An Incomplete Guide to Finding Work … in difficult times

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One of God’s first instructions to man was that he devote most of his time working. This is significant. A good definition of work is “adding value for the benefit of self and others”.  It is more than just meaningless preoccupation. Work becomes the foundation for other tasks; unless man works, he is unable to accomplish the basic task of providing for and raising a family.

From work, man finds happiness. “I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God.” (Eccles. 2:24)

Today, millions of young people are out of work. Many have ceased looking. If meaningful work is essential to happiness, then many are destined for lives of sorrow. It does NOT have to be that way. Sure, finding work for some is easy, but I believe it is possible for everyone. I share some of my own experiences and observations and welcome your comments.

College may be a good way to prepare for a career, or it may not

Very few are given the natural intelligence of a Ben Shapiro or Megan Kelly who graduated cum laude from top law schools yet decided they can do far better than being “mere” lawyers. The most gifted do not really have to “seek a career”.  Careers assemble before them and they simply choose.  A more ordinary but still gifted group is that with skills in the natural sciences. Assuming hard work, they generally have a predictable pathway to a good career after four years. Theirs is a search but a a fairly easy one.

For the rest of us college is a place to increase knowledge but to a less certain end, other than a huge bill. We have skills all right, but what are they? Immersed in college culture where everyone is discussing careers, we may get ideas, clues, and hopefully after a year or two a career choice emerges. I made a choice to get into accounting, earned an MBA but after a few years realized it was a mistake.

The mistake was twofold: I never cared too much for annoying numbers and tax rule gibberish but thought (as with spinach) the dislike would pass with time. It didn’t. The other mistake was ignoring how I really enjoyed and found strangely easy the Business Law class. Years later, I took the Law School Admissions Test, made the top 2% of law school applicants and earned a scholarship to a decent nearby law school. I took advantage of it for a year but had by that time lost the passion for further study; plus my business was starting to take off.

The lesson:  No matter what we are doing, always be alert for anything that matches your abilities and stirs your passion. Then seize it. To discover your future vocation, it is important that we be “doing” something; learning, working, observing, talking with people etc.  We rarely discover much playing video games or standing still.

Not everyone is “suited” for College; this is not a euphemism for “not being smart”

On the contrary, how smart is it going to college to earn a worthless degree and a place in the handout line? How smart is to do this simply because it’s “the thing to do” and maybe it’s the right move, or maybe not?  Years ago, you could go to college and exit without a bill, or a very small one. Today, a four year college bill can be the cost of a nice Mercedes.

Problem: Employers today consider any college degree no matter how unrelated to the work as a standard requirement; in effect using academia as a screening process. Employers who do this are lazy. Rather than being a plus, a worthless degree in exchange for debt only suggests conformity to a system that does not make sense. A few corporations such as Google no longer follow this pattern. In an article entitled “How to get a Job at Google”, senior VP  Laszlo Bock said  GPA’s and test scores are poor predictors of success. What he looks for is “intellectual humility”.

Lesson:  A sign of wisdom and maturity is staying away from college until you know what you really want. Only if college is necessary to get you somewhere in a targeted way should you attend, but not until. Nursing school is one good example of a targeted education.

Find a job in a good organization that can turn into a career.

I recently bumped into an old friend whom I had not seen for many years. She had joined the local transit authority many years ago and was now a supervisor and close to retirement. She illustrates an alternative path to a career. Her resume did not include college, but in the course of time, she developed a track record of honesty, intelligence, reliability, pleasant demeanor, and a willingness to learn. It paid off.

These are increasingly rare qualities today. Anyone possessing them, despite lack of college, would make an excellent candidate for any low level position in any business. If that business is prosperous, they will prosper with it. Their path upwards is based on merit. A good company will gladly offer higher education to any good employee to make them even better.  Someone else I knew had recently graduated from high school and after a few part time jobs, was hired by Staples. His personal qualities and skills soon got him promoted to supervisor of a section.

Lesson:  Good character traits cannot be taught by academia. They are absorbed and practiced growing up in a good home. Anyone possessing such a skill set should never underrate its value. Its worth far more than a college degree. The prospective employer may not at first be aware a job applicant has such traits. That applicant should be willing if need be to start at a lower rung for a chance to demonstrate them. If the organization truly is worthwhile, the rewards will come soon enough.

