Occupy WorkBy 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.