So what do you want to be when you grow up? And don’t tell me that you are already a grown up. I know better. You’re surfing the web, aren’t you?
This is actually a problem that seems to be facing a number of my friends lately: what do I want to do with the rest of my life? As if there is an easy answer. It’s a shame, we can’t feel free to try several different things and be free to fail without making us feel worthless as humans. I think that is a by-product of our society, and as we move into a information society, it’s only getting worse.
Do you remember way back in high school, or even earlier, when you met with a guidance counselor? Their sole purpose for existence is to help you get started on the right career path, so you can take the right classes and go to the right schools. And you’re expected to choose that career path in your adolescence. Of course, at that age they’d never trust you with sex education or dream of teaching you about condoms, but by golly, you should certainly be ready to choose what you want to spend the next 40 plus years of your life doing to occupy your time!
So, with parents and educators breathing down your neck, you choose your lot in life, and you are placed on a precipice called “your future” and then without warning, they shove you off the edge.
But never fear! There’s always time to change those horrible decisions of youth once you get to college. After all, that’s what majors are for: changing. So now, you are out of the nest, on your own for the first time in life and finally you are free to make your own decisions. So when you aren’t getting drunk, sleeping late, or selling plasma you are free to contemplate your future. And figure out how to summon up the courage to tell your dad that pre-med isn’t your destiny, you really want to paint. Good luck. Have another jello shot.
But now you’re getting older, the university is informing you that you’ve already changed your major four times, and if you want to graduate in four… five… six years, you’d better finally decide and stick to it. Good thing they have all of those easily accessible counselors too. Just take a number, wait for days, fill out these forms. Before you know it you can meet for 15 minutes with someone who barely has more education than you, and after reviewing your transcripts, will give you the best advice possible. For the university. You see, it’s in the university’s best interest for you to graduate in four years. It looks better in their statistics. And the counselor is paid by the university. Hey, you aren’t a student in this new e-conomy, you know, you’re a customer. They aren’t a learning institution existing for the pursuit of knowledge, they are a training facility, designed to crank out employable graduates in a four year program. Conflict of interest? You bet.
But that’s okay. You get the degree and you’re golden. You do the job search. You get depressed. You find the holy grail of jobs. You don’t get it. But another, acceptable job comes along and you are in the workplace. I hope it’s a good one, because changing your career path now is harder than swallowing broken glass.
Why is that? Because a “service” based e-conomy requires that the work being done is being done by a skilled worker. And becoming a skilled worker means that some company is going to have to invest time in training you, and once they’ve done that, they want a return on their investment. This is it– you are rapidly approaching the point of no return. That happens in your late 20′s. Here’s why:
1. Sometime in your late 20′s, for reasons unknown to biologists, you will actually want to stop living like a student. That means you might want furniture that isn’t plaid and smelly, and you might want a nice apartment that you don’t share with 3 other people.
2. You’re no longer “just out of school”. You know it, and any employer looking at your resume knows it. That means that they don’t think they can get you as cheap as a recent grad, because of your new lifestyle desires (see #1).
3. Any new employer will want to know what you’ve been doing for the last X years. They will automatically assume you want to keep doing something along the lines of whatever it was you’ve been doing.
4. If you inform them that you want to do something new, no matter what they tell you, they will think “Ah� they were bad at doing it. That’s why they want a change.” Seriously. That’s what they are thinking.
5. You’re getting old. Spare me. You are. Hey, I don’t think so. You don’t think so, but I guarantee your new prospective employer does. Unless you are trying for a job that requires grey temples, and you aren’t, those jobs exist for white men in their 50s, you are getting old. Said prospective employer is wondering why you fucked up your last position, why you aren’t “getting anywhere” in your chosen profession, and wondering why you’d want a change. Seriously. They are wondering that, you and I both know it.
So where does that leave you? Well, never fear, Dave is here with a way out: work for yourself. Seriously. It’s dirty, it’s grueling, it’s thankless. You will work long hours, for little money, the government will take more money from you, and it’s still the best job you’ll ever have.
There are disadvantages, many of them. The reason that they exist is because no one in our society seriously wants you to work for yourself. Corporations certainly don’t, but the government makes corporations look like Casper the Friendly Ghost. Seriously, Uncle Sam wants to stick it to you big time.
Here, in a nutshell, are the negatives. First, you will be taxed. Self employment taxes mean that you pay all of your FICA and unemployment, and all that good stuff. This is the same stuff that your employer normally matches you on, but now you are the employer, so pony up. The second, and actually by far the worst, is healthcare. You see, it’s virtually impossible for really small business, let alone a single employee to get decent health coverage. You’ll likely end up paying too much for a personal policy that will not even cover a fraction of what your former employee policy did. Why do we need healthcare reform in this country? Oh yeah, our healthcare system sucks.
Okay. Those are really the big drawbacks. But the benefits are worth it, they really are. For example, think about anytime you had a conversation with your boss, or a disagreement with your employer about procedure. Now imagine getting to do it your way. Not too shabby. Oh, and you need to leave the office for a while to run some errands? Go ahead. You say you work best coming in at 4am and leaving at 2pm? No problem. You’d rather come in at noon and leave at 8pm? No sweat.
But all of that pales in comparison to the real benefit to working for yourself: fail or succeed, you are the master of your own destiny. You make your own mistakes and learn from them. Or you make your own mistakes and fail because of them. But right or wrong, they are yours. It’s the closest thing to freedom you could ever experience. It’s hard work, and you have no one else to pass the buck to when you mess up. But those moments of success are so much sweeter when you know they are because you did what you wanted to do the way you wanted to do it.
So what is stopping you? That fear of being too old, or too inexperienced? Get over it. Let me clue you in on a couple of secrets that working for myself has taught me: it’s never too late to change your career if you step outside the “conventional” world of employment and write your own career guide. The only time it’s too late, or you are too old is in death. All mistakes can be learning experiences and help you succeed even greater, never be afraid to make them. There is no permanent record. They lied.