Success & Motivation:Scatterbrained and in College

Got this email today, and decided to share it and my response as a message to college kids out there that are pretty much the same as I was. Here you go:

Mark, I was in the group  that listened to you speak at the XXXX.  And I need some guidance, dude.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced addictive behavior before, but I’m sure you’ve got an idea of what it would be like.  Now I want to specify that I’m not addicted to drugs or alcohol or any of that junk.  I’m addicted to adventure.  Of pushing physical boundaries and experiencing new things.

But man, it’s killing me right now.  I can’t focus on anything that I need to do.  I’m a full-time undergrad and real estate agent (among other things), and this desperate search for adventure is not driving me toward my goals; it is crippling me.  Before you had the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want, how did you maintain focus on the things you needed to do?

My Response:

You are still in school. You don’t need to have all the answers or focus on one thing. You should be trying a lot of things until you find the one thing you really love to do and are good at. When that happens, you will be able to focus.

Being focused at 21 is way over rated. Now is the time to screw up,  try as many different things as you can and just maybe figure things out.

The thing you do need to do is learn. Learn accounting. Learn finance.  Learn statistics. Learn as much as you can about business. Read biographies about business people. You dont have to focus on 1 thing, but you have to create a base of knowledge so you are ready when its time.

You will never know when that time will come.  But you can be ready when it does.

40 thoughts on “Success & Motivation:Scatterbrained and in College

  1. Mr. Cuban, when do you think a person should have figured out what to focus on?
    And (hope this doesn’t sound dumb)what exactly is “focused”? Is someone focused if they think their focus is “sales” or does it have to be “automotive sales”. Or can it be as general as “business” (e.g. just as long as it’s not “doing things” (which includes art, eating, sleeping etc…).

    Comment by beevok -

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  3. Good advice. One other piece of advice I’d give Adventure Dude. Don’t write someone like Mark Cuban and address him as “dude”. Of course, this comes from a generation that shows up to a job interview in shorts and flip-flops.

    Comment by darrin365 -

  4. I like this answer. College is for learning, so learn. Once you are out of college — keep learning. At some point, everyone grows up out of necessity and learns to focus. It’s at this point that you apply your knowledge and and benefit of learning kicks in. My recommendation would also include learning more than what is on If I spent as much time reading the Wall Street Journal in college as I did reading, I’d have a PhD in business instead instead of in 2001 to 2005 sports knowledge.

    Comment by josephwesley -

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  6. Being adventuresome/not knowing what you want to do/screwing up is much more forgiving on your life when you are 20 and all your worldly possessions fit in 3 boxes in your parent’s basement, than at 40 with a wife, kids, bills, job commitments, etc. It’s all in your perspective, which only becomes more acute as you get older. (so listen to your parents…all of you!)

    Comment by therugelachman -

  7. from china!

    Comment by nberest -

  8. great tips!

    Comment by flatblackcars -

  9. With a double major, master level classes and experience in several areas and also pushing 30 I still can’t seem to find something I can settle down to and enjoy work wise. I definitely have the focus thing or at least get bored easily and want to move on to something new, which in this job market, not being able to stick with a job is not good. HELP!

    steel buildings

    Comment by lacyiscrazy -

  10. Happy New Year, Mark! Go Mavericks.

    Comment by darryl3 -

  11. Going to the pawn shop, trading up English class for Accounting 1. Going to stick calculus out.

    Comment by growhappy -

  12. Computer Science seems like the path less traveled, while business classes seem intuitive. Flipside is nothing is intuitive. Mark, I am going to take you up on your advice because you love to shoot hoops. Putting my weight on my toes, sticking my bum out and throwing a long Chicago 3 pointer is more gratifying than butchering research.

    Comment by growhappy -

  13. If the student’s motivation to find “focus” is that he feels this is a means to a rich financial end (I don’t think he specified), Mark probably didn’t entirely address the question to the student’s satisfaction. My own experience is that finding a focus doesn’t necessarily make someone rich. A focus could be attached to a passion—-but that passion might not equate to riches and success. It seems to me the kid might have have really been asking a different type of question—he knows WHAT he needs to focus on, but doesn’t know HOW to focus because of his adverture distractions.

    Comment by dcangelo -

  14. Truly blessed are those who “find the one thing you really love to do and are good at.” If you have that, you will be happy. Success will flow naturally to you…good karma baby.

