Home / How a nerdy kid from nowhere self-published a best-seller and got noticed by Google CEO Larry Page and The Wall Street Journal  
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Last week Larry Page, the CEO of one of the largest corporations in the world, and possibly one of the most powerful people on the planet, released an interview with the Financial Times endorsing my work and research on the effect of artificial intelligence and automation in the job market. That's quite remarkable, given that my school teachers told me I had no talent, that I wasn't good at writing, and that I was not even that smart.


Beside my classmates, with whom I could never relate with but didn't particularly care, the biggest problem was the school itself. The teachers, the academic program, the tests, in my mind everything was wrong. Any interest I had was either considered irrelevant, not part of the standard curriculum and therefore not worthy of my time, or just plain weird. It shouldn't be a surprise that I looked for a way to escape.


The turning point came at age 16. I was so depressed and frustrated by the educational system that I found myself on the brink of dropping out. Out of sheer serendipity I discovered that there was a progressive and revolutionary school (the United World College) that was accepting applications. This place had no grades, no compulsory attendance, you built your own curriculum, and you had to live alongside 200 students from 82 countries for the last two years of high school, away from home. The best part was that you could only get in through a scholarship, which was not given on the basis of your academic achievements, but rather on your general culture, attitude, ability to discuss with others, to challenge your beliefs, and to accept new ideas. This was my jam.


Whenever I started something new, there was always somebody telling me, "Why do you bother? You can't do it." There were many excuses they would bring up to justify their contempt for me — you're not an expert at this, you don't have the right connections, what you're trying to do it too big and big things never change — or one of my favorites — you're just a kid. Every time I received a rejection or I was put down by someone, it had the opposite effect on me. I felt like I had just been charged with life fuel, because if people whom I didn't really respect of cared for didn't think what I was doing was possible or even desirable, it probably meant they were wrong, and that I was in fact on the right track. Conventional thinking leads to apathy and acceptance, so that nothing ever changes, and pessimism becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Since my earliest memories, my life has been all about challenging that apathy and building something new and exciting, which would make the world suck less.


It wasn't long before I decided to quit my job — a move that infuriated most people I knew — and started a new career. I felt that society was not taking into consideration many important things, but there was one in particular that had been largely neglected up until that point. So I decided to write a book on that very topic, something that had been under my radar and that I've researched for years: the implacable advance of technological innovation and how it will transform the world, in particular the job market. A year later I published "Robots Will Steal Your Job, But That's OK: How to Survive the Economic Collapse and Be Happy". I was attacked by many, who claimed that I wasn't an expert, that I didn't understand economics, that I wasn't good at writing, that I should just shut up and go back to whatever I was doing before, and that I was a fool to think that I could make an impact. Needless to say, I didn't listen to that 'advice'.


One of the things that make people trust me is that I have a set of core values, which I have never betrayed. I was born in the cradle of free and open knowledge, so it made sense to me to release the book under a free license. As it turns out, these conditions weren't very popular among publishing houses. The combination of being a first-time author, with an uncompromising choice of Creative Commons license and a promise of a free release on the web, didn't go well with publishing deals. I negotiated with a few publishing houses, and the common response was pretty much the same — I wasn't good enough, I wasn't famous enough, I didn't have impressive achievements, and therefore I couldn't hope to dictate any condition. If I wanted to get published, I first had to bow down and compromise my values, and then *maybe* they would consider publishing my book. When I told them I would try self-publishing, they said, "Good luck with that, you'll never make it." Just like with my teachers, I didn't listen to this 'advice,' and instead I just went ahead and did it.


Whenever someone tells you that you can't do it, what the probably mean to say is that *they* can't do it. There are of course things that are objectively impossible for someone, and I'm not saying that you can achieve anything you put your mind to. If you have a heart condition, or you lack the mutation for the sprint gene, it's very unlikely that you'll win the 100-meter track at the Olympics. But if love something and want to get really good at it, go ahead and just do it. If you're passionate about it, and you persist, you can get damn good at it, don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Next time somebody tells you that you come from nowhere, take it as a compliment. It means that everything you will achieve in life, it will be because you deserved it, not because of your status or your family.

If you think you can't achieve great things, and that nothing will change, then you're probably right. That kind of mindset will become your self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think you can change the entire world and all you have to do is work hard, you're probably delusional. What I think is a healthy attitude, is to live by two core values, do what you love and strive to make something better. Don't set your goals as places to 'arrive at,' but rather understand that the only thing that matters and that you can always achieve is to improve and to have fun doing it. That is a goal that you can achieve every day, and every hour of your life.

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Needs an inspirational upvote button. There are many important messages in this article, and not just for teens. Adults of all ages would benefit from reading it.

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