Career Trajectory Update

I just finished working my 12th summer of Not Back to School Camp: an annual milestone where I reflect deeply, talk with long-time friends, and choose new directions for my life and career.

After camp last year I determined that running Unschool Adventures trips doesn’t pair well with my longer-term goal of being able to work from anywhere, ideally with a family in tow.

I still love running big trips for self-directed teens, and I plan to continue offering one trip a year for a long time. But as I turn 35 I’m feeling ready to turn Unschool Adventures into a side gig and take a bold new direction with my primary career path.

Here’s a birds-eye view of this new trajectory.

New Focus: the Parenting of Self-Directed Teens

Teenagers are my jam. Ever since college, they’re the age group I’ve felt most compelled to serve. Now I have over a decade of experience working with teens through Unschool Adventures and summer camps; doing one-on-one coaching with teens; and speaking for teen groups.

My approach has been to work with teens directly, with minimal parent involvement. This began at Deer Crossing Camp, where I witnessed the transformational power of a 4-week teen leadership program away from home. Then I read Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook, the only education book I’d seen that directly addressed an audience of young people; I followed suit by writing College Without High School and Better Than College directly for teens. In Unschool Adventures trips, parents play almost no role beyond paperwork and payments: it’s really just the trip leaders and teens off galavanting around the world, sending an “I’m still alive!” email home every now and then.

I believe this has been a valuable and important approach to take: it makes young people feel like I take them seriously, it breeds mutual respect, and it encourages teens to act like the adults they will soon become. But I think I need to expand beyond this approach.

If I’m more honest and less self-congratulatory, the parents of teens actually do play a huge role in everything I’ve been doing. It’s overwhelmingly the parents (mostly the moms) who find my books and programs and share them with their teens. They provide all sorts of non-financial support. The fantasy that I hold of the self-empowered teenager who’s essentially a fully functioning adult living at home seems to be just that: a fantasy.

The teens with whom I work have incredibly involved parents. Not involved in the controlling, helicopter-parenting way, but involved in the deep-connection, deep-trust kind of way. They know their kids really well. From they outside they appear hands-off, but this approach is informed instead of neglectful. The balance they strike is really quite incredible. While the nature half of the nature/nurture debate seems to play a larger role  than we imagine, it’s clear to me that the awesome teens with whom I work do not arrive in utero. Parents and parenting matter—big time.

Logical conclusion: If I want to help more teens, I should help more parents.

I want to learn more about the parenting practices that undergird the lives of the badass teens whom I serve. I’m not looking to accumulate parenting “tricks”—I’m interested in nuanced styles, beliefs, techniques, and philosophies. If I can identify these and distill them into something useful and novel, then perhaps I can inspire more parents to raise their teens in an environment saturated with more freedom, respect, consent, trust, and personal responsibility than they’d otherwise have.

This new focus could expand my reach beyond the narrow subset of families I’ve mostly served thus far: those with the motivation and ability to unschool their kids. Widening the circle of families I work with feels right to me on many levels.

(If you find yourself saying, “What the hell are you thinking, Blake, you don’t have any kids! Why would anyone listen to you about parenting?”—I have a few responses. First of all, many parents already do listen to me. Second of all, I have tons of face-time experience with teens, which isn’t the same as having a child, but it still counts for something. Thirdly, there may be a benefit to giving parenting advice without the bias of having children oneself: it lends a certain degree of objectivity.)

Reawakening the Writer-Researcher-Academic

My last book, The Art of Self-Directed Learning, was released three years ago. Since then I’ve haven’t felt that I have another book in me, but my desire to research and write has remained.

Though my travel- and adventure-heavy lifestyle appears to be more about “doing” than “thinking,” my academic side has never really died. I’m constantly reading. For years I’ve shared my favorite education-related articles each month through my email newsletter. I receive a constant drip of emails from readers of my books, which I suspect have done more good than all my in-person work.

This is all to say: I’m looking for an excuse to dive back into reading, researching, and synthesizing ideas. I’m excited to go spelunking for source material, vet studies, and strike that magical balance between scientific validation and anecdotal accessibility. I want that challenge in my life again.

Not Another Book

“So why not write another book, Blake?” Good question, Blake. That seems like a logical progression from everything I’ve said above.

