The truth is not everyone should start their own business and not everyone should be self-employed. And besides, the world needs employees every bit as much as it need employers. I do not think you could build a 747 with a bunch of self-employed people.
There are some things though you owe your employer if you plan to remain employed, and therefore self-reliant. The first thing you own your employer is value. You must add value to their organization. The great news is that everyone can add value to their employer. That is why the job exists in the first place. So, figure out how your position adds value and then add as much of it as you can to ensure you remain employed (and self-reliant). Employees who add tons of value are let go last and do not stay unemployed for long.
The second thing you owe your employer is knowledge. Staying up on your education is imperative in almost every endeavor. If the company pays for it, great. If not, do it on your own. Staying up on your education does not mean getting an advanced degree (although that never hurts). Anyone can read a trade journal, follow a blogger, read the industry news. Whatever it takes, the world changes too fast for you to remain at your current level of understanding if you plan to remain self-reliant.
The third thing you own your employer is flexibility. Whatever job you have today is likely to change in the future. The job requirements may change or the job may go away altogether. That is just the nature of the world today. You need to be willing to be doing something other than what you are doing today. Stay aware, stay nimble, embrace change. It is how entrepreneurs find opportunities and employees stay employed.
In addition to what you owe your employer, there are things you owe yourself if you plan to remain self-reliant. The first thing you must do is network. Create an interconnected web of people who you know and who know you. And then treat your network the same way you treat your employer: add value, stay educated and embrace change. I smart man recently told me he can outsource knowledge but not relationships. They are every bit as valuable as what you know.
You also need to plan for a rainy day. Due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., Lehman Brothers going out of business), you may find yourself in a situation you did not foresee. The self-reliant thing to do is to assume the worst and plan accordingly. If you assume you will be unemployed at some point in your life, you may be wrong but you will never get hurt. That means have some savings—a year’s worth if you can manage it. When it comes to spending money, the fun thing to do is to go on a vacation. The self-reliant thing to do is to build up your savings.
The final thing you owe yourself, and perhaps the most important thing, is to discover your life’s purpose and then get busy working it. I think it is much easier to add value, stay educated, remain flexible and network when you are doing what you are meant to do. The surest, and most fulfilling path to a self-reliant life is to spend each day on your journey, no matter who you work for.
What would you do if you if you were wrongly imprisoned and sentenced to a life term? Would you patiently dig a tunnel from inside your prison cell for 20 years? Would you inconspicuously drop handfuls of the dirt from that tunnel into the prison yard day after day? Would you successfully fight the urge to tell anybody what you were up to? Would you be patient enough to wait for the perfect moment to escape? Would you crawl 500 yards through a “river of shit” to secure your freedom? That is what Andy Dufresne was willing to do to secure his freedom.
By now, you probably know the person I am referring to, Andy Dufresne, is a fictional character, played by Tim Robbins, in the movie The Shawshank Redemption. It may be a fictional story, but it is the highest rated movie of all time on the movie database website IMDb. Why do you suppose that is?
The story of Andy Dufresne is the quintessential story of self reliance in the face of a great injustice. Two things that reach deep into the human spirit: injustice and self-reliance.
Have you been wronged? Almost everybody has at some point in their life. It might be a small injustice (your partner cheating on you) or a big one (being wrongfully imprisoned). That you were wronged is not the issue. What is the issue is how you reacted to it. Did you stand around complaining about your injustice, or did you seize the moment and rely on yourself to change your circumstances?
Without ever knowing it, Andy Dufresne used the Pyramid of Self Reliance to break out of prison.
The first thing he did was nurture the belief that he could escape. Next he took responsibility for it. He understood if he was going to get out, it was up to him. Then he took action. Painstakingly, patient action. For twenty years. How many people can say they unfailingly committed to a twenty year goal in their life?
He must have educated himself on the best escape routes, times and circumstances. He must have had a passion for escaping. How else do you explain his twenty year commitment? And finally, he remained flexible. He did not escape at the first possible moment, but at the best possible moment. On a stormy night with plenty of lightning and thunder.
The Shawshank Redemption is a popular movie because it reminds of us of what we can be when we choose self reliance. When we stop waiting for the universe to deliver that which we long for, and instead, assume it is already ours and take the necessary actions to retrieve it.
The movie culminates with Andy’s friend Red (played by Morgan Friedman), delivering one of the more memorable lines in cinema history: “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” I would like to modify that line just a little. Get busy being self reliant or get busy… What are you waiting for?
Did you ever wonder why sticking you hand in a raging fire hurts like hell? Because if it didn’t, we (the human race) would not be here. If humans had ever learned to blunt the pain caused by fire, we would have perished long ago, consumed by fire we did not fear. In that respect, the negative consequence of putting our hand in fire, extreme pain, is actually the source of our survival. The short-term pain actually produces a long-term benefit. Viewed in this way, a certain degree of pain is a good thing. It makes us smarter, stronger and assures our survival. But what does that have to do with our lives today? Everything.
