As I was growing up, everyone around me, parents, grandparents, teachers, told me that getting good grades in school and going to university was pretty much a requirement. The subtext was that anyone who didn’t get good grades and a diploma would be a total loser in life.
In 1989, the median American household made $51,681 in current dollars, and in 2012, the median American household made $51,017. In other words, a middle-class American family 24 years ago was making more than a middle-class family was making one year ago. It gets even worse when you’re single. Meanwhile, we know more, do more, and want more, and the cost of living has gone up. Banks give you a lower interest rate on your savings. The index is not working in your advantage, yet your parents and your grandparents will tell you that you have to put money in the bank and buy a house. What was reality fifty years ago is not necessarily valid advice in 2016.
All of this advice was given by well-intentioned people, and thirty to fifty years ago, this advice worked. It was standard to get a good job after four or five years of university and good grades. Don’t get me wrong: if you only want a job and you’re not searching for success, extra freedom, or money, the old advice is still good advice to follow.
There’s a reason traditional career advice sucks: the world is changing, and fast. Giving advice based on experiences decades ago is like teaching someone how to drive a car using a horse and buggy.
“Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.” -Mary Schmich/Baz Luhrmann
The world is changing
The world is changing, yet most people aren’t adapting quickly enough. In the old times, there was a distinct difference between a worker and a more highly educated employee. There was a huge difference in education level and knowledge between someone who went to school versus someone who already started working on the family farm at fourteen years old.
My grandfather went to school until he was eighteen, which was considered quite a long time in Belgium at that time, and starting to work at fourteen was the norm. He worked as a sales rep, driving his bicycle to visit customers and showing them his merchandise. His circle of potential customers at that time stretched as far as his legs could take him.
Compare this with 2016. I can reach hundreds of millions of customers while laying down, sitting next to the pool, or even flying in an airplane at 30,000 feet. The world changed rapidly, and it is not going to slow down. Move to a secluded island for ten years, and you’ll have a hard time catching up.
With Internet access, it is now simple to learn a new language or even five. You have access to millions of resources about how to launch your own business, how to move to another country and spend a third of what you would spend back home on living expenses. One idea, one product, one application can move millions, and in the cases of Google, Facebook, billions of people.
If there is anything you are interested in, the only thing you need these days is an Internet connection and willpower to become the best at it, and being the best in something, even your grandparents will agree, has the potential to make you lots of money.
Greater equality in education and rapidly growing technology have also changed the way companies look at their employees. This has become especially true over the last ten years, as monitoring the ROI (Return On Investment) of employees has become the standard.
Companies hire differently
The reason for the change is that companies thought that a number of employees weren’t really adding value. They just showed up every day from 9 to 5, collecting their check at the end of the month. ROI measuring taught companies that their operation becomes more profitable when they invest more in technology (think robots and CRM software). Many of these employees improved one particular skillset after college: the “Art of Not Working at Work.” Logically, companies started eliminating them.
With modern mechanisms in place, companies can easily determine the value of an employee. They know who brings value and who doesn’t. People who are just showing up and clocking in every day are slowly being eliminated, and it’s becoming harder for them to find great new jobs if they can’t prove that they didn’t offer value at their previous job.
Companies are basing their searches on a new set of criteria. The market has changed, yet most educational programs and career advice is still the same as it was thirty years ago.
It’s not only that HR departments start to look differently at educational backgrounds: they don’t need to hire as much anymore thanks to technology. This technology-driven world makes it possible to reach hundreds of millions of potential customers across all borders with a single click. Plus, you do not need that 100-person sales team anymore to do it.
Now there is a big gap between what people have been told to do and what they actually need to do to get what they want in today’s society. A lot of people did exactly as they were told. They went to college. They went to university. They got good grades. But years after graduation, they noticed that all the success and happiness they were promised was not so within reach. They reach a middling income, at best, and they will keep doing so, as long as their company does not go bankrupt or moves offices.
We live in a world where taking an airplane to the other side of the world is often cheaper than driving 800 miles. We live in a world where people turn their passion into millions, a world where fourteen-year-olds make ten times more than their own parents, a world where everything is possible if you want it badly enough, a world where you can choose who you want to be, as long you are passionate about it.
Choose who you want to be
Does this mean that getting a good education is wrong? No, far away from it. When you know beyond a doubt that you want to be a doctor, lawyer, or professor and there is no way to become qualified to do that job without an advanced degree and the requisite training, go for it.
Still, choose wisely. Follow your own interests. Read. Educate yourself. Get experience, and do not make the mistake most people make: sticking to one job merely because they are scared to lose the fixed income they’ve been getting for years.
So what should you do? Whatever you want. But whatever you decide to do, be passionate about it.
It has never been easier to design your ideal lifestyle, whatever your parents might say.