Free Advice, Worth Every Penny


It's graduation season again and since I've been out of school for awhile (I understand they no longer use quill pens), I'm no less qualified than anyone else to offer advice. Mine is that, in whatever you do, you should aim to become your own boss.

I mean this in every possible sense in which it can be interpreted, but especially with respect to work. What I'm telling you is that your life will go much better if you subject yourself and your appetites to your own command, which I hope is obvious by now. But you especially want to be your own boss in the arena of employment, which should be avoided except for some initial exposure for the sake of experience. Since jobs are scarce anyway, this message makes me the bearer of good tidings. My claim is that the recession is doing you a favor by pushing you along the path of self-employment.

What's so bad about a job? While these are much more remunerative than people realize (they never properly value benefits, paid vacation and employer Social Security contributions), there's a good chance you'd be unhappy, your career will be subject to the whims of people you despise, and eventually you'll get laid off--very possibly when its too late to get anything else paying half as much. In the future, moreover, national health insurance, global competition and other changes will make jobs even less attractive than they are now in relation to entrepreneurship. And working for yourself means the boss will never discriminate, demand sexual favors, pass you over in favor of some ass-kissing jerk or claim credit for your hard work.

Another option, of course, is joining a guild--by becoming a public school teacher, for example, or a university professor. Clawing your way into a guild will offer a measure of the security increasingly absent from the rest of the job market, but involves trade-offs (low pay, bureaucracy, groupthink) that many of you will find intolerable.

I will admit that self-employment is not for everybody. Yet it may well be in your future whether you like it or not. I'm here to tell you that it's not so bad.

PS--Awhile back i offered this advice to grads, and I still haven't gotten an honorary degree.

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Daniel Akst

Dan Akst is a journalist, essayist and novelist who wrote three books. His novel, The Webster Chronicle, is based on the lives of Cotton and Increase Mather. More

Dan Akst is a journalist, novelist and essayist whose work has appeared frequently in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Wilson Quarterly, and many other publications.
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