The career track as you know it is not a permanent condition of human life. It’s barely three generations old.
Civilization has been around for maybe 8 millennia. And for 7.9 of those, “career track” meant working on the family farm and eventually inheriting it. That’s if you were lucky and male. If you were female, it involved a lot of spreading your legs and hoping you survived at least enough childbirths to keep the lineage from going extinct.
In the late 19th century, technological advancement reached the point where agriculture exploded – the single biggest economic shift ever. It became so easy to grow more food than you and your family could possibly eat, that it freed up almost all would-be farmers to find new lines of work and create industries out of nothing. Even unglamorous jobs like carpenter and mason became feasible as careers: before then, it was the rare person who had the time or the economic impetus to build a house without living in it himself. Division of labor meant specialization, which resulted in people spending their lives building furniture or writing newspaper columns instead of just squeezing that activity in between the milking and the threshing. Attorneys, bankers and human resources directors were rare throughout most of human history. It’s only in modern times that these gigs have become something that a kid can aspire to. (Not that anyone “aspires” to run an HR department, but you get the concept.)
In the last couple of generations, the career track has been honed to a series of rote steps: do as many extracurricular activities as possible in high school. Get into as prestigious a college as your pedigree and necessarily thin CV will permit. Borrow to pay your tuition. Earn a degree. Go to your college’s job fair and find an employer whose vacation schedule and sexual harassment policy you can live with. Once you get hired, ensure that the times during which you choose to apply yourself coincide with the times your boss is watching. Come early, stay late, play company softball, show up on the occasional Saturday.
If that’s what you want out of life, fine. But understand that that strategy is neither permanent nor logical.
Look at the list of the richest people in the world. Notice anything about them, from Gates to Buffett to Carlos Slim Helu? None of them were salaried employees, at least not past adolescence. Sure, many of them inherited their money and a few might have acquired their fortunes somewhere south of ethically, but that’s not the point. With a handful of exceptions, you can’t achieve the peace and freedom that’s your birthright as a member of Homo sapiens just by filling out your time sheets correctly and handing them in by 5 p.m. Friday. Make partner at your law firm, and you’re committing to a life of greater responsibility at every rung – with more pressure, more gray hairs, and a greater likelihood of commencing that coke habit that all the cool attorneys have. (By the way, the next attorney or middle manager we meet who truly loves his job and its accouterments will be the first.)
This is not a recommendation to spend your life riding the rails and eating hobo stew. It’s a recommendation to start a business. The economic climate is ripe for entrepreneurship, which is ultimately the only thing that keeps progress progressing.
Huh? What are you talking about? The economy sucks on wheels.
Exactly. The dim affluence you could have enjoyed by staying in your loathsome job circa 2005 no longer exists. With every 8th American officially unemployed, you have to work harder just to tread water and keep your position. More misery, same result, only this time the result is more tenuous.
When you’re your own boss, this becomes a non-issue. All of a sudden, being productive and moving assets from lower-valued to higher-valued uses becomes more important than striking the right balance between not laughing at your boss’ jokes and laughing too hard.
Regardless of the nation’s regulatory climate, the cost of entry to entrepreneurship in 2010 is less than it’s ever been. Starting a software development company or a pool-cleaning business costs nothing more than an initial outlay of a few hundred bucks, if that. We talk about a rate of return for everything from bond funds to new industrial processes, but the rate of return on a sufficiently motivated human dwarfs anything you’ll find during even the most effervescent of stock-market bubbles.
There are tangible reasons for doing this, too. Arrange your business as an LLC or S corporation, and you’ll enjoy tax advantages that salaried and waged employees never experience. You can earmark much of what you buy and use in your daily life for exemptions and even credits. How this can be construed as worse than just having the same FICA deductions confiscated from your semimonthly paychecks is beyond us. Want to learn more? Modesty prevents me from telling you where you can, but someone wrote a useful book on the topic.
Greg McFarlane is an advertising copywriter who lives in Las Vegas and Lahaina – testament to the power of entrepreneurship. He recently wrote Control Your Cash: Making Money Make Sense, a financial primer for people in their 20s and 30s who know nothing about money. Buy the book here (physical) or here (Kindle) and reach Greg at greg@ControlYourCash.com.