June 10, 2013

Paul Jarvis: The Value of Apprenticing

I got really good grades in high school. So my parents and teachers told me that I needed to go to a University. So I chose a university with a program that was hard to get into and got in. Then I was told many times in the first year that that most people didn't make it past the first year, and I did.

But then I realized I was only doing these things because people told me it's what I should be doing. And since they were hard to do, it was an accomplishment if I succeeded. I wasn't even thinking about what I wanted or what my own goals were.

So I quit.

I made some websites for fun, around the time the mainstream Internet was starting, and one got really popular (called pseudodictionary, and I still have the copy of WIRED it was written up in). This lead to my first job as a web designer.

I hated my job pretty much from the start. I never wanted to work for someone else, but I also didn't know how to do anything past web design (and even that, only barely at first).

Once I learned how to be a web designer and put some real time and effort into my craft, I still didn't know how to do anything else. I sucked at dealing with clients, contracts, doing business, setting timelines, etc.

So I used my time working for someone else basically as an apprenticeship, so I could learn more about business. That way when I went out on my own I not only knew my craft better but I also knew how to sell my craft, manage clients and their expectations and do real business (the way I wanted to do it). I spent almost 3 years working in a job I didn't like, for a boss I couldn't stand, because I could see the end result—working for myself. I wish there had been real apprenticing opportunities then.

There were definitely a lot of lessons I learned (see: mistakes) when I started my own business, but I minimized them quite a bit by learning how someone else did it first.

This is where I see value in real-life apprenticing over school. It's one thing to talk in abstract about scenarios and teachings, and it's another altogether to actually be part of them. You might not even want to do business the way you learn in an apprenticeship, but at least you'll know what you don't want to do.

A lot of people dream of starting their own business, being location-independent and "living the dream" within minutes of leaving school. But it almost never works that way. Learning from someone else who knows more than you first, sometimes even on their dime, is the best tool available.

You'll learn more than just your craft apprenticing. You'll also learn how that craft is applied to business, how to deal with difficult situations, how deal with the government (which is mostly a difficult situation), and how to build a network within your trade before you go out on your own.

By Paul Jarvis. @pjrvs | pjrvs.com

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