When I was sixteen I had knee surgery at the beginning of the summer. It was a rotten time of year to be in a cast that went from ankle to groin (this was the old days of 1980 before orthoscopic surgery). I spent my days being an obnoxious whiny adolescent until my father declared I was healed enough to get to work.
College tuition was looming, I couldn't afford to take a summer off, he declared. My father, a former Marine Corps drill instructor and NY State Trooper, was a firm believer in a solid day's work makes you feel better. That and, bizarrely enough, brushing your teeth cures back pain.
Knowing there was no point in fighting with him, I limped to the car as pathetically as I possibly could. I was certain once I arrived at my first customer's house they'd refuse to let a clearly suffering teenager mow their lawn.
No such luck. I mowed three lawns that day, 12 that week. Made great tips and, surprise, surprise, I did feel better.
Can you even imagine that happening today? Child services would probably have put my father in jail. The neighbors would have fainted at the sight. My friends would have staged a protest. Cellphone videos would have gone viral on YouTube at the injustice of it all.
Somewhere between the early '80s and today, we seem to have forgotten work feels good! It's empowering to finish the day knowing you accomplished something no matter how menial.
I am concerned we've become very uppity. I'm not referring to any ethnic group, so don't jump on the racist bandwagon. Our entire society is uppity. Work is no longer honorable; only certain types of jobs are worth taking. People don't think twice about collecting unemployment and food stamps. It used to be the ultimate disgrace, now 12.5 million people collect a check for up to 99 weeks.
PLEASE, I'm not implying there are not people who need these safety nets to survive. But, I am alarmed at how acceptable it is to claim the free check rather than find work, any kind of work, that will keep you going until you land a job in your chosen profession.
Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame has a great website that reminds us all work is honorable. That it feels good to get off our duffs and move! It's an inspiring site and his offer to presidential candidate Romney is one I he hope accepts, or that President Obama will accept if he wins reelection. Oddly, he didn't call Mike in 2009.
Mike Rowe also reminds us how important and, oh by the way, secure the manual labor jobs are. Your hairdresser, mechanic, plumber and electrician won't be outsourced to China. And, as Mike points, many of the people he met while doing Dirty Jobs were millionaires. Old-fashioned work can pay very well!
Why aren't we investing more in vocational training and the long lost practice of apprenticeships? Why is the traditional four-year college model considered the only solution? Why aren't programs like SUNY Empire State gaining more traction? At SUNY Empire State the student has tremendous flexibility in how she learns. I, candidly, ran out of money during my college years. SUNY Empire State allowed me to enter into a flexible yet intellectually challenging, independent studies program. That meant I could work full time at an entry-level job while completing my studies.
We also don't hear enough about the self-employed government assistance programs designed to help the unemployed start their own businesses. This kind of support needs more attention. I didn't know it existed until I did a search while writing this article.
We need to accept hiring is not going significantly increase anytime soon. No responsible businessperson is going to hire when the full cost of pending regulations, legislation and Obamacare are unknown. It doesn't matter if a businessman thinks Obamacare is the best piece of legislation written in last 200 years, he's still not going to add employees until he knows how much each one is going to cost over the next five to 10 years. Employers don't hire with the intent of firing. They plan for the long-term. I am a proof point. I launched a new business this week. Insane, I know. But, I am confident it will be a multi-million dollar business within three years. But, I have no intention of hiring W-2 employees anytime soon. There is just too much uncertainty, particularly around what's going to happen with taxes. As an LLC, my profits (otherwise known as investment capital and cash flow for the following year) flow through my individual tax return.
Why are there no safety nets for entrepreneurs who take the plunge with their credit card balances, savings, home equity and retirement? Shouldn't they be encouraged?
All of the above means we are increasingly becoming a nation of free agents. It is important to understand that can be a GOOD thing.
I'll end with another story. In 2009, half dozen good friends lost their jobs due to corporate downsizing. They were all solid performers and team players. They had great professional networks. I was confident they would land new jobs quickly. It seems like things were going well too. They went on a steady stream of interviews. Unfortunately, more often than not, the decision was made not to fill the job.
It was really tough for each of them. One by one, they gave up looking... and started their own businesses. As free agents they are fulfilled, busy and making better money than when they were traditionally employed. And their clients are gaining the expertise they need when they need it without having to make a financial commitment they simply aren't comfortable making.
Unfortunately, the days of guarantees are long gone. But that doesn't mean we cannot be a vibrant and growing economy. We just have adapt to the new reality.