Wear Yourself Down

In a NYT piece, Tom Friedman says we are living in

“a time when there is increasingly no such thing as a high-wage, middle-skilled job — the thing that sustained the middle class in the last generation. Now there is only a high-wage, high-skilled job. Every middle-class job today is being pulled up, out or down faster than ever.”

It used to be that one could get by making an above-average salary with average skills, but not so any more. So what’s a young person to do? Friedman says we need to “invent” jobs. He’s almost right, but I think he’s too vague. He makes it sound like everyone needs to be an entrepreneur, which is too starting to become too much of a buzz-word to actually mean anything.

How I see it:

Each person needs to assemble a set of skills and interests that he and only he is capable of possessing them in that unique combination. Everyone has a distinctive rhythm of living, a way of looking at the world that is entirely his own. This is worth more than gold, and it needs to be exploited. So each person is entrepreneurial in the sense that he’s defining his own niche of employment and marketing himself like a business might, but he’s certainly not an entrepreneur in the traditional sense.

Marcus Aurelius says

“People who love what they do wear themselves down doing it, they even forget to wash and eat.”

That is what high-skill is about. It’s not about getting an advanced degree or “5-7 years of experience managing marketing communications.” It’s about being brutally honest with yourself and what you want. It’s about being unafraid of not making rent and letting yourself be pulled towards the shit that makes you feel alive.

Don’t go to engineering school because you think it will make you high-skilled. Go to engineering school because you’ve been building robots out of popsicle sticks since you were 12. Otherwise, you’ll get your ass handed to you by the kid has been engineering that long, either in school or in the market.

Yes it’s an irritating platitude, but yes, it’s true– if you’re not doing something that speaks to you, you’re destined for mid-skill and mid-wage. Or worse.

Skill is a function of motivation, and motivation is a function of interest.