I was out and about when I heard someone use a common phrase to respond to someone in a job they hated: "At least you have a job." The person smiled and said, "yeah, that's true." I have seen people interact like that hundreds of times in my life, but for some reason, it really hit me today. That may be one of the most disempowering interactions that one can have.
I don't know when it happened, but at some point, Americans got into the mentality that they should simply be thankful to have a job. I don't know if it was from the civil rights movement that was fighting for equal rights for blacks in America's business culture; or if it was from women's rights movements fighting for equal pay in the workplace; or if it is from the conservative mentality to protect business and corporations praying for money to trickle down to the rest of us from trickle down economics; or if it is from liberals fighting for workers rights, treating employers as if they are some great evil; or some other source, but we have apparently become a nation of people begging for jobs.
People seem to forget that it is out of desperation that opportunities arise. It is out of the great oppression of slaves that the civil war happened; and out of great oppression that the civil rights movement found success; and out of great threat that Americans rose up to become great power in World War II. I forget who said it, but it rings true: Out of desperation comes inspiration.
When people have great jobs, with great benefits, and great lives; they don't have a need to start a business, to take ownership of their lives, to design their world, to change their destiny. It is only out of dissatisfaction, out of desperation that people find the need to take action, to drive themselves to find a better future, to create a life where they are in control, and to turn their dreams into reality.
So to say, "at least you have a job" is to say "this is the best you can do." Yet, we can do so much better than working at poor jobs that are underpaid, that don't create great opportunities to reach our potential, that don't leave us excited and energized to go to work, and that don't make us feel rewarded for our efforts.
What we can do is amazing. America is the nation that brought the world the airplane, the jet, the microwave, the automobile, the modern computer, and even the foundations of alternative energies. Yet, we are falling behind the world and it isn't because we lack the people or we lack the thought or we lack the skill. It seems that we lack the will to take the risks to build our lives, to design our lives, to innovate and dedicate ourselves to those innovations in favor of jobs at Wal-mart and the service sector.
As America's way of life is being exported to the world around us; as China and India rise up; as jobs leave the country for third world cheaper labor, some can say "at least I have a job." What we should be saying is "How can I control my destiny by starting my own business?" or "What great idea do I have to do my part in moving America forward?" or "How can I create more stability and benefits for my family so I don't have to beg for a job to pay the bills?"
In fairness, there are a ton of small businesses in America. Unfortunately, I hear the crux of too many small businesses everyday, "If you create a business, you can write that off on your taxes." Business isn't about writing off your normal home computer on your taxes, it is about creating income, creating wealth, creating something you can pass on to your children, creating something that can provide the life you want. Focusing on the tax write offs is the wrong approach and isn't the path to success, and it isn't how you replace your job with a life.
Facing life with the attitude of "at least I have a job" and "it is a tax write off" is the downfall of America, not the lifting up of America. We have to get past wanting a job and move towards designing a life. We have to get past avoiding taxes, in favor of making something that will etch our lives into the history of America.
It is what we focus on that determines our future. Focusing on having a bad job as a positive thing creates a world where a bad job is all we achieve. Focusing on avoiding taxes as the primary purpose for a small business insures failure in business without any real purpose for the business. We must focus ourselves on striving for excellence, not simply getting by.
Or we can simply say, "at least I have a job."