Dear Econ 202 Students,

Yeah, so most of you did not do well on our first exam. And, I’ve got a few things to say about that. But, first, let me start by saying:

  • I love you.
  • What I’m about to say is going to sting.

So, here we go. Your life has intersected with my life at this moment of time for one cosmic reason: I’ve been tapped to get you across a threshold. I’m not here to extend your adolescence. You need to change. And, I will take full advantage of this fortuitous intersection to give you a much-needed kick in the ass. So, let’s begin by enumerating some behavioral expectations I have for you when you are in my class:

  • Show up.
  • Show up on time.
  • Hell, show up 5 minutes early.
  • Show up with the tools you need to do your job (if you cannot afford them, come see me and we’ll figure out a way for you to get them).
  • If the opportunity presents itself, give me a good handshake when we meet.
  • Turn off your phone, put it away, and get it out of sight (especially mine).
  • Close your laptop. If you use it to take notes, then disable your social media. Here’s some digital tools to help you do that.
  • Maintain positive body language. Here’s what I mean.
  • Engage.
  • Ask questions.
  • Become aware of and get control of your facial expressions.
  • Don’t do work for other classes when you’re in my class.
  • If you are going to be late to or miss class give me a heads up via email.
  • If I send you a personal email sharing something with you that I think you’ll find valuable, reply with a simple “Thanks!” It’s amazing the places that one word can take you.
  • When you answer a question incorrectly on an exam, do not look outside yourself for someone or something else to blame. Own your mistake.
  • Say “See you later” or “Have a good day” at the end of class
  • Give me a good handshake when we run into each other on campus

(Please note that I enumerated this list before the outbreak of COVID-19. So, no more handshakes – at least for now.)

Now, let me be clear. This is not about me getting you to sit still in your seat, take legible notes, and be the kind of student that nods their head in agreement every time I say something. This is not about you “receiving” and education from me. This is not about you being some passive recipient of my relative expertise. No. That’s not education. That’s propaganda. This is about you “claiming” an education. This is about your active participation in the mutually enlivening process of learning from and with one another.

I’m not looking for an audience.

I’m looking for co-conspirators who will join me in creating a better future.

These are basic, take me seriously, I want to be here, I’ve got something to contribute behavioral characteristics. You don’t have to do all of these things all of the time. No one does. Hell, I don’t. But, you should strive to do most of them most of the time. These are the timeless and universal behavioral traits of a professional (ht Stephen Pressfield).

And, let me be absolutely clear here, I’m not defining a “professional” in terms of earning an “A” in this class or any other class. A professional does not do what they do well because of extrinsic motivation (grades or money). It’s called pride. It’s about honor – the esteem they earn from other professionals. And, there’s no higher honor than when other professionals, after witnessing your work, give you that head nod that says “I see you.”

Professionals know other professionals. It does not matter the field of study, era, or geographical location.

You’re either a professional or you’re not.

If you’re not, you’re an amateur.

That’s it.

That’s the choice.

And, right now, most of you, are amateurs.

That may sound harsh. It is harsh. But I have no interest in insulating you from the adverse consequences of your poor choices.

Now, of course, no one starts off as a professional.

I didn’t.

And, I get it. Some of you are introverts. You’re shy. So, some of these things will be harder for you to do than others. What can I say? You’re gonna have to learn how to do them. The world will not immediately (if ever) adjust to your needs. Outside of these walls, the world is not waiting to accommodate you. Now, that’s not me trying to diminish the value, worth and need for accommodations in the classroom. Not at all. However, there’s a difference between life within and outside these four walls. There is no list of “Life Accommodations” that you can apply for upon graduation. We may want one. We may even get to a future where that list exists. But, we’re not there yet. And, more than likely, we will not be getting there anytime soon. In the meantime, I have a responsibility to prepare you for the world as it is. Not for a world that you or me or anyone else would prefer to exist.

So, let me touch upon a bigger topic, the world.

It is a path-dependent complex system of diverse rules, languages, norms, cultures, codes of conduct, laws and constitutions resulting from the cumulative effect of trillions of choices, made by billions of humans who came before us, over hundreds of thousands of years.  

In other words, the world is difficult to change, slow to change.

You will have to do some adjusting to the world as it is. But, let me be absolutely clear. I am not encouraging you to conform to the world as it is. No. Not at all. In the long run, weird wins. However, what I’m saying is that your introversion, idiosyncrasies, and purposeful puncturing of current cultural expectations will not come free. There’s a fee you will have to pay. You will be tested every time you show up as your idiosyncratic self. And, every time you successfully endure the test of showing up, there will be no applause. There will be no roaring crowd. And, there will be no medal. There’s just another test. This will not stop. It will not end. The world will not coddle you. And, when it doesn’t, don’t be surprised. And, don’t complain about it either. Expect it. Now, of course, feel free to vent your frustrations with your people – your family and friends. That’s what all of us do. I do too. But, professionals do not complain about it to their bosses, colleagues or the social media universe. We’re too busy getting things done, making things happen, or doing the internal work of making ourselves better humans.

Yes, some of you will struggle to do those things in that list for various reasons. I cannot help you with that. And, even if I could, I’m not sure that that’s the best thing for you. Seriously, what’s the alternative to struggling?

Do you have a trust fund waiting to cushion your financial fall? Do you belong to a network of high-value individuals willing and waiting to intervene on your behalf? If not, who’s going to save you from the unrelenting and unforgiving forces of automation, globalization and artificial intelligence? It wont be the bi-coastal meritocratic elite that hoards (steals is a better term) opportunity from any and all communities that are not cordoned off by walls, gates, doormen and bulletproof tinted glass. They don’t want to save you. They do not want you to create, edit, change, alter, challenge, or question their world order. They want you to settle, accept, and take their world order as given, irreversible. They want cogs – complacent, comfort-seeking, credit card wielding citizen-consumers. They want drones intoxicated on a continuous intravenous drip of Cheetos, Fortnite, and cat videos.

Is that what you want for yourself?

If not. And, hell, I hope it is not, you can avoid that outcome by becoming a professional.

And, how do you do that?

It starts by doing what’s on that list above.

It’s on you.

Not me. Your parents. Your academic advisor. Your partner. Your roommate. You heritage. Your upbringing or your difficult circumstances.

You.

I’ll be there to mentor you. But, sometimes I wont. And, if and when I’m not, it’s because I believe its best for you to do what you have to do on your own.

Love, – dr H

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Other “Letters to my Students”:

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Questions or comments? Just fill out the CONTACT form on my ABOUT page and I will get back with you right away.

Thanks. – shawn

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