There is Nothing Wrong With a Traditional Career

I’m fed up with entrepreneurship Twitter.  I’m tired of hearing about side hustles, the 4-hour work week, and escaping the rat race.  Not because I am against any of these pursuits in and of themselves, but because of the culture projected by many of those who pursue them.  I call this the entrepreneurship superiority complex.

The Entrepreneurship Superiority Complex

There is a prevailing attitude in the VC/entrepreneurship community that anyone who doesn’t worship at the alter of starting a business is less than those who do.  I see this sentiment everywhere. 

For example, consider this tweet from Naval Ravikant:

I generally agree with Naval’s financial ideas, but this is the exact kind of smug attitude that has infected the entrepreneurship community.  

It’s not that Naval is wrong.  I agree that you cannot credentialize extreme wealth.  You cannot get a degree that will make you into a billionaire.

However, the closest thing that many Americans have to becoming a millionaire is getting a professional degree (i.e. doctor, lawyer, etc.).  As The Millionaire Next Door said about the group of millionaires they studied in the late 1990s (emphasis mine):

As a group, [millionaires] are fairly well educated.  Only about 1 in 5 are not college graduates.  Many of [them] hold advanced degrees.  Eighteen percent have master’s degrees, 8 percent have law degrees, 6 percent medical degrees, and 6 percent Ph.D.s.

This is why Naval’s attempt to discredit postsecondary education as a pathway for building wealth is belittling and sends the wrong message.

But wait, I can already hear the condescending replies:

“That’s not ‘real’ wealth.”

“Being a millionaire doesn’t make you wealthy.”

Oh, is $2 million not wealthy enough for you?  For the record, having $2 million in net worth puts you in the top 10% of all American households over 55:

This is a great accomplishment and one that is not easy to do.  In fact, Business Insider reported that it takes 32 years for the typical self-made millionaire to gain their wealth.

Despite this effort, the message from some in the entrepreneurship community is that you would be a fool to get a degree, work a job, and only accumulate a few million dollars over the course of your career.  They are implicitly communicating that money is the only thing worth pursing—that wealth is the highest goal in life.

Robert Kiyosaki, echoes this message in Rich Dad, Poor Dad, one of the most popular personal finance books ever.  The premise of the book is that the author’s “poor” father is poor because he works a nine-to-five job while his “rich” father is rich because he owns businesses. 

But this is only partially true.  The real reason why his poor father is poor has little to do with his job and everything to do with his failure to invest his money in income-producing assets.  If his poor father had taken his earnings throughout his life and invested them in stocks and bonds, he would have ended up far better off.    

The issue isn’t how you earn your income, but what you do with it.

This is why I have such a distaste for those that trash traditional career paths.  If you hate your job, I agree that you should change it.  But, if you enjoy what you do and it happens to be a nine-to-five, who cares?   

I understand that “working for someone else” is never going to make you megarich.  However, have you ever considered that some people don’t have that goal?  That some people need a traditional career because they have mouths to feed or people to support?  That some people may not have the financial resources to even consider being an entrepreneur?

After all, you don’t need a nine-to-five when your parents can invest $245,000 in your startup.  

You don’t need a nine-to-five when your mother helps your struggling company land a contract with the biggest manufacturer of personal computers.

Of course, there are many children who received similar levels of help from their parents that didn’t turn into Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates.  Still, don’t you find it a little coincidental that nearly every young founder that became megarich came from a well-to-do family?

More importantly, why haven’t some entrepreneurs realized that the entrepreneurial life isn’t right for everyone?  Not everyone has the same desire or even skills to start a business.  Yet, so many in the entrepreneurship community see it as the only path to building wealth.

It would be like if I told you that the only noble pursuit in life was starting a band.  Clearly this is a ridiculous idea.  Not everyone has musical talent or the desire to be a musician.  But, replace the word “band” with “business” and now you have replicated the cultural superiority complex of entrepreneurs/VC.

This is why I am a champion of a traditional career path, especially to those who are younger or who lack experience.  While a nine-to-five will never make you filthy rich, learning how to work well with people and developing your skills can be one of the best things you do for your career development.

This also explains why the typical age of an entrepreneur is 40 years old.  By age 40 you have two things that most 22 year-olds don’t have—experience and money.  And where did that experience and money come from?  A more traditional career, likely working for someone else.

The Bitter Truth about Side Hustles 

Despite my bashing of the entrepreneurial superiority complex, I am not against someone doing a side hustle or starting their own business.  However, if you do choose to go down this path, please remember that it’s easy to see the ultra-successful entrepreneurs, but hard to imagine the graveyard of failures.

It’s like my favorite XKCD comic on repeat:

This comic should be handed to every person that considers starting a business.  Because, according to the BLS, half of all new businesses fail within five years and 65% fail within 10 years.  Starting a business is hard work. 

To prove my point, let me tell you a little bit about the business side for this blog, Of Dollars And Data.  

The Business Side of “Of Dollars And Data”

Since I started blogging nearly 3.5 years ago, I have spent around 2,000 hours writing 195 posts (~10 hours per post).  If you aggregate all of the money I have made from ads and affiliates on the blog over this time period, it comes out to roughly $12 an hour before taxes.

And most of this was earned in 2020 once I started running ads and doing more business partnerships.  However, even if I had started running ads as soon as I passed the 25,000 monthly session limit required by my current ad provider (which happened in June 2018), that would still have been 17 months after the publication of my first blog post.

This means that I would have had to put in over 700 hours of work before I could even start earning some legitimate income.  And, even then, I would have only been making $400-$500 a month from ads while still putting in 10 hours of work each week.  That’s still just $12 an hour (pre-tax). 

This goes to show that if your explicit goal as a blogger is to make money, it might take a while.  This is why the side hustle/entrepreneurial superiority complex is so misguided.  Many of these people don’t realize just how long of a runway you have before you can start earning a living from such an endeavor.  This is why I am an avid supporter of more traditional career paths for most people most of the time. 

Ironically, the biggest benefit I have gotten from this blog isn’t affiliate or ad revenue, but the boost it provided to my traditional career.  I wouldn’t be working at Ritholtz Wealth Management today had I not started writing publicly and gotten noticed by Michael Batnick and my other fellow colleagues. 

There is No Right Way to Work

While I can’t say what my future holds, I am a firm believer in the traditional career path as an incubator for wealth building.  If you want to do your own thing later, that’s fine, but, if you don’t, that’s also fine.  We all have different life experiences, different risk preferences, and different priorities, so there is no “right” way to work.

However, I do think there is generally a right way to build wealth.  And that is through the ownership of income-producing assets, such as businesses.  You don’t have to own the businesses directly, but you do have to own them.  So if the entrepreneurial life isn’t for you, just keep buying index funds and don’t stop.  It’s arguably the most reliable path to wealth that exists.  

Thank you for reading!

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This is post 195. Any code I have related to this post can be found here with the same numbering: https://github.com/nmaggiulli/of-dollars-and-data


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