Here are my problems with that idea.

Money: I’ve learned enough about the publishing industry to know that only blockbuster books make money today, and the author needs to bring a huge platform (i.e., social media followers, blog readers) to get taken seriously by agents and publishers. I don’t have a blockbuster idea or a huge following right now, so I don’t think it’s a good bet for me as a career move. My three books have served (and continue to serve) me well as ways to share my philosophy and attract people to my in-person programs (which actually pay my bills). On my current scale, a book will not be a significant money-maker, and there are less time-intensive ways to attract new readers (like writing articles).

Engagement: We are increasingly accustomed to consuming lots of different types of media: videos, podcasts, games and interactive websites, short- and long-form articles. I’m not going to make a pessimistic comment here in the vein of “people don’t read books anymore,” but I do believe that my message can benefit from more media diversity. To maximize engagement, I think whatever I create should be multi-modal, not just written.

Sameness: Essentially, I’ve done the book thing. It doesn’t feel new, fresh, and exciting to me. Maybe that feeling will return down the line.

Maybe an Online Course

So what can I create, if not a book, to share what I learn? The answer, I think, is some sort of online course, workshop, game, or other computer-based experience for parents.

Here’s what I like about this idea:

  • I can reach a worldwide audience.
  • I can create something highly engaging and multi-modal (combining video, audio, and written material).
  • I charge more than I do for a book while remaining financially accessible to most families.
  • The need for ongoing promotion would give me a reason to continue speaking for parent groups, which I already do and enjoy.

I also have very mixed feelings about the allure of creating an online courses. Essentially:

  • Face-to-face experiences are always more powerful than online ones.
  • I’m not a consumer of such courses, so why would I think I can create a good one?
  • More people like the idea of profiting from an online course (drawn by the promise of location-independent, “easy money”) than actually taking a course themselves.

This is why I say “maybe.” I don’t want to sell snake oil to myself. I don’t want to get carried away creating something that no one actually wants to buy. So I’m leaving the format open for now.

Steps I’m Taking

You can see this blog post going from high-clairty to low-clarity, fairly rapidly. I don’t have a concrete plan, but I’ve got to start somewhere. Here’s what I’m done so far.

Reading a bunch of books related to parenting teens. I’m curious about the current state of parenting advice for teens—certainly slanted toward my preexisting biases—so I surveyed some parents on Facebook and spent about $150 to indulge my research whims.

Some of my new books, strewn on Grace Llewellyn’s floor

Outlining a potential Fall 2018 US/Canada road trip to visit parents and schools. I have a great network of parent contacts and alternative schools / self-directed learning centers that I’d like to visit or re-visit. I envision a combined research trip and speaking tour, where I go around interviewing parents and educators while funding the trip with speaking gigs.

Experimenting with video. I’ve created a lot of written and audio content but little video. I find it daunting. So I’m recruiting a friend to help me experiment with creating highly engaging video content.

Hiring my own boss. For a project of this size, I recognize the need for someone to manage it—and more importantly, manage me—as I do my research and create content. I’ve lined up another friend to serve in this role.

Giving myself the time and money needed to really dive in. Perhaps most importantly, I’m setting up my 2018 calendar to allow for many months of deep-diving into this new trajectory, and I’m giving myself permission to spend some of my savings on this (which I’ll hopefully later call “investment” rather than “spending”).

Want to Follow My Journey?

The best way to follow along is via my monthly email newsletter. That’s where I’ll share blog posts like these and other significant updates.

As always, thanks for reading and caring.

—Blake

  • YoCO

    … (Just wanted to make sure I would be able to post before I made a long post!) FWIW…

    Too many fun and interesting things you’ve touched on and that I want to respond to, so I’m just going to bullet them:

    * congrats on 12 years at summer camp! I hope they give you some kind of medal 🎖
    * when you said “choose a new direction for my life and career” I got a little nervous and thought you were bowing out altogether from Alternative Learning. Thank goodness you’re not!
    * since you have the idea to at one point have a family in tow, you’ll be answering all these questions as a parent that you’ll be asking everyone else. Why not interview yourself before you interview anyone else. What would you ask and what would you say and what would be left unknown?
    * agreed that starting with the parents would widen your circle of reach to the community and world at large. Excellent idea.
    * I never found myself saying “what the hell are you thinking Blake?” I think you have so much experience through all the reasons you listed and that gives you a great point of view on teens.
    * when you mentioned spelunking for ideas and resources I thought it would be good to take a year to go around to all the conferences around the nation and even Canada and wherever you go outside the country, to take these questions that you have and interview people and just dig deep into their minds and souls and find out what the pulse is on alternative education and just learning to live life in general. Terrific idea!
    * Pam Laricchia , a good place to get so much great information and another pulse on alternative education is through her podcasts, blog and through the old conference TUC talks. Her guests are great as well as her two cohorts, Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. They offer so much and other sources of ideas and information.
    * I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of ASDE Alliance for self-directed education. I think going to the conferences they hold here in the United States and most recently or few months ago in Africa would be a great place to offer your experience as well as gain some information for your future plans.
    * book or multi-modal – a book that comes to my mind to distill which route you would move in to go effectively is the $100 startup by Chris Guillebeaux. I’m guessing you’ve probably already read it but I’m currently listening to it and so much of what you’re talking about is making me think of ideas he speaks about in the book. Perhaps if it’s been awhile since you’ve read it or heard it, picking it up again might be worthwhile.
    * in your section above “Money”, when you mention Publishers, lots of money, huge platform it makes me think of a different way. There is a book in the tiny house realm called The Big Adventures of Tiny House and you can learn more about it if you listen to the Tiny House podcast.com episode 106. These two women, the author and the illustrator, completed the book and had it printed I believe within nine months and they’ve been selling it at various tiny house conferences around the nation. I think there’s some way that you can get in the door in the same way they did via self-publishing, on a shoestring, and just by the desire parents have for something better for their children. A self-published book is not out of the question.😉
    * what should you create to share what you’ve learned? I think the answer to that will come as you go throughout the nation and interview people and ask them.
    * “steps you’re taking”, I love it! I love that you’re so aware of what you been writing. I know that sounds like duh! but sometimes that’s not always the case in blog posts. It’s as if people don’t reread what they’ve just written three or four paragraphs ago so I really really appreciate that one! Plus, it cracked me up!
    * good on you for doing your US and Canada road trip! That sounds fantastic and fun. Maybe there would be a lot of input from your listeners, blog readers, friends and let you know if there are any conferences they’ve heard about. It could be very interesting to attend home school conferences where alternative education and unschooling is not really what people seem to be looking for. Going in there to plant seeds and extract information could be the very thing that people need. They could be on the fence about unschooling and there you are ready to give them the okay! Hopefully the Wayfinding academy in Oregon will be one of your stops. They have already finished the high school years but interviewing them just seems like it would have a big impact on the information you’re looking for.
    * definitely going to be watching and listening for all that you come up with on your travels and research. It would definitely be a plus to hear what you find along the way instead of waiting to the very end when you have it compiled in a nice little package tied up in a bow

    Just my .02

  • YoCO

    You are definitely making an impact on options parents have for their children. Off the top of my head I cannot think of anyone else who offers what you do- yes, there are bloggers, podcasters, and authors on alt learning but not from your unique experience and time spent with countless teens. Who else could I have suggested to a complete teen stranger? I gave her your “number”, and in so doing I gave her a life raft.

    Setting: local library one evening, overhearing an adult with a teen girl. It wasn’t a conversation as 1. the girl didn’t say much & 2. the adult didn’t really hear what this gal was truly saying. This adult had a one track mind-college. She either knew of no other alternative in learning/education to offer this gal or she was on someone’s payroll. (My money is on the latter). I cringed with every redirection this adult made when this gal didn’t take the college bait offered but tried to tell of her deeper desires and ideas outside the college box. Finding paper & pencil (libraries don’t have pens 😛) I wrote blakeboles.com. I had to keep pushing out of my mind thoughts that I might seem like “stranger danger” if I talked to this young gal. When to do it? When to do it? Wait until she’s no longer with the adult, then I won’t look like such a weirdo coming up to a total stranger and giving her a piece of paper. 🤤. Even though it was going to be awkward, I had to do it because the other thought that went through my mind was if you don’t do this and you go home and she goes home and you don’t tell her about any other options, how are you going to feel? And and I knew that I would feel terrible.

