Get a job. This phrase is usually delivered as an insult. It’s been directed at me, as part of a lecture that included the phrase “your lazy ass.” I don’t think laziness really exists, something I will explore at a later date, and anyone who knows me well knows that I’m more like the opposite of whatever laziness is supposed to be. As a futurist, I also think that almost every last possible element of the modern workplace could more productively be completely revolutionized. I’ve been dirt poor (or even poorer than that, because in an apartment, we didn’t even have a patch of dirt to call our own). I’ve gone to bed hungry lots of times (which I wouldn’t have if we had had somewhere to grow some potatoes at least). I’ve been unemployed and stuck in bureaucratic double binds. I’ve scrambled to prove my ambition, my innate industriousness, my natural knack as an innovator, my drive for efficiency and productivity, only to meet total disinterest in the best I have to offer. I didn’t know it at first, but I was born to be an entrepreneur and artist. Now I see the phrase “get a job” as equal parts exciting and foolish. I want to share my perspective with those of my friends who are equally bright and dedicated, but who haven’t yet found a channel worthy of their energy.
Why “get a job” when you can create a job? When we’re hopeless, we tell ourselves “there are no jobs right now” or “there’s nothing out there.” I recently had a conversation with a woman who kept a spreadsheet of all the applications she had sent out: over 500 in four months. We’re not getting callbacks. We’re getting the interview but not the offer. We’re working at a lower level than we know we can handle, and getting passed over for promotions we know we have been capable of completely dominating for years. We feel we’re at the mercy of the economy. You know as well as I do that being smart and working hard are not enough. That and $4 will get you a cup of coffee. The current system does not work. By no means are we extracting the maximum possible work product out of the people who so desperately want to contribute.
I’m thinking of changing my LinkedIn profile to reflect my actual talents and skills, rather than my traditional résumé. I could have an ordinary office job tomorrow. I have 20 years’ experience, I type over 90 words a minute, I not only know all the software, but I’ve trained people in it, and any executive who talked to me for 10 minutes would make me an offer on the spot. If I were your assistant, I’d change your life. Too bad I’m not for sale, er, hire. Just because I’m good at it doesn’t mean I have to do it. My real role in this world is Idea Generating Machine. I don’t work in a traditional office anymore because a) I have more to give than that; b) I don’t have to; and c) the top priority seems to be sitting in your chair M-F 8-5. There is more challenge for me in trying to perpetuate a feeble, inefficient system than there is in working 365 days for myself.
I’ve started over from zero several times. By that I mean moving to a new city with no money, no job, and no friends. Usually that also meant no car and no furniture. When I was younger, this felt scary and lonely. Now, I see it as a toolkit. Being a professional nomad doesn’t faze me at all. I know there is only about a 10% chance that I’ll still be living in the same house three years from now, and that is something I accept in the same way that I accept the necessity of grocery shopping. My dream will come true when we finally start working overseas; a different country every couple of years sounds like the most fun possible. The difference between ‘broke’ and ‘poor’ has everything to do with attitude and a sense of possibility. I’ll never be poor again. I know that not having any money is a temporary condition that can be changed by the end of the day. Virtually everything (except the air pump at the gas station) can be accessed by means other than money. It’s all about mindset, although reputation helps.
The first thing we have to do is to recognize that we have the same power to build a business, be the boss, and generate money that anyone else on earth does. Why not me? Who is going to stop me? That second question is easier to answer once you learn to recognize the naysayers in your life. Tell people your plans and they will knock over furniture in their rush to tell you why all your ideas are stupid and will never work. Naysaying exists in direct proportion to the closeness of the person in your life. As you get further away from the inner core of family to old friends to newer friends to acquaintances to perfect strangers, suddenly your ideas seem to have more merit and receive more support. That’s part of why crowdfunding works. There has never been an idea in the course of human history that someone didn’t barrage with blistering sarcasm and contempt. That includes the car, the telephone, the airplane, and even the necessity of handwashing. The simple solution is never to share your ideas when they are in the gestation phase. Grow that little seed until it is robust enough to handle a killing frost. Better yet, just don’t tell the people closest to you until you’ve started collecting checks.
The second thing is to respect the immediacy of the need for cold, hard cash. Honest work is always available if you go out and look for it. There is no shame in trading your time and effort for dollars, no matter what you’re doing, as long as it’s legal. I’ve scrubbed a lot of toilets in my time. The trouble comes when we give up and let the daily grind distract us from rising to our natural level. If I had to, I could barter to borrow an interview suit, barter for transportation, barter for computer time and printer ink, and get out there and talk my way into a job. I could barter for training in software I don’t yet know. I could barter for help bolstering my résumé. If I see an opportunity to do something I want to do, but I’m not certified in something that would make me the obvious first choice, I’m going to go out and get that credential. I’ll do it if I have to sleep in my car. I’ll do it if it takes 18 hours a day. I’ll find a way to pay for it. If I had let not having money stop me, I would never have started. I’ve never been able to settle for anything, because I never had anything worth settling for.
I was taught to be obedient and to be willing to do the dirty work. That’s the blue collar way. I’m not proud; I’ve changed diapers and handled trash and done manual labor to earn my pay. Being obedient, however, means you’ll always be an underling. Obedience has nothing to do with creativity or innovation or building your own business. What we aren’t taught is to see ourselves as naturally belonging at the top levels. We aren’t taught to feel comfortable managing or directing. I have friends with world-class talent, who could be writing their own tickets, yet they live in penury because they have no idea how much their abilities are worth. Nobody has ever told them how good they are. They don’t realize that they don’t need permission to take charge and set their own rates. They don’t see how they’re depriving so many other people of the ability to partake of their gifts.
The saddest thing is that so many of us who trudge along in desperation, constantly under financial pressure, absolutely have what it takes to create jobs for not only ourselves, but other people as well. The more frustration we feel with our jobs, with bad management, with missed opportunities, the more likely that we’re better suited to be in charge. We have a clear vision of how it could be done well. We can’t be satisfied with shoddy work or half-steam efforts. We have the sort of compassion that would make us ideal managers. We’d set humane schedules and earn total loyalty from our employees because we understand how people are really motivated and inspired.
Most of what I do for money now didn’t exist when I was young and broke. The platforms weren’t in place. Times are easier now. The bar has never been so low. It’s actually possible to set up shop without a capital investment and start generating revenue without putting cash down first. It’s also possible to research everything online, from the bureaucratic requirements to the market research to the distribution channels. Anyone who wants to can have multiple streams of income at least trickling in by the end of the month. The more of us who cut the cord and refuse to work under archaic, unproductive, and sometimes inhumane or illegal conditions, the more the work world will be forced to respond. This is how progress happens. We don’t have indentured servitude anymore because the Industrial Revolution came along and created so many job options that nobody would put up with those terms. (We can talk about global slavery later, although I believe there are untold options to create fair trade businesses in every corner of the planet). We can elevate ourselves. In the process, we can lift others with us. Why “get a job” when you can give one?
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.