Become an entrepreneur

I left the corporate world at age 30 and really had no idea what I should do next. This was during the prosperous years of Reagan so I had little cause for worry. My desire was to become an entrepreneur and capitalist. In other words, “be my own boss”. It is a desire for freedom, a desire to tear away the ceilings in my life. As noted already, one does not discover a “future vocation” playing video games; fortunately I had already kicked my Ms Pac Man habit. It was time to observe, talk with others, and then to emulate.

A friend with a music degree had a window cleaning business and he let me to tag along for a couple of days. Cleaning windows the professional way was easy. The dirt obeyed readily; there was something vaguely pleasing about the process. I thought it was worth a shot. Five years later, I reached the salary level of my last corporate job. The freedom was exhilarating. It took another 10 years to reach a level comfortable even by California standards. It was the best financial decision I had ever made, making up for the law school snafu years earlier.

It is not my purpose to describe how to grow a window cleaning business, but this is important. Having your own business is opposite in some ways to being married. In marriage, we work towards contentment. In business, it’s useful to remain in a state of restless discontent; always reaching for the next innovation and plateau. Isaac Newton once said he “stood on the shoulders of giants” from which he looked farther yet. The principle applies. Emulation is a great way for an entrepreneur to learn; the work of others becomes the starting point for his own creativity.

Lesson: Creativity, courage, willingness to sacrifice, and patience are the raw materials of an entrepreneur. As a group, entrepreneurs have the potential for gaining the most wealth, but they also face the greatest probability of failure. There is no guarantee their sacrifice will be valued by others. By the way, in place of courage, “what have you got to lose” will do.

Dire need sometimes forces people onto the road of prosperity

Living in the comfort of a parent’s home or receiving extended welfare benefits soften the spirit and the will to succeed. Hardship on the other hand can be a great motivator. The Cuban refugees were forced to flee when Castro took over in 1959. Unable to take their wealth and possessions with them and unable to resume their prior professions since their credentials were not recognized in America, they found themselves at the bottom.

They crammed into apartments and became dishwashers, janitors, and tomato pickers. For the overwhelming majority, the story of their success was one of arduous toil, swallowed pride, and sacrifice for their children. Former executives parked cars; judges washed dishes, doctors delivered newspapers. Women who had never held jobs before worked as seamstresses, hotel maids, or shrimp sorters at warehouses by the Miami River – work so painful they called it La Siberia.  As one émigré put it “I was determined that my children would be middle class even if I had to have two jobs, which I did for 14 years” (Wealth, Poverty and Politics by Thomas Sowell …  Page 64)

So in 1959 the Cubans were at the bottom.  But thirty years later by 1990, their children were earning 50 thousand dollars twice as often as white Americans. By the year 2000, the total revenue of Cuban business exceeded the revenue for the entire nation of Cuba.

Lesson: The Cubans displayed creativity, courage, willingness to sacrifice, and patience. They did what it took to get to the first rung, then the next, and so on. Not everyone has such a will to succeed, but this simply makes it easier for those who do.


All of us are in a constant state of transformation. 
Whatever we are do now forms us for our future vocation; what we work on works on us.

This happens to be true whether we are in school, at work, in our relationships, and in the private moments of our life.  A nurse grows in compassion, a barista learns hustle with politeness, a student how to organize, a player learns cooperation. We are transforming. Ben Shapiro and Megan Kelly were shaped by law school to become the celebrities they are today. My own years in the corporate world were not wasted.

All of us should be in a constant state of transformation. But sometimes we hurt ourselves. Addictions, bad relationships, and depression can choke the process.  Dead end activities like constant texting, games, and consumption turn a growth process of “becoming more” into one of “becoming less.”

Final lesson:  We are a work in progress. What we see now may not be impressive. The final product may surprise everyone. The elements for success accumulate within us gradually, even unnoticed.  Success may not arrive until the last element is in place. Then, success is sudden and dramatic. That last element may simply be opportunity. Or maybe its a sudden realization of something. Or maybe someone crosses our paths.  Or maybe …

We never know how far away we are to that final tipping point when everything “comes together”.

 

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