College for Free: How to Be a Genius

UTaerial

Freshman year at UT, I knew a couple of guys who didn’t attend the school, but were on campus everyday. We kind of thought they were weird, didn’t necessarily respect them, but we talked to them, because we found it funny. Interesting. They were mainly there – to just pick up college girls. Guys in their 20s, no job, not in college, just random guys who lived in Austin. What better way to spend their time than on a college campus where 20,000+ girls mostly aged 18-22 are located everyday? It’s actually not a half bad idea when you think about it. Maybe these guys were geniuses.

They got the college experience without paying for college. They made friends, went to parties, slept with college girls. I hung out with one of these guys a couple of times. He even started sitting in on some classes. Just for fun. He wanted to see what they were about. He’d even take notes and even took a couple of tests – writing whatever fake name he wanted on the test. Since he wasn’t enrolled anyway. It didn’t matter. He’d never see his score. It didn’t matter. He took the test just for fun. Just to “see if he could”. I thought he was crazy.

On a campus with 50,000 people, where classes are held in large auditoriums with 300+ people, it’s easy to sneak in. To pretend like you belong when you don’t. These guys would even eat in the dorm cafeteria. The one that costs $2 for an all you can eat buffet if you lived in the dorms, but $6 if you didn’t. I can almost guarantee you they didn’t pay $6. They probably talked somebody with an ID into swiping them in. Maybe they gave them $2 to cover for it. Maybe they even ate for free. Who knows. I’m sure they didn’t pay $6 for dorm food. No way. These guys were too crafty for that.

It was interesting. It is interesting.

Hustle. Graft.

Like these guys..

Like these guys..

I always respected the hustle. The graft of some folks. In some ways I was a lot like that at that age. At least to the point that’d look for the little wins anywhere. Even that same dorm cafeteria. Sometimes I didn’t even pay the $2. It was easy. Just convince the girls that work there to let you in for free. They’ll do it.

The little wins. They felt good.

Sometimes I did it just to feel a win. Sometimes I did it to show off to friends. I already had somewhat of a reputation for being a hustler – so I took it a step further – show up at the movie theater and somehow get a free ticket. Or if not a free ticket, then talk to the guy behind the snack counter and convince him to give you free popcorn or free candy. Convincing the girl at McDonalds to give you a free soda with your sandwich. It’s funny really. How much you can get by just asking. It amused me at the time. I enjoyed my little wins.

All you had to do was wink at the girl behind the counter, “Hey, throw in a free coke for me too…. c’mon, you can do it. Your boss isn’t looking”. The look on her face when you make such a request. A bit of shock. You can tell she doesn’t get asked this question much. Then the quick darting around of her head to check that indeed her boss is not looking. Her own little thrill. Then, she’d scurry back to the drink machine, get me a coke, and hand it over to me ever so coy. Like she gets to be a sneaky spy for the day.

My friends would look at me, “if you can get her to do that, why didn’t you just get her phone number?”

Because, it didn’t even cross my mind. All I wanted was a free coke.

Little wins everywhere. I once convinced a homeless guy to give me money. I think that was the highlight of my “hustling” phase.

Maybe I should’ve been focused on bigger prizes. Maybe I could’ve gone to college for free like those guys I met freshman year did. Sure they didn’t get the degree. But who cares? Degrees aren’t worth anything these days anyway. The best part of college is the experience – and you can get that without paying for it. Just sneak in and pretend you’re supposed to be there. Flirt with the women, befriend the guys, go to the parties, attend the classes, take the tests. Get the whole experience without the debt.

I have no idea what actually happened to those guys. Maybe they kept doing it for years. Maybe they only did for 1 to 2 years. Maybe they did something stupid and got blacklisted by the campus and were never allowed back. Maybe they did something even more stupid and wound up in jail. Who knows.

It doesn’t matter. For that one year -that year I saw them around on campus all the time – they were winning.

It was more than just a little win….

Maybe they were geniuses.

 

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How I Used To Ace Accounting Courses; And What It Means for How People Learn

When I first decided to go back to grad school I decided to pursue a Master’s in Accounting.

Why?

