Accepted Wisdom

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The problem with accepted wisdom is, well, that it’s just accepted.

Some accepted wisdom is, of course, worthy of acceptance. Jumping out of an aircraft without a functioning parachute is likely to have a dramatic effect on your life expectancy. Likewise, getting completely plastered at your works Christmas party and then deciding to discuss your pay and conditions with your boss is likely to have a dramatic effect on your career prospects.

Other pearls of wisdom get passed down the generations with hardly a thought. Most, if not all accepted wisdoms have been around for a long time and probably used to be good advice. Not that long ago, living with someone of the opposite sex was regarded as ‘living in sin’. That might have had an impact on your social and professional life. Being openly gay a few decades ago would see you being persecuted by the state and, of course, there are plenty of places in the world still where your sexuality can end up getting you killed.

Work hard at school, get good grades, get a steady job, get married, buy a house, have children, work until you are 60+, retire, die. Inspiring stuff, no? Yet all of these ‘life choices’ are accepted wisdoms. If you divert from any of these (admittedly, there is no option about the last one..) you can expect at least raised eyebrows, if not lectures, rows, ridicule and accusations of being ‘selfish’ (as if it’s not your life to lead).

A lot of people may tick off every one of those lifestyle choices as they go through their life and feel completely satisfied. For a lot of people though, that ‘off the shelf’ life plan just doesn’t cut it anymore. The problem is that this sort of wisdom often goes unchallenged. People don’t think about it because it is obviously the right way to live. Of course you want to get married. Of course you want to have children, of course you want to be a wage slave giving away the best years of your life doing a job that you hate to buy stuff that you don’t need because some ad-man tells you want it.

Actually, a lot of people do think about that sort of thing. They just do it too late. Lots of people who find themselves hating their job but feeling trapped because they have got themselves mortgaged to the hilt to buy the dream home that they have been told that they should have and the debt that they have accrued to get the stuff that they feel they must have. Mostly to make themselves feel better about having to spend 5 days a week doing a job they hate. A lot of those people then get depressed, have a midlife crisis and/or have an affair. None of which is likely to make the situation any better.

The accepted wisdom sees us creating our own little cage for ourselves. It might be quite a nice cage on the outside, with a Beemer parked outside but it’s a cage nevertheless. People get stuck in jobs they hate and in relationships which don’t make them happy because they can’t afford to leave.

What do parents say to their children when the child says “Daddy, I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up”. Nobody says “get a shit job that pays well, because it doesn’t matter if you are unhappy as long as you’ve got good steady money coming in”. No. Every parent (well, the majority) say “it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you want to do it and it makes you happy”. A lot of parents are hypocrites though because that is exactly what they are not doing themselves.

So, what to do?

Well, the options now are far greater than they were when I was in my late teens. The internet has proved to be the ultimate game changer for an awful lot of people. It is possible to run certain businesses entirely remotely. The ability to have meetings via skype or similar negates the need, in many cases for you to be actually physically present somewhere.

Many are also waking up to the idea that you don’t have to earn a living doing one job. Some people have fingers in a few different pies. This is known as a ‘portfolio career’. One of the benefits of this approach is that you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket. You are not relying on one source of income. If you have several smaller interests it doesn’t matter if each one only makes a few hundred pounds/dollars/whatever, as long as the aggregate income from all of those interests pays the bills.

That’s quite an appealing idea isn’t it? The other benefit of having a number of smaller interests rather than one job that sucks up all of your time is that you can be more responsive. If one of the interests is doing well at any given point you can devote more time to it and scale back the others. If one business idea fails it’s not the end of the world; you have others that you can develop. That’s ultimate job security isn’t it? When you have one job, however safe you think it is, you are always at risk of the unexpected.

When I started out practising family law I thought (and everyone told me) that it was a safe area or law to get into because everyone would always need a family lawyer. 20 plus years later sweeping changes to the way this area of law is funded as well as changes to the court rules mean that there are lots of people who thought that they were in a ‘safe’ career who are now looking to re-train.

The idea of not working for someone else, setting your own hours, your own working conditions, being able to take a holiday when you want without having to ask for permission or even working from anywhere in the world that takes your fancy will be an alien concept to some. I am not an expert in this. In fact it is something that I am working on myself now. If the concept strikes you as appealing (why wouldn’t it?) can I direct you here for more information (I’m not connected to Marianne’s business in any way or getting a ‘kick-back’ for referrals. I just happen to like her approach. You might too.)

Woking for yourself may not appeal to everyone. Some may just feel more comfortable having a traditional job but there are an increasing number who are not. Me included. If you take a regular job, about the best that you can hope for is that it continues with a few pay rises along the line. Going it alone is scarier and less predictable but you might just end up with something better than ‘predictable’.

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