    Comment by cogiterium -

  15. This idea of dabbling in a little bit of everything/trying everything works great, but ONLY if you have parents who are pick up the tab or are otherwise not graduating anywhere close to the average student debt load these days ($20,000 and rising fast).

    It’s kind inconvenient for the guy/gal who is financing their education with debt (the majority) – who after “dabbling around” graduates without any real career niche – and now are liable for a $200, $500, $1000s per month student loan payment. And the best they can get is a $30K/year job they could have got without college, while they continue to “figure things out” has them paying out half their earnings in student loans.

    So for the students who will have zero debt- great, follow Mark’s advice to the T.

    But for the normal “scatterbrained” college age student today who doesn’t now what they want – yes absolutely, get the broad education in business, read the bios, try new things – BUT… it’s absolutely critical to also do whatever you have to do to get the specialized skills/certification, etc to be able land employment in a job category that has at least some stability in this day and age, to hedge your risk. And don’t run up a $#%!load of debt in the process either – community college & transfer to 4 year, etc.

    IT, Accounting, Education, Nursing, etc – despite the doom and gloom of “the era of a safe job is over”, most people with specialized skills in the right fields are still doing fine – at least a lot better than those with only “broad” education starting out. Furthermore, you’ll have the bargaining power with an employer to take the time off you need, not work crazy hours, so you can look for that dream business venture, if it doesn’t hit you prior to graduation.

    Yeah yeah I hear you, you don’t want to “work for the man” and want to travel the world because you just read four hour workweek, or be the next Mark Cuban. DUDE, it’s not the end of the world to take a job. Or at least have the option available when you graduate, if you need it to buy more time.

    Being focused at 21 may be-overrated – but being unemployed at 24 and in debt living in your parents basement because you’re still looking for that “dream business” sucks real bad too. As long as you work somewhat normal hours, you always can continue trying different things and searching for your dream, so “when the time comes” as Mark says, you can go full throttle.

    Comment by poledaddy -

  16. How do you think this Blogger and Amazon partnership is going to change things?

    Comment by emac2233 -

  17. “Going to college should be about experiencing as much academically as you possibly can, but more importantly, it should be about learning how to learn and recognizing that learning is a lifelong endeavor. School isn’t the end of the learning process, its purely a training ground and beginning.”
    – Mark Cuban

    The quote above was what stood out for me in a similar post you wrote over a year ago, Having spent last 4 years hacking our current education system, I’d state that learning as you stated is the key. Our education system emphasizes teaching, but the true objective of education should be about learning and the talking teacher serving as a facilitator of the learning process.

    Exploratory learning for a 21 yr old should take place in controlled chaotic environment such as schools. The students should be encouraged to focus on learning how to learn in addition to discovering their passion. Discovering ones passion is often the answer to the lack of focus puzzle. During grad school, I easily could spend 48 hrs reading business/tech/learning industry related stuffs without a blink of an eye, but will find myself snoozing within an hour or 2 of opening a book prescribed by my talking professor.

    Again, thanks for another common sense solution to an important problem.


    Tochi Yaba

    Comment by tochiyaba -

  18. I’ve been doing this for a while, making a ton of mistakes and taking a ton of chances. But I can say I’ve learned a lot in the process.

    Comment by performancepartsj -

  19. Kids in college, you need to Pursue Luck. At there 74 ways for you to think differently, behave differently and be prepared so that you can find and act upon opportunities when they strike.

    If you are going to focus on anything at 21, focus on pursuing luck.

    Comment by jasonbresnehan -

  20. I completely agree in principle– most kids coming into college are going to switch majors, often multiple times (I switched twice myself), and many of the ones who seem firmly set on a path are only so because another set them on it and they haven’t really explored all the options out there for themselves. Ideally, building a broad base of general knowledge and gaining life experience should be among the most important parts of the college experience.

