“If your determination is fixed, I do not counsel you to despair. Few things are impossible to diligence and skill. Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson
I’ve known Bruce since high school. His family and mine, both extra-large Irish-American clans, lived less than a mile apart. Although we ran with a gang of kids who seemed destined for questionable futures, Bruce and I always had the sense that we wanted more. We both went to college. We both studied hard. We both traveled the world and took risks. And when we finally settled down into careers, we were hell-bent on becoming successful.
During his heyday, Bruce was a corporate vice president for several Fortune 500 companies. He was a natural leader with an interest in computer technology. During the ’80s and ’90s, he was at the head of his field. He was earning big bucks – three-quarters of a million at one point – and was well-known and well-established.
He had achieved The Great American Dream. The big house, the cars, the vacations, the corporate expense account. But then, suddenly, everything went wrong. His run of bad luck started when he switched jobs to take a more lucrative position with a high-tech company… just before the high-tech bubble popped. Then, in the course of a year, he got divorced, saw his retirement portfolio collapse, lost his job, suffered a tragic death in the family, and had a stroke.
“I was down and almost out,” he told me. Yet Bruce, who was and still is one of the bravest people I know, managed to fight his way up from the bottom.
Problem is, he’s not happy with the job he now has.
Bruce went to work with a man who promised him a partnership – but when the money started coming in, the story changed. “I’ve just brought in a client that is going to make this guy very rich,” Bruce told me. “But he’s taking it all for himself. I suppose I could take him to court and fight it out. But I don’t have the heart for that sort of thing anymore. I’m willing to settle for less. I want a job that I can love, that can keep me close to my kids, one that can put me back in touch with people. I don’t need to make a ton of money. Just $150,000 a year will cover my needs.”
It broke my heart to hear him speak that way. This is a man who is perfectly capable of running a billion-dollar business. But he’s been banged up so unfairly and so often by life that he just doesn’t have the competitive spirit he had in the old days.
I told him that I thought the old fervor would come back to him once he got situated in the right job. “I don’t want it to come back,” he said. “I want to live a simpler life. I want to spend more time loving the things I do.”
I’m all for living a simpler, more fulfilling life – and having the personal and financial freedom to do just that. The career opportunities sponsored by ETR have all been designed to help people lead that kind of enviable lifestyle, so I told Bruce about some of them. But he didn’t really want to work by himself. And he didn’t want to put in the effort to learn a new skill. Yet, he wanted to make good money – at least $150,000 per year.
What kind of job is he looking for? “I’m really good with people,” he said, “leading them, getting them motivated, putting a team together and making it click.”
That statement bothered me. It was reminiscent of what I have so often heard from kids fresh out of college. (“I’m a people person.”)
“That’s a skill,” I agreed, “but do you think it’s one that someone’s going to pay you a lot of money for?”
He saw my point. I gave him a quick rundown of an idea we’ve talked about often in ETR – that the best way to make good money and keep making good money (i.e., keep your job) is to learn and practice a “financially valued” skill. It doesn’t matter what skill you choose to develop, so long as it’s one that will make it easy for you to eventually charge $100 an hour for your time.
The best way to get rich is to own your own business and invest in real estate. But the best way to avoid penury – now and, more important, when you reach “retirement” age – is to be very good at doing something that people will pay good money for.
A hundred dollars an hour is a good minimum number to shoot for. If you worked 50 hours a week at that rate, you’d be making $250,000 a year. Yes, you can make a lot more money than a quarter million bucks a year if you have your own successful business, but in terms of having a reliably high income (one you can earn regardless of how old you are or where you choose to live), having a financially valued skill is the way to go. You can even retire and work on a very-part-time basis… and still have a good income to live on.
Here’s a short list of financially valued skills:
- knowing how to market
- being able to sell
- being capable of creating a positive bottom line
Those are the premium skills, the ones that – combined with being able to work well with people – will put you at the very top of almost any organization and assure your employment for pretty much as long as you want it.
But there are other, less-valued but still valuable, skills – and I reminded Bruce that he has one: developing information technology.
“That’s a liability,” he told me. “All the good tech jobs are in India. First, the entry-level jobs – the data-input and basic programming jobs – went. Then, the middle-level jobs. Now, even jobs at the top level are over there. American technicians just can’t compete.”
I thought of my eldest son, who, despite my warnings, got his degree in computer programming. He recently got his first real job, working for a company in L.A. that does special effects for movies. And I’m sure his bosses love him. But he’s a technician – and, from a business point of view, a technician is a necessary expense, not a vital asset.
“Even the most qualified engineer,” I told my son, “is viewed by the CEO and shareholders as a cost of doing business. He may be providing a very necessary function in a highly skilled way – but until he can find a way to position himself on the profit side of the ledger, there will always be the risk that he can be replaced by someone cheaper.”
The situation that Bruce is in right now proves that point.
Bruce is too strong, too smart, too gifted a person not to be able to find a good job. But in order to do that, he’s going to have to make some changes. Instead of continuing to search for a high-paying position where he can “work with people,” he’s going to have to perfect (maybe even learn from scratch) a financially valued skill. When he sends out his next resume or has his next interview, he’ll have to be able to answer one or several of the following questions:
- “How will you increase our revenues?”
- “How will you reduce our costs?”
- “How will you expand our customer base?”
- “How will you increase our profits?”
Bruce can make the transition. I hope he does.[Ed. Note: Michael Masterson is one of the core contributors behind the Internet Money Club, ETR’s new Internet business-building program. It gives you an all-inclusive, A-to-Z blueprint for starting your own powerhouse Internet business – from learning how to pick a product and set up a website to discovering copywriting secrets from the masters, techniques to help you create an e-mail list, the best ways to market your product, and more. We’ve limited the number of spots to 250, and, as of today, we’ve only got a few spots left. So sign up now to be part of this exciting new program.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]