Derek Sivers

Programmer, writer, entrepreneur, avid student of life. I make useful things, and share what I learn.

Life is like High School

Last week a someone asked me, “I’ve been working hard. Why isn’t it paying off?”

Why? Because life is like high school.

When you’re in high school, it’s all about popularity, clicks, what you wear, what parties you’re at, and being cool.

When you go to college, the focus shifts to academic achievement.

Many people get out of college thinking the world will be like that. “The harder you work, the more you will be rewarded.” But it’s not.

Life is like high school. It’s all about how successful you seem to be, how socially skilled you are, what scene you’re in, what you wear, what parties you’re at, and being cool.

But you can make this work in your favor.

When I think about every big leap that happened in my career, it was always because of someone I knew. Always friends of friends. People in some position of power who I kept in touch with, did favors for, and got the same in return.

Go meet three people each week you think could help your career. Be a good friend. Make it mutually beneficial, not some suck-up relationship. There’s always some resource you have that can totally help out someone who may be above you on the ladder. Invite a new friend to an event or a cool place.

For years I was booked solid, touring the college market, making way too much money, not because I’m good, but because we made a fun, entertaining, “cool” show. We won the popularity contest.

I think it’s possible to approach this business as if you were a new kid going to a new high school, and wanted to be the most popular kid in class. Sounds shallow, but it works.

Look at artists like Andy Warhol or Miles Davis - who were great at their art, but also knew how to play their image — to be cool.

Life is like High School