B.Batjin: Job trends go out of style but passion never does
Mongolian Economy magazine spoke with B.Batjin, founder of Tomujin Academy, Tomujin Digital, and Tomujin Alternative School, about how to find and develop passion, children’s education and Tomujin’s vision.
-Why Tomujin Alternative School is disruptive?
-I would say that Tomujin is disruptive because its purpose is not to disrupt but to do something meaningful that can produce actual results. Tomujin not only focuses on teaching academic skills but also life skills including self-drive, constant learning, curiosity, self-awareness and decision-making. These skills are hardly taught in schools, even at Harvard University which is considered the best educational institution in the world. No doubt that there are schools that have abandoned the traditional approach in education. However, the majority have not changed in hundreds of years still running on an industrial factory model and failing to equip students with the skills demanded in real life. Today, so many young people are depressed, demoralized, not self-aware and have externally driven goals set by their parents or by the market demands. In short, the education system is failing to keep up with the fast-changing world. The world, life itself, companies like Amazon, eBay, or Netflix will not wait.
I have two children. Since I became a father I have been giving serious thoughts on how I could help my children to live their life to the fullest. I certainly do not want my children to be genius at math but unable to pick out their clothes, unable to make sense of their feelings, or even unable to express themselves. People who are running Human and Tomujin, an educational group, came together to work as one towards a common goal – to educate children.
-Tomujin helps students in getting into Ivy League Universities. In this fast-changing world, any degree might become obsolete in the near future. What advice would you give on choosing our major?
-Sometimes people confuse me as someone who is obsessed with getting students into Ivy League Universities. That is not our goal. We see students who get into the best universities as our poster child that motivates other students to do the following five things: charge their brains, do community work, gain practical experience through internships, have a passion and take initiative.
I never advise anyone on what major they should choose. Degrees and professions are like fashion. It can go out of style anytime whereas our core passion and internal drive do not. Hence, I ask about their passion or core needs that must be met. Do you want significance? Do you like working with people? If you tie your passion with hard work ethics, you can accomplish anything at any age and live a fulfilling life. However, people tend to advise choosing a career in high demand or which makes the most money. Today’s highest paying job is different from five years ago. All these influencers are advising kids to be programmers. It is indeed ridiculous. That is merely a trend which will eventually shift. If you tie your life to a trend, you will be devastated if you are out of trend. But your passion never goes out of trend. Let’s say if you are passionate about exercising, even during the quarantine you will be exercising in your room.
Before giving any advice, we need to ask “What do you want to do?” and “Have you tried anything yet?” If the answer is “I have not tried anything.” then tell them to try different things. In fact, at Tomujin, we have many interns who are only 16 and 17 years old who want to try different things.
-Most people never find their passion in life. What advice would you give to people who want to find their passion?
-It is absolutely true that there are many people who never find their internal passion. It is another proof that our educational institutions are getting it wrong. If schools are so great then why so many people are miserable, depressed and frequently switching jobs? At school, you were never able to try different things and fail. Schools are obsessed with putting a number on everything. If you have been graded and labeled for your entire life, it is hard to find the guts to try something.
If you want to find your passion, try different things but go all the way and put yourself out there. What I mean by that is if you want to get an internship, keep knocking on their door until they accept you. You cannot simply send a message and give up if they do not respond. That way you will never find your passion. A friend of mine once said, “Everyone aims big but no one is willing to do anything.” How can I do nothing and become Jeff Bezos? Impossible.
I thought I wanted to be a lawyer because I talk and argue a lot. Fortunately, when I was studying in the United States, I got a chance to do an internship at the Office of Attorney General Martha Coakley in Massachusetts. It was horrible! I was lucky to find out that the lawyer’s profession was not my thing when I was 19 years old. If I took a job as a lawyer for money, I would have hated my life. I am still in the process of developing my passion. Only after eleven years of teaching, I found out that I am not obsessed with teaching aspects but with helping others realize their potential.
-Tomujin helps students to learn life skills. Would you consider helping adults (graduates, professionals, unemployed and etc.) in acquiring life skills?
-Absolutely! As of today, around 160 people work at Tomujin which was started with three, four people. We teach people in our organization the same thing. Age is irrelevant in learning life skills. Tony Robbins put it elegantly, “Heal the boy and the man will appear.”
