How to get in great shape, get a comprehensive education from the world’s best institutions, make friends, and earn almost $75k… All in less than a year!!!

Lately, I’ve been asked “What are you going to [when you are] out of college?” The answer to this question is “Probably something in finance, and venture capital or PE in particular.” Then I follow this up by an explanation that I’d probably get out of that pretty quickly, you know, because it’s kind of soul-killing, and nobody really likes “vulture” capitalists to begin with. Then I’d probably write, or do some consulting, and otherwise spend my time reading and composing snarky blog posts.

From the time they’re young, kids are told to go to college and get a good job. Well, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what it means to have a “good job” and find myself unimpressed. Look no further than the movies to find examples of good jobs. Charlie Sheen’s character in Wall Street had a good job selling stock to rich people. What about Leo DiCaprio’s Frank Wheeler in the film adaptation of Revolutionary Road? He had a good job at Knox Business Machines doing something; what he did, exactly, is a little unclear. In fact, there are dozens of such characters who worked really hard to graduate from Brand Name University only to get a Good Job that utilizes precisely 0% of what he/she learned in school. Invariably, all jobs deemed “good” by family and the middle classes are soul-sucking and lead only to misery and the sense of wasted potential.

It’s rather easy to spot and older person who works a Good Job, as his or her skin is likely puffy, as opposed to wrinkly. Life indoors does a number on the concept of “aging gracefully”. They likely have hanging belly fat that may jiggle humorously with each step. Their Good Job might require the use of anti-anxiety medication and/or SSRI or MAOI-class antidepressants. They are likely hopelessly addicted to caffeine, and might partake of a post-workday wallow at a bar sitting in front of a strong adult beverage and SportsCenter. What increase in income they gained through Working a Good Job is likely mitigated by their obesity, hypertension, depression, and decay of their liver. If lucky, they’ll retire to Sun City, where they’ll while away the rest of their days basking in humane inanity.

Also implicit with having a Good Job is the necessity of an expensive piece of paper from Brand Name University, signed by people the recipient has never met. This piece of paper, which proves nothing more than the recipient’s capability with stumbling through courses, ignoring assigned work, and drinking strong adult beverages without getting caught, can cost upwards of $100,000, and is likely to leave the recipient mired in a morass of debt as inescapable as death itself. Moreover, we can all acknowledge the ontological indefensibility of an undergraduate education as Education, and that most people who are “smart” enough to make it in to Brand Name University are capable of graduate-level coursework, with a little cajoling and—God forbid—focus on coursework.

Brand Name debt requires a Good Job to pay it off. It is a vicious cycle.

So, how do we escape this vicious cycle? Marx-like, I propose something of a revolution. During the 1990s and early aughts, the obscure French word “entrepreneur” crept into the American lexicon in a big way. Suddenly, anybody with a wacky idea could be an entrepreneur, and besides, small-business owners needed a sexier title than “sole proprietors”. Entrepreneurship promised a “way out”, a ladder out of the hell of 1960-80 corporate tribulation.

I probably don’t need to tell you that most fell for this “be your own boss” skullduggery hook, line, and sinker. The problem isn’t that people tend not to like their boss to begin with (and thereby dislike themselves when put in that position), although this is part of it. The problem is that entrepreneurship in this mode feels a lot like the corporate hell the entrepreneur tried to escape, except now everyone is really cheery and gung-ho about it. This makes it worse. To wit, in an effort to legitimize their startup, the entrepreneur took on a lot of overhead: the office, desks, computers, ergonomic chairs, and a cute “executive assistant” putting her Brand Name degree in sociology to good work.

A lot of these startups were “service industry”, which means they didn’t make things. They “made things happen” by “potentiating expertise-driven solutions” to some “logistical challenge”. This is all well and good, but such potentiation can be carried out from a basement or spare room. It never occurred to them to transduce “bootstrapped” from a past-tense verb to an adjective referring to executing aforesaid potentiation. That came later.

Example: The nuclear industry (weapons, civilian electrical power generation, the Cold War, etc) was something of a bootstrapped startup. Though started under the bleachers of the University of Chicago’s football stadium, the “bootstrapping” referred to were nonparametric statistical methods as opposed to somewhat spartan and improvised office space and procedural methodology.

So, how to escape entrepreneurship v. n and jump to entrepreneurship v. {n+1}? How does the new entrepreneur achieve all that society says he or she should be: thin, smart, strong, cultured, financially secure, and all of this done very very quickly? You ask yourself, what industry is as yet untapped? What if I told you that this industry required less than $350 in overhead, could grow exponentially, and allows for flexible hours? “What industry allows me to get fit, take college courses from the best, most intelligent professors on the planet, and can make me as much as $70-90k per year?” What if I told you that you’d meet beautiful, fit, “outdoorsy” people? Run a faster marathon? Now we’re talking.

Let me ask you a question. Are you one of the millions of Americans who owns a dog? Might you also be one of the millions of Americans who work, perhaps even at a Good Job? What does Fido do all day, sleep? Chew on your loafers? Is he increasingly nervous, obese? Now, we know you try to walk him every day, even if it’s only a couple of blocks, you know, “to get it out of his system”. Do you ultimately regret keeping your dog cooped up in urban existence? Does the idea of giving a dog antidepressants because of day-to-day tedium disturb you?

Do you know that dog walkers can make over $70k per year? If you haven’t figured it out already, this 365-day reinvention is based on one service: dog walking. Based on my unscientific Craigslist research, the going rate for dog walkers in the upscale neighborhoods of Chicago averages to about $60/week (at 5 walks per week). Let’s do some math.

