Thoughts on Making a Living

Tag: Formal Job Market

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Confucius on the Higher Type of Man

In my morning reading, I stumbled upon two very different passages that presented a  great connection for me.

Confucius, from The Analects – Book II, Chapter XII

The Master said; “The higher type of man is not a machine.”

and Book II, Chapter XV

The Master said: “Learning without thinking is useless. Thinking without learning is dangerous.”

I think these two concepts go to the heart of the modern work world where many fear having their jobs eaten by robots or software. The first is something that all of us need to remember. The higher state of man is not a machine. Let that sink in. We are not machines. We were meant for much more. BUT, we must get over the idea that we can think our way out of the current environment without a true education on the meaning of life and the meaning of work. We must examine where we have been as a people and examine our souls for what is meaningful. Pay, beyond subsistence, is not meaningful. Work that nourishes our soul is meaningful. Work that can be done by robots or software is not meaningful, unless you add something to it that the robot or software can’t do, like empathy or creativity.

Following the post-WWII path to the workplace is high-stakes and increasingly dangerous. What I mean by the “post-WWII path” is doing what everyone else does, because the historical statistics point to it and believing you are a genius for following a formula, i.e. learning without thinking & thinking without learning. However, when everyone tries to follow the formula, it cannot, by definition, lead to higher than average performance in work or happiness. And when the formula requires 5 & 6 figure debt, it is high stakes and dangerous.

Which leads me to this passage from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance,

If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York [or Silicon Valley, Ed.], it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont [or Kansas or Tennessee, Ed.], who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. [Sounds like a New Yeoman, no? Ed.]

My point? Conventional Wisdom says everyone should go to college, get good grades, regardless of what is learned, and then get a “good” job. It worked for the majority from the 1940s to approximately 1999. Things have changed, but our learning has not kept up. Everyone going to university and then saying, “But I did what I was told was the smart thing!” when things don’t go as planned is not a successful strategy now … or in Confucius’ or Emerson’s times.

Consider becoming a New Yeoman instead.

Photo credits:
Confucius – By Anonymous Chinese painter of the Western Han period [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Emerson – By Schoff, Stephen Alonzo, 1818-1904, engraver. Rowse, Samuel Worcester, 1822-1901, artist. (Library of Congress[1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Elliott Hulse and Non-Jobs

I like Elliott Hulse. The guy is mesmerizing. How often do you run into a guy who is so physically fit that is this eloquent? If you are an older guy like me looking to improve your health, check his Strength Camp video channel. If you are a young person and are debating university, watch this one. If you don’t like the cursing, ignore it. Elliott is speaking to an audience that he understands and the cursing helps his authenticity. I love his message which is truer than many will accept.

Elliott’s view on NonJobs is boiled down to these points.

  1. Find something you love. This is sometimes hard, but Hulse’s point is that you have to keep searching, even, no, especially when you’ve found it.
  2. Share the love. I like his point about credentials. If you get a degree… a piece of paper, you may or may not know much about it. It probably depends on why you went for the degree. However, if you LOVE a topic, you “ooze” your knowledge and that is attractive to other people. It is far more attractive than a degree.
  3. Receive the love. Our world is cynical, but the love does come back, if we gave it freely. I can’t tell you how many times I have bought something after having someone give me something for free that I loved and valued. I want more of that person, I feel a connection with them, and I want to make sure they are fairly compensated for that.

Watch this video below and if you like it, you can get more from Elliott at the NonJob website.

Disclosure: I get no payment of any kind from Elliott Hulse or any of his affiliated businesses. I am just inspired by the guy. Good luck, Elliott.

Another Reason to Choose Your University Carefully

Clear and spectacular answers to questions about which university to attend are hard to find. However, a recent study published in Contemporary Economic Policy by academics Eric R. Eide, Michael J. Hilmer, and Mark H. Showalter has done just that when speaking about financial returns on STEM degrees. In an article in The Wall Street Journal they state,

What we found startled us. For STEM-related majors, average earnings don’t vary much among the college categories. For example, we find no statistically significant differences in average earnings for science majors between selective schools and either midtier or less-selective schools. Likewise, there’s no significant earnings difference between engineering graduates from selective and less-selective colleges, and only a marginally significant difference between selective and midtier colleges.

This is huge for two reasons:

  1. If a person is going to major in a STEM discipline, his local state school may be just as good as Stanford or Harvard, if financial return is the most important issue to them. So, unless the person is killing it in school, has a perfect SAT, and/or is a recognized genius (and in that case, they are probably going heavily subsidized anyway), why should they spend the price differential between Vanderbilt and the University of Tennessee?
  2. It is a great way to get a kid to wake up if they are looking to do a humanities or business degree at a less than stellar institution. If they are not doing very well in those disciplines and cannot get into and elite school, then the financial math is hard to justify.

This is really good information for those about to spend or borrow an enormous amount of money to go to an elite school to study a STEM discipline. Expect the push-back from the elite universities to be fierce and quick.

Formal Versus Informal Job Market

Michael Ellsberg makes some excellent points about the “Formal” versus the “Informal” job market and the cost of each. One requires an enormous amount of money and the other requires you take responsibility for yourself.

The informal job market comprises all jobs that are not filled through someone responding to a job advertisement.

In this article on Tim Ferriss’ website (Highly Recommended and his podcasts too), Ellsberg explains how to go about tackling the informal job market and how to make one’s way in the world without following the herd, especially when following the herd will cost you a fortune and still land you in a crappy formal job market. The key for this and all other types of advice is to understand that it rests with you to do the work. The reason that  university, then applications, then job at a big corporation is so alluring to many is that it requires so little thinking and so little real effort. Does it take a lot of time and manual effort to perfect your resume, network your LinkedIn profile, and upload applications to what Keva Dine calls Deep Space Mining? Sure, but it is largely senseless and mind numbing work.

What Ellsberg so clearly lays out is how to decide what it is you want to do, how to develop your skills, how to display your skills, and how to sell your skills. Readers of this blog will recognize some of this from the Seth Godin post a week or so ago.

Well worth a read.

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