    That said, I can tell you firsthand experience in my university job shows a reality these days often quite different than the ideal, and it can be a really harsh one. The cost of higher education (including other living expenses, books and supplies, ect.) is through the roof, and in these times, many families can’t afford it even with loans and other need-based aid. Many of our brightest and most driven come in relying on the merit-based scholarships they have been offered. Problem is, in order to keep them, there is very little room for error as far as performance goes and they only cover a limited amount of time. These kids know the stress their families are under, know the economic realities, and have a high level of responsibility. So as much as they might want to explore and take some risks, they know that if they mess it up and lose their awards they may likely lose their chance of obtaining that undergrad degree. As stated in a reply above, you can certainly make it without one, but these days it puts you at a huge disadvantage. Honestly I don’t think I have encountered more than a handful of “adults” in the working world who show the level of stress I see these 18-22 yr. old kids under regularly. The first semester is often an incredible slap in the face to many of them who were used to sailing through classes in high school– add into that the adjustment in lifestyle throws even the best students off the mark sometimes– and I’ve noticed the ones who do keep their heads above water seem to be put off taking risks and want to play it safe and just make it through.

    Comment by bucfanpaka -

  21. Shame on you, Mark! You know how the brain of the highly motivated works! You can give that advice until you’re blue in the face, but a truly highly motivated person won’t listen. It is a never-ending mission to take over the world. Once you take over the world you think “next up, the universe!” Even you admit that you work 18 hours a day and yet you’ve made enough money that you could give away most of it and a few generations won’t be left struggling (unless they’re a Vanderbilt and blow it building monuments to themselves). Having that drive is why people end up on top. Once you’ve run out of people to compete with, you compete against yourself. I still cannot figure out if its a curse or a blessing. You gave great advice, but you know that kid isn’t going to listen and that is the reason he has a real shot at joining you in the billionaire’s club.

    Comment by gayvantage -

  22. I’d have to agree with Mark. Focus is actually great for short-term results, where you can manage to get great grades, excel in an area and get a good job, and take it to another level within your post-graduation job/career. The danger, however, lies in the possibility of not being truly about what it is that you’ve chosen to focus on. You might wake up one day and realize that you haven’t been true to your true interests and goals. In the greater scheme of things, that scatterbrain in college may have had something formulating in his mind that, 15 years later, becomes apparent was solid. Even if that person doesn’t make it financially, they could still be the envy of people tied down by societal norms like entering and unnecessary mortgage or marriage.

    God knows how many discontent doctors there are out there who found out too late that they wish they could go do something else, but that they were just too vested in what they set out to do to veer very far. The same is probably true of many other fields or roles, where we’re not quite ‘right’ for the career path we’ve chosen, but due to the perceived risk and economics of the situation, we choose to remain locked.

    There’s nothing stopping us from trying out things – perhaps the biggest deterrent is ourselves and the fact that we weigh our “progress” in life to others, where in reality there is always the possibility of paving a new path. Lawyers and others in title-obsessed jobs (tenured-tracked faculty members perhaps?) are some of the worst at being able to grasp this concept, that it’s not about focused, time-tabled-based accomplishments, but about doing your own thing.

    Comment by 4realdeal -

  23. Great advice Mark. Learning is huge. Learning in college is easy because everyone else is doing it. Lifetime learning is much harder as most people give up on actively learning once they move beyond college. To the letter writer: Enjoy college while you are there and learn all you can.

    To anyone thinking of dropping out to go make it big, read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers” first and make sure you understand why those famous dropouts were so successful. Most likely you haven’t come anywhere close to putting in the 10,000 hours it takes to develop the mastery that lays the foundation for success in most cases.

    Comment by dansweet -

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  26. Excellent Post. It’s refreshing to see the over 30 contribute. This unique tribe of passion for adventure and education-learning needs to be part of your life-style, and not limited to college aged learners/era. If you think about it, and do a little digging, you’ll find the “adventurous” group tends to:

    Live longer
    Stay Married
    Generate wealth as an effect
    Contribute positively

    Thanks M.C.

    Comment by mobilero -

  27. Being the adventurous type as you are, Mark, I am a bit surprised by your “fatherly” advice. But I totally agree with you as I have a daughter in University. She asked me the same question not too long ago. And I responded the same way as you did to “adventure dude”.

    The keyword here is “EDUCATION”. I hear stories of youths dropping out of college but making it big time (Dell, Gates – just to mention the prominent ones). But they are more of an exception to the rule.

    Education, bear in mind, however, may also not be the key to success, other factors all come into play.

    My advice to “adventure dude” is that s/he might want to ask her/himself is “Do I have it?” S/he won’t have all the answers right now, but at least s/he would have the first “it” when s/he completes her/his college years.

    It – Education
    It – Perseverance
    It – Laser Focus
    It – Opportunity
    It – Luck?

    Good advice, Mark. Thanks.

