Philosopher-Entrepreneurs

Back when I was in graduate school, I learned about Donald Brownstein. He’s a billionaire hedge fund manager who happened to study philosophy. At the time, I was pretty comfortable in a middle class neighborhood. I was also pretty content. Still, I looked around at bright fellow philosophy students and thought about what good they may be able to do with a billion dollars.

Fast forward 10 years.

I now have a business idea.

I’ve had several business ideas in the past, but this one is different. It may actually come to fruition.

I’m still in the planning stages, but things are looking good.

So, how does one become a philosopher-entrepreneur? Let me tell you, although you may have to acquire some skills, it’s probably easier than writing an original thesis!

  1. The Idea. For starters, you don’t need an original idea. I know. This may dumbfound you. But, really, if you live in an area where there’s few restaurants, you don’t need to come up with the next novel idea. You just need a solid plan for a restaurant.
  2. The Plan. Which brings me to the next phase of the business: The Almighty Business Plan. You can look online at how to create one. While they may seem frivolous and unnecessary, they actually help you solidify your idea into moving, working parts. This, I’ve found, is incredibly helpful. Beyond being helpful, they come in handy when you are pitching your idea to investors and banks!

With these two things–The Idea and The Plan–you can move onto making your business concrete. And that’s exactly where I am at the moment with my current business idea.

You’ll want to keep your idea under wraps at first, but you will also want to run it by trusted sources to get feedback. Keeping your idea under wraps prevents someone else from jumping the gun before you and seizing the market.

Philosophy students, they say, tend to be good entrepreneurs. There’s laws and regulations you have to abide by (which is fine by me), but typically you have freedom (say, in casual dress codes) as a business owner that may suit philosophers. To boot, there’s always a challenge if you’re a start up–something philosophers seem to enjoy!

I hope this has helped anyone would may wish to go into business for themselves. I may never be Don Brownstein, but pursuing a passion project has its own benefits.

Skills to Pay the Bills: Philosophers on the Non Academic Job Market

Kevin J.S. Zollman‘s post on non academic careers got me thinking. It’s been about 10 years since I had to (gradually, and with a fight) leave academia due to illness. Over the years, I have experienced a lot. And this experience may be able to assist those coming after me. It was just the other day, in fact, that I offered my CV-turned-resume to someone on Twitter to look over because they wanted to know how to convert a CV into a resume for non academic jobs.

I stayed in arrested development as a perpetual student for a long time, but I have begun to strike out and have now matured and become much more comfortable with myself and my “voice.” I can’t rush these things for you if you haven’t reached them yet, but it’s a place where I feel I can do some good in assisting people coming after me in philosophy. So here’s some advice for you.

The work you do in school really does count on the non academic job market. Right now, I see jobs daily for things like Social Media Coordinator. If you contributed to a philosophy blog in school, even if it’s a student blog, like I was on, it counts that you know how to manage WordPress, work Twitter, and form a page on Facebook.

In fact, there are many skills you pick up along the way that are transferable. For example, I worked on the book Reading Bernard Williams when I was in graduate school. This did not merely give me the ability to talk about Williams, though. I edited papers. This gave me editing experience! Paid editing experience!

I used this experience to go on to edit a memoir, work as an Research Assistant for a book on AI and automation and do various other editing and writing gigs.

When you’re on the job market, you need to think about all the things you did in school because each extracurricular, each lowly-stipend assistant-ship, probably gave you skills that are valuable on the non academic job market.

Typically, they tell you in philosophy that studying philosophy will give you excellent and monetarily valuable critical thinking skills. And it’s true! While I have never seen a job announcement specifically ask for critical thinking skills, this is something hiring managers look for in an interview for many jobs.

You do, indeed, have skills. Many, many skills. If you choose to (or, as in my case, have to) work outside academia, remember this.

Care Notes: Mental Illness in Academia

Most people who know me know I had my first episode of psychosis when I was in graduate school. But long before then, I had a horrifying experience: I overheard a search committee at a university question a candidate’s “long term stability” because they had a previous breakdown.

It’s been 10 years since then, but not a lot has changed in terms of how we see mental illness. I’m writing this post for people in philosophy. After 10 years, there’s some things I have picked up. I encourage you to contribute to this thread in comments.

Whether someone goes inpatient voluntarily or involuntarily, it’s a jarring experience. Look, it’s a hospital. I always thought that, as with any hospital stay, cards, balloons, and well-wishes should be the norm. We want people who go inpatient to be well. Our practices ought to show this. If you would do it for any other hospital stay, do it for mental illness.

I have been inpatient over 8 times over the years, so I have some experience here: If you are a friend or family member (or other close associate of the patient), go to visiting hours and bring comforting items, if they are allowed. Soft blankets, slippers, and other cozy things make a hospital stay better. Trust me.

Don’t see the person as an illness. That’s just old crap. Just as medical professionals are instructed to see someone as having diabetes rather than “a diabetic,” you should use phrasiology and perform actions that show you understand this is a person with some condition or illness.

