Occupy Work

By Mike Rothman

I don’t get this #occupy stuff. Maybe that’s an indication that I’m old. Maybe it means I’m selfish. It could be a sign that I have a lot of competing priorities and they don’t leave me a lot of time. But most of all, it’s because I don’t get it. Really.

Should we be pissed off that parasites on the system always seem to walk away with millions of dollars for little added value? Yes. Could we be frustrated with a US governance model that spends more time bickering than getting anything done, while squandering trillions of dollars. Absolutely. But in my best NY accent: “Whaddya gonna do?”

I plan to remain intentionally tone deaf regarding all this stuff. Again, maybe that makes me selfish. Maybe I’m more interested in my own comfort and lifestyle than the tens of millions of folks who are screwed by the system. But here is the difference: I have worked for everything I’ve achieved. Everything.

Sure I graduated from an Ivy League engineering college. But I got in based on my achievements in high school with very little parental guidance or oversight. My Mom was too busy trying to put food on the table, working in a crappy retail pharmacy, to push me to do my homework. And at the end of the day, my education helped me get my first job. That’s it.

Sure I could get pissed off that dumb guys I grew up with joined the right investment banks at the right time and make 7 figures a year now. I could get angry that kids right out of mediocre engineering programs (but with decent connections) end up at one of the Silicon Valley start-ups and win the Google lottery, pulling millions out as cogs in the wheel. Does that mean we should “Occupy Sand Hill Road” and get pissed at how high-tech financiers engineer value from the (at times) unholy alliance between big IT, storied entrepreneurs, and the puppet master VCs that seem to pull all the strings?

What’s the use of that? I choose to get up and (as Chris Nickerson says) “do work.” The only thing I can control is how hard I work. I can’t control what anyone else does. I can’t control market swings. I can’t control whether the light of good fortune shines on me at some point. I can (and do) control what I do. And that’s how I’ll rail against the system.

I’m totally on board with Larry Walsh’s thoughts on innovation and entrepreneurship. Larry’s quote here is exactly right:

“I’m protesting today. I’m calling it “Occupy Work.” I pledge to sit at my desk, service my clients, be productive and innovative, and contribute to the economy. Oh, and I will do it with humility.”

He makes a number of great points. Clearly the system(s) need reform. But what is the value of sitting in a park? How is that aiding the collective? How does taking a shot of pepper spray (however appalling) bring light to the issues the protesters want to discuss? It turns the story from corruption and greed to brutality. Obviously we all need to act in a dignified manner (especially law enforcement), but it seems the core message of fighting greed is lost.

I saw an old friend last week, and we did get philosophical for a short time. He asked me whether I was scared for the world my children were growing up in. I answered with a resounding no. I still believe that I live in a country where hard work will be recognized. I believe that my kids can become whatever they want, and with enough effort can achieve their dreams. Lots of folks overcome long odds every day to prosper through the force of their own will, regardless of their circumstances. I’m teaching the kids to be self-sufficient and not hope a big company will support and provide for them. Pensions are not guaranteed by a bankruptcy court. Nor is healthcare coverage. I believe in entrepreneurship. I believe in creating your own opportunities, not waiting for someone to give something to you. I believe in the capitalist system and although clearly imperfect, it’s the best thing out there.

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I’m stupid. But I still believe that as long as I focus on what I need to get done every day, things will work out in the end. So rather than spending my time in a pup tent in some public park, like Larry I will occupy work. We all have choice about what we do on a daily basis. The folks Occupying whatever seem to think their approach will result in positive change. Maybe they are right.

But either way, I figure the only great equalizer in a capitalist system is hard work. And on this week of Thanksgiving in the US, I’m thankful that I live in an area where I can control my own destiny, which is what I plan to do. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. If you celebrate, enjoy the holiday and be safe.

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The nice part is if you pick one of these comments for “Securosis Comment of the Week”, $25 goes to a non-profit of people working for the good and welfare of mankind, not just occupying time and space!

By Gary

There is nothing wrong with protesting what can bee sene as an inequality or injustice. As far as Occupy Work goes, I know plenty of people who go to their job, and after work go out and join in the protest. So the whole occupy work thing doesn’t make sense from there.

Also the nice quote includes a statement about being humble which, a great many of the people targeted at by the protestors, are not.

Most of this started because the 1% can get away with breaking laws, finding loopholes to keep more of their money, and basically making life tougher for those that are actually doing the hard work that makes them the 6 figure income. Its the same sort of thing that brought about unions, child labor laws, etc. Exploitation.

You say, what can we do about it? Well the first thing is to make more people aware of the issues, which the Occupiers are not doing real well. Then there are things such as writing to congressmen, intentionally voting out incumbents in elections until they learn that they work for us an not corporations, etc. Just like anything the journey begins with one step, and that is the toughest one. It is the one to decide to do something about it and follow through with it.

By Mike K

My ‘half-nibble’: After over two months of watching/reading the news about all the “Occupy [insert name here]” movements I have no idea what precisely they are protesting.

I have a clear idea what the pundits, the reporters, the news stations, the man-on-the-street and even the various search engines think about what the protest is about. Or should I say ***was*** about since this seems to have changed/morphed to now be about the ‘right’ to protest.

