Friday, February 26, 2010

Nobody Needs a Job

There's a lot of hand-wringing going on right now about unemployment. The story is that we need more jobs and without more jobs the economy cannot recover. But I'm not buying it. We have more than enough jobs to go around. Across this country, schools, parks and hospitals are understaffed. We have hungry people to feed, infrastructure to rebuild and countless problems to solve. There is no lack for jobs.

What we lack is clarity. We don't say what we mean and that makes it difficult to get to the truth. In the case of employment, most people are not telling the whole truth when they say, "I need a job." Many of them don't actually want a job, they want money. And the proof of that statement is the fact that so many jobs are going begging. If they don't come with a paycheck, people don't want them.

The truth is this - nobody needs a job, but everybody needs an income.

Think about that for a minute. You do not need a job. You need an income. You might have a reflexive argument with this statement. You might say, well, yes, I need an income. But in order to have an income, I have to have a job. But really? Is that true?

No, it isn't. There are many sources of income besides a regular, full time job. Remember that there's no law stating that all of your income has to come from a single source. Your total income can just as easily come from a combination of sources. Here are some of the possibilities:
  • Interest income
  • Commissions from internet sales via a website or blog
  • Dividend income
  • Partnership distributions
  • Income from renting real estate, storage spaces or equipment
  • Income from franchising a business you have built
  • Income from buying and managing a franchise of someone else's business
  • Licensing something you have developed and/or patented, which could include inventions, software or other intellectual property
  • Collecting royalties on something you have created, such as music, film or photography
You might say that you couldn't do most of these things because you don't know anything about them. But it's not like you can't learn. You've been encouraged all your life to look for income in only one place, a job, and that's where you've invested all your energy and talent. Think of how much time you spent getting an education preparing for a job, applying for jobs, interviewing for jobs, working at a job, commuting to a job, learning new skills for a job. If you had spent a fraction of that time learning about other income possibilities, you might easily have found a few things that could work for you.

It is possible that if you were to change the way you think about money, work, and income, you might start to focus on what you really want and from there, make a fresh start. You might still have a job, but you would be less dependent on it. If your job accounted for less than 50% of your income, it would still hurt to lose the job, but it wouldn't be as devastating as it is when your job is all you have. When you think about it, having just "a" job is a pretty wobbly foundation for your life. It's like standing on one leg. Wouldn't it be more secure to have support from two, three or more sources?

It is amazing to me that people in the United States, who are so proud of their freedom and individuality, are so willing to give themselves over to such a singular vision of what life should be: go to school, graduate, go to work full time, stay there 30 years, retire. That doesn't sound like freedom. It sounds like a sentence.

Imagine a life with much broader horizons than a single job. One in which you work part time at something you enjoy, perhaps teaching. You love music and have written a few songs that are used commercially, bringing you royalties. Your spouse has built a small business that turned out to be easy to replicate and turn into a franchise, which provides a steady income. Your spouse also has an auto racing hobby and created a couple of after-market parts that solve common problems for racers. You sell those parts on the internet - sales happen, literally, while you are sleeping. You and your spouse decided to rent your old house when you bought the one you live in now. The rent you collect pays your mortgage and expenses while you enjoy asset appreciation. You inherited a house and sold it to someone on contract - meaning that you act as the bank and payments, with interest, come to you each month. Put all of that together and you can have an interesting, diversified, relatively secure, financial portfolio. And because none of these activities involves full time work, you have time to explore other work, paid or unpaid, that adds to the quality of your life and that of your community.

This recession gives us the opportunity to rethink the way we do things and make our lives better. The best way I know of to do that is to start telling ourselves the truth. Nobody needs a job. What everybody needs is an income. This narrow focus on jobs is limiting. A broader focus on income is liberating. Let's concentrate there, and see what's possible.