One of the side effects of reading a personal finance site is that you might end up getting a lot of anxiety, or FOMO, as the younger generation likes to call it. You read how much some folks are saving, how much they are making, and how early they've retired and fear you're not doing enough!
It's kind of like the advice from the sunscreen song, “Don't read beauty magazines, they'll only make you feel ugly.”
Well, I'd love for you to keep reading Financial Samurai, and I'd hate for you to feel bad for not doing enough with your finances. It's part of the reason why I've got a specific category on Motivation to help encourage people to keep going. Just spending time reading a personal finance site is more than 98.5% of the population out there!
I was going to write a more empathetic article about how I understand it's tough to get ahead. To not worry if you can't max out your 401k because you're unwilling to live more frugally. Or to just relax if you're unwilling to work more than 40 hours a week to supercharge your wealth because life is meant to be enjoyed. Working on side hustles is hard!
But after going through a first draft of this article, I've changed my mind. Because we live in a first world country, I don't understand why we complain so much.
Suffering Is A Rite Of Passage
The picture at the top of this post hits home for me because I could have easily been this nine year old Filipino boy named Daniel Cabrera. It takes discipline to sit under a street light at night to do your homework. I'd probably just want to play.
I was born in Manila, not to homeless parents, but to American foreign service officers who were housed in comfortable digs. Daniel's father died in prison and Daniel now lives with his mother and brother. If he is given the right opportunities, opportunities many of us take for granted, I'll happily bet that Daniel will make a damn good doctor or policeman one day.
Practically everybody I know worked a minimum wage job while growing up. So my experience working at McDonald's, moving furniture, or licking envelopes for eight hours a day isn't special. In fact, I question whether anybody can truly appreciate the value of hard work and money if they haven't gone through the pain of working a minimum wage service job.
The New York Times article highlighting how Amazon is a tough place to work reminded me of two things.
The first thing is that journalists have an agenda, so be careful when speaking to the media. You might think you're telling them about how you love fluffy Siberian cats. But when the article gets printed, it might be a completely different story about how you are a heartless bastard! Jodi and David's agenda was to portray Amazon as an evil empire by telling only the worst stories shared to them by the workforce. Surely, there are some happy people who love working at Amazon as well?
The second thing I was reminded of is that at any competitive organization, killing yourself at work is not unique.
Seriously, who hasn't cried at work? Who hasn't pulled an all-nighter? Who hasn't worked so many hours one week that their eyeballs felt like they'd fall out? Who hasn't faced a critical boss or a backstabbing colleague? Who hasn't gotten passed over for a raise or a promotion?
If seeing nearly everybody cry at work is one of the biggest atrocities at Amazon, no wonder Bo Olson, a 26 year old UC Boulder graduate, couldn't last more more than two years.
When Did We Get So Soft?
When I worked at Goldman Sachs in the Equities department, getting in by 5:30am and leaving after 7pm was the norm. Getting chewed out by my seniors was a rite of passage that happened every single day. It would have felt odd if I didn't get a daily reprimand because I didn't know shit and needed to learn.
Every junior employee knew how the game was played because this is what happens at every organization. If you choose to join a fraternity, sorority, military, dance troop, sports team, or company, you are also choosing to subject yourself to the customs of that organization. If you accept the job offer that pays you more than 95% of the world's population and teaches you skills to become a better person, there's nothing to complain about.
If you don't like the organization you've joined, QUIT. That's what I did when I took up an offer to join a competitor in San Francisco. There are no steel bars locking you in at night. I know because I've been there. To complain to your colleagues or rat out your company to the media is shameful. A day job is a walk in the park compared to entrepreneurship! The sooner every complaining person out there who's never had to manage anybody or never had to build a profitable business from the ground up knows this, the better.
Military Personnel and Athletes
The reason why many companies love hiring ex-military personnel and athletes is because they understand how to get through difficult situations. Everybody has the image of a drill Sergeant yelling in a private's face during basic training. Get through training, and you become a stronger person. Outside of work, the private and the Sergeant are just two respectful fellas who might grab a beer and talk story. One isn't better than the other.
Athletes develop the same desirable traits of teamwork, perseverance, and adaptation as military personnel develop. Competition is fierce at the top. The skills learned in competitive sports are completely relevant when you're working 80 hours a week to land that next deal. Playing through injuries is a rite of passage. Assisting a teammate in a score is all part of the process while humbly diffusing any credit.
With the latest movement liberating junior employees from formerly required working weekends, Wall Street is going soft in an attempt to retain talent against the lure of Silicon Valley. Don't these young people realize these lavish perks are simply designed to keep them happy while working long hours literally for peanuts? At least the banks now realize they shouldn't work their employees to death.
But I bet every single startup CEO who is working 100 hours a week wishes all his or her employees worked just as many hours to make the company a success.
If you have doubts about what I'm saying, please candidly ask the following people these questions:
Athlete: Have you ever trained so hard that you threw up, passed out, or cramped up?
Military officer: Have you ever been chewed out by a commanding officer?
Law firm associate: Have you ever pulled multiple all nighters on a big case or new deal?
Management consultant: Have you ever had to take a red-eye to a client's office across the country and do back-to-back meetings all day?
Banker: Have you ever slept in the office, got a new assignment at midnight, or worked 80 hour weeks?
Startup founders and employees: Have you ever worked a 12 hour day at home, and then worked another four hours after dinner, every day for months?
I'm sure they'll share with you plenty of stories about times when they just wanted to quit, but kept on going. I don't know anybody who hasn't had a very difficult stretch of work before.
Suck It Up Already
The upside to what the ex-Amazonians have done is make Jeff Bezos and his management team take notice there are areas for improvement at their workplace. Hopefully those existing employees who were too afraid to speak up now don't have to .
I'm empathetic to those who've been dealt a bad hand. The parental leave policies at Amazon sound horrendous and need to be changed. But for goodness sake, we're playing in Disney World, where the baseline standard is a pretty good life. Even if your hole cards are the dreaded seven deuce, you can still drink clean water, get a free education, and work towards a brighter future.
If you're a complainer, the solutions to gain more perspective are simple:
- Travel to a developing country to see what real poverty looks like.
- Find another job, instead of spreading a virus within your firm.
- Create your own company to experience how difficult it is to create something from nothing.
- Take up a minimum wage side job to remind yourself how millions of your fellow Americans are trying to get by.
Recommendation To Build Wealth
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Start Your Own Website, Be Your Own Boss: If you think you're getting the short end of the stick, then you might as well start your own website on the side. Own your brand online and earn extra income on the side. Why should LinkedIn, FB, and Twitter pop up when someone Google's your name? With your own website you can connect with potentially millions of people online, sell a product, sell some else's product, make passive income and find a lot of new consulting and FT work opportunities.
Updated for 2019 and beyond.