Sunday, 18 March 2012

Unemployment, underemployment, and entrepreneurship

The current employment situation is worse and better than you think. Help from outside is not coming to save the day and this is hard to accept for all of us. On the other hand, we can improve our personal situation enormously if we open our eyes to our own possibilities.

Waking up can be difficult when so many things conspire to keep us asleep. The whole media spectrum seems to be occupied full-time at reminding us, the audience, how powerless we are, how dependent on the kindness of strangers.

The sweet message is repeated over and over: "If you keep searching, you will ultimately get what you want."
  • Someone will discover your hidden potential and offer you a great job.
  • One day, you will find a perfect employer and he will guarantee you a bright future.
  • Your employer's priority is to provide you with attention, direction, and motivation.
  • Learn the rules and hierarchies, keep your nose to the grindstone, and you'll do well.
How long does it take for individuals to realize that there is something wrong with those beliefs? The chosen few who are born as relentless entrepreneurs realize by their sixteenth birthday that progress is faster when you change lines. For the rest of us, it can take decades to perceive inconsistencies in the theory and to develop courage to look for better answers in reality.

As it happens in most cases, a mistaken formulation of the question is to blame for our inability to come up with a workable response. Our inherited beliefs about jobs and careers make us blind to facts. Our conditioned expectations render us helpless in the face of change, downturns, and corporate downsizing.

Our view of History lies at the root of our misconceptions about employment. Our culture sees jobs as the natural, universal, primary economic relation between human beings. Nowadays, that idea has become so prevalent that is never questioned and we have come to regard it as self-evident. That idea, I submit, is false.

In fact, viewing a job as the natural human condition is a recent phenomenon. Considering employment as the standard, universal way of life is an invention of 19th century economists, a false theory which contradicts all evidence about the past.

However, for the greatest part of History, free humans have not interacted with each other as employer and employee, but as independent traders, exchanging products and services for mutual convenience. Translated in modern terms, this means that the natural, primary economic relations in society are the exchanges between entrepreneurs, self-employed artisans, professionals, builders, small-business owners, and their customers.

Beware of borrowed job and career dreams that might keep you forever chasing a mirage in desert sands. A man is never more hopelessly lost than when he is holding the wrong map in his hands. Rethinking the world as a marketplace for skills and products is a major intellectual undertaking, a heart-aching experience that can prove as painful as losing the faith in false ideas.

Truth is, nonetheless, as essential as clean air. The hours that you invest in realigning your beliefs with reality might add years of success and happiness to your life.


[Image by Crispin Swan under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]