When you were a kid, society taught you to go to school, get educated, and get a job. For many, this conventional advice has manifested itself in the following way: graduate from high school, go to university, and then throw yourself into the formal workplace as an employee in a large, medium, or small-sized organization. So let us understand the wisdom of this advice. The end goal is to get a job where you will become the beneficiary of a steady income with medical and dental, a retirement plan, and paid vacations. Today, in 2021, several reasons believe that this formula of High School + University = Secure Job has broken down.
1) Basic Education Does not Give You the Skills You Need to Survive in the Real World
Education methods have not evolved in over a hundred years when schools were created as receptacles of information. Teachers stand in front of the class dressed in their tweed jackets and comfortable loafers. They orally transfer their knowledge into the heads of their devoted scribes. Standardized testing is then used to assess short-term knowledge retention of subjects that are useless in the real world.
This education system is engineered to produce uncreative and loyal employees, not free-thinking human beings. As in most systems, however, imperfections exist. A minority fringe exit the system before graduating with their creative fire unextinguished. Some spend their lives checking in and out of rehab, while others set up multi-billion dollar companies. The latter list includes Steve Jobs of Apple, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. They succeed in business not because of formal education but despite it. The architects of the system need these drop-outs, the one percent world, to perpetuate a system in which a handful of crusading pioneers employ the institutionally educated masses.
2) Fewer Employers are Requiring a University Degree
Corporations are not oblivious to the limitations of formal education. In 2018, job-search site Glassdoor compiled a list of top employers who no longer required applicants to have a college degree. The list included Google, Apple, and IBM. In 2017, IBM’s vice president of talent, Joanna Daley told CNBC that 15 percent of their U.S. company hires do not have a four-year degree. The message from these companies is that some traditional college degrees are emptier than eunuchs boxer shorts. They do not equip graduates with the requisite skills to operate in their world.
Technology companies, however, were not the first to recognize the limitations of a university degree. In May of 2015, Ernst and Young, one of the big four accounting firms, announced something that surprised everyone. It would remove the degree classification from its entry criteria because it found 'no evidence of a positive correlation' between academic success and achievement at the company. This is crazy. Accounting is generally accepted as the most stayed and conservative of all professions. A charismatic accountant is defined as someone who looks at the other person's shoes instead of his own when engaged in a conversation.
The market value of a university degree has declined while the cost of that education has increased. In the 1980s, a college degree almost guaranteed a job in a specific field of study. This is no longer the case given the higher number of degrees and the shrinking number of jobs on account of technology and automation.
In the face of this, the cost of a university degree in the U.S. has more than doubled since the 1980s. Student debt in the U.S. in 2019 stood at $1.4 trillion. University education in the U.S. is now more expensive than marrying a Las Vegas showgirl. The problem is not the debt. The problem is that the skills acquired in accumulating this debt no longer correlate with what is required in the real world.
3) Fulfillment in Your Job is Harder to Find
Confucius suggested that if you find a job that you love, you will never have to work a day in your life. What does it mean to be fulfilled in your job? In my opinion, fulfillment comes through ticking five interrelated boxes. Firstly, it fills you with drive and motivation. You jump out of bed on a Monday morning with a level of anticipation and excitement. Secondly, it challenges you and makes you grow. Thirdly, it calls upon your core strengths. Fourthly, you feel more like a partner and less like a servant to your boss. Finally, you feel that you are more than adequately compensated financially.
A fulfilling job will empower you. It will not make you feel weak and compromised. A fulfilling job will not put you in a position where you feel you have no bargaining power and you always need to say yes. The biggest danger of an unfulfilling job is that it can institutionalize you. It locks you into an uncompromising position where the security of a monthly paycheck forces you into a corner where you have no other option but to continue in the same unfulfilling job. If that is the case, you need to start looking for a new job or consider the option of starting your own business. This leads me to the fourth point which may force you to start your own business.
4) Job Security is a Thing of the Past
The futurist Yuval Noah Harari speaks about the future of irrelevance. In the past, people were concerned about employer exploitation - enter Karl Marx. Harari says the future challenge is not exploitation but relevance. We must now face the threat of irrelevance as automation, artificial intelligence, and big data displace traditional employment. In the same way that the opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference; exploitation has to be better than irrelevance. Instead of entrepreneurship being an option for future generations, it may become mandatory.
Technology is forcing redundant workers and job market entrants into a corner where the only option is to start a business. Also, as technology revolutionizes the economy and cycles of change shorten, people need to continuously reinvent their skillsets. The days of studying a career and dedicating your professional life to this one career are over. You will need to acquire new skills and embark on a journey of continuous learning. In this world of constant flux, softer skills such as emotional intelligence, communication and negotiation skills, and the ability to sell will stand out. So too will skill of financial literacy and the ability to create opportunities outside the world of big business increase in importance.
So how do we unpack this? If getting a job is the worst long-term financial strategy, why doesn't everyone just stomp into their boss's offices, plonk down their resignation letters and follow their passions? That would be foolish and irresponsible, especially if you have financial dependents. The journey to financial freedom is exactly that – a journey. It is a process that requires an immense amount of work, effort, and courage. It requires self-belief, determination, discipline, commitment, and a long-term road map. It does not require you to be a genius but it does require you to be curious and open-minded. Albert Einstein said, "I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious". The fact that young Albert boasted an IQ of 160 did not hurt, but winning the cerebral lottery is not a requirement for financial freedom.
Life is not a game of poker where you either fold or go all-in. There are fifty shades of grey. You may love your job but hate your employer. You may be a financial adviser in a large brokerage house. Test the waters to see if some of your largest clients would move with you if you decided to jump ship. Set up a side gig as a prelude to making the jump.
In 2017, CNN reported that 44 million Americans have a side gig they run in parallel with their full-time job. Perhaps you have a good nose for real estate. Instead of plowing your savings into a money market account, acquire a couple of high-quality apartments and rent them out. Start to develop a stream of income that is independent of your formal employment and see how it pans out.
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