Monday, 27 July 2009

Making your job work for you

Good jobs were scarce in the 15th century. Most people could not read and were obliged to labour from sunrise to sunset all year long. Social mobility was a rare phenomenon and few had hopes of becoming rich. When the summertime was over, the overriding preoccupation was whether sufficient food was available to make it through the winter.

This does not mean that people at that time did not attempt to seek a better life. In the 15th century, the same as today, the most entrepreneurial tried to make their jobs work for them. Instead of seeing their employment as immutable and everlasting, they tried to use it as a steppingstone to move to a higher post or to start their own business.

The life of Desiderius Erasmus is one of the best examples on how to transform an unpleasant occupation into a successful independent profession. He was born in the year 1469 and, when his parents died, he decided that entering a monastery was the best option to secure his livelihood and gain some education.

Although Erasmus deeply disliked the life in the monastery, the truth was that, in the short-term, he had very little choice. If he had left and tried to find a post of apprentice without having family connections, chances are that he would have starved. He followed the routines that were expected of him in the monastery and, at the same time, he reflected about how to improve his situation.

It did not take long for Erasmus to figure out what the best strategy to get ahead was. Acquiring more knowledge constituted the passport to a better life, since jobs outside the monastery were available to those who could write good Latin, the language that was used at that time in written communications across Europe.

Erasmus' hard work paid off and, by the time he was 24, he found employment outside the monastery and never looked back. His first job, as secretary of a bishop, opened him new learning opportunities and professional contacts, but too little freedom to determine how to use his days. For Erasmus, at that point, the question did no longer revolve around getting a better job. What he wanted was to become independent.

Like any potential entrepreneur, he prudently assessed the market for his skills and identified two outlets: teaching in college and working for a nobleman as tutor of his children. By the turn of the century, the market for private tutors in Europe was growing by leaps and bounds, but it was an unsafe occupation, since it required searching a new post every few years.

The genius of Erasmus consisted of finding the way to place himself in such high demand that he would never lack work either as college or private teacher. When he was 36 year old, he conceived the idea of writing a book using his experiences in the monastery, something that no one had ever done before.

Three years later, Erasmus published his essay titled Praise of Folly, which became one of the best-sellers of the 16th century. Although he barely made any money from the book itself, Erasmus' reputation spread across Europe and he became a much sought-after lecturer and teacher, which allowed him to lead a life similar to the management consultants of our days.

Erasmus' achievement of personal independence is particularly impressive when we consider his low starting point in life and the difficult historical context. His example shows how, with creativity and persistence, you can make your job work for you and move to a better life. Once you get yourself on the way, you will be surprised to see how many opportunities exist.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by alex_smith1 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]

Making your job work for you

Good jobs were scarce in the 15th century. Most people could not read and were obliged to labour from sunrise to sunset all year long. Social mobility was a rare phenomenon and few had hopes of becoming rich. When the summertime was over, the overriding preoccupation was whether sufficient food was available to make it through the winter.

This does not mean that people at that time did not attempt to seek a better life. In the 15th century, the same as today, the most entrepreneurial tried to make their jobs work for them. Instead of seeing their employment as immutable and everlasting, they tried to use it as a steppingstone to move to a higher post or to start their own business.

The life of Desiderius Erasmus is one of the best examples on how to transform an unpleasant occupation into a successful independent profession. He was born in the year 1469 and, when his parents died, he decided that entering a monastery was the best option to secure his livelihood and gain some education.

Although Erasmus deeply disliked the life in the monastery, the truth was that, in the short-term, he had very little choice. If he had left and tried to find a post of apprentice without having family connections, chances are that he would have starved. He followed the routines that were expected of him in the monastery and, at the same time, he reflected about how to improve his situation.

It did not take long for Erasmus to figure out what the best strategy to get ahead was. Acquiring more knowledge constituted the passport to a better life, since jobs outside the monastery were available to those who could write good Latin, the language that was used at that time in written communications across Europe.

Erasmus' hard work paid off and, by the time he was 24, he found employment outside the monastery and never looked back. His first job, as secretary of a bishop, opened him new learning opportunities and professional contacts, but too little freedom to determine how to use his days. For Erasmus, at that point, the question did no longer revolve around getting a better job. What he wanted was to become independent.

Like any potential entrepreneur, he prudently assessed the market for his skills and identified two outlets: teaching in college and working for a nobleman as tutor of his children. By the turn of the century, the market for private tutors in Europe was growing by leaps and bounds, but it was an unsafe occupation, since it required searching a new post every few years.

The genius of Erasmus consisted of finding the way to place himself in such high demand that he would never lack work either as college or private teacher. When he was 36 year old, he conceived the idea of writing a book using his experiences in the monastery, something that no one had ever done before.

Three years later, Erasmus published his essay titled Praise of Folly, which became one of the best-sellers of the 16th century. Although he barely made any money from the book itself, Erasmus' reputation spread across Europe and he became a much sought-after lecturer and teacher, which allowed him to lead a life similar to the management consultants of our days.

Erasmus' achievement of personal independence is particularly impressive when we consider his low starting point in life and the difficult historical context. His example shows how, with creativity and persistence, you can make your job work for you and move to a better life. Once you get yourself on the way, you will be surprised to see how many opportunities exist.

[Text: http://johnvespasian.blogspot.com]

[Image by alex_smith1 under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]