kissing ass, quantum leaps, and the power of being unqualified

(Disclaimer: this vocational approach does not apply to heart surgeons, shrinks, or pharmacists. Or the guys who engineer bridges.)

I took a survey last week looking for “unqualified successes,” trolling for crackerjack people who bypassed the diploma, the pecking order, or the security guard to get to the top of their game. Here’s what we surfaced:

The Top 30 College Drop Outs Who Made It Big In Business list, which includes: billionaires Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Steve Jobs – who, by the way, took a Calligraphy class in college…and then dropped out.

Jimi Hendrix couldn’t read music. Rachel Ray never went to cooking school.

Colleen in Calgary sent me this great list: John Fluevog went from working in a shoe store to his own shoe empire. Vera Wang was a fashion writer, and of course there was Coco Chanel, who had no formal training. And this was my favourite client story from Tanya in New York, she “traded risk management software to Investment Banks and on Wall Street…with only a fashion design diploma from South Africa.” Yah.

Me? I’m The Poster Chick for Unqualified. I never went to college – except when I was in diapers. My mother, being eighteen when she had me, took me to school with her so she could complete her degree. I doodled in psych text books and played with my dollies in the back of the class. You could say I got my B.A. by osmosis. Maybe on a cellular level, I drew on my toddler days at St. Claire College when I formed my own communications company (representing a few Nobel Laureates and some old pop stars,) and managed a fancy think tank in Washington DC (stacked with PhDs). To be clear: I juuust made it the Right Side of the Tracks, and then ran like hell.

One of the best inadvertent decisions I made was to not go to university. I never had a box to get out of. And yah, yah, higher education partially makes the world go round, but I did what was best for me personally. I just couldn’t see the necessity of school. I wanted to be in the world – asap.


1. Kiss some ass. Yep, you can bypass The System, but there are no short cuts to initiation. You are going to have to smile, make coffee, drive that package to the airport with no gas in your car to get it on the FedEx airplane on time, and then race back to clean up after the party.

1 1/2. Kiss some more ass. Offer to work unpaid for two weeks. Give your ideas away for free – chances are you’ll be asked to execute those ideas. If your ideas get hijacked, it will push you to learn that you’ve got more where that came from. If you’re hungry enough, you will innovate.

2. Learn through obsession bordering on crazy-stalker. Immerse yourself in the culture of your choice. Swim in the industry. Eat information whole. Subscribe to every newsletter, read every book, attend every conference.

3. Take people for lunch, ask questions ceaselessly. Risk being annoying – it usually comes off as charmingly eager. Ask: what they’re reading, what they’d do if they were you, where they see things going, the best advice they ever received. Keep in touch.

4. Get in over your head. Can you deliver within fours weeks? Just say yes, immediately. It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a staff, let alone a business card. Accept the mission and then figure out how to make it possible. Where there’s a yes, there’s a doorway.

5. Present yourself as…You. You can fake qualified here ‘n there, but you cannot fake passion, essence or originality – and those are the exact qualities that fuel quantum leaps and barrier-obliteration.

6. Look super fine. If you don’t think style matters, then you should probably go get a diploma and play by the rules.

EXTRA-CISE: Consider your dreams (the job, the gig, the love of your life). Write out:
: 5 reasons why your dream is ­unreasonable or the odds are stacked against you;
: 10 passions or beliefs;
: 5 persuasive, potentially outrageous actions that will create forward traction.

Then kiss mediocrity goodbye and prepare to move to the front of the line. Muwah!

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