When I was a teenager, I had a few jobs.
I worked in a pub. I worked in a kitchen showroom. I worked in several departments of a bank.
I dipped my toe into the shallows of the working world at several different points along the shoreline, but the one thing all of these experiences had in common is that they involved having a job.
I remember the answer to this question distinctly. I wanted some money! Reflecting on the hopes and dreams of my teenage self, I probably wanted to buy some piece of musical equipment or to be able to go out drinking with my mates.
Anyway, I whined to my parents a bit and got responses along the lines of
Well you’d better go and get yourself a job then!
This message was always delivered with much apparent wisdom. My folks understood ‘how things work’ and they had faith that I would understand myself once I’d had enough opportunities to learn.
I didn’t realise it at the time, but my mum and dad were using my desire for money as a teachable moment. They were introducing me (gently) to The Flowchart.
Most adults keep a copy of The Flowchart. I bet there’s a good chance you’ve got one in your bedside table underneath your glasses and that box of paracetamol. When I coach people, we usually perform a ritual burning of The Flowchart as an introductory exercise.
For those of you unacquainted with The Flowchart, here’s an excerpt*:
*The observant reader will notice that all of the decisions in the flowchart are completely meaningless which means that the ultimate answer is always to ‘get a job’.
A law of the universe?
Think about this for a minute. Consider just how deeply the assumption that jobs are a necessary part of adult life is ingrained in our culture.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
and statements like
You need to choose an undergraduate degree which will maximise your job prospects
have that assumption built in. There is no prior consideration given to the possibility that you don’t need a job at all. It’s sort of like arguing about the nature of God without ever considering the possibility that there isn’t one.
But here’s a shocking fact: ‘Jobs’ are an entirely human construct.
For most of human history, they didn’t exist. People were simultaneously alive and jobless for tens of thousands of years.
But then the industrial revolution very efficiently conditioned most of the population of the developed world to believe that having a job is just part of life like breathing or eating. And then those guys taught their kids about The Truth and so on until almost every descendant of an industrial revolution worker now believes wholeheartedly in the necessity of having a job.
You don’t need a job in the same way that you don’t need a Twitter account or an iPhone or a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. You might have problems to which, with the world in its current state, money is the best solution. But, and please remember this
‘I need money’ and ‘I need a job’ are NOT the same thing!
You fell for it
…and so did I, but then I saw the error of my ways.
I’d imagine that my little anecdote about my teenage Saturday/holiday jobs is familiar to many of you. Perhaps you were helped to see ‘the ways of the world’ by your family too.
But if you accepted that one tiny assumption (people need jobs and that’s just a fact of life) without questioning, then everything you’ve done since which relates to earning money was motivated by a misunderstanding of the nature of reality.
Whenever I talk to people about really small-time entrepreneurship (by which I mean things like being a fitness instructor or fixing computers), a lot of them say things like
I could never be an entrepreneur
I don’t know how to run a business
But they don’t realise what they’re doing. They’re implicitly saying that working independently is an aberration. That having a job is in some way ‘normal’. That to do so is follow some universal law of nature which only really special (or weird) people ever break.
This is clearly nonsense, but it’s what everybody else thinks. And we all know that it’s difficult to act against conventional wisdom!
It goes beyond jobs…
I won’t get money every month
But again, this is clearly ridiculous. Why on Earth is it sensible to think that you need to get new money on a monthly basis? You spend money every day, sometimes even 5 times in a day. You do your shopping weekly. You buy a car every 5 years.
What’s so special about monthly income? Would it be particularly difficult to budget if you got paid in cash at the end of every day? How about 3 times a year?
Well, if you’ve followed The Rules all your life, then yes it probably would because you’ve never learned any better. But rationally, if you have one year’s worth of living expenses saved up, all you need to guarantee is that more money appears in the next year and also that, averaged out over the rest of your life, you earn more than you spend.
The majority of people I talk to are completely blind to the fact they have unwittingly internalised these assumptions. They’ve not got what they want because they’re trying to solve problems which other people have told them that they have rather than problems which they actually have.
People! Stop it! Be rational!
Let’s go back to basics.
What do you need?
Here are some conditions that absolutely must be satisfied if you want to stay alive:
- You need oxygen
- You need to eat
- You need water
Here are some things which, although you don’t strictly need them, having them will make life much more bearable
- A fixed shelter from the elements
Life becomes more pleasant as we add in a few ‘nice to haves’:
- A goal to work towards
- Love and intimacy
- A way to express our creativity
My lists are obviously pretty sparse but hopefully you can see that I’m drawing a picture of what it takes to build a life (from the bottom up) which a human being will enjoy.
You don’t need a job – you need to solve these problems.
It might be that having a job has been (or still is) the best solution you can find for problems like needing to eat or paying for your shelter. But, it’s not the only solution. It’s certainly not in any way the correct solution.
Perhaps now is the perfect time to have a think about some other possibilities. Let me know if you’d like me to help you.
What I want to teach my kids
My parents always had (have) my best interests at heart. I appreciate that much more now that I have my own kids.
However, if I could change one thing about the lessons I learned as a teenager, it would be the wisdom that ‘getting a job’ is the ‘correct’ answer to the money problem. I’m a fervent believer in the value of self-determination and I wish that I didn’t have to stumble into learning about other ways of feeding myself by trial and error during my 20s.
I’m really keen to make sure that my kids never unwittingly take on the ‘jobs are the way’ assumption as truth.
They’re only tiny at the moment so it would be a bit ambitious to start talking about economics and business, but I foresee many future opportunities to teach them about how to get what they want.
I don’t want them to learn about recipes like
- Get a Saturday job when you’re 15 (because that’s what you do if you want to buy things)
- Jump through some academic hoops (shunning all critical thinking)
- Write a ‘killer’ CV (I’m sure somebody’s written a ’10 tips’ web page somewhere)
- Get a job in a blue chip where they contribute 5% to your pension
I’d rather that when they come to me as teenagers and complain that the budget I’ve allocated for trainers isn’t enough to stay fashionable, I’m able to teach them skills like
- Finding somebody with a problem and charging for a solution
- Negotiating with me by appealing to my self-interest (because most things in life are negotiable!)
- Pitching an alternative solution to me
In short, I’d like my kids to have the basic skills necessary to be small-time entrepreneurs by the time they’re old enough to look after themselves.
Of course, that might all be very romantic and idealistic. And obviously, they might just want to go and get jobs anyway. But I don’t want them to get stuck with the industrial revolution baggage that is still being handed down through the generations.
More importantly, I want them to learn to evaluate all of their options in life critically and rationally.
So, a bit of a short one (for a change ;-)) today. But the takeaway is this: Think critically, never follow recipes and make sure that you teach your kids to do the same!
Here are a few links to other resources which you might find useful whilst you evaluate whether you might have inadvertently followed The Rules rather than weighing up your options rationally.
The 5 enemies of an independent life – acting in your rational self interest might involve swimming against the current
How I quit the rat race – my free 6 part course detailing how I transitioned away from life with a full-time job
The Fear (TM) – it’s difficult to act upon your logical decisions when you’re scared
I’ll keep it short: Do you have a job? Why? No…seriously, why? Best solution to the problem? Because everybody else does?
Please let me know in the comments.
I’d like to give you access to my FREE comprehensive 6-part email course which will show you the exact steps I took to quit the rat race in 18 months. Just enter your email address below.
[Image “Cartoon Character Hamster Exercise” courtesy of saphatthachat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net]