December 13th, 2014 // 9:53 am @ Oliver DeMille
Last week Rachel asked me if I was going to write a “best books of the year” article like I have the last few years. “I’m not sure,” I sighed. “To tell the truth, I think it’s getting a little old. I see ‘best books,’ ‘best movies,’ ‘best albums,’ of the year, etc. in most of the national magazines and newspapers each year. In fact, I just recently read a December issue of a magazine that listed the ‘5 best of the year’ in all these categories. I think it’s a bit overdone these days.”
“That makes sense,” she responded. “But the end of the year is a profound time to look back and note important things that have happened. It’s natural, and it is good for us.” She pondered for a minute, then said enthusiastically, “What about a ‘best article of the year?’ Is there an article you wrote this year that you think is the most important one? Something everyone in America and beyond really needs to read?”
I immediately brightened and sat forward in my seat. “Yes!” I said. “There’s one article I wrote that I wish I could send out every week, over and over. I wish every person in North America would read it! And Europe, and beyond. It’s that important.”
“What is it?”
Well, here it is. The “Article of the Year!” If you read it before when it came out, please, please read it again. It’s that powerful. It’s that important. And if you haven’t read it before, now is the time.
The message of this article is extremely important! If you have children or grandchildren who will live, seek an education, and work in the next thirty years, the information in this article is vital. Absolutely vital. If you or your spouse will work in the next year, or three years, or ten years, the knowledge in this article is essential. This is an article on education, on leadership, and on the economy. Nobody should have to face the economy ahead without knowing what’s in this article! Read it! Enjoy it! Share it!
A Tale of Two
There are three economies in modern society. They all matter. But most people only know about two of them. They know the third exists, in a shadowy, behind-the-scenes way that confuses most people. But the first two economies are present, pressing, obvious. So people just focus on these two.
A couple of recent conversations brought these economies even more to the forefront of my thinking. First, I was meeting with an old friend, touching base about the years since we’d talked together. He mentioned that his oldest son is now in college, and how excited he is for his son’s future. I asked what he meant, and he told me an interesting story.
Over twenty years ago he ran into another of our high school friends while he was walking into his community college administration building. The two greeted each other, and they started talking. My friend told his buddy that he was there to dis-enroll from school. “I just can’t take this anymore,” he told him. “College is getting me nowhere.”
“Well, I disagree,” his buddy said. “I’m here to change my major. I’m going to get a teaching credential and teach high school. I want a steady job with good benefits.”
Fast forward almost thirty years. My friend ran into this same old buddy a few weeks ago, and asked him what he’s doing. “Teaching high school,” he replied.
“Really? Well, you told me that was your plan. I guess you made it happen. How much are you making, if you don’t mind me asking?”
When his friend looked at him strangely, he laughed and said, “I only ask because you told me you wanted a steady job with good benefits, and I wanted to get out of school and get on with real life. Well, I quit school that day, but I’m still working in a dead end job. Sometimes I wonder what I’d be making if I had followed you into the admin building that day and changed majors with you.”
After a little more coaxing, the friend noted that he didn’t make much teaching, only about $40,000 a year—even with tenure and almost thirty years of seniority. “But it’s steady work, like I hoped. Still, I’ve got way too much debt.”
After telling me this story, my old high school friend looked at me with what can only be described as slightly haunted eyes. “When he told me he makes $40K a year, I just wanted to scream,” my friend said.
“Why?” I asked.
He could tell I didn’t get what he was talking about, so he sighed and looked me right in the eyes. “I’ve worked 40 to 60 hour weeks every month since I walked off that campus,” he told me. “And last year I made about $18,000 working for what amounts to less than minimum wage in a convenience store. I should have stayed in college.”
That’s the two economies. One goes to college, works mostly in white-collar settings, and makes from thirty thousand a year up to about seventy thousand. Some members of this group go on to professional training and make a bit more. The other group, the second economy, makes significantly less than $50,000 a year, often half or a third of this amount, and frequently wishes it had made different educational choices.
The people in these two economies look at each other strangely, a bit distrustfully, wondering what “could have been” if they’d taken the other path. That’s the tale of two economies.
Most people understand the first two economies, but the Third Economy is elusive for most people. They don’t quite grasp it. In fact, you may be wondering what I’m talking about right now.
The Third Economy
This brings me to our main point. Ask members of either economy for advice about education and work, and they’ll mostly say the same thing. “Get good grades, go to college, get a good career. Use your educational years to set yourself up for a steady job with good benefits.” This is the advice my grandfather gave my father at age twenty, and the same counsel my dad gave me after high school. Millions of fathers and mothers have supplied the same recommendations over the past fifty years.
This advice makes sense if all you know are the two economies. Sadly, the third economy is seldom mentioned. It is, in fact, patently ignored in most families. Or it is quickly discounted if anyone is bold enough to bring it up.
A second experience illustrates this reality. I recently visited the optometrist to get a new prescription for glasses. During the small talk, he mentioned that his younger grandchildren are in college, but scoffed that it was probably a total waste of time. “All their older siblings and cousins are college graduates,” he said, “and none of them have jobs. They’ve all had to move back home with their parents.”
