A couple of recent columns about how to define “rich” generated quite a bit of discussion. One thought-provoking email from a friend made me think about yet another aspect of defining rich: What does “getting rich” look like?
Sometimes it looks like a desk in a nice office with a business, medical, or law school diploma on the wall. To a small minority of wealthy people, it looks like an inheritance from Mom and Dad. More often than most of us might suspect, though, it looks like work boots, coveralls, or aprons.
In his email, my friend, a former college professor, pointed out what he called “the myth of The Job.” “If I just get a job all will be well. If I lose my job then I try to get the same job again and if I can’t get a job I go down the tubes.”
He also told this story:
I used to ask my students—particularly the business students—”What do you plan to do?” “Well, when I graduate I’ll get a job and then climb the ol’ ladder.” “Yeah, but what do you want to do?” “Be in business.” “What kind of business—the shoe business, insurance, bakery, widget manufacture?” “Well, you know, business. I want to make a lot of money.”
On the sidewalk outside of the business school was a hot dog stand where a middle-aged guy sold hot dogs at a buck and a quarter each to the students and professors. One day I asked how he got into the hot dog business. He had been an executive for a trucking company and got laid off at 50. He got a job at another trucking company that went belly-up. He got a job at another trucking company, they merged and he lost his job. That’s when he gave up the myth of The Job. He saw an ad for a hot dog stand for $6,000 and bought it. I asked how he did and he said, “My wife and I spent last winter in Europe.”
The point here is not that an MBA is a bad idea or that you should quit college and go buy a hot dog stand. The point is that there are many ways to become successful. For many people, the route to wealth includes owning a business. That business can be a hands-on enterprise like construction, plumbing, or food service, or it can be a white-collar profession requiring an advanced degree.
Others can spend their entire careers working for someone else and still end up with ample financial independence.
No matter what their work may be or whether they are owners or employees, however, most successful people have one thing in common: they understand that they are responsible for their own success.
Those on their way to becoming rich are willing to invest in themselves by continuing to learn and by taking educated risks. As either owners or employees, they have what Dave Thomas of Wendy’s called an MBA—a Mop Bucket Attitude. They are willing to place their customers or clients first and to take on whatever work needs to be done. They are flexible enough to think beyond The Job and create a career for themselves. They also have the self-discipline to live on less than they make in order to build for the future.
If you want to become wealthy, being an owner or an employee is optional. Having an advanced degree is optional. Wearing suits and carrying a briefcase are optional. Hard work, focus, frugality, and taking responsibility for your own success are not.