    So once the adult left and this gal, along with her parent, walked out of the library I knew I had my chance. So I just said something like “I overheard you talking about college and I just wanted to let you know that there are other options. A good place to start to get information is Blakeboles.com. I went on about your trips, podcasts with great guests, and the resources you have. I gave her the paper and we talked a little bit more. She was really interested! I had to let her go after a few minutes but I was tempted to give her my number for further questions and encouragement. That’s my goal next time, to write my number down as well.

    So, i have to ask, who else could I have suggested to this gal who wants something schools aren’t/won’t offering/offer? Truly, no one comes to mind. Sure, there are a lot of people in Alternative Learning and you’ve had quite a few of those wonderful people on your podcast but they don’t have the connection, the commitment and the care that you have for teens like this gal that I met one night in the library. True story, about 2 months ago.

    YOU are making an impact.
    You ARE making an impact.
    You are MAKING an impact.
    You are making an IMPACT.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.
    All the best to you

    • Thank you for sharing this wonderful story, Yolanda! Warms my heart :)

  • YoCO

    … FWIW…

    Too many fun and interesting things you’ve touched on and that I want to respond to, so I’m just going to bullet them:

    * congrats on 12 years at summer camp! I hope they give you some kind of medal 🎖
    * when you said “choose a new direction for my life and career” I got a little nervous and thought you were bowing out altogether from Alternative Learning. Thank goodness you’re not!
    * since you have the idea to at one point have a family in tow, you’ll be answering all these questions as a parent that you’ll be asking everyone else. Why not interview yourself before you interview anyone else. What would you ask and what would you say and what would be left unknown?
    * agreed that starting with the parents would widen your circle of reach to the community and world at large. Excellent idea.
    * I never found myself saying “what the hell are you thinking Blake?” I think you have so much experience through all the reasons you listed and that gives you a great point of view on teens.
    * when you mentioned spelunking for ideas and resources I thought it would be good to take a year to go around to all the conferences around the nation and even Canada and wherever you go outside the country, to take these questions that you have and interview people and just dig deep into their minds and souls and find out what the pulse is on alternative education and just learning to live life in general. Terrific idea!
    * Pam Laricchia , a good place to get so much great information and another pulse on alternative education is through her podcasts, blog and through the old conference TUC talks. Her guests are great as well as her two cohorts, Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. They offer so much and other sources of ideas and information.
    * I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of ASDE Alliance for self-directed education. I think going to the conferences they hold here in the United States and most recently or few months ago in Africa would be a great place to offer your experience as well as gain some information for your future plans.
    * book or multi-modal – a book that comes to my mind to distill which route you would move in to go effectively is the $100 startup by Chris Guillebeau. I’m guessing you’ve probably already read it but I’m currently listening to it and so much of what you’re talking about is making me think of ideas he speaks about in the book. Perhaps if it’s been awhile since you’ve read it or heard it, picking it up again might be worthwhile.
    * in your section above “Money”, when you mention Publishers, lots of money, huge platform it makes me think of a different way. There is a book in the tiny house realm called The Big Adventures of Tiny House and you can learn more about it if you listen to the Tiny House podcast.com episode 106. These two women, the author and the illustrator, completed the book and had it printed I believe within nine months and they’ve been selling it at various tiny house conferences around the nation. I think there’s some way that you can get in the door in the same way they did via self-publishing, on a shoestring, and just by the desire parents have for something better for their children. A self-published book is not out of the question.😉
    * what should you create to share what you’ve learned? I think the answer to that will come as you go throughout the nation and interview people and ask them.
    * “steps you’re taking”, I love it! I love that you’re so aware of what you been writing. I know that sounds like duh! but sometimes that’s not always the case in blog posts. It’s as if people don’t reread what they’ve just written three or four paragraphs ago so I really really appreciate that one! Plus, it cracked me up!
    * good on you for doing your US and Canada road trip! That sounds fantastic and fun. Maybe there would be a lot of input from your listeners, blog readers, friends and let you know if there are any conferences they’ve heard about. It could be very interesting to attend home school conferences where alternative education and unschooling is not really what people seem to be looking for. Going in there to plant seeds and extract information could be the very thing that people need. They could be on the fence about unschooling and there you are ready to give them the okay! Hopefully the Wayfinding academy in Oregon will be one of your stops. They have already finished the high school years but interviewing them just seems like it would have a big impact on the information you’re looking for.
    * definitely going to be watching and listening for all that you come up with on your travels and research. It would definitely be a plus to hear what you find along the way instead of waiting to the very end when you have it compiled in a nice little package tied up in a bow

    Just my .02

  • YoCO

    Too many fun and interesting things you’ve touched on and that I want to respond to, so I’m just going to bullet them:

    * congrats on 12 years at summer camp! I hope they give you some kind of medal 🎖
    * when you said “choose a new direction for my life and career” I got a little nervous and thought you were bowing out altogether from Alternative Learning. Thank goodness you’re not!
    * since you have the idea to at one point have a family in tow, you’ll be answering all these questions as a parent that you’ll be asking everyone else. Why not interview yourself before you interview anyone else. What would you ask and what would you say and what would be left unknown?
    * agreed that starting with the parents would widen your circle of reach to the community and world at large. Excellent idea.
    * I never found myself saying “what the hell are you thinking Blake?” I think you have so much experience through all the reasons you listed and that gives you a great point of view on teens.
    * when you mentioned spelunking for ideas and resources I thought it would be good to take a year to go around to all the conferences around the nation and even Canada and wherever you go outside the country, to take these questions that you have and interview people and just dig deep into their minds and souls and find out what the pulse is on alternative education and just learning to live life in general. Terrific idea!
    * Pam Laricchia , a good place to get so much great information and another pulse on alternative education is through her podcasts, blog and through the old conference TUC talks. Her guests are great as well as her two cohorts, Anne Ohman and Anna Brown. They offer so much and other sources of ideas and information.
    * I’m pretty sure you’ve heard of ASDE Alliance for self-directed education. I think going to the conferences they hold here in the United States and most recently or few months ago in Africa would be a great place to offer your experience as well as gain some information for your future plans.
    * book or multi-modal – a book that comes to my mind to distill which route you would move in to go effectively is the $100 startup by Chris Guillebeaux. I’m guessing you’ve probably already read it but I’m currently listening to it and so much of what you’re talking about is making me think of ideas he speaks about in the book. Perhaps if it’s been awhile since you’ve read it or heard it, picking it up again might be worthwhile.
    * in your section above “Money”, when you mention Publishers, lots of money, huge platform it makes me think of a different way. There is a book in the tiny house realm called The Big Adventures of Tiny House and you can learn more about it if you listen to the Tiny House podcast.com episode 106. These two women, the author and the illustrator, completed the book and had it printed I believe within nine months and they’ve been selling it at various tiny house conferences around the nation. I think there’s some way that you can get in the door in the same way they did via self-publishing, on a shoestring, and just by the desire parents have for something better for their children. A self-published book is not out of the question.😉
    * what should you create to share what you’ve learned? I think the answer to that will come as you go throughout the nation and interview people and ask them.
    * “steps you’re taking”, I love it! I love that you’re so aware of what you been writing. I know that sounds like duh! but sometimes that’s not always the case in blog posts. It’s as if people don’t reread what they’ve just written three or four paragraphs ago so I really really appreciate that one! Plus, it cracked me up!
    * good on you for doing your US and Canada road trip! That sounds fantastic and fun. Maybe there would be a lot of input from your listeners, blog readers, friends and let you know if there are any conferences they’ve heard about. It could be very interesting to attend home school conferences where alternative education and unschooling is not really what people seem to be looking for. Going in there to plant seeds and extract information could be the very thing that people need. They could be on the fence about unschooling and there you are ready to give them the okay! Hopefully the Wayfinding academy in Oregon will be one of your stops. They have already finished the high school years but interviewing them just seems like it would have a big impact on the information you’re looking for.
    * definitely going to be watching and listening for all that you come up with on your travels and research. It would definitely be a plus to hear what you find along the way instead of waiting to the very end when you have it compiled in a nice little package tiedup in a bow

    Just my .02