As things turn out, human beings hate pain. We will do almost anything to avoid it—it makes sense. We hate experiencing pain so much, we may even go out of our way to make sure other people avoid it. The problem of course is that when you enable someone to avoid pain you are unwittingly stealing from them the opportunity to get smarter and stronger. When our government enables you to collect 99 weeks of unemployment, their intention is to help you avoid the pain (of being unemployed). What they are unintentionally (or unknowingly) doing is stealing from you the chance to become self reliant.
When you make a mistake, it should hurt. When you are let go from your job because you have not kept your skills up to date, it should hurt. These short-term pains lead to many, invaluable long-term gains. They make you smarter, stronger and assure your survival. When we shy away from the pain, or some other party enables us to shy away from it, we actually endanger ourselves, like blunting the pain from the fire. Yes, you will not feel the pain of the fire if I numb your hand, but because of that, you will ultimately be consumed by it.
It is not just individuals that can blunt the pain—businesses do it too. When a business makes a bad decision that jeopardizes the business, it should hurt. When AIG made those terrible business decisions and it was deemed “too big to fail” by our government, they were blunting the pain of the fire. We avoided short-term pain, but at what price? We did not become stronger or smarter, and because of that we shall almost certainly go thought it again.
Every action has consequences. Do something good and something good usually happens as a result. Eat healthy and exercise, eventually your weight and cholesterol go down. Attend college and get a marketable degree, and you are more likely to find yourself employed. Conversely, do something stupid and sooner or later, some negative consequences are bound to occur. The problem is not the negative consequences themselves, for they can serve to strengthen us. The problem occurs when we, by our own doing or through some external source, attempt to blunt the pain to avoid the short-term consequences.
The moral of the story is that as unpleasant as short term pain maybe in your life, it is necessary if you ever expect to become self-reliant. Do not shun from it. Embrace it and let it drive you.
Imagine it is Sunday evening: not too early, not too late, mid-evening. You start to feel it. It is familiar to you because you feel it around this time every Sunday evening. It starts small: a vague feeling of unhappiness. You try to ignore it—it is barely noticeable at first. But over the course of the evening, it continues to grow until you cannot ignore it (or deny it) any longer. You are depressed. It may not be one of the medically recognized depression types, but its symptoms are just as real: pervasive sadness, loss of appetite and difficulty falling or staying asleep
There are two sources of unhappiness you can experience from a job: systemic and inherent. Systemic unhappiness is caused by attributes of your job that have nothing to do with how you spend your day. Maybe you hate your commute, or you hate your boss, or your co-workers, or you do not make enough money. You can actually have systemic unhappiness and still enjoy your job. Systemic unhappiness does not cause Sunday Night Syndrome. What you need to if you experience systemic unhappiness in your job is to find the same job—if the one you have makes you happy—only with different circumstances. You need to change the source of the systemic unhappiness.
The Sunday Night Syndrome, on the other hand, is inherent to your job. It is unhappiness you experience as a result of how you spend your day. The feeling, deep inside, that you are wasting your time, your are unfulfilled, and this is not why you are here. You are selling out for a paycheck and it is taking its toll.
I experienced Sunday Night Syndrome back in the late 80s. That is when I coined the term. I had been working at Hughes Aircraft Company (now Raytheon) as an engineer for nine years by then. My first five years there were great because I was a design engineer. It was a time before PCs, so I spent my days in a lab with an oscilloscope and a soldering iron making things, and it was fun. Then they promoted me to project engineer. I suppose they called it project engineer because manager of minutia was already taken. To make matters worse, we were over-staffed. I used to joke that we had twenty thousand people doing the work of ten thousand. That was back in the days of Cost-Plus military contracts when a bigger payroll meant bigger profits. So, even if I did not have viable work to do for forty hours a week, I still contributed to the bottom line. To say I was bored would be an understatement.
There is only so much unfulfilling boredom you can take before your body lets you know something is wrong. You can lie to everyone else, but not to yourself. The overwhelming feeling of depression you face every Sunday night at the thought of going to work the next day can morph into self-loathing. You hate yourself for the situation you are in because you know two things beyond doubt: your choices are the reason it is happening and you are the only one who can get you out of it.
I knew I had to get out, but I was not the kind of person to just quit a job without something to fall back on. I found a compromise. I requested a six month leave of absence (without pay) and it was granted. I suppose my managers at that time also knew we had too many workers, so granting me the leave of absence was probably a relief to them. I was single, with no bills, modest rent and a few bucks in the bank, so I could afford to go six month without a paycheck. In my mind, I had just quit my job, with the option to return.
The first thing I did during my leave of absence was to get part time job tutoring math. It got me out of the house and the money helped. That part time job morphed into a full time job tutoring. I was not making nearly as much as I had been in engineering, but I made enough to get by, and more importantly, I was no longer suffering from Sunday Night Syndrome. And when my six months were up, I confirmed what my managers back at Hughes Aircraft already suspected: I was not coming back, ever.