He laughed, but he seemed more frustrated than amused. “It’s the current economy,” he continued. “This presidential administration has been a disaster, and it doesn’t look like anyone is going to change things anytime soon. I don’t know what these kids are supposed to do. They have good degrees—law, accounting, engineering—but they can’t find jobs. Washington has really screwed us up.”
I brought up the third economy, though I didn’t call it that. What I actually said was: “There are lots of opportunities in entrepreneurship and building a business right now.” He looked at me like I was crazy. Like maybe I had three heads or something. He shook his head skeptically.
“Entrepreneurship is hard work,” I started to say, “but the rewards of success are high and…”
He cut me off. Not rudely, but like he hadn’t really heard me. That happens a lot when you bring up the third economy.
“No,” he assured me, “college is the best bet. There’s really no other way.”
I wasn’t in the mood to argue with him, so I let it go. But he cocked his head to one side in thought and said, slowly, “Although…” Then he shook his head like he was discounting some thought and had decided not to finish his sentence.
“What?” I asked. “You looked like you wanted to say something.”
“Well,” he paused…then sighed. I kept looking at him, waiting, so he said, “The truth is that one of my grandsons didn’t go to college.” He said it with embarrassment. “Actually, he started school, but then dropped out in his second year. We were all really worried about him.”
He paused again, and looked at me a bit strangely. I could tell he wanted to say more, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it.
“What happened?” I prompted.
What Really Works
“To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure. He started a business. You know, one of those sales programs where you build a big group and they buy from you month after month. Anyway, he’s really doing well. He paid off his big house a few years ago—no more mortgage or anything. He has nice cars, all paid for. And they travel a lot, just for fun. They fly chartered, real fancy. He and his wife took us and his parents to Hawaii for a week. He didn’t even blink at the expense.”
“That’s great,” I told him. “At least some people are doing well in this economy.”
He looked at me with that strange expression again. “I’m not sure what to make of it,” he said. “I keep wondering if he’s going to finish college.”
I was surprised by this turn of thought, so I asked, “So he can get a great education, you mean? Read the classics? Broaden his thinking?”
He repeated the three heads look. “No. He reads all the time, way more than anyone else in the family. He doesn’t need college for that. I want him to go back to college so he can get a real job.”
I laughed out loud. A deep belly laugh, it was so funny. I didn’t mean to, and I immediately worried that I would offend him, but he grinned. Then he shook his head. “I know it’s crazy, but I just keep worrying about him even though he’s the only one in the family who is really doing well. The others are struggling, all moved back in with their parents—spouses and little kids all in tow. But they have college degrees, so I keep thinking they’ll be fine. But they’re not. They’re drowning in student debt and a bunch of other debts. It just makes no sense.”
He sighed and talked bad about Washington again. Finally he said, “I’ve poured so much money into helping those kids go to college, and now the only one who has any money to raise his family is the one who dropped out. It just doesn’t make any sense.” He kept shaking his head, brow deeply furrowed.
I left his office thinking that he’s so steeped in the two economies he just doesn’t really believe the third economy exists. He just doesn’t buy it, even when all the evidence is right there in front of him. The whole economy has changed. It’s not your father’s or grandfather’s economy anymore. It just isn’t. Sadly, he just doesn’t get that the reality has changed.
Who Gets It
He’s not alone. The whole nation—most of today’s industrialized nations, in fact—are right there with him. So many people believe in the two economies, high school/blue collar jobs on the one hand, and college/white collar careers on the other. Most people just never quite accept that the entrepreneurial economy is real. They don’t realize that there are many less white collar jobs per capita now, and that this trend shows all the signs of increasing. They don’t admit the truth, that over half of college grads in recent years can’t find jobs, and a huge number of those with degrees and without degrees are moving back home just to survive. But the third economy is flourishing.
It’s too bad so many people won’t admit this, because that’s where nearly all the current top career and financial opportunities are found. The future is in the third economy, for those who realize it and get to work. If you’ve got kids, I hope you can see the third economy—for their sake. Because it’s real, and it’s here to stay. The first two economies are in major decline, whatever the so-called experts claim. Alvin Toffler warned us in his bestseller FutureShock that this was going to happen, and so did Peter Drucker, back when they first predicted the Information Age. Now it’s happening.
I hope more of us realize the truth before it’s too late. Because China gets it. So does India, and a bunch of other nations. The longer we take to get real and start leading in the entrepreneurial/innovative third economy (the real economy, actually), the harder it will be for our kids and grandkids. The third economy will dominate the twenty-first century. It already is, in fact. Whether you’ve chosen to see it yet or not. This is real. This is happening. This is the future. This is the current reality.
Truth is truth, even when our false traditions and outdated background refuse to let us see clearly. The parents who see this, embrace it, and help their kids prepare to take action in the third economy are providing a real education for their family. Everyone else…isn’t.
Oliver DeMille is the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling co-author of LeaderShift: A Call for Americans to Finally Stand Up and Lead, the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.
Among many other works, he is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.
Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah