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Kevin Powell Headshot

Employment vs. Unemployment -- and Having a Job vs. Being Your Own Boss

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In the men's locker room after Bikram Yoga class this morning I overheard two men discussing these very rough economic times, in spite of reports that employment is on the rise. They asked "Where?" and "For whom?" One of the men in particular was very upset. Turns out he is an award-winning journalist, has covered all sorts of things in America, has done war reporting in foreign countries, and has a Master's degree in journalism. But he is also in his late 50s, a few years from "retirement," and has recently taken a job working as a security guard. He sounded both sad and defeated and wondered aloud if he will have to work the rest of his life.

When asked by the other man why he is not still a journalist this man's response was, "Because it does not really pay much over the long haul." As a former journalist myself I understood exactly what he was saying. I salute anyone who is a journalist, or who wants to be, especially if you are in it to tell the stories of people whose voices are not often heard.

However, I switched the conversation to being an entrepreneur and asked this man with the Master's degree and all kinds of life experiences in America and globally if he ever thought about starting his own business. He fell silent then admitted he'd never thought about it, and had no clue what he'd do. I said he should think about the things he is most passionate about in life then create a business from there, and get his network to support it. That he could not simply give up, that the answers to his dilemma were right there in his own hands, in the gold mine that is his life experiences and accumulated wisdom. Told him one of the best things that ever happened to me in life was getting fired from VIBE magazine 17 years ago. I have not had a "job" in the traditional sense since that time. It forced me out of the comfort box, forced me to shake loose any fear and apprehensions I may have had, and I learned how to do for myself employment-wise.

Now of course being an entrepreneur is not for everyone, just like college is not for everyone. But how do you know if you never even try? I gave the man some leads on entrepreneur groups that exist in New York and told him he should at least attend some sessions and see what is possible. Of course there is dignity and honor in every job, including that of a security guard. I respect any and all people who work, no matter what they do. But I felt this man was giving up without actually trying, and that is not the way to go in life, for anything we do.