Today’s economy and job market is radically different from just a few generations ago. Back then, you could graduate from high school, get a decent job, afford a home, two cars and raise your kids in a nice, suburban neighborhood. You would work at the same company for most of your adult life and receive a pension when you retire. If your children wanted to go to college, it was affordable and cheap—by today’s standards. If you didn’t desire the higher-education route, it was deemed perfectly acceptable and respectable to pursue a trade or become a blue-collar worker instead of going to college.
It’s all changed now. We’re in a free-agent job market, in which companies don’t have any long-term loyalty toward you. If you add value today—great! They will love you. If the company can find someone who can do the work for less money, then you’re gone. The job market has become just like sports, where owners will readily make a deal to trade players like they’re commodities and not human beings. “No hard feelings; it just business,” they’ll say. “Yes, you were a star on our team, but you’re getting older and we need to trade you for a couple of young up-and-comers before you get even older. Sorry!”
You will likely have several different careers over your lifetime and hold a number of jobs within each career. There will be times when you’re unemployed and underemployed. Sometimes, your core skills will be in demand. Other times, nobody will care about what you have to offer. Technology, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence may render your job obsolete. Globalization will force your company to relocate your job to another state or country to cut costs.
There is incredible pressure on young people to go to college. Without that degree, almost all of the good, corporate jobs are closed off. There is a social stigma, unfortunately, attached to those who don’t attend college. The price of tuition for a public university has skyrocketed since the 1950s. If you aren’t a gifted athlete or scholar who can get a free ride or subsidized tuition or come from a wealthy family that will pay for it, you’ll be saddled with an incredibly large debt that will follow you forever like a dark cloud. The need to pay back your college loans could force you to accept any job—even if you don’t like it or it’s not what you really want to do with your career. You become a prisoner to servicing your loan payments. The colleges like your money, but when you’re gone, they forget about you and you’re on your own with the costly debt burden. There will be more new kids applying to churn through the system and give them all their money. I stand corrected—some years down the line, they’ll remember you and you’ll get incessant requests to contribute to your alma mater.
As a silver lining to the free-agent economy, you are free to move as well. There is no need to be blindly loyal to a faceless, cold corporation that has no allegiance to you. If you desire to advance within your company, seek a raise or add responsibilities. Don’t be shy; just go after it. If management denies your requests, and you honestly believe that you’re worth it, start looking for a new job with a company that will want and respect you. There’s no reason to feel obligated to stay at a company if your contributions are not appreciated and you’re not fairly compensated. The Millennials and Generation-Zers learned this hard lesson by watching what happened to their Baby-Boomer parents. Gen-Xers and the younger end of the Boomers are starting to realize the importance of self-reliance to survive and thrive in this new world.
You can’t rely upon the government, either. Given that we’re in an intense political season with a presidential election one year away, both parties will tout how they can help you. Some candidates literally offer free monthly checks. Others say they’ll give you free healthcare, dissolve your college tuition loans, offer other goodies or cut your taxes. Don’t believe any of them. They will say what they need to say to get elected. They care about your vote—not you.
The reality is that this new economy is harsh, cold and unforgiving. You need to view yourself as the professional athletes do. You are a free agent. You are on your own. You will make or break your own career. You can create your own destiny. You can’t—and shouldn’t—rely upon anyone else to save you.
You must become self-reliant. This is possessing the ability to adapt to harsh, rapidly changing circumstances. You will need to deal with all sorts of challenges. You will have to constantly learn, reinvent yourself, find new jobs, start side hustles and learn new ways to create value. You will have to develop a thick skin and surround yourself with like-minded people.
This sounds very cold, but it’s mostly liberating. You don’t need to depend upon a company to take care of you. Neither do you require the “Big Brother” government to watch over you. You will look out for what’s best for yourself.
There’s no need to follow the path that everyone else is on. Blaze your own path and build your unique future. Have hope, optimism and confidence in your abilities and go after what you want in your career.