, pay the most to, and hold on to for dear life. These are the people with a calling who would do what they do anyway regardless of who is paying them and how much.

Previously, I talked about how to get a job. Now let’s talk about how to get rich bringing work and workers together with a purpose.

First of all, what role are you going to play in the market? An employer might do a better job of hiring, but the market for their innovation is limited to just them. A job seeker might do a better job finding work, but once they land a job they will do that job and not try to monetize their approach.

Innovation comes from the intermediaries

If sellers or buyers in the stock market find a better way of investing then it is in their best interests to keep it secret. But if brokers find a better way it is in their best interests to sell it to everyone. That is why, for better or worse, the brokers do all the financial innovation in the securities markets. Continue reading “How to find a calling instead of a career”

Don’t come to Wall Street for the money, even if you plan on giving it away.

Wall street

by Brooke Allen 

I am a 60-year-old child of the 60’s who never gave up on the idea that I can save the world—even after three decades on Wall Street.

That is why I enjoyed the piece in QZ.com by William MacAskill, To save the world, don’t get a job at a charity; go work on Wall Street.

The problem is that this is more easily said than done. Most people working on Wall Street can make ends meet while a small few can make vastly more money than they need. The trick is to make sure that the process of making money does no harm.

Question: How much money would all the participants in the mortgage securitization industry have to give to charity to undo the harm they have caused?

Answer: More than they have ever made.

The real opportunity to do good on Wall Street is to reform it from within. But to do the right thing you have to be able to recognize the difference between right and wrong, and then you must be able to say “no” when ordered to do the wrong thing.

Here is my advice if you want to come to Wall Street and do good:

  • Have a strong moral compass and a thick skin. Practiced righteousness about what other people should do isn’t the same as being in the right. You’ll need to recognize when you’re ordered to do the wrong thing, and you’ll need to not do it. Time spent not facing these issues does not prepare you for the time when you will have to.
  • Be independently wealthy when you arrive. Doing the right thing might require you quit your job (or lose it) and perhaps never work in the industry again. You might be different from everyone else, but I doubt it. If you are still paying off a student loan (or a mortgage, or your kid’s college bills, or saving for retirement) then you will find a way to rationalize bad behavior rather than refuse to do it.
  • If you have the moral compass but lack the funds, then whatever you do, live very modestly and save the difference rather than give it to charity. That money might come in handy some day when doing the right thing requires you to quit and go the regulators and the press. If you make it into old age with a pile of dough and a clear conscience then you can give it to charity—or better yet, get creative and be charitable with your time and money doing things other charity mongers haven’t thought of yet.
  • Make sure you have an awesome in-demand skill and be the kind of “resource” people jockeying for resources will fight over. People will put up with you being good if you are good at something they need desperately.

I wrote a piece for my Physics major son and his cohorts that was published by Science magazine called, What Not to Do With Your Physics Education. My advice is that they not join me on Wall Street because, as I conclude the article, “It’s not that I feel they would not succeed; many will make lots of money. It’s more like how I would feel about sending a poorly equipped son to a dubious war where many generals are in it not for the cause but for the spoils.”

I notice a certain naïveté among some academics, non-profiteers, and people who lack hard skills. They believe that all they have to do is lower their standards just a tiny bit in order to be in high demand on Wall Street and make tons of money. Then they imagine they can make up for it by supporting good causes.

Good luck with that.

First publishedin QZ.com on February 28, 2013.

Why business schools charge so much and pay their teachers so little

College diploma with rip-off seal

by Brooke Allen

You and I know why business schools charge so much for an MBA.

Because they can.

But why do they pay so little to everyone except their superstars?

It’s not just because they can. I think the real reason is much more sinister than that.

Once upon a time—before starting my MBA at NYU in the early 1980s—I thought that there was something wrong with extracting the most from someone while giving the least in return. That was back before my first finance professor said, “The sole objective of the professional manager is to maximize the net present value of the wealth of the owners.”

I had an ethics class where the explicit message was, “Crime doesn’t pay.” But the implicit message was, “It isn’t a crime if it is merely immoral and not strictly against the law.”

At no time during my MBA did I learn how to make a product—any product. But that was OK. I was already a pretty good programmer and I didn’t need NYU to teach me how to make things. However, I was only a part-time student and freelanced full time to pay for school. I needed to learn how to get clients. Continue reading “Why business schools charge so much and pay their teachers so little”

The Problem with Talking About Intellectual Virtues

Thinker at Columbia University

By: Brooke Allen

This piece is a response to Colleges Should Teach Intellectual Virtues by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe.

