I met Venkatesh Rao while in Seattle. Then I did a deeper dive into his blog, Ribbonfarm. It’s funny to realize I met the person who wrote things I read and enjoyed like The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millennial after having met them.
In pieces like The Gervais Principle and The Art of Agile Leadership Venkat (I can call him that, we’re friends now) shows his deep and pervasive cynicism towards corporate hierarchies. There are only two ways to remain convinced that American businesses consistently reward good decision making and value creation with promotions. One is to be someone who’s been promoted a lot, and therefore someone who’s self-conception relies in large part on the belief. The other is to have avoided spending a lot of time as a full-time employee of a medium-to-large American business. See Jordan Peterson.
I’m applying to Berkeley’s Master’s of Public Policy program in the fall. The average student, according to the website, is in their late 20s. At 33 I’ll be on the older end. I’ve wanted to go to grad school for a long time. When I graduated college what I wanted to do with my life was write columns about politics and culture. Unfortunately I graduated with a journalism degree in 2008. By that point “full-time columnist” had ceased to be a viable career option for someone without an advanced degree, a lot of reporting experience, or both.
Yet that’s all I ever really really wanted to do. I’ve tried to be excited about other paths. Really, really tried. And I’ve gotten close. I’ve had really cool jobs that I mostly enjoyed. But the best was the one where I got to write and edit columns about politics and culture. I’d be doing it today if it had paid enough to live.
The fact that I’ve been writing blog posts and columns about politics and culture mostly for free and in my off hours since the day I graduated is pretty telling. I want to read and write about shit that I care about full-time. Unfortunately, the shit that I care the most about isn’t very profitable to write about. I’ve been looking high and low for a company willing to pay me to write about why we should eliminate single family zoning and reform our criminal justice system but so far no takers.
I don’t want to go to grad school. Well, I don’t want to pay for grad school. I don’t want to take two years off of work. I don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy and personality politics of higher education. I hate credentialism. I don’t want to have to learn math. I am afraid of failing. Failing to get in. Failing to graduate. Failing to win friends and influence people in academia. Failing to get a job that is any more closely aligned with my ambitions after graduating.
But, whatever. Do it scared. It’s more fun to fail than to not start because you’re afraid. I’ve been doing that for a while and it’s gotten old. I have a great safety net. Not as good as some people’s, but much better than most people’s. It’d be a waste to not use it again. Plus, isn’t Bernie or Warren or AOC going to pay off all our student loans or something? 😉
ANYWAY, Venkat is cynical about business and so am I. I’m especially cynical that I’m going to be able to do the work I want to do at a for-profit with a BA.
Don’t get me wrong. I love business. I love working. I love profit and innovation. I think, for the most part, the incentives of for-profits are good and important. But unfortunately what’s good and what’s profitable aren’t always perfectly aligned. See the internet’s impact on journalism.
I’ve worked at for-profits and non-profits and large companies and medium-sized companies and early-stage startups. I’ve been an underling at every kind of business. I’m not sure what it is to manage but I don’t think middle management at a for-profit is going to be more fulfilling to me than grad school. Though it is what I’ll try to do if I don’t get accepted.
I think this is a good time for me to go to grad school. I think I’ve gotten a wide enough experience set that I won’t wonder whether I should’ve tried harder to do what I want to do without an advanced degree. I tried for a long time. I tried a lot of things.
I have few illusions about non-profits and think tanks because I’ve worked in several. I have few illusions about for-profits. I think I have a decent understanding of the landscape and I think this is the move for me.
I’m going to start reaching out to people for advice about how to get in, which scholarships or whatever to apply to. If you’ve got thoughts, please comment below or email me. I’m excite.