This is why I am thinking of working with parents in the future because they are the first influencers who are programming children from their birth. They instill everything that was instilled by their parents and schools. At the same time, they hope their kids turn out more successful than them. If a parent says “If you won’t go to college you are going to have a shitty life.” that means they did not go to college and they lived a shitty life. That means parents are instilling a fear in their kids who might have been able to create so much value in this world. None of the parents are trained. That is one of the reasons why only a small percentage of people feel fulfilled, happy and love what they do. That is why we want to train parents and give certifications on parenting. We can help parents through digital courses, books, community and help centers. I want parents to have a place to call and say “I do not know how to handle my son. I want to punch him in the face. That is how I feel, what should I do?”
-What if I knock on your door and ask you to help me in pursuing my passion. Would you help me?
-First of all, I do not know if I can help you. My passion is to help people regardless of their age. In the past five years, I used to help kids a lot. Quite a number of people used to criticize me by saying “You are wasting your time!”, “You are tiring yourself out!” or “You are helping people who pay nothing and even say nothing after receiving help!”. What I learned from my past experience is that I want to help people who want to help others. I will help you only if you tell me that you are going to help another 15,000 people. If your goal is not to enrich yourself, I cannot help you with that.
-In your opinion, what are the best things you could do for your kids?
-First one is to help your kids build trust in themselves. When you trust yourself you can make decisions and take actions. One way to do so is to love your kids unconditionally.
You should be saying “I love you!” to your kids regardless if they have a Harvard degree or not.
French people separate self-worth from achievements and even say “tu as raison” which means you have a reason. On the contrary, in English or in Mongolian, you say “You are wrong!” or “You are right!” associating anything you do to your self-worth. The second is developing a belief system. You should be telling your kids that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. The third thing is to give your kids more control so they can become self-driven people. My son is five years old but I let him choose his clothing, food, house rules and what movie to watch.
If you have these three traits you can achieve anything. However, parents tend to kill these traits. Parents tend to say “I know what is better for you.” or “You are not old enough to decide.”, and tell their kids what to wear, eat and when to sleep. Tieing achievements, ideas, things to a kid’s self-worth is a recipe for disaster. I know amazing designers who easily get depressed when something goes wrong because their parents have been telling them “If you fail that is because you are bad.” or “If you succeed then I will love you.”
-Can we fix the things that our parents have instilled in us?
-Certainly! Mother’s hormones, mood and everything she does influence prenatal development. That means you have been conditioned for years and years from your mother’s womb up until now. You cannot undo the conditioning over a weekend. You can rewire yourself but you have to take extreme actions. I am a big fan of Tony Robbins who is almost a father figure to me. He says you have to actively dive in deeper to change. That is another reason why I want to work with parents who can work with their kids before they start school. Then I want to work with their kids through our school. We believe by doing so we can help millions and millions of children. I think this could change the world.
-Your selection process is based on both academic and non-academic criteria. What does your school look for in a student?
-We use holistic admissions where you take multiple factors into consideration and not reduce students to a test score. We basically look for kids who are self-aware, self-driven and have big potential. Also, we want to build a diverse group of students that have one common characteristic which is a desire to give back to others.
-Let’s say I am an academically poor student but I am highly self-aware, self-driven and want to give back to the world. Would I be admitted to your school?
-You can get in. We have done this in the past. However, if you are really passionate but you have never taken action, you will not get in. You have to be a person who takes action. I am not saying you have to build an amazing company to get admitted to our school. The key is you must have taken action.
-You have admitted around 200 students to Tomujin Alternative School last year? How many students will you admit this year?
-If you include the middle school, we selected 350 students last year. This year we plant to admit from 550 to 600 students.
-Will you keep expanding each year?
-Yes, we will. Human Elementary School, Human Middle School, Human High School, EcoGer Kindergarten and Tomujin Alternative School are an educational group. Even though we are separate schools, we share our teachers, talent, know-how and facilities. Do you know what emerges from that? Growth and progress. We hope to expand our ecosystem. In other words, we want to branch out, franchise and sell our curriculum and partner with other schools. If school principals are reading this, I would like to say that we are willing to partner and sell our curriculum and management through equity investments. In two to three years, we plan to have 10,000 kids, 600 teachers, 10-15 schools in our educational ecosystem in Mongolia.