Well, one of my main reasons is that I thought accounting would be really freaking easy.

And, it was.

I signed up for some accounting courses at the local university and I would ace them. In Financial Accounting the professor announced to the class that I was the first student to ever make a 100 on one of her tests. In the other courses it was much of the same. I took 5 accounting courses over the course of two semesters (and one statistics course) and then later in business school I would take two more. They were always easy. Granted, I learned new things… but they were always super easy.

Why?

Simple stuff.

Simple stuff.

 

Context

One of the students in one of my classes approached me to tutor her. She was really struggling. She claimed she was doing the homework and doing the readings, but then during test time her mind would just go blank.

I tried to walk her through one of the problems in the book to see her thought processes. And I saw her problem.

She was too rigid. Too structured. Trying to remember what the book had said earlier. “Naw, forget about all of that,” was my advice, “just think about how a business works. Everything in accounting can be figured out fairly simply if you just think of how a business would need to do it. So just try to think like a business. Think of how a business works.”

She looked at me blankly.

Then I realized she didn’t know “how a business works.”

And why should she? This is an undergraduate accounting course (I was taking it because I needed the pre-reqs. I had never taken any accounting courses before). She probably hadn’t done much else besides school and studying. Maybe a part-time job or two doing menial tasks that she never thought twice about. But, she’d never run a business or thought much about “how business works.”

Basically, she wasn’t me.

My Previous Accounting Experience

I’ve mentioned it before on this blog. When I was in college, I ran a music business. A record label. We were in the business of recording CDs, pressing CDs, and selling CDs.

This included me driving all over the state of Texas (and occasionally to Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Florida) establishing relationships with music stores and putting product on their shelves. In order to keep track of it all I had a big white binder with a page in it for each store I had products in. I kept track of things like: how much inventory is on their shelves and how much money they owe me. I summed up all of that information up and put into Microsoft Excel and where I kept track of how much money I made every week, what my expenses were, and how much I owed to my artists.

I did all of this before I ever knew anything about accounting or took an accounting course. I did it without researching accounting at all. I wasn’t using definitions like debits and credits. I didn’t know what those were. I wasn’t using a double-entry booking system. I was just doing it to keep track of everything. It was a very rudimentary system. It wasn’t perfect. But it helped me keep track of everything. Which was necessary.

A few years later, when sitting in accounting courses and learning about the double-entry accounting system codified by Luca Pacioli in the 15th century it all made so much sense. Instantly it made sense. I was learning better methods, better systems that I could instantly apply to what I had previously done. It made perfect sense that a system codified 500 years ago and built upon since then would be more solid and be able to handle the different intricacies of different businesses much better than the rudimentary system one guy created on his own while driving across the Southeastern USA in his pick-up truck (hint: that’s me). It was easy for me to understand and comprehend, because it so easily fit into my worldview of how things work. My system would have surely fallen apart or at least need a lot of adjusting for new things as the business grew – but learning commonly practiced accounting standards just meant learning systems that had already taken all of these things into account already. Because the businesses that practiced these standards had already been through things my business hadn’t. It interested me because it was applicable to me. It was easy, because in some sense I already done some of it.

I barely even needed to study. All I had to do was just show up. “God-given talent.”

"Boobie, you didn't lift."

“Boobie, you didn’t lift.”

What This Means for How We Learn

What this all means is something that may already be painfully obvious for most of us: we learn from mostly from doing, not from reading or memorizing things in a book.

This has a lot to do with the current disconnect of the education system. College students cram for tests, take the tests, then forget the shit. Nobody really learns much because nobody really did much. Learning for a test isn’t really learning because it isn’t really doing.

This is why businesses are clamoring, saying they have to re-train grads because they didn’t really learn anything in school. This why internet pundits the world over are having a love affair with STEM – they see students are getting more practice actually doing things in STEM courses than they are in other courses.

We learn best through doing, through repetitive practice, through habits built over time.

Once we have enough context of doing something to understand it on a basic level then adding new information to it becomes easy. The context to apply the new information is already there. I already had a context for accounting, simplified in my mind as “how a business works”. It really is that simple.

 

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