The problem with talking about Intellectual Virtues is that it can give intellectuals the feeling they are virtuous when they are just talking.

Colleges might not think of themselves as being in the business of teaching virtues (like honesty, integrity, courage, fairness, wisdom, and love of the truth) but the fact is they can reinforce or squash good instincts. For example, a student I know wrote a college admissions essay that began with a graphic description of the earth under attack by aliens when he, as super-hero, arrived to save the day. His essay concluded by saying he wanted to go to college to save the world.

Three years into college I introduced the student to the Heroic Imagination Project (www.HeroicImagination.org). Its founder, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, wrote to the student asking how they might work together to change the world. The student wrote to me, “I’d rather not change the course of history than risk changing it for the worse.” I cannot tell you how imagined courage become timidity but I can tell you when and where it happened.

Question: How can the people at colleges do a better job teaching courage? Continue reading “The Problem with Talking About Intellectual Virtues”

What I want to say to the richest kids in the world

Right now some of the richest kids in the world are meeting at something called the Nexus Youth Summit. Their last powwow was at the White House and now through July 26, they are meeting at the United Nations.

According to its own website: “Nexus is a global movement of 2000+ young people from over 70 countries working to increase and improve philanthropy and impact investing by bridging communities of wealth and social entrepreneurship.” The “community of wealth” contingent includes some of the richest young heirs on the planet; people worth millions and in some cases billions.

Here is what I want to say to them and you might as well listen in.

Your wealth isn’t your fault

As you know, being born rich is like being born beautiful—it is not something you accomplished but more like winning a cosmic lottery. The poor and the plain imagine life would be wonderful if they were but rich and beautiful, and our advertisers seem dedicated to perpetrating this myth. But you know wealth and beauty is no guarantee of happiness or even success. Be secure in the knowledge that you are not responsible for what happened before you were born and do not let the judgments and desires of others get you down.

The world does owe you a living

My dad used to tell me, “The world doesn’t owe you a living.” What he meant was that I’d have to work for what I got.

But what he didn’t talk about was how money works. You see, money is debt, and if you have a ton of money then the world does owe you what it takes to live. The world might even owe you a fancy car or a yacht

You probably know this already, but when I do something or sell something the money I get in return is an I. O. U. drawn on all of us. When I walk into McDonald’s with enough money in my wallet for a Big Mac, then I am owed that hamburger, and when I pay with my money now, McDonald’s is the one owed something; perhaps by employees who provide labor or the factory that grows its food. I’m 61 years old now and I’m living on my retirement savings and that money-in-the-bank simply means the world owes me a living without me having to work any more.

If you are born with enough moola to keep you in hamburgers and houses for the rest of your life then you are born with the world owing you a living. That’s not a crime; that’s just a fact. As I said before, it isn’t your fault.

But you are wealthy only if people poorer than you say so

Reflect on the fact that while you are born being owed a living, nearly everyone else is born owing you one. That was, after all, what my dad was saying; I would have to earn the money others would pay me. But later, even if I accumulate plenty of money, if the people who might do my bidding decide to go on strike then I am not rich no matter how much I have in the bank. Protesters and pundits can rank us by beauty or wealth, but whether we divide ourselves into quintiles, deciles, or the 1 and the 99, the fact is we are all in this together. Whether we admit it or not, the rich need the poor as much as the poor need the rich. We don’t all need to like everyone we meet, but we need to care about each other if this puny thing we call humanity is to survive.

Money should buy freedom, not chains

I am named after my dad’s uncle, Brooke, who dreamt as a child that he would one day dig for gold and become rich. When he grew up he went to the Philippines and did precisely that. But his money did not buy him freedom when the Japanese took his mines and threw him in the Santo Tomas internment camp. They took his wealth but they did not break his spirit; and he did not yearn for renewed wealth but for freedom.

All my dad ever wanted was to be a sculptor. But having children derailed things for a while. From fine art, he moved into commercial art, advertising, marketing, marketing management, and finally management consulting. Then, in my senior year in high school he gave me $500 toward college and then went back to sculpture full time.

As he gave me that money, he said, “Money should buy freedom not chains.” He explained that with money you should be able to do all the things you can do without money plus the things that take money. But for many people money buys chains because they start wanting even more money and they forget about all the things they can do that don’t need any money at all, like watching a sunset or loving a child.