The private schools backed by the biggest conglomerates have been in their own cage, making their own students and teachers better and making their own shareholders richer. It is an ancient mentality. Tomujin does not work that way. We share. Our first marketing campaign was named “Hamtdaa” which means together in Mongolia. We can prepare the next generation for the future by partnering and sharing with each other.
Schools need to tear down their cages and stop building their own schools. Let’s build an educational ecosystem of schools working together. Only that way we can make a real change.
-Do you plan to expand to other countries as well?
-Definitely. As a matter of fact, we are having talks with people in Vietnam. Our goal is simple – to empower people. We want to see people having fulfilling lives. That is why we want to partner up with other schools to make our vision into reality.
-Is it true that over 40 percent of your students receive financial aid?
-We grant financial aid to kids who are admitted to our school but do not have the financial muscle. This model was inspired by Williams College that changed my life by giving me financial aid to study there. Our school never judges a kid’s potential by their parent’s financial success. Last year, we gave 3.6 billion tugriks in financial aid, with the average being about 68% financial aid given per student. In contrast, other schools in Ulaanbaatar provide financial aid to no more than five to 8 percent of their student body even though they are backed up by large companies.
-If I am not wrong, you started Tomujin Academy without any investments. How was it even possible?
-You start small. Young entrepreneurs write down their dream on a piece of paper and beg for money from investors. That is the wrong approach. If you really believe in your idea, you can start small so it does not require any investments. If I ask you how you make a million dollars it is intimidating. But if I ask you to find one person who will pay you a dollar it is more actionable. Then you can find ten, hundred, thousand and keep going until you reach a million dollars.
When we started Tomujin Academy, we just rented an office and started offering SAT courses. Only five people signed up for the first course. Then, we moved to a bigger office and began offering other courses as well. It started building traction. In fact, you do not need an MBA degree or go to university to learn this. You keep taking small actions until you hit your goal.
More importantly, you cannot get any investments if you are not creating any value. At Tomujin, we have created so much value that investors approach us first. Every day we focus on creating value. Thus, you need to chase value creation, not money.
-How do you select your teachers? Do you have selection criteria?
-Yes. We want to know if you really love helping others or not. That is the main criterion. In addition, you have to be willing to learn and work hard. Our smartphones are being updated every month or so but how about teachers? Most teachers are becoming obsolete because youtube videos are doing a better job than them. That is why we require our teachers to be learners.
-If you are trying to expand, how are you going to overcome the shortage of teachers?
-I am not running Tomujin alone. That is why I say we. As an educational group, we run multiple programs for teachers and for people who want to become teachers in the future. Secondly, we help people who are not teachers but decided to become teachers. One way to attract teachers is to offer the same deal as other profitable companies do such as competitive salary or equity options.
-What does the day in the life of the founder of Tomujin look like?
-It varies day to day but an ideal day goes like this. I wake up at 5 a.m. and read a little bit. Then I go to the gym at 6 a.m. and our team starts exercising at 6:30. After working out, I sit in a sauna. This morning routine makes me feel energized throughout the day. At the moment, our team at Tomujin Digital is working on the creation of an educational app called “Tiny” which might change the way we learn. We plan to launch our beta version of the app after a month and a half so since we are working on a new project, my day usually ends around 11.
-If you could invite anyone in the world to a dinner, who would it be?
-Tony Robbins. I would want to listen to him talking. I would tell him my life story, my passion and my vision, and then ask what is the best way to achieve it. People tend to confuse him as a motivational speaker. In fact, he is an excellent strategist.
Moreover, I want to say to him “Thank you. You have completely changed my life. But I want to make sure your job becomes obsolete because there is no one who needs help.” I want to teach everything that Tony Robbins teaches to kids through our school so kids will be well equipped for life.
-If you could give one gift to the world. What would it be?
-Tomujin. It might sound ridiculous. I want my grandchildren to look up to me because of the things I have accomplished, not how much money I made. Tomujin is the gift I want to give to my children, grandchildren and the world.