Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In Tough Times, Young Workers Need to Toughen Up

The advice I have to give to young people from the West who are just entering the workforce is simple. In this new era of uncertainty, we all need to think like entrepreneurs. But first, let's start with a dose of reality:

- It is tough out there, and it's only going to get tougher.

- Forget about security.

- Like it or not, even if you start out with a large corporation, you need to think like an entrepreneur.

- Make peace with this reality, and your life is going to be a lot better.
We in the West are just beginning to understand what globalization really means. It means that people across the planet are: competing to buy our products; producing products that we can buy for less money; and competing for our jobs. We are just beginning to understand the impact of a world competing for food, oil, cement, wood, and natural resources.

As millions of hard-working young people graduate from colleges around the world, many of them not only speak fluent English, they have no expectations of anyone "giving" them anything. They expect to make it through their own motivation and ability.

The old lament, "When I was young, things were tougher," is, in my opinion, no longer accurate. I say: "When I was young, things were easier!"

As a UCLA PhD student, I had what were considered extremely high GMAT scores and a mediocre work ethic. Today, in the same program, my GMAT scores would be considered average, and with the work ethic I had then, I would never have graduated. Here's an interesting definition of global competition: when your classmates at the top engineering and science programs speak English as fluently as you do, and it is their second language!

Some may complain that the new world isn't fair; I believe it is much fairer today than ever before. Yesterday, if you were born in the U.S. (especially if you were a white male), the cards were all stacked in your favor. Tomorrow, millions of people from around the world will be getting the chance their parents never had.

Young people in the West need to learn the meaning of one word that all successful entrepreneurs know well: compete.

Take nothing for granted in this era of uncertainty. Develop skills and talents that will make you globally competitive. Keep upgrading and changing your skills and talents to fit the needs of an ever-changing marketplace. You will be expected to know more and work harder, and you will be expected to keep learning in your increasingly precious spare time.

Finally, the marketplace for the "fun" and "meaningful" jobs will be ridiculously competitive. I am not saying that you should forget about becoming a writer, actor, comedian, athlete, or CEO coach. I am suggesting that you calculate your probability of success in these glamour fields. Realize that many great actors and actresses still wait tables at age 50.

A few final points:

- Forget about taking a year off.

- Don't spend your adult years "finding yourself."

- Unless you are rich, don't buy the flat-screen TV. When you are poor, live life as a poor person; don't try to live like a rich person.

- And, like any great entrepreneur, invest your time and money in your future.

Life is good.

Marshall

My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

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