Stooping to Conquer


Stooping to conquer It’s no secret there are a lot of highly educated folks out there looking for work: The supply of college and postgraduate degrees is far exceeding the demand for those degrees. But a lot of those degrees are utterly worthless. We have way, way too many educated people out there, and not enough people who are competent at doing the jobs that are available.

It’s tough for recent college grads, of course, but it’s a lot worse for the baby boomers. These days, I’m seeing a lot of smart people who have spent their professional lives doing things that no one will ever — ever — want done again. Entire industries are disappearing right now, in an orgy of creative destruction (book publishing executives, anyone?), and the people who came from these industries — many in their 50s and 60s — are going to have to learn entirely new skills from scratch. Most of these new skills will not require an M.B.A. or a Ph.D.

Many of them won’t even require a college degree. Some will require only a basic command of grade-school arithmetic and accounting principles.

Now some people (mostly academics) say that’s exactly the point: An education is not supposed to train you for anything specific, but to give you the thinking and analytical skills that will help you survive in any career you choose.

But there’s a problem with education: It can give you a big head. When you have a college degree, you don’t want to get your hands dirty, work on an assembly line or sit on a tractor.  Where I live, I have no trouble finding business consultants and hedge fund managers. I have trouble finding good plumbers, electricians, exterminators and software technicians.

One of the big reasons America is losing manufacturing jobs to overseas competitors is that our legions of college graduates don’t want them anymore. Their blue-collar parents worked their tails off so their kids could get good educations and wouldn’t have to work as hard. Being the loyal, obedient children we have always been (yes, I am being ironic), we baby boomers don’t want to “go backward” and disappoint our parents. We would rather starve as consultants and financial professionals than thrive as mechanics, restaurant owners and salespeople.

One of my most educated clients — an Ivy League graduate with an M.B.A. from a top business school — runs a highly successful pooper-scooper business. That’s right. She goes to people’s houses and cleans up their pet’s waste. But let me tell you something: She has 12 trucks running virtually around the clock and is making more money doing this than she ever earned as a financial adviser to corporations.

Most of the technical stuff I do for my law clients could, quite frankly, be done by a high-school graduate with a few weeks of basic legal training (the strategic advice, of course, is another matter). But I don’t care. I never say “no” to business just because it’s not something a Wall Street lawyer or former Law Review editor would do. There is very little work that is beneath my dignity — if the client has the money, honey, I’ve got the time.

Education is a good thing, but you have to get over it if you’re going to be successful. “Street smarts” and common sense count for a lot more than a sheepskin in the world of entrepreneurship. As my father told me years ago, “If you’re not educated, then you had better be smart; if you’re not smart, then you had better be educated.”

Find out where the local opportunities are and “stoop to conquer.” Maybe with your education, you can figure out how to do the jobs better than your dumb-as-doorknobs competitors.