Larry Winget’s Thoughts on ‘Poor Boomers’ Comments

December 22, 2008

Recently, ‘Poor Boomer’ left the following comments on AFM about education:

Poor Boomer:

What’s with all the education hype? I have an awful lot of education and a minimum wage income – so what’s so great about education?

JLP:

poor boomer,

Education does not equal a great income.

Have you ever asked yourself why you only make minimum wage?

Poor Boomer:

It’s obvious why I make only minimum wage – I have no marketable skills and no career-related experience. (I got a liberal arts degree with law school in mind, but couldn’t afford law school, so my degree is now worthless.)

His answer bugged me so I sent him an email and asked him if I could post about his experience. This was his response:

Hi, no problem – you’re welcome to it. I think a college education is, generally, an excellent investment, BUT one entailing huge downside risks. I can now say that NOT seeking an internship in college (I was sure I couldn’t afford unpaid work) was one of my biggest mistakes. Also, I think there is a moderate time window in which one must “do something” with their education or degree in order to have meaningful career prospects. This time window for me lasted roughly five years, during which obtaining an interview was not especially difficult. After roughly five years, the interviews abruptly stopped coming.

Instead of me addressing this myself, I decided to ask Larry Winget for his help. For those of you not familiar with Larry, he has written a ton of best-selling books. His latest, People Are Idiots and I Can Prove It!, will be released next week (see Larry’s website for details on special he’s running). I like Larry’s style because he doesn’t sugar-coat his advice. He tells it like it is.

So, I sent Larry an email asking him for his opinion and this was his response:

I hear this argument a lot. Rarely do people actually work in the field in which they get a degree. Degrees in education, liberal arts and the like are typically not the educational path to high-paying jobs. In fact, in my opinion, the whole reason for a college degree is the education in discipline it requires to get the degree – not what your area of studies were. It takes personal discipline, personal responsibility and accountability, the ability/willingness to study, the time and effort to get to class and sit through class, the skills to test, the ability to work with others, the ability to set a goal and achieve it, to manage your time and a variety of tasks, and on and on and on. Those skills are the ones that will make you rich and the skills most beneficial from earning a college degree and those are the skills that can make you rich if applied.

People need to realize that “being excellent” at something that no one is willing to pay for is of little value if you measure success in terms of financial achievement (and most of us do.) One really marketable skill – again one and only one – can make you rich.

If someone has a real desire to be successful, all they have to do is ask themselves what skills are people willing to pay for? I will guarantee they are the skills I listed above. All other specific/technical/job-related skills can be taught and most employers are more than willing to teach job-related skills to anyone who has the ability to set and achieve goals, be responsible, manage their time, handle a variety of tasks, work well with others and so on.

Another comment on the posting is this: Anyone – again ANYONE who makes minimum wage is only putting out minimum effort. Tough approach I know, but it is true. Minimum wage jobs are STARTING places – they are entry level jobs into the employment pool. The people who get them and stay in them are the people who aren’t willing to go beyond minimum effort and show their employer they have more than minimum skills.

By the way, my degree is in Library Science. Do you think I would be where I am today utilizing all the marketable skills I learned in that degree program? No. I never worked a day with that degree. I also never used it as an excuse. Instead, I quickly realized that in order to be financially successful, I was going to have to apply myself in other areas and do things that had nothing to do with a library! You don’t get a degree and think your education is over. Education is a continuing process. Therefore, I have read over 4,000 books since I got my degree. I have listened to 5,000 hours of audio and watched that much educational video. I still read every day to make sure I am current on what my audience wants from me. In my world, my audience is both my customer and my employer. This concept must apply to everyone in the workplace. I continue to learn so I will have something of value to offer my employer and my customer. Everyone must ask themselves if they are doing the same thing.

What are you reading? What are you watching? What are you listening to? Will it make you a better employee? employer? manager? salesperson? janitor? or will it only entertain you and leave you as stupid as when you started?

Before you blame your degree for your success or lack of it, go to the mirror and take a good hard look at yourself and answer those questions. Then you will have a clue as to why your life looks like it does.

Larry Winget

Larry said it better than I could have said it myself. I appreciate him taking the time to respond to my email.

Now, let’s open this up for discussion. What do you think of Larry’s thoughts regarding ‘Poor Boomer’s’ situation?

22 responses to Larry Winget’s Thoughts on ‘Poor Boomers’ Comments

  1. As a huge fan of Larry’s, I fully agree with his comments. Although I have been fortunate enough to apply my degree to my career, it doesn’t serve as an all inclusive description of my abilities. On every job resume, I’ve listed several of the qualities to which Larry referred…they reflect me, personally, more than the words, “I have a degree in…” My advice to ‘poor boomer,’ listen to Larry and read his books. (P.S. Keep an open mind; especially if you’re not eager to accept criticism!)

