December 26, 2013

Jobs Are Where the Work Is

Do this full-time, and you will keep up your skills, connections, and self-esteem. I predict that before long, someone will say, "I have a problem that might not be as juicy as you want, but it needs to be done. I'll pay you a pile of money to compensate you for not spending your time solving those other problems so you can work on mine instead." But if you're not doing much for anyone, nobody has to compensate you much to get you to stop what you are doing. As a manager once told me, "I don't mind hiring the unemployed, but I will never hire someone who doesn't work."

I have a website born of my philosophy called NoShortageOfWork.com. Because of it, I have learned HTML, PHP, how to build websites with WordPress, improved my writing skills immensely, met tons of experts (e.g. Jim Bower), and helped many people meet each other and find work. It is even a source of comic relief. For example, a reader once told me that I must take down my site because I should be prohibited from working on it without pay. I offered to let him pay me, but he refused. I suggested he would prefer HumongousShortageOfWork.com and sent him on his way. I have decided that if someone pays me enough, I will stop doing this work, but in the meantime I will keep going just to prove a point.

Exercise Your Power to Do the Highest Value Work

Some people imagine that offering to work for free is an act of desperation, and people will not respect you for it. If you adopt this viewpoint then it will become true; beggars cannot be choosers.

On the other hand, when you offer free samples of your work, no one can make you do it, they have no right to complain if you fail, and you have the power to be selective. When you exercise that power nobody will see a beggar, but instead a powerful person being unselfish.

I met a recently minted MBA still paying off a six figure student loan who lost her first job less than a year into it in 2008. She had hardly begun learning real-world skills and soon discovered that the market priced inexperienced MBAs below zero. After six months without a nibble, she decided to do volunteer work but soon she became really depressed. With the economy in a slump, non-profits were losing donations, cutting back on services, and laying off staff and volunteers. Even a soup kitchen had a six-month backlog of applicant volunteers. She desperately wondered what it would take to jump the queue and get considered ahead of everyone else.

I said to her something like, "Why not tell them your soup ladling skills are as good as can be, so you'd like to improve your design skills by taking a crack at revamping their website. Or you could improve your sales skills by raising new funds. Or hone your persuasion skills by showing homeless clients how restaurants might gladly serve them gourmet meals in exchange for keeping their sidewalks spotless—and then finding restaurants to go along." I even went so far as to say that, if she thought about it, she did not need their permission to do any of those things.

She asked, "How do I do that?"

I said, "You'll figure it out," and walked away.