The greatest problem young people have with their money is not that they spend it recklessly. The worst problem we have with money is that we don't pursue it aggressively enough. I'm not suggesting that you go out and sell your soul to the nearest investment bank as soon as you finish reading this column.
The real issue is complacency. This isn't true of everyone, but I've met way too many people my age who get their first jobs and then spend the next two or three years justifying their decision not to look for a better position somewhere else.
Too many people want to rack up some work experience, or pay their dues, before they even attempt to apply for the jobs they really want, or just to ask for a promotion. Don't pay your dues if you don't have to. Your greatest enemy is inertia, so don't make excuses for it. It's easy to generate plausible reasons to postpone taking the steps that might actually help you get ahead, but the truth is that most of the time we don't rock the boat because we're comfortable with the status quo and might not want to make the extra effort it would take to find a better job.
If you want to be able to afford a decent standard of living, or if you've got a compulsion to save money, either way you need to earn some. You prevent that from happening when you make dishonest excuses for yourself. I'm the last person in the world who would ever come out against self-deception in general, but if self-deception is preventing you from doing what you really want to do then it's got to go.
What am I talking about exactly? Take my friend Andrew who works in sales at a top-notch news organization. He's been out of school for a year now, and he wants to work at an investment bank. He has no desire to keep going with sales, but he's unwilling to apply for the job he really wants. Andrew's explanation: He believes that if he keeps going with sales for another year, he'll have made himself more marketable and increased his chances of getting a great job at Goldman Sachs.
That's my definition of a bad reason. There's some merit to the idea that sticking around at your current job will make it easier for you to get a better job later, but that's no justification for not making the attempt. So you apply and get rejected, so what? There's no percentage in maintaining a holding pattern at your current job if you've got a chance to go somewhere better.
That's what I told Andrew, but he stuck to his own line of reasoning. He's still working in sales and has yet to try to break into investment banking. I'm hoping a little public humiliation will help him along (in this column the names are not changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, or anybody else for that matter). It's dangerous to make excuses for the status quo because you can come up with some great, incredibly plausible ones that don't help you at all.
I know the rap on Generation Y, or the Millennial Generation as we're now designated, is that we're all outrageously self-confident, perhaps to a fault, and we don't seem to understand that young people should be seen and not heard.
We speak and we are heard, which explains why the baby boomers believe we have serious entitlement issues. Just because we don't want to follow the same rules that they did doesn't equate to us believing we deserve special treatment. (After all, would we have
today if we had waited for a Baby Boomer to invent it? I think not.)
I've run across plenty of type-A Gen Y personalities who fit that description perfectly, but more often I'll run into young people who believe that they need to get more experience under their belts before they try to get the jobs they really want. That's only true if you don't get hired, and you'll never find that out if you don't make the attempt. Some of my adoring fans have even suggested that I try to get some more experience before I open my big fat mouth again. I disagree. There's nothing more precious than your time, why waste it?
Not everyone who makes excuses for occupational inertia uses the experience line. Plenty of us come up with even worse rationalizations for our inaction, and I say us here because I'm just as guilty, if not more so, as the rest of you. My best friend Luke, who I've mentioned before, almost took a terrible job coming out of college because he thought it would be impolite to refuse.
Luke had worked as an intern at a lobbying firm the previous summer, and he'd expected to get a job there after he graduated. Instead he got screwed. The lobbyists said they didn't have a position open, even though they'd indicated earlier in the year that they would. This firm claimed that it was against the rules to create a new job slot for Luke, but they could bend the rules to give him an internship, where he'd be performing all the duties that he would eventually take up as an actual employee as soon as someone left and created an opening.
If they could bend the rules to create an internship, they could bend the rules to create a job. Luke was reluctant to say no to this bait-and-switch offer because these lobbyists claimed to be doing him a favor. He thought it would make him seem ungrateful to turn down a bad offer. Maybe he would have come off as ungrateful, but what did the guy have to be grateful about?
The truth was that Luke didn't want to try to find another job, although that's eventually what he did. Employers and potential employers are not your friends. No one is doing you a favor by offering you a job unless you explicitly called in a favor to get it. If you're taking a job because you believe it would be impolite to refuse, or staying at one because it would be impolite to quit, then it's time for you to find a new place to work.
No matter how legitimate your reasons might sound, there's never any justification for not at least trying to get a better job. Don't bamboozle yourself into believing otherwise.