Let’s say that the average “walk” is a journey totaling 2.5 miles, which at a zippy walking pace should take about 30 minutes. Let’s also say that at any given time, you’d be walking an average of 3.5 dogs on this 2.5 mile circuit. This works out to (~7 dogs/hour)*($12 /dog walked)= $84/ hour. The average full-time workday is 8 hours plus a commute, which gives the dog walker at least 7.75 hours per day to walk dogs, eat lunch, and snack. If the dog walker works for only 4 hours, he stands to make $420 per day, or $2100 per week. Working 9 months out of the year, a dog walker expects to make $75,600. Working 5 hours per day nets $90,720, nearly twice the pretax salary of the average American.

Let’s assume a 5-hour workday, five days a week, 9 months per year. This means 900 hours of work per year. Dog walking isn’t in itself terribly engaging, but that’s why dog walkers have iPods. You’re probably a little skeptical; you’re asking, “Where does the educational component come in?”

A student at the University of Chicago, allegedly one of the hardest schools on the planet, spends about 290 hours in class over the course of a year (assuming no lab section meetings, and perfect attendance). This means that over the typical 4-year course of studies, the average Maroon will be in lecture 1160 hours. The dog walker could consume well over three-years of college lectures, all while on the job. How might one access this?

iTunes U is a special section of the iTunes store that hosts podcasts of college courses from universities as diverse as Oxford and Cambridge and Yale, to various state and community institutions. For example, this summer, I’ve listened to lectures from Cambridge’s economics courses and a mini-series of seminars on F. Scott Fitzgerald from—where else?—Princeton. I’ve also listened to foreign policy courses from Harvard, and a philosophy course from Stanford. This was all while mowing the lawn, cycling, and weightlifting. I don’t immediately see any other way I’d rather spend my time, except maybe for reading and writing.

For those that challenge me, claiming that a dog walker has no way of doing reading that might be assigned, I ask this: “What proportion of college lectures did you attend? What proportion of the reading did you do? Which number is bigger?” And what about college writing? We all know that original thought on essays are rewarded Bs, while merely twisting and regurgitating the professor’s lectures is a sure-fire way to get As. Also, we know that college isn’t about actually learning anything, it’s about getting the highest grades possible. How else is one supposed to get in to grad school? That obligatory internship at Goldman Sachs? Certainly not by challenging oneself (and sacrificing a high GPA) as an undergrad.

I contend that a 4-hour workday allows for tremendous opportunity to enrich oneself beyond the enrichment of iTunes U’s offerings. One could support a rather gargantuan leisure reading habit, or cultivate an appreciation for jazz music, or opera. One can learn to cook, or write. In fact, free from the constraints of a Good Job, one could make comparable money and while away hours at the art museum instead of the break room. All it takes is drive.

Ultimately, I’m not actually suggesting that anyone becomes a dog walker as a long-term career choice. Nor am I suggesting that anyone actually becomes a dog walker at all. What this does do is challenge the validity of an undergraduate degree and popularly-held notions of what it means to have a Good Job. In my opinion, there is no such thing as a Good Job in this traditional sense. Working in corporate hell, with only the slightest shadow of hope that one might rise to the purgatory of middle- and upper-middle management, is an exercise in futility. The collapses of Enron, Lehman Brothers, and many other well-known companies in recent years leave their ex-employees up a creek, so to speak. They are viewed as pariahs, as if high qualification is mitigated by the stink of bankruptcy.

Given the choice between a $50k entry-level corporate job and $50k as a dog walker, I’d take man’s best friend any day; given the choice between spreadsheet jockeying and picking up the occasional “leaving”, I’d take the latter; between a closed fluorescent existence and expanding my mind continuously; between skinny versus toned calves—do I have to answer these? Careerism is dead.

Author: Jason D. Rowley

As I mentioned elsewhere, I wear a lot of hats. Currently, I'm interested in VC data, early stage startups, and journalism. Previously I've been a blogger, designer, researcher, startup founder, (temporary) college dropout, connector, occasional branding designer and amateur chef.

4 thoughts on “How to get in great shape, get a comprehensive education from the world’s best institutions, make friends, and earn almost $75k… All in less than a year!!!”

  1. I am sure you wrote this as “for teh lulz” – but nontheless, I spent 5 minutes writing the long essay below.

    College isn’t about the education – College is all on the networking. So is every other institution out there more or less. Even before the time of the internet (and iTunes), one could read everything out of the public library and there must have been an abundance of nice professors who would consult you if you just knocked and walked in and ask kindly for an hour of help. Lecture halls were huge as well and if you just audited the class – nobody would notice and I am sure, again, that lecturers are willing to let you stay quietly even if you were noticed.

    But we all go to college or any other place of human gathering – to immerse deeply with other like minded people – in alike growth stages of their lives. We learn to hate, love, lead, follow, backstab, uplift, motivate, chill and so forth during college. From an evolutionary point of view, these advanced human interactions are the absolute necessary basics of survival for later in life.

    So the counter argument is what about all those people that didn’t go to college or just finished a diploma – how do they get successful and learn all the above? Because going to college is the easier route – its greased by paying the cheapest of currencies – money. Somebody already organized a huge ass conference of four years, with the best speakers and the best attendees attending and you pay for it. Its the lazy and easy way of going through the university of life. Organizing your own conference is definitely more difficult.

    From an industrial standpoint, although basic human needs for survival have stayed the same (all the verbs above) – the pace at we go through has increased several fold during industrialization and such. I have no official statistics – but I think its “common sense” that our labour force is extremely more specialized and greased and efficient than ever before. So we need these intense 4 year periods of “college” to supply enough labour for our economy to run – so that there are enough people out there rich enough to afford a lifestyle to pay someone to walk their dogs.

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