When I was working at Hughes as an engineer, what I really wanted to do was sales engineering, but I was thwarted at every turn. I suffered from the classic Catch-22: I could not get a job as a sales engineer without sales experience. Having not been born with sales experience, I was stuck.
After a year of tutoring I tried my luck again at seeking employment as a sales engineer. This time I was fortunate to find a company that was willing to train me—no prior sales experience needed. The job had three requirements: 1) had to be an engineer—check; 2) had to have contacts within Hughes Aircraft (they would be my customer)—check; 3) had to have not worked at Hughes for at least one year (that was the rule for selling into Hughes)—check, check, check.
By quitting my job I had unwittingly set events in motion to create an opportunity for myself I could not possibly have foreseen at the time. I got what I thought I wanted by giving up what I knew for certain I did not.
I am not going to tell you to quit your job—not in this economy. But I will tell you that life is short, and if you suffer from Sunday Night Syndrome then you are paying a dear price for whatever it is you think your job is giving you. All I can do is leave you with the famous quote from Steve Jobs’ Stanford University commencement speech:
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. … Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”
It’s not about winning the battles, it’s about never giving up. ~ Unknown
More and more I find myself using poker as a metaphor for life and success. I have never played poker, and I certainly would not do it for money, but I find myself mesmerized watching it on television. It is fascinating to watch people try and solve partial-information problems. They know what cards they have and they know what cards are on the table. What they do not know are the cards the other people have. And in that situation they have to find a way to win the hand.
If you watch professional poker long enough you will probably come to this conclusion: to win a tournament, to actually eliminate everyone else, you have to be good AND you have to be lucky. Skill alone will not do it. While the top-ranked players do win from time to time, they get eliminated far more often. No matter how good you are, you have to have a little luck along the way. But luck alone certainly will not do it, because luck always runs out. If you want to keep winning, at some point you are going to have to win when luck is not on your side. Professional poker players find a way to win when they are not dealt the best cards.
When they get a lousy hand of cards, great poker players do not automatically throw in their cards and forfeit the hand. What they do is think to themselves, “How can I win this hand in spite of these cards? How can I make something out of nothing?” And that is where the metaphor for life comes in.
Everyone can win the poker hand with a royal flush just as everyone can succeed in life when everything is going their way. The trick is to find a way to succeed even when everything is not going your way. To find a way to win even when you have lousy cards. And the first step to doing that is to believe you can, just as the poker player does. And they do that by asking themself the empowering question from above: How can I win in spite of this?
At some point in their life, everyone gets dealt a crappy hand, just as in poker everyone eventually gets a 2-7 off suit. There is no way around it. Maybe you will you get fired. Maybe you will get dumped. Maybe you will get foreclosed on. Maybe you will have lousy cards. So what! You know what to do. Try to win in spite of it. You may not win the hand, but ask that question often enough and you are bound to win you share of tournaments.
You can give up or you can stand up. ~ Unknown
For as long as I can remember, working at McDonalds was a running joke as in, “Well, if you cannot get a good job (or you get fired), you can always go to work at McDonalds.” McDonalds, of course, being a metaphor for an entry level job requiring little-to-no education and skills—a job that anybody could get, any time they wanted.
There is no way to answer the question above with complete certainty. And surely the correct answer depends almost entirely on what college and what major. But when all things are considered, it may be a tougher decision than you imagine.
While a full time entry level job at McDonalds only pays about $18,000 per year, after one promotion to manager the stakes rise to $36,000 per year. This comes with a full slate of benefits, including healthcare. If a conscientious person were to start at McDonalds and get promoted after two years, their four year take home would be about $108,000.
Now let’s take a look at college. The average cost of a public four-year in-state tuition is approximately $21,000 per year. It is twice that much for a private school. The total cost for four years is $84,000, meaning the gross difference between going to college and going to McDonalds is $192,000 in the first four years.
Whether the college graduate has the opportunity to make up that amount over time depends on too many factors. And I will not take this opportunity to flood you with unemployment statistics for recent college graduates today, many of whom are ironically “working at McDonalds.” I will not do it because economies change and because there is something else I want you to consider. Something that cannot easily be quantified in the battle between burgers and diplomas, but is very real.
The biggest knock on colleges today is their lack of hands-on experience. You may learn the theory of finance or engineering at college, but rarely will you bring any skills into the workplace. Contrast that to working at McDonalds. Not only will you get real world experience, but you will get something else much more valuable which is lost on all but a few people who actually work there.
Working at McDonalds affords you the opportunity to get an inside look at one of the best run companies in the world. You can learn first hand about customer service, food service, inventory management, process management, human resources, just-in-time delivery. It is an entrepreneur’s dream; getting paid while learning how to run a business. If my goal were to own a restaurant (or any consumer-facing company), working four years at McDonalds would be far more valuable than anything college could offer.
Debt free, cash in the bank, medical coverage, four years of work expense (including possibly management) and a chance to get an unmatched business education. Now how would you answer that question?