Is Seth Godin's altMBA Worth It? That Depends on You.
It started at a copy machine.
In the dead of winter, in dark, gloomy Copenhagen, with $9 in my bank account, and a cup of truly awful kiosk instant coffee in my hand.
It was my second semester studying abroad. All of my friends had gone back home, and I was lonely, bored, and anxious. Somehow, I convinced the teacher of the Creative Industries course to hire me, and now I was helping him collect articles for a new book for the class.
That's how Seth Godin came into my life, way back in 2009.
I wish I could remember what article it was, or the moment that it had all clicked...but at some point around that time, I subscribed to Seth's blog. I've read it on a near daily basis ever since.
Then there were his books, from Purple Cow and Permission Marketing to The Dip, Tribes, and Linchpin. All of these were major influences in my life, and turned my point of view upside down and inside out.
Fast forward a few years later.
I'm living in Chicago, "working" as an actor and writing educational content for what can only be described as a content mill, and making next to nothing for my efforts. Around that time, Seth announced the launch of his altMBA program...only you had to be in New York to attend...for six months! Yeah...that wasn't gonna happen for me. But I schemed, and I plotted, and decided that one day, I would find a way to attend.
Fast forward again.
I'm sitting at my cubicle, working for Tribune Publishing, and cutting up with John over Gchat. We had started to discuss books that were meaningful to us. He introduced me to Hunter S. Thompson, and in turn, I introduced him to Godin, with a worn and battered copy of The Icarus Deception. That's how our relationship started.
And all the while, I kept daydreaming about attending the altMBA. I wanted that knowledge - that education - more than anything. I kept tabs on the program, and when it went purely digital (and was condensed to 30 days), I decided, one day soon, I would apply. When a postcard was sent to me in the mail, I kept it on my dresser mirror so that I could be reminded of my goal on a daily basis.
Fast forward yet again.
John and I left the Tribune in epic fashion and started Words by Sørensen. For the first two years, we were completely dedicated to just becoming better copywriters, so we jumped into the online educational environment head first, studying with leaders in our industry, such as Ash Ambirge. And during this time I wrote an article for Crixeo about alternative schools, using Seth's manifesto on education as a springboard for a broader conversation.
The altMBA seemed to call out to me. It came up - again and again - in my inbox, various feeds, and thoughts. I knew, one day, I had to attend. And so one night, after a couple of delicious Lagunitas Pilsners, I went to their site and finally applied. I played fast and loose with my application, and though I was nervous, I didn't put too much pressure on myself (because, honestly, I didn't think I had a shot).
"Fuck it dude." [Hits "SEND." ]
Shockingly, I got in!
Then my whole life changed, just as I'd hoped it would.
While John and I were building Words by Sørensen, my parents were still pushing for me to go to a professional school, whether that was to get an MBA or study law. I resisted. Through the years, and plenty of research, I'd learned that a traditional MBA program just wasn't the road I wanted to take.
First off, there was no way in hell I was studying for or taking the GMAT or the LSAT. I simply couldn't justify all of the time & effort that would have to be expended just to learn how to take a test, and I wasn't passionate about either option (apart from the possibility of studying abroad again...which is not a good enough reason to go $250K+ into debt).
Second, I didn't want to work in corporate America, at least not in that sense. It's not that I thought I was 'above' it or anything; I just felt that with so many traditional paths of work becoming relics of a fading industrial era, I had to carve out a path of my own. It seemed like the most difficult, but ultimately, the most stable option.
Then again, I knew I was an outlier from the beginning. At 13, I was accompanying my Dad to his meetings with Louisiana's flamboyant politicians at the Governor's Mansion. By 16, I was a regular reader of The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times (a habit I've since given up for various reasons). At 18, I knew the cost of oil and natural gas, and why the market fluctuated from day to day. By 20, I had studied international finance and commerce in London and Berlin. And for my 21st birthday, I was eating a Snickers bar in the Moscow airport, finishing essays on bureaucracy within the European Union (yawn).
I had been groomed to be mainstream, and when Seth Godin entered my life, he completely rocked my world. So much so that, by the time I graduated from college with my degree in political science, I took off to Chicago to experience life from a completely different perspective. As a result, I spent three years learning about theatre, clowning, improv, playwriting, and DIY storefront theatre productions. That sort of experience cocktail doesn't usually mesh well with corporate suits and ties, or high heels for that matter. (I'll take my comfy moccasins over heels any day, thank you very much.) And while all of those experiences inform our online writing business on a daily basis, I knew I had to continue my education, despite the fact that there didn't seem to be any programs out there to suit my specific needs...or so I thought.
[Seth Godin to the rescue!]
But while my background may be an unusual case compared to the majority of those who attend this program, I do believe that the altMBA is the perfect workshop for freelancers and small business owners, not only because of the type of education you receive but also because of the range of professionals you get to collaborate with. During the altMBA I got to work with everyone from consultants and IT geniuses to sales experts, non-profit managers and single mothers running their own businesses from home. And because you truly do learn from every person you work with during this program, their diverse backgrounds provide you with an enriching and surprising experience that you'll be hard pressed to find anywhere else. In other words, it doesn't matter who you are, or what you know, or where you are in your life - the altMBA is there to help you level up, individually and with others.
So, what can you expect?
The altMBA is more than just a business course or an online workshop. It shifts your perspective, transforms your mindset, and creates a community of change agents across more than 30 countries. There are no lectures, no tests, no bullshit - just 13 projects that force you to take risks, hold yourself accountable, give and receive honest feedback, and push yourself harder to make a difference in your own unique way.
Honestly, it's not for everyone.
Be prepared because the altMBA is intense. You're basically "drinking from a fire hose," and pushed to the brink of intellectual & creative exhaustion. It will challenge you in ways that you never thought possible, and give you greater rewards than you even considered. But only if you go all in. Like most things, you only get out what you put in.
How it helped me:
I went in thinking that I knew exactly what to expect. But this program taught me more about myself (and business) than any other educational experience ever has.
I went in with all of these lofty goals and ambitions. (I was driven, but to the point that I was blindsided by myself.) The program helped me cut through my own bullshit.
I went in thinking that I was the model of collaboration and open-mindedness. The program helped me see that I have issues with OCD and possessiveness with my projects - and taught me how to fix this.
I went in completely obsessed with the 2016 election, to the point that it was interfering with my work. The program helped me realize that I could make change happen, real change, simply by focusing on my business and creative pursuits, rather than getting worked up over every little policy shift.
And, finally, I went in thinking that by the time I'd finished the workshop, I would be all-knowing and bound for infinite success. It's been roughly eight months since I completed the program, and some lessons are only now clicking into place, especially the most important one: that the lessons are never over.
The altMBA made me a better person, a better business owner, a better artist, and a better thinker. It made me more collaborative, understanding, and willing to share. And it helped me meet other professionals who continue to inspire and educate me outside of the program. I feel confident that, because of the altMBA, I can face any challenge life throws my way, and that I can make a difference in the world, simply by showing up and doing the hard part first.
Of course, I can't tell you that you should participate in the program.
That's a decision you should make for yourself. But what I can tell you is that I'm a different person than the one I was before the altMBA. Then again, I'm a different person simply because of Seth Godin's influence in my life, and through all of the work he's produced over the years. In fact, I'm a better member of society because Seth keeps showing up (and shipping). And now that I've completed this program, I know that I have to hold myself to the same standards: to be generous, to dance with fear, and to cause a ruckus - every day. I know that I have to show up. And the altMBA gave me the balls to take that leap.
If you want that, then the altMBA is the program for you. If you don't, stick to the traditional path. Either way, I'm rooting for you.
P.S. If you're interested in learning more about the altMBA you can: