To be [Employed], or Not to be [Employed]? That is the Question.
“Get Rich Or Die Tryin'” – 50 Cent
Get good grades. Go to college. Get a good job. Get married. Start a family. Take care of the aforementioned family. Die.
If that’s not the way that many of us are explicitly told to live our lives, it’s certainly the way that many of us choose to live our lives. It doesn’t help that public-school systems, at least in the United States, generally don’t provide enough insight into the real world that awaits its high school graduates. They don’t make us privy to the importance of money management and the impact of taxes. Computer science isn’t stressed, yet we can tell you all about Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of America. We’re not hip to the many wonderful innovations on display within the startup world, many of which will render many traditional jobs useless sooner rather than later.
What is emphasized? Follow-the-herd mentality that perpetuates traditionalist, risk-averse, unoriginal ways and encouragement of nothing more than future mediocrity and status quo among the masses. Instead of encouraging original thought and creativity, tried and true lesson plans are followed and rewarded to the students who memorize the beaten path the best. What results from this is the perpetuation of behaviors that don’t reflect the current conditions of the world. For example, Silicon Valley’s culture is built upon the embracing of failure, as it is through risk-taking and learning from failure where the true lessons for future success are learned. Conversely, I can vividly remember being kicked out of Honors Geometry in high school because I received a failing grade for a semester. Rather than working with me to see where my lack of understanding came from and how I can improve upon those struggles, I was placed in the regular-level class where I wasn’t being challenged nearly as much and subsequently checked out of the subject mentally. This is not to say that I didn’t deserve to be sent out of a class that appeared to be too difficult to me on paper, but it does exemplify the lack of intimate care that is paid to those who do show high potential yet hit a minor roadblock.
In Silicon Valley, one of the most influential cities in the country, this short-term setback would be treated as a learning experience, not a punishment. Every employer that I’ve worked for can vouch for my propensity to learn and work at a high level, however, the school system essentially gave me one shot before it determined that I wasn’t able to keep up. While I was fortunate enough to still know that I had a great deal of potential within me and continued to prosper as a high school student, I can’t help but wonder how many other individuals were dissuaded from continuing to try to reach their full potential because the school system didn’t continue to show faith in them and aid them after a small setback. What’s more troubling is that as a whole, public schools are still defaulting to the old view of students needing to go to college, usually with the aid of massive amounts of debt, in hopes of eventually landing a job that allows them to live comfortably. This model worked effectively when the entire world wasn’t available as a potential talent pool and when information wasn’t so easily accessible prior to the advent of the internet. Furthermore, this model worked effectively when the prospect of machines being able to perform previously “tech-safe” jobs, such as accounting and legal functions, didn’t exist. However, the ever-changing world is outpacing the education that our youth is receiving and as a result, it’s leaving a significant part of our future population behind both financially and educationally.
The current economy encourages people to start businesses rather than seeking traditional employment due to the incentives offered by the tax code, and the future outlook doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. For example, costs related to the launching of a business can be deducted against one’s tax bill, and potential losses can be carried forward and netted against future profits in later periods. Furthermore, many normal expenses related to an individual’s home or car, assuming they are also used for business purposes, can be deducted against their tax bill at a certain percentage based on estimated business use. These benefits cannot be attained as an employee. In fact, it’s not uncommon for middle-class to upper middle-class employees in the United States to be subjected to higher tax rates than those paid by individuals in the top earning 1% of the population. Many individuals in that top 1% are entrepreneurs and/or investors whose income largely comes from tax-sheltered passive income.
The common thought is that obtaining a job in the traditional sense is still more secure than being self-employed, however, this is not the case largely due to globalization and automation. In the likely event that an employer can choose between a domestic worker, a cheaper alternative abroad, or an even cheaper long-term alternative through automation, the employer will always go with the cheapest option since their chief concern is their bottom line. Domestic employees typically do not fit the bill of being the cheapest option in this scenario. Additionally, rises in the cost of living have increased exponentially in relation to the increase in overall wages, leading to a substantial loss of purchasing power that’s not apparent to the naked eye. According to the Harvard Business Review, since the early 1970s, the hourly inflation-adjusted wages received by the typical worker have barely risen, growing only 0.2% per year. In fact, after adjusting for inflation, today’s average hourly wage has just about the same purchasing power as it did in 1979. However, inflation-adjusted housing costs, which are generally deemed to be a solid gauge of a country’s price levels, grew about 83% between 1970 and 2000, according to the Census Bureau. I’m of the general belief that stats are faulty and biased so they shouldn’t be followed verbatim, yet, the main takeaway is that the cost of living has significantly outpaced the increase in overall wages for decades and something needs to change. Since the changes don’t appear to be coming from employers through the wages that they offer, it’s up to the individual to utilize their unprecedented access to the world and reverse the profit/loss numbers in their favor. The best chance to do this is through entrepreneurship, where profits are potentially uncapped and expense burden is lessened by the tax code.
Beyond the finances, I feel as if the average traditional job limits an individual’s potential by placing artificial limits to their career progression in the form of pre-set titles and expected time periods in which they can reach more advanced titles. Moreover, on a micro-level, daily and periodic tasks are generally predictable and repetitive, which further puts a cap on what each individual can offer and stunts personal growth over time. Each individual has the potential to offer immeasurably more than their predetermined job description, yet many companies limit their employees to a narrow scope of expectations and responsibilities, and consequently prevent them from truly shining through their unique talents.
Life is too short to not explore the true depths of what your talents, when utilized in unison, can bring to yourself and the world around you. With that mindset, I’ve made the decision to no longer be limited by arbitrary guidelines and/or office politics. The month of June has marked the most progress I’ve ever made from an entrepreneurial standpoint. Between business plan development that I ultimately submitted to Tommy Hilfiger as part of their social innovation challenge, teachings and case problems presented by business owners within the Netherlands through my Advanced Sustainability class, and yesterday’s entrepreneurship boot camp offered through my MBA program, I have gained a strong appreciation for ownership and social responsibility that won’t allow me to turn back. The potential to grow personally, become intimately involved in all aspects of business development, and have a tangible, positive impact on the world is too great to pass up on. As part of maintaining accountability and inspiring others to become self-made, I will chronicle my moves toward a tangible business in real-time through regular blog posts and other social media postings. Through success or failure, I will continue to update regularly so that people can see it’s not impossible to turn an idea into reality regardless of their income level. It’s worth noting that I’m currently as broke as they come and my net worth is well south of -$100k (shoutout to Sallie Mae), so this is truly starting from the bottom and then some. I look forward to utilizing all of my strengths in such a way that will bring about positive change throughout the world, putting some change in my pocket, and testing the boundaries of everything I have to offer.
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