James Walpole

How I Achieved My Four-Year Goals In Ten Months

This post was originally published on the Praxis blog.

I’ve always had fairly large goals. When it came to actually accomplishing them, I wasn’t much different from many people my age. That is to say, I was getting nothing important done.

I was keeping my head down and working hard to do well in school and have a “normal” teenage life. I had done well at these (well, at least at the first), so I was waiting on the conveyor belt to usher me on to “greatness” as a writer/thinker/entrepreneur.

Needless to say, this is a kind of insanity. I think that it would only have gotten worse if I had chosen to stay on that path into college and beyond.

Praxis was a lot like that friend that shakes you back to awareness when you’re about to sleepwalk off a cliff.

This program has driven me to actually earn what I’ve wanted to from my life. As my fellow participant Laurie Barber wrote yesterday, one of the chief lessons we’ve learned from this experience is the virtue of just getting things done – not waiting for the ideal creative moment, permission from authority, or the forces of history to move us along.

Below are ten goals I put down in writing at the beginning of my Praxis experience in September. I set out to accomplish in less than a year what I probably wouldn’t have demanded of myself in four years of university (Let’s just say that I rediscovered my ambition around this time).

Now that I’m at the end of the Praxis program, here’s my post-mortem – where I failed, where I succeeded, and where I surpassed or surprised my own expectations in the past year.

1) Write at least fifty blog posts or articles

I’ve always been told that I had some skills in writing, but I continually put off creating something for myself. After all, I was too busy writing those atrocious five-paragraph essays for high-school English and history classes. I had a knack for producing them, but I was pretty terrible at writing language that would connect with non-academics.

While I didn’t quite reach the fifty-post mark, I’ve been able to write several articles and seventeen blog posts (not to mention pieces written for my work) of which I’m very proud. The opportunity to write here at the Praxis blog has allowed me to develop a habit or regular and (usually) on-time writing about the ideas and people I care about.

Most importantly, this has given me the opportunity to actually write pieces that connect with readers. That’s worth so much more than the highest marks on an academic paper.

2) Speak in public at least five times or create fifteen public videos.

I did not become a Cicero over the course of my time in the program, but I ended up accomplishing the latter half of my goal. Since joining the podcast DECENTRALIZE as a co-host, I’ve produced live video broadcasts on some of my team’s favorite decentralized and open source technology projects just about every week since the beginning of February.

There’s probably no better way to shake the fear of public speaking than to commit to a regular program like this. Afraid you’ll flub a line? Too bad. It’s recorded forever.

I’ve built a pretty thick skin to mistakes and a fair amount of skill in speaking with this podcast. I definitely have to credit Praxis for this one. My business partner BitPay put me in the perfect environment to join this podcasting team and to gain the knowledge that has allowed me to create interesting content to begin with.

3) Learn how to code and build a basic computer program.

I began this program as a distinctly non-technical person. I was fascinated by technology, true, but I was still intimidated even by practical software tools used in everyday business. And I was about to start working for a tech startup.

After ten months, I’m fairly comfortable in a command line terminal. I use git to collaborate on projects, sign and encrypt my emails with PGP, beta-test open source software, and (vaguely) follow my developer friends when they’re talking about what they’re building.

While I’ve not yet mastered Python, Ruby, Javascript, or any of the plethora of programming languages out there, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the architecture of the technologies I use. That has made my experience of work and life in an increasingly digital world so much more rich and productive.

4) Become fluent in basic web markup and development languages.

The Praxis digital skills curriculum challenged me to create a demo of a personal WordPress website. Because I’m picky, I ended up tinkering with HTML to get the right appearance. It was a small thing, but it demystified what actually goes into making text appear the way it does on a webpage.

Though I haven’t dabbled in CSS yet, I have gone on from this humble beginning to create an actual personal site, contribute to the website for my podcast, and sling code (with a good deal of help and guidance from coworkers) for two of my company’s main websites.

5) Become more effective as a writer and speaker.

I will leave this one to your judgment, dear reader, if I have not already lost you.

Since beginning my work with my business partner, I’ve begun writing for customers instead of teachers. As a result, I’ve not only gained more creative freedom than I felt in school but also more creative efficacy. I’m far more mindful of my words and of my readers.

Recording a podcast every week has forced me to speak more clearly and more effectively. When you have a well-known developer, entrepreneur or pro-wrestler (long story on that one) in the interview chair, you learn to ask great questions. When the camera is on you, you learn to say things that actually mean something in a way that actually engages people. I’m still working on this skill, but the process has been a powerful accelerator for that learning.

6) Read the great works.

It’s very easy to get lost in the weeds of secondhand, derivative works which draw upon and add to (but which rarely equal) the “primary sources” of fields like economics and philosophy. One of my early goals was to tackle some of these more imposing works.

In the past ten months, I’ve taken on books like the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Human Action by Ludwig von Mises as well as essays like Bastiat’s “What Is Seen and What Is Not Seen” and Friedrich Hayek’s “The Use of Knowledge In Society.” I must admit that I have not finished all of these (Human Action is a forbidding work, indeed), but I’ve gained the ability and the discipline to study them thoroughly and make useful connections to other works in my wheelhouse.

7) Develop a business plan.

Aside from one ill-fated, short-lived, and poorly conceived bitcoin startup idea (there were so many of those back then!), I seem to have failed this one. I don’t think, however, that I completely missed the benefit I would have gained from achieving it.

From working with BitPay, getting an early podcast off the ground, and helping the Praxis team in the past ten months, I’ve gained a higher level of understanding and perception into what actually makes a business or project run successfully.

The skills and insight I’ve gained from helping others start has been far more valuable to me at this stage of my life than any over-engineered on-paper plan of my own.

8) Make the Praxis curriculum awesome(er).

The Praxis curriculum is an intellectual’s nirvana. As soon as I learned that I would be studying and discussing philosophy, history, economics, and entrepreneurship for ten months, I knew I wanted to participate in some way in building this thing of beauty.

Our education director T.K. Coleman challenges participants to challenge the curriculum – to make it their own. I took him up on the challenge. At the end of every curriculum module, I communicated feedback and recommendations directly to him.

In addition to learning from the top-notch videos, podcasts, and books already in the curriculum, I gained a critical ability to locate and identify sources that might be useful for participants in future classes (and which have added significant length to my own personal reading list.)

9) Build a network of principled, passionate, and productive people.

Hey, alliteration is just my thing.

I’ve shared this experience with fellow participants who care deeply about ideas and entrepreneurship. I’m quite sure that many of them will go on to have massive impact on the world.

I’ve had the chance to meet and talk to many of my favorite entrepreneurs and intellectuals through my podcast.

My work with my business partner has brought me into contact with many new friends and acquaintances. The BitPay team is a lot like a family.

The members of the Praxis team itself have been some of the best friends I’ve had, and they’ve shared a great deal of wisdom that has been invaluable to me in some of the hardest as well as some of the best times in this past year.

Goal achieved. I look forward to building relationships with many more amazing people who join this community in future years.

10) Gain confidence in business and life.

When I first began working at a startup, I must have appeared a little bit like a deer staring into headlights. I was a green 18 year-old who felt that he had with very little right to be where he was (this was probably accurate).

Since beginning this program, I’ve gained full financial independence, moved to a new city, built new friendships, learned new skills, taken risks, traveled often, finished imposing projects, and created value for the people in my life and work.

I don’t think anymore that confidence is something that comes with age. It has to come through experiences like these.

Taking on these challenges has helped me to bring my life into focus and under my creative control. This is the sort of thing that makes Praxis so much more than just an “educational program.”

You probably have your own goals that are quite different from mine. Building a career in the Bitcoin technology space isn’t for everyone.

Whatever you want to achieve, you have one effective mindset and method for achieving it: entrepreneurship. Do it yourself, do it creatively, and take responsibility for the results.

Taking this route in my learning has not only saved me four years of unpleasant schooling but has redeemed a lot of the time I spent daydreaming in high school. Praxis has been instrumental in my growth into the kind of person that can set and achieve goals independently.

This is a powerful way to learn, and I’d be willing to bet that you would find this to be true as well.

Apply now for our fall class – the application deadline is in less than two weeks, and you really shouldn’t miss this.

Have questions about what the Praxis experience is like for a participant? Here’s my email. I’d love for you to reach out.

James Walpole

James Walpole is a writer, startup marketer, and perpetual apprentice. You're reading his blog right now, and he really appreciates it. Don't let it go to his head, though.

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