The School of Money, First Grade

This post is an experiment, and not meant to be definitive. If you have any comments to improve it, leave a comment, or email me.  Thanks.

The School of Money

Most books dealing with money tend to be too advanced for average people.  If you’ve read me long enough, you know that I am pretty conservative with my finances.  That conservatism has generally worked well for me, my family, and the church that I help lead.  It’s possible this post could lead to a series of posts; let me know what you think.

First Grade — Preparing to Work

It could be our culture.  It could be the way that public schools are organized.  My guess is that parents don’t talk about it much, and think that it will happen easily.  The transition of children learning to eventually applying their learning to work is a difficult thing in a world where there are many things to do, and not enough practicality involved in education.

Part of the problem is not having or developing an attitude of service.  There is no shame in helping others.  In one sense, compensation derives from how many people you help, times how valuable your contribution to that good or service is.

So, rather than “following your bliss,” the best work comes from enabling the bliss of others.  It is rare that anyone will pay you for doing what you enjoy, and only that.  Most work involves some things that are disagreeable.  It’s important to look for the good that you can do in the midst of difficulty.  Sometimes that greatest value comes from finding a new way to deal with difficulties, and making processes more productive as a result.

Somewhere around age 15, young people need to see what areas in the economy need talent, and what sort of skills are needed.  In addition to specific skills, remember that in much of life mathematical reasoning, verbal skills, and genuine curiosity for solving problems will apply to a wide number of situations.  Remember, the economy will be different 20 years from now in ways that we do not presently fathom.  Being able to think creatively and critically, and being able to express it well in oral and written ways will never go out of fashion. (As an aside, that is one of the criticisms I hear in the local money management community.  Young people come out of college, but cannot express themselves well in writing.)

Informational interviewing at younger ages could be useful.  Even at older ages, when you get the chance to ask business owners or managers questions, ask them what are the biggest problems that they face, what keep them up at night, etc.  If nothing else, you’ll get a better perspective on what it is like to be in charge, and the headaches thereof.

Software may eliminate many jobs where analytical processes can be easily replicated by code.  Analyze any career for the threat posed by software, or, employ the software yourself to enable you to do more and better work.

You’ll need to consider whether you want to take more risk and run your own business, or less risk and work at a set of skills for someone else.  That said, you can never eliminate risk.  Most of the firms that I once worked for are out of business today, or doing business in such a way that I might not be employed by them now.  There are advantages to trying to control your own destiny, even if you fail a few times in the process.  The skills you will might come in useful if you do choose to work for someone else later.  But if you succeed, you could end up with a valuable business that helps many people — customers, employees, vendors, and of course you.  High rewards go to those who lead and structure the work of others successfully.

College is needed for many high level jobs, and sometimes a master degree or a doctorate.  In other cases, additional training at a special school or a junior college may be enough.  Even after graduation, a plethora of certification situations may present themselves.  Before entering any education situation, try to analyze whether it will genuinely pay off for you or not.  Remember, even nonprofit colleges and universities rely on students to come and pay tuition so that the schools can survive.  This is why it pays to have a range of ideas in mind of what you might like to do before going for higher education.  There is nothing worse than taking on a load of debt that is not dischargeable in bankruptcy, and having no good way to pay it off.  (Note: consider income-based repayment plans if debt is high, and income low.)

Also note that you may not find what you want to do on the first try, in addition to job obsolescence.  Sometimes the path may involve retraining.  If so, count the opportunity cost of the time and money spent.  Sometimes the best path may be indirect — get a lesser job at a firm that you might want to work for and then try to interact with those in the area that is your greater interest.  In this day and age, many employers don’t advertise positions — the only way to find out about them within a firm, or by word of mouth.  If you can show a degree of talent and diligence, greater opportunities may open up for you.

In the end, remember that your work is a means to an end of helping others, while personally benefiting in the process.  Look to the needs of others, and find a way to serve well.  In most cases, the rewards should follow.

Critical Questions

  • What human needs are not getting met?
  • Do you have an idea for a business that meets those needs?
  • Have I talked with enough different people, or read enough, to get a view of what is in demand, growing, etc.
  • What jobs pay well that don’t require college?
  • What sorts of jobs and people getting work visas for at present?
  • What education or skills do I need?  How might that change?
  • Do I have good basic reasoning skills in math, science, reading, writing, general reasoning and logic, etc?