  2. I’m another fan of Larry Winget. I appreciate his directness, as many people need to be “woken up” from their fantasy worlds and Larry has the ability to do so. That being said, I completely agree with his comments: if you are interested in being financially successful then you need to acquire and cultivate those skills which are in high demand and which employers (or consumers) will pay a premium for. Simply having an education is not enough, and really never has been. Education without the ability to translate it to practical skills is a waste of time, even in good-paying fields. An example is accounting. I know so many people who graduated with GPA’s in the 3.5+ range, simply because they knew how to “study”, whereas I was more interested in learning. Their education looked better than mine, but I was able to get a job quicker because I was able to apply the skills which I developed in college to real world situations where my contemporaries could not.

  3. I also agree with his assessment of the true value of a college education. Unless you’re getting a professional degree or working in something quite specialized, it isn’t the actual degree that matters. It’s the experience and discipline you gain while going through the curriculum that makes education valuable.

    That being said, I know in my field (finance), most people don’t have degrees in business, economics, or even accounting. They come from all walks of life, but got to where they are because they knew what they wanted to do, and did whatever it took to get there.

    One of my co-workers, now a manager, is making around six-figures. He’s only in his mid-40s, and he has a degree in education. His degree didn’t get him into that position, and he got his start about 12 years ago working as a teller at a bank part-time. That got his foot in the door and worked his way up to a full-time teller, and then a banker in a few years. That then enabled him to get his securities licenses (paid for by his employer to boot). From there, he became familiar with investments and financial planning, and this opened the door to even better opportunities at another financial company, and so the story goes.

    He was a 30-something lost without a career and had no formal education in the field he wanted to get in. Yet he took the plunge, suffered through some crappy jobs with little money at first, but made his way into a successful career making more money than people who stuck with their degree career path out of college for 10 years.

    I could even say the same thing about myself. My degree in college is worthless on paper. I’ve never used it, but spent a whole heck of a lot of money getting it. I spent 2 years after college trying to find a job in my field but kept striking out. After being almost perpetually unemployed for 2 years, I decided to change paths. Took a few years earning the equivalent of minimum wage, and sometimes even less, but it was the experience that was needed to get to where I wanted to go.

    Yeah, it sucked, and it was really hard and even embarassing. I could have complained about being a college grad that didn’t have a job for 2 years, and could hardly break the poverty level for another 2 years, but what good would that have done?

  4. Ol Larry may make you mad, but if you listen to what he advises (especially from his “Its called work for a reason, your success is your own damn fault” and his book “You’re Broke Because you want to be” and direct the anger he instills in to following his advice it will change your life. Even if you only apply his advice for 3 months, the people who matter will notice and things will start to change. I work for a place that is not known for paying well or for giving raises often, yet by working hard, having the right “mindset” and being excellent at everything I do every day even when i dont really dont WANT to somedays, it DOES pay off. I’ve gone from Minimum wage to one of the highest paid hourly employees in just 2 short years. I can walk in to any company, I dont care if its a fortune 500 company or a Mom and Pop’s drain cleaning service. I can sit there and watch the employees there for 2 hours and I can tell you the ones that make the most and who makes the least, based just on how hard they work and their attitude toward their job. And be accurate over 95% of the time. Has nothing to do with their education in most cases, other than the fact their education built the disipline to go after something. The bottom line is.. The people that get paid the most are the ones that deliver the results the company is looking for day in day out. They get up leave the cave, kill something and drag it home. You’ll never succeed at anything until you decide to succeed, and do what is required to succeed. Regardless of what your degree is in, or if you even have gotten one. My final thoughts, if you have the opportunity to get a degree, GET ONE, but dont expect to be successful just because you have one. You still have to give 100% of yourself after you have the degree everyday or you wont ever go anywhere.

  5. I agree that anyone making minimum wage wants to in some form or another. Take my spouse for instance, who is trying to start an aesthetics business but it’s not going so well. She decided that she wanted a non-stressful easy job to do to supplement her income so that she can get some advertising dollars and help out with the bills around the house. She now scans coupons (you know, the ones everyone should be clipping) in to a computer for 8 bucks an hour.

    Maybe we just live in a miracle city, but it only took her around two weeks to find a position that had the right hours and the right amount of easy work.

  6. I agree with the other sentiment here, especially Jeremy. Unless you’re going for a specific career path, like programming or mechanical engineering, a well written resume should work well for many situations.
    Most employers want someone motivated to learn with strong problem solving skills, good communication skills and the ability to work well in a team. I don’t think any particular major focuses on any of that.
    Poor Boomer should take a look at the Personal MBA website for a few good books to read. Saying they’re working on a personal MBA could also be a good talking point in an interview

  7. Seems that Poor Boomer is the same as old poster Minimum Wage. Is this is the case, I hope he comes back