What Is Mental Capital?

I value education.  I grew up determined to graduate from college, and I did.  Twice.  First, I earned a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering (which is not a major I would recommend if you want to sail through college), and second, I earned an MBA.

I give you this background because I don’t want you to misunderstand when I say that getting an MBA or any other degree is not mental capital.  Information alone is not  sufficient.  I know enough “educated idiots” who are very book smart but are not able to put what they’ve learned to good use.  Whether your sources of information are traditional or nontraditional, your mental capital is your ability to apply that information.  

I learned things in my MBA program that have been of direct benefit—lessons having to do with finances, human resources, motivational philosophies, etc.  But the greatest benefits came from experiencing the discipline of learning—exploring, digging, experimenting, and applying.  I made it a point to continue to explore and discover after I received my diploma, and I’ve learned some lessons since that have stayed with me far longer than the content I was tested on in the classroom. 

As you assess your mental capital, by all means consider what you’ve learned in school, but also consider what you’re good at.  What special skills do you have that you could apply to your current situation? What are you curious about?  Do you have unique insight or understanding about a particular field? 

For me, I think I have some natural ability as a salesman, which helped me convince my brothers to mow lawns for me.  I’m good at understanding technology, something I was aware of when I set out to repair that old lawnmower in my parents’ garage.  Both are forms of mental capital I’ve continued to use to this day.  Somewhere in my career, I became adept at search-engine optimization, or making sure web sites show up at the top of the list you see when you push “search.”  That knowledge didn’t exist when I graduated from college, but I picked it up along the road and it’s paid big dividends. 


I Just Love Happy Endings!

I have an acquaintance who had a solid career in print journalism at the time personal computers first made their appearance back in the early 1980s.  Like everyone around him, he had to learn a new set of skills.  Some of his coworkers balked at the changes this new technology was bringing to the newsroom and did as little as humanly possible to adapt. But Bob got excited, learned all he could, dug deeper than most, then kept digging, and today oversees a vast and complex website for an international organization.

I know another man who didn’t quite finish his degree in graphic design, in part because he needed to get a job to support a growing family. He had worked for a small television station as a student and was able to get on fulltime when he dropped out of college.  Rather than feeling he was at a dead end, though, he taught himself everything he could about a technology that was shifting from analog to digital and from standard definition to high definition.  Soon he became indispensable to the organization, and a few years later he caught the eye of a major television studio that needed someone who could keep pace with systems that change almost daily.  It was not a degree that got him this higher paying job, it was his mental capital.

Sometimes our schools present learning as a straight line:  You learn this, you pass the test on that, you get your diploma, you get your first job, and you move up the ranks.  But identifying and applying our mental capital will inevitably lead us to zigs and zags throughout our lives, if we are willing to open our eyes to our potential and to the possibilities that lie before us.

Passion is a vital form of mental capital.  It not only drives us, but it gets people aligned with us as we pursue our goals.  In my professional pursuits, I am passionate about technology and about building businesses.  Now, technology can be a pretty dry subject, but I can almost guarantee you I’ll bring so much passion to any discussion we have that you’ll find yourself fascinated before long.  Recently, I was given one hour to meet with an internationally known figure to discuss a technology I thought might benefit him.  The one hour he agreed to turned into four hours, and at the end of our discussion he introduced me to his colleagues by proclaiming, “This is the coolest geek I’ve ever met!” 

Your passions will be different from mine.  But find them.  Make sure your own fire is burning brightly, and others will see it and support you in your pursuits.