The book was sh*t. My career was toast. My business was hosed. The best case scenario was that everything was completely screwed. We all have our coping mechanisms. Pizza, ice cream, and almond butter are mine.
I had attempted taken a risk. It wasn’t going to work out.
That was how I felt one rainy Wednesday in early April. It was a feeling different in degree, though not in kind, from what a heretic may have felt a half millennia ago upon being indicted.
Fortunately for me, the implications of heresy have changed.
Heretics are the new leaders. The ones who challenge the status quo, who get out in front of their tribes, who create movements.
The marketplace now rewards (and embraces) the heretics. It’s clearly more fun to make the rules than to follow them, and for the first time, it’s also profitable, powerful, and productive to do just that.
Seth Godin, Tribes
Replace “heretic” with “entrepreneur”—a substitution I think Seth would allow—and this is the thesis (almost verbatim) of The End of Jobs (though I didn’t realize it when I started writing).
What Seth and others have hinted at is that entrepreneurship isn’t just a life choice people are making simply because they are passionate about it, but rather because, for the first time, it’s safer, more accessible, and more profitable than ever before.
Yet, unable to articulate why entrepreneurship is an intelligent career path, many entrepreneurs instead revert to rather vague and unhelpful proclamations of “follow your passion.” Though they’ve experienced the truth firsthand, they struggle for a way to tell others.
Why is entrepreneurship and being a heretic safer, more profitable, and more accessible than ever?
Most people can get on board with the profitable point. You read a couple of stories about Silicon Valley to see how all these people are building businesses from their computers on Sand Hill Road.
A lot of people understand (though often underestimate the impact of) the accessibility angle. The internet means the costs of production and distribution are rapidly approaching zero. It has democratized power in a way that no technology has equaled since Guttenberg’s printing press.
What used to take millions in startup capital now takes a GoDaddy account and less than $100. Most people saw The Social Network, so we have an idea of how it’s possible for people to build a highly profitable company from a room full of laptops.
The safer part is not often spoken about. Even many entrepreneurs would argue that it’s riskier being an entrepreneur than having a job. I understand why that’s argued and why it’s in some senses very true; you can point to bankruptcies, debt, or failed businesses as very real risks and downsides.
Yet, most entrepreneurs would readily agree with the notion that jobs are getting riskier. No one gets a company watch anymore. Few positions today will last for a whole forty-year career. There is real danger in spending twenty years understanding one company culture and guidelines for filling out internal reports without acquiring skills which effectively transfer to larger markets.
How many individuals have been laid off in the 21st century only to realize that the main skillset they built up was how to play corporate politics and appease their bosses? Winding up unemployable or taking a large wage cut in peak earning years is just as real of a danger.
They would also agree that, under those same conditions, having a more robust skillset and becoming more entrepreneurial makes you more resilient and adaptable.
At some point, those lines intersect. While it’s certainly reasonable to ask when that point is and whether we’re there or not, it seems like the point is largely evaded because of antiquated societal narratives.
If someone’s company goes under, they took a risk and lost. If someone invests hundreds of thousands of dollars in a Bachelor’s and MBA degree then gets hit in a round of layoffs, they were “unlucky.”
Those aren’t untrue statements, but they are misleading.
The notion of someone getting unlucky confuses the issue of agency. It attributes power and control to some mysterious “them.” “They” laid me off, or “they” didn’t give me the opportunity I wanted.
The remarkable thing about our time is that never before have we had more agency and control than we do today. What lines such as “the gatekeepers are dead” allude to is fundamentally true and essential to understand for our generation: never before in human history have we had the same degree of control over our own futures.
During the course of writing The End of Jobs, I received some of the most amazing job offers I’ve ever gotten: profitable opportunities to work alongside incredibly talented people on interesting projects.
When I was sitting in a grungy apartment in Memphis, Tennessee four years ago, these jobs didn’t even exist in my imagination, much less in my reality.
It’s worth asking why this is. It’s certainly counterintuitive. Why was I fortunate enough to be getting amazing job offers while writing a book about the end of jobs?
At the end of April as I was finishing the final draft of the book, I had a bad writing day. My editor had gotten sick, and the deadline to get the book formatted in time was getting tight. I couldn’t see how to make a section come together, so I went home around noon, locked myself into my apartment, and proceeded to eat a large Joe Pesci Pizza, a jar of almond butter, a box of chocolate almonds, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Red Velvet Cake ice cream.
Even with those same amazing opportunities still on the table—where I could have literally picked up the phone at any moment, called one of them, and said I’ll do it—it felt like everything was totally and irreversibly hosed.
That feeling is an illusion, perhaps the central illusion of modern life.
Sitting there in my apartment feeling sorry for myself and feeling like everything was hosed was an illusion.
A lifetime of social conditioning indicates that the path to safety is to do what we’re told, to follow orders, to keep our heads down. It feels safe.
Therein lies the opportunity. There exists today a gap between what feels safe and what is safe and what feels risky and what is risky.
Our intuitive notions about safety and risk are firmly grounded in an industrial world. They are based on notions of risk as they existed in the 20th century and not in the 21st.
This is nothing new. For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, it felt risky to leave the farm and go to the city. In the early 20th century, it felt risky to forego entering the workforce in order to get a college degree.
Universities once ran campaigns attempting to convince students that the value of getting a degree would pay off over the course of their careers.
This logic is now taken for granted. Yet, the economy and nature of work has shifted.
Just as has been the case in previous shifts: what was once safe is now risky. What was once risky is now safe.
Yet, it still doesn’t intuitively feel that way. Societal narratives still embrace the old paradigm of industrial work, and our own internal compass conforms.
Walking the safer, more profitable path viscerally feels, on a day-to-day basis, riskier.
Many people looked at their peers heading off to the city in the 19th century or to universities in the early 20th and saw them as foolish risk takers. They likely felt that way at many times themselves.
History has shown that feeling wrong.
One of the reactions I often got while writing the book was, “But Entrepreneurship isn’t for everyone. How about people that like their jobs?”
And part of that is a semantics issue. There are people who don’t own companies that are entrepreneurs, that go out and create and connect.
The broader point, though, is that it’s a fundamentally industrial-age view of humanity.
The industrial age, for macroeconomic reasons, required people to follow orders, to do what they were told, and be cogs in the wheel.
And that’s the age we were all raised in. It’s ending. And if I may take a brief detour into emotionalism: good riddance.
The age we live in now is different for structural reasons. Humans are a fundamentally creative, innovative species. Twenty or thirty some odd years of traditional education and corporations tried to drill it out of many of us.
Thought the illusion persists, the underlying reality is clear: we’ve reached the end of jobs.