    Comment by hirecules -

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  29. Starwinar

    To answer your ah-ha question. I don’t know about other people but mine really was an ah-ha moment. I was 42 at the time.

    I do agree that their are a lot of miserable people out there. I think they are the ones that settle for a job and then because their pay and life get too comfortable they become miserable people.

    By the way I am 46 and my best years have been in my 40’s. I own my own company, compete in Jiu Jitsu tournaments and help train MMA fighters. I have a happy home life with my family. I look forward to my 50’s and hopefully early retirement.

    All in all, I think life is what you make it be. Keep looking for that right something and it will come.

    Comment by garyxls -

  30. What is your response to thos that are regretting their decision?

    I’m 20 right now and a full time undergraduate student studying accounting but spend my entire free time reading mathematics and finance. You say to learn as much as you can about business but at some point, you will have to select a specialization and it may not be the best decision to you. Certainly to me, it feels I’m wasting time learning subjects that disinterest me

    Comment by xexx1 -

  31. As a 25 year old it is hard to swallow a statement, “You will never know when that time will come.” Our entire life we have been waiting for that ‘ah-ha’ moment where all the chips fall into place and we know our future.

    My question is do you really ever get that moment or do we spend our whole lives looking?

    I also look at the responses of some individuals that are in their 30’s and in Men’s Health January 2010 edition said that the most miserable people in life are those between 35-55. To be honest I don’t want to be that guy who has a mid-life crisis.

    In conclusion I am not fully convinced it’s what you do will bring you happiness but what you see (perspective/attitude).

    Comment by starwinar -

  32. I agree with Mark but don’t wait as long as I did to find your niche. I did a lot of hobby and sport type activities even into my late 30’s (I still train and compete in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu) but I read a lot as well.

    I think, by your question and the fact that you are seeking some direction that maybe you are expecting yourself to be more driven in your business life than you are currently. That is a good thing. While you are searching for that right something to read here is a really good book to have it will help you in your hobby as well as business life. The book it called “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle. I don’t read those self help books but this book is totally different. Daniel even has a website where he outlines some of the details and has some videos to support his research. I hope you will take the time to read it.

    I wish you well,

    Comment by garyxls -

  33. And I forgot to mention, I started a company that focuses on sports video. Combined my passion for sports and competition with a business and now my “work” never seems like work.

    Comment by reecepacheco -

  34. I feel the same way sometimes – I’m 26, former D1 college athlete, played a little pro, grew up on the ocean, traveled a lot, surfer/snowboarder, overall competitive guy – but what you really need to figure out is how you can make a life out of your passion.

    Mark is right – you need to be a sponge right now, soaking up everything you can. Being able to learn, really learn, is such a key skill that will stay with you throughout your life. So learn as much as you can…

    THEN apply it to your life. If you can make a business out of doing adventure sports, how great would that be? Maybe you can be an adventure travel leader in an unknown part of the world? Maybe you can be a mountain guide?

    Point is, you need to attain the skills necessary to be successful with whatever it is you’re passionate about.

    Comment by reecepacheco -

  35. Don’t focus. Suck it all up. Like fine wines.

    The right vintage will get your attention eventually, and then you’ll know why you like the grape. 😉

    Comment by omonubi -

  36. Hi Mark, I have to object.

    I’ve gotten tremendous value from your writing in the past, but I find this answer disappointing because it brushes off the student’s real question:

    “How do you find focus?”

    I think your advice is perfect of the legions of “clueless” college students out there, but this guy doesn’t sound like one of them. He’s working hard and being proactive – essentially living your advice, but not satisfied by it.

    If he WANTS to be focused at 21, what steps do you think he should he take?

    (Context: I’m a 20-year-old ex-student who left school for the exact reasons this student brought up. Very curious to hear your thoughts.)

    Comment by Y. -

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  38. I had that exact conversation with my daughter when she entered college this fall. I wish someone would have had it with me. Good advice!

    Comment by fml99 -

  39. Ha, I’m 31 and still empathize with ‘adventure dude’ – excellent response and perspective! Nothing has been more rewarding to me than exploring a wide variety of professional and personal opportunities and absorbing as much as I can in each endeavor.

    Comment by nickhuhn -

  40. Learning is fun, for me learning is addictive alone because of all the business and marketing educational stuff I have…. Good advice mark…

    Comment by davidbeking -

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