Choose what you want wisely, and denominate your wealth in freedom to yearn, not in dollars you earn.

Money can buy some happiness, but it ain’t much

In that same conversation, my dad said, “It is easier to make money doing what makes you happy than to buy happiness with the money you are paid for doing what makes you miserable.”

Making a boat-load of money isn’t easy whether you like doing what it takes or not. Making lots of money is mostly luck, which is something the lucky mistake for skill and the unlucky imagine must involve cheating. As my career arc took me from mathematics and programming through finance and eventually into hedge-fund management I can report that the key to making money is to do what makes other people happy. If you want to make a pile of dough then do what makes the rich even richer. If what makes you happy is playing video games or watching old movies on basic cable, then all I can say vis. a vis. getting rich is, “Good luck with that.”

The wisdom in my dad’s words comes from the fact that it is very hard to buy happiness when you spend your days making yourself miserable. People who live for the weekend might be two-sevenths happy. You can do better than that.

Besides, happiness is overrated

Ask most people and they will say, “All I want is to be happy.”

On the surface it is hard to argue with happiness, but two things don’t sit right: 1) Happiness is kind of selfish, 2) Happiness is kind of meaningless.

I can hear my dad saying, “Great, so you’re happy. Whoop dee doo. What about everyone else?” Beside’s, happiness is a feeling, not a fact—you can learn to be happy sitting there doing nothing. Indeed, once you learn to master happiness, pretty much everything else is a distraction from being happy. Try it right now; set your worries aside, relax, and be happy. See, you can do it. And if it didn’t happen then practice setting your worries aside and relaxing because that’s the secret to happiness.

But, I prefer satisfaction to happiness. You buy satisfaction with effort, and it is in effort that I find joy—even more than in accomplishment. I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about so you might want to consult an expert. Consider watching this TED video by Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania about what positive psychology has to say about the topic.

You need a purpose

Everyone needs a reason to exist, and the ironic thing is that the closer you are to starving, the easier it is to feel a sense of purpose: If you and your family will die next week unless you do something about it today then you’ve got your work cut out for you. But if you and everyone you care about will be just fine no matter what you do then now you have the makings of an existential crisis.

A financial adviser once told me that he doesn’t dispense financial advice so much as give parenting tips to rich people. He says, “Eventually you can become so wealthy that you must work for the benefit of people you will never meet, and then you will have to choose between people you will never meet who are alive today and people who you will never meet who will inherit your wealth.”

I cannot tell you which way to go, but I can recommend a quote from Rabindranath Tagore who said, “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”

Feeling useless sucks. The cure is to be of use.

Start with a dream rather than a purpose

If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend Achieving Your Childhood Dreams, the famous “Last Lecture” by Randy Pausch who had terminal cancer at the time he recorded it. Randy was the co-founder (along with Jesse Schell) of the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University.

Ever since 1963, when I had Mr. Reiur in the sixth grade, I knew I was meant to be a teacher. And I still feel that way, even though I have no training in the art. I did not even have an idea of what I was meant to teach until 2004 when my eldest was getting ready to leave home and I began asking everyone what he would need to know that he wouldn’t learn in college. I collected 220 responses but the short answer is, “Everything.”

Now I knew what to teach (everything) but I had no idea how to teach it.

Although I found Randy’s Last Lecture inspirational, I found the key to realizing my purpose in Jesse Schell’s textbook, The Art of Game Design wherein he presents 100 questions to ask yourself about the game you are designing. He begins with questions like: What is the essential experience of my game? Is my game fun? What problems does my game ask the player to solve? and so on.

As I worked my way through the book it slowly dawned on me that if I substitute “game” with “life” nearly all the questions apply to designing a worthwhile life. And his book ends with question #100—which he calls The Lens of Your Secret Purpose—“To make sure you are working towards your one true purpose, ask yourself the only question that matters: Why am I doing this?”

I wrote to Schell and said that I think the secret of his book is that it was really about designing a life, and he responded, “Heh—you figured out the secret of the book, all right!” I drove to Pittsburgh and interviewed him and you can see that here. I tried to convince him to write a book on designing a life and he said, “I’m too young; I’ll write that when I’m 60.”