But what was the original protest? All I know is that it seemed to involved chanting about being apart of the “99%” and people being upset with money or the lack of money. Honestly though… I don’t really know what they started out protesting. The local “Occupy Regina” guys had some signs that were sorta visible when I’d walk past the park, but they weren’t readable from the distance of 50 feet. And the signs were on the ground. And the signs were of course also behind the protesters as they stood around drinking their coffees from the nearby coffee shop.

I have plenty of opinions about people foolish enough to complain about not getting what they want just cause they feel their entitled to it. I worked hard to get to where I am and have little sympathy for those *able to work* but choose not to.

But does this apply to the “Occupy” protesters? Frankly… I just don’t know.

By Zac

I’m usually pretty quiet on topics like these since they can be polarizing. But I’d have to say I agree with the general sentiments (and most of the specific ones) in everything up above.

If there’s any “real” reason for this, I’d have to say it revolves around education and parenting. In the ability to prepare critical-thinking children for the world/country. Get a good head on your shoulders with a decent work ethic, and I think you’ve done “enough.” Sure, luck plays a huge part (it does with war as well, where your skill helps, but it’s all luck that you didn’t take a bullet), but that’s life, ya know? There’s too much greed and too much groupthink, but how much is evil human nature and how much is borne out of the downward spiral of debt and bad decisions and entitlements of the past 25 years? (i.e. based on intentional decisions or poor preparation.) Ultimately, life is going to go on, and while I’m pretty cynical and paranoid with security/privacy, I’m still optimistic that what happens happens.

I’m not sure I’ve ever been *truly* thankful in my past for Thanksgiving; maybe a few times in my idealistic teenage years, but since then I’ve been surrounded by a pretty darn good country and economy and living area. It might sound selfish, but I can at least be thankful for a great many things this year by way of comparison to others. Things like having taken the self-reflective time to earn a useful degree, have a good work ethic (I have no idea how I’m going to pass that on to my future children), have been successful in my jobs, and am doing just fine for myself.

Definitely a good topic to share over beers at a quiet pub when you’re sick of the security talk! :)

By LonerVamp

@chort, I don’t buy the excuse that “institutions are supposed to guide” much of anything. Now to be clear, a lot of the hijinx and deceptive marketing of every significant meltdown (think Internet stocks in the late 90’s or sub-prime mortgages in 2006-8) is predatory and inexcusable. And those organizations should have let Mr. Market run it’s course and not get a bailout courtesy of the US taxpayer. That being said, stupidity is not an excuse. Cut a bad deal, suffer the consequences.

I guess at the end of the day, I believe in Darwinism. And that is kind of contrary to the alleged “social contract” Governments have cut at some point and politicians continue to promise during every election cycle.

@mark got it right. It’s about choices and living with the consequences of every choice we make.

Finally, cynicism and optimism don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I like to think of myself as a cynical optimist. Or maybe a pragmatic optimist, more specifically. You need some measure of optimism to innovate and to build companies. A lot of optimism. But shame on you if stupidity accompanies that optimism.

OK, off soapbox. Thanks for the comments.


By Mike Rothman

I’m fully on-board with your outlook here. I do not quite understand the other poster here in statements that the so called institutions force people into making decisions. Heck, that sounds like Americans are nothing more than mindless cattle to be herded around. Sounds like we have no ability to ration a decision to spend $500K on an education at some Ivy League school vs spending $20k at an affordable local school for the same degree. It all comes down to choices to me. That is also what I got from your post. Choices! We choose to be pushed into bad loans. We choose to be indebted to the system for an expensive education instead of working hard for a good education. We choose to get out of bed every morning and do our duties to society as men and women or lay around crying and whinning about how terrible our lives are compared to Mr. Gates. Choices, Choices, Choices. Enjoyed reading your thoughts.


By Mark

Mike, I think the system works for people who by luck or intuition end up in the right field. The problem is for the people who don’t know better, who’s parents don’t know better, and who are victimized by the institutions that are supposed to guide them.

For years the collective “wisdom” has said “just get a degree, any degree, being college-educated is what matters” and “you need to go to college to have a shot.” Hundreds of thousands of people have taken the wrong message and mortgaged their future to get a college degree in “anything.” Of course they get out of school and realize that this economy only supports full employment for a select set of skills, but the banks are knocking trying to collect on the loans.

The same was true of the housing market, where politicians and bankers alike were pushing everyone to get homes. The politicians because they saw it as the easiest way to make people placid (“hey, I have a home, I’ve made the American Dream!”) and the bankers because Wall Street investors were pushing for more and more growth. Were people naïve to sign up for loans they should have known they wouldn’t be able to pay? Yes. On the other hand, everyone who should have been advising them against it was pressuring them to go all-in.

The problem is we can’t trust our institutions any more (not that we ever should have). It’s a complicated world and people are being preyed on from all sides. The paranoid among us survive, the lucky, well-connected, and the strict rationalists survive, but everyone else is adrift with no help in sight.

I don’t think you’re selfish and I don’t fear for your kids’ future (or mine). I fear for what society looks like in 20 years when every single person with any degree of trust in the system has had their carcass picked so thoroughly that you’d think the middle class was a remnant of a John Madden turducken feeding-frenzy. The USA should be a place where optimists flourish, not one where it takes a hardened cynic to survive.

By chort

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