Sometime in our youth, we’re introduced to the idea of work. Along the way this idea is developed and expanded.

  • Some talk about it like a “necessary evil”
  • Some see it as a vehicle for changing the world
  • Some advocate for a safe route
  • Some tell you to avoid the safe route at all costs
  • Many will talk about a career as something linear
  • Others describe it as something non-linear, as Mitch Joel describes it “squiggly”

No one piece of advice or insight is inherently correct or true under all circumstances. However, the way our society is currently structured supports and promotes a particular narrative more than others.

This prominent narrative is the career.

“The Career”

In the career, it goes like this…

You go to school, you get good grades, you attend the best university you can, and you major in something you plan to do for a living. Once you graduate, you get an entry level job in that field and it pays enough to cover your cost of living. Over time as you work hard, you get promoted. This continues as you “climb the corporate ladder” until one day, you wind up a well paid executive.

At some point during this story, you will find a spouse. Perhaps you’ll decide to make the biggest investment of your life and buy a house. Then, kids. Next you save for college and retirement.

When it is time to retire, you move somewhere warm and relax as you play golf and watch your children find their own career.

In truth, we know that this story is about as real as The Lion King.

Examining the Career Narrative

So, you go to school, but depending on where you were born, or how much money your family has, the quality of your school may vary. Many public schools are funded by property taxes. That means that areas with higher property taxes (often wealthier), have better schools.

Despite this inequity, you go through this schooling, doing your best. When it comes time to apply to college only to find out that a top school is not in your future. Your grades are only one part of the picture because the quality of your school weights those grades. Further, the colleges with the best names accept only the “top students,” “top athletes,” or those that have the connections or donate enough money to the school to get their children in (legal), or finally, those that pay to get their way in the backdoor (illegal).

It’s fine though, because you don’t need to go to a top school. You just need a good school.

Then, you see that in order to take this path, you’ll need to take on debt…significant debt. Debt that cannot even be cancelled by bankruptcy. We’re talking about Student Loan debt.

How bad is the problem? A recent WSJ article offered the following data:

Borrowers currently owe more than $1.5 trillion in student loans, an average of $34,000 per person. Over two million of them have defaulted on their loans in just the past six years, and the number grows by 1,400 a day.

So, whatever, you take out student loans, go to college and graduate.

What about Freelancers and Entrepreneurs?

That narrative is equally skewed. While everyone thinks they are capable of starting the next Google, Facebook or Spanx, the truth is that entrepreneurship and freelancing is often a soul-crushing grind.

80% businesses fail in their first year. 50% that remain after that fail within the next 4 years.

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