I was about to turn 60 so I thought I’d give it a shot, and I began by putting together a pretty good set of questions, which you can find at Q54Club.org. As with Schell’s book, I leave the question of purpose for the very end because if you imagine you need to have a purpose to your life before you can do anything significant then you’re likely to never get very far doing anything whatsoever. But if you start by doing things that both interest you and are of value to others then usually your purpose will reveal itself to you. Your purpose can be like a jigsaw puzzle where you don’t know what the finished picture will look like in which case you can only start trying to fit pieces together and see what materializes.

Another reason to leave purpose for later is because if you don’t have integrity, good values, strength of character, skill, and an understanding of how the world works, then a sense of purpose can be dangerous. This is particularly true if you happen to be wealthy; the misguided fantasies of the poor seldom amount to much but if you have enough money and a desire to feed a nation facing drought then if you don’t know what you are doing you might end up bankrupting all the farmers and doing more harm than good. The poor can afford to learn by their mistakes but they cannot afford to learn by yours.

Don’t sweat purpose. Work up a sweat doing hard work for people wiser than you. Your purpose will come once you’re strong enough.

Poor people do not begrudge the wealthy their riches; they begrudge them their cowardice

Another friend of mine became a financial adviser to the wealthy and he told me that the thing he was most surprised to discover is that the rich are afraid of their wealth. People with nothing will take risks and hit it big but once they have money in the bank they will do everything they can to avoid losing it. This well known psychological effect is called loss aversion, and while it might have had survival value back when we were evolving, these days our species gets hurt when the rich get scared.

Since Yesterday, the 1930s in America is a very readable history of the Great Depression. In it, author Fredrick Lewis Allen (not a relative) explains why the rich came to believe the poor wanted to confiscate their wealth and the poor came to despise the rich. He says, “For the rich and powerful could maintain their prestige only by giving the general public what it wanted. It wanted prosperity, economic expansion. It had always been ready to forgive all manner of deficiencies in the Henry Fords who actually produced the goods, whether or not they made millions in the process. But it was not disposed to sympathize unduly with people who failed to produce the goods, no matter how heart-rending their explanations for their failure.”

When times get tough, the rich need to act as shock absorbers because they can bear risk the rest of us cannot. When the poor are out of work, the rich cannot go on strike. Being of use during hard times is the main reason to be rich. When you think of a better reason then tell me, but until then this is the best one I’ve found.

If you are lucky enough to have an existential crisis, then that is the point of your wealth

I was raised to be irreligious and as a younger man I would envy friends who would react to setbacks with confidence that God has plans for them and all they have to do is figure out what they are.

I am still irreligious but I’ve discovered a trick… You don’t have to believe in God to imagine that he exists and that he has a plan for you. Do that, and when you find that plan—as you shall—it does not necessarily mean you have unearthed evidence God exists. It means that we humans are meaning-seeking machines, and we find what we seek, be it a God, a purpose, or a pattern in the plot of a stock price.

A good multipurpose reason to exist is to be of use to people like yourself. Even if you aren’t screwed up, some of your peers sure are. Helping them will help you more than merely helping yourself alone. (See: The Problem with Rich Kids.)

Less wealthy people might imagine that when rich kids get together at places like the United Nations for things like the Nexus Youth Summit it is to plot world domination or at least compare notes on the best places to moor a yacht.

I suspect that is not what you are doing.

My guess is that you’re trying to help each other solve the predicament you are in, and I see that finding a purpose is on the agenda. Bravo!

Tell me what you think

I don’t really know what happens at Nexus because my application to attend was denied; apparently only a very limited number of spots are available to people over 40. That’s OK—I can handle it—after all, yours is a “youth summit.” Besides, my generation didn’t trust anyone over 30, so you’re making progress of sorts.

It doesn’t matter because if you are reading this then I’ve gotten to tell you what I think anyway, and if you write back then you get to tell me what you think. Your response will turn this sermon into a dialogue, and it is more important that we communicate than where we do it or over what drinks.

One last thing

Given how much you are owed by the world, you might ask if you owe the world anything.

You do.

You must strive to be the best possible version of yourself that you can be. We all owe that to each other and to ourselves. All other species follow this mandate and those among us who are born better endowed are not exempted from living up to their potential just because they have more of it. You must do your part because we humans are humanity’s only hope. With the possible exception of our house pets, all other species are too busy being the best they can be and they don’t have time to care if we pull through.

This story first appeared in Quartz on July 24, 2014.