With all the financial coaching and training I have been involved in lately, a thought occurred to me. As I raked leaves, I thought about parents with children who encourage them to survey the neighborhood raking leaves in Fall and mowing the lawns in Summer. They believe they are teaching their children the value of a days work and the reward of earning your keep. “If you want something,” they exclaim, “work for it!” This is actually an incomplete lesson to teach children. When left to its logical conclusion, it becomes the wrong lesson. By teaching this lesson in isolation, you are teaching your children to be workers. Often, that means working for someone else. What’s more sustainable is to teach your children the complete lesson: worker as apprentice, producer, distributor, magnate. The holy grail is to teach them to trade in the means of production–to create wealth through the ownership of ideas.
I have to admit. Full disclosure, these ideas are not mine originally. I’ve read a few books on economic systems and global markets including the Communist manifesto. In it, Marx discusses the difference between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The proletariat are the workers. They trade on their labor in exchange for payment. The bourgeoisie or capitalist class, on the other hand, own the means of production. They trade on ideas in order to gain capital. They use this capital, in turn, to hire workers to make their vision into reality.
The Real Question
I don’t tell my kids to work for what they want. I tell them,
“If you want something, borrow the capital as an investment at zero or low interest.:”
Heresy, to some, I know. But, moving beyond work allows you to get to the real question: Are your ideas worth the risk and investment? More simply stated: Why do you need it? What does this purchase make possible? How does it impact your productivity and your quality-of-life? Are you able to build from it, distribute, and profit?
Many people are comfortable hanging on to the “work for it” mentality because they are not willing to have anyone question what they’re investing in. Understand that each transaction of time, people, money, and information is investment. You pay into sustainable enterprises or unsustainable enterprises. Freedom is to separate the means of production from status purchases. For some, this is to admit that much of what you purchase is only an attempt to enhance the perception of your status.
I often tell the story of my college experience, which taught me harsh lessons about finance, economics, and networks. I lost my full scholarship during my first year of college. I got a bill in the mail at the midpoint of my first semester asking me to pay $1000. Where I’m from, a thousand dollars was three months rent. I called my mom right away. We had a brief conversation that ended with her stating, “Let me know how you find it.”
The inclination was that I was going to have to get a job. “If you want something, work for it.” At that point, I didn’t know anything about student loans except that they are from the devil, and I should never get one. I now understand, “If you want something, determine its use in production. If it contributes to growth, borrow at low interest with a plan for profit and payback.”
Consider that I was qualified for a subsidized, $4000 loan, at 4% interest. I could have had $3000 left over to purchase the computer and the calculator that I needed for chemistry. I could have foregone the job I found, which made me consistently late to Chemistry class. I would have had money left over for living expenses. With that incurred debt, I could have invested in the business that I would start five years later. Because education was so important, I still incurred the debt. But, I had lost the scholarship. All because I thought that it was a virtue to work for what you want.
Not my kids. Not the next generation. Wealth building is the ethic. Get beyond work.