Along with this, you should take care to know when someone is a threat. Granted, this is hard to do and may take more professional instruction than we normally have these days, but far too many times, I’ve seen people become outcasts and have myself been ostracized from certain circles due to my psychological disability. It’s important to know that belonging to a community, having friends, intimate partners, a professional life and access to academics are all variables to a patient’s healthy success. If you withdraw university support, friendship, mentorship, etc., I understand you probably have been shaken and thus tend to act conservatively to keep this supposed threat away from you. But they may not be a threat at all. If they are just acting wonky and abnormally, it’s probably their illness, not them. Ask yourself: Do I want this person to be well? Do I care about them? When they are well, do they contribute to the body of knowledge? These and other questions will help you assess whether to sever ties.

You should also know the law. In the example I began this post with, it’s pretty clear that the people involved on the search committee were breaking the law. In your personal life, you can exclude anyone you want, and I’ve told people this. They are free to sever ties with me. It may be discriminatory on a personal level, but there’s no law saying you cannot be a personal bigot.

However, there are laws against institutional bigotry and discrimination. If you have a psychological disability, you are protected by these laws. But even if you do not have such a disability, you should know enough not to break the law.

For me, it has taken 10 years to really feel well. But that’s not going to be the case for everyone. The situation does not have to be dire, especially if we start to think about mental illness in a just way and act in conjunction with this.

I have lost friends, mentors and lovers due to my illness. I don’t even work in academic philosophy anymore. It’s my hope that by writing this, people coming after me–and some of those before me–have better opportunities and a more equitable world to face with a mental illness.

Share your thoughts in comments.

Rain Photography

Everyone, it seems, vies and struggles for the perfect photo. Typically, this photo is sunny, bright, with perfect light and happiness. I’m here to tell you that you can make good rain photos.

I stepped outside today, during the rainy season in Florida, to snap a few photos in the drizzle. Here’s an example of what I came away with:

Yellow Flowers in the Rain by Jennifer Lawson

Not all the photos I snapped were wonderful, but I hope showing you this allows you to think about photos you can take in overcast, rainy weather.

Things Around the House: An Essay

I bought a new digital camera and the hunt began: find the right light and the right objects to photograph. Soon, it turned into a mission. Around I went, taking photos of objects around the house.

There was a theme: Very few of the objects I photographed were what anyone would call beautiful. They were dirty. They were grimy. They were used.

As I shopped for images, I began to think about the importance of this theme. They were very unlike the pictures we are flooded with on a daily basis. I took photos of the things we hide from others; the things we hate to see in others. Yet, as pieces of art, these are things I wanted people to see and embrace.

Soon, my artistic theme emerged strong. So did the philosophy behind it.

Ever since I was an undergraduate, over 10 years ago, I have thought of Martha Nussbaum as a friend. Granted, we do not know one another, but her work is so engaging—and often so intimate—that I feel as though we have a friendship.

In one of my favorite books by Nussbaum, Hiding from Humanity, she argues, among other things, that disgust does not necessarily track harmful things. Instead, it often tracks what we hate to see in others (and hide about ourselves) because it reminds us that we are vulnerable beings who get old, sick and die.

Confronting our humanity in all its grit is perhaps the most difficult thing we can do. It is also one of the bravest. While feelings of disgust and shame may seem natural and harmless on the surface, they have historically given rise to things like arguments against marriage equality. Thus, tempering our disgust and shame is not only brave—it can give rise to a more equitable world.

My photo project may not cure all the ills of the world. But I fully believe it can have an impact. Each of us can examine ourselves, the arguments we give and reactions we have. We can choose to embrace our own humanity and be comfortable with the humanity of others. Moving in this direction is radically different than what we are used to. It means we have to admit that we get grimy, dirty and not everything we own is brand new and shiny.

The wear and tear I photograph, along with the dirt and grime, allow us, if we accept them, to be courageous beings and create a more just world. That doesn’t mean not to strive toward health. It doesn’t mean to never take a shower. It means that it’s simply part of the human condition to get older, to get sick and to die.

Be brave. Embrace it.

John Frusciante’s The Empyrean is 10 Years Old!

I noticed the other day when I went over to John Frusciante’s website to see what’s new that The Empyrean is 10 years old.

Ten years ago, I was among the first to purchase this album at a little music shop in Deland, Florida. It’s a musty, dusty old music store. In other words, the best! They always have new releases like Frusciante’s.

I bought the album, drove back to Jacksonville listening to it, marked the songs I thought were great and promptly gave it away. I should not have given it away because I miss having it now and I may just re-purchase it.

Me in my Chili Pepper shirt.

Frusciante is selling a re-done vinyl record of The Empyrean now to mark the 10 year anniversary.

If you’re not familiar with his solo work, I do encourage you to give it a listen.

In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite covers by John Frusciante:

Toe Jam

Here’s a poem I wrote in high school. My mom reminded me of it last night. It’s called Toe Jam.

Toe Jam

Some say it’s slimy and gross
but I like to eat it on my toast.
They say it’s nasty. I tell them to scram.
I eat my toast with toe jam.

It’s the best when you first wake up
and take a sip of a fresh brewed cup.
Or eat it on a sandwich with a slice of ham.
There’s so many ways to eat toe jam.

Why eat things that cost more than they are worth
when you have something free that you’ve had since birth?
I eat things that say who I am.
I eat good ol’ toe jam.