When my Dad got out of the Army in 1971, he got a job with AT&T as a repairman. He worked there his whole career for 41 years until he retired two years ago. This was normal for his generation and the generation before his. You got a job at a big corporation right out of college (or the Army) and they took care of you, treated you like one of the family and carried you through your career to a safe, and funded, retirement.
Boy, how times have changed.
When I got my first job at a web design shop while still in college, I honestly thought that I would have that job until retirement. In 1998, web design shops hadn’t been around very long, but I always thought that that was how work worked, you got a job and stuck with it until the end. They would take care of you and you would work your butt off for them. It was a mutually beneficial agreement and everything would be roses and sunshine. I was a little more than a bit naive.
We could have discussions on why companies no longer care about their employees or why the youth of today have no loyalty, but the fact is, times have changed. Stable employment is a thing of the past. It’s certainly true that many corporations have stopped caring so much about each employee, but that’s mainly because the corporations themselves are unstable and their business too unpredictable to reliably forecast what kind of work they’ll be doing in six months. Technology is moving at a pace that anyone fighting to keep old business models are being left behind quicker than the government can bail them out.
This is bad for corporations, and bad for the people who choose to work for them, but I think it’s great for people going into work for themselves.
Technology’s main goal at the moment is lowering costs. Computers were adopted to lower the cost of bookkeeping and publishing. Amazon lowered the cost of publishing, finding and buying books. YouTube did the same for video and broadcasting. Etsy lowered the cost of selling your crafts online. Kickstarter lowered the cost of raising capital for a business idea. Bitcoin is lowering the cost of online payments. The list goes on and will continue to grow.
By lowering costs, technology has broken the hold corporations had on many industries. They can no longer use higher costs to act as barriers that they did in the 20th century. With an abundance of low-cost solutions, now anyone can write and publish to millions of people, anyone can write, produce, and publish their own TV show, and anyone can start their own business from their bedroom.
It’s actually possible in this new world to make a living doing what you love for the first time in a long time. More and more people are following their dreams and finding an audience for their work. The startup cost of nearly everything is close enough to zero that the only thing stopping us now is our own dedication, understanding of our potential clients, and willingness to put in the work to make it happen. My Dad could have never dreamed of this and I can’t imagine being without it.
I did eventually leave that web design company and have since worked for a number of other corporations, but I’ve also hosted a long running podcast, ran a freelance web development company, founded a startup and self published a few books along the way. The problem now isn’t, “What can I do?”, but more “What should I do?” I realizing that my greatest strength going forward is going to be my ability to focus and not just my ability to get things done.
That is scary and uncertain, but it’s also freeing. We can do anything now, the hard part is figuring out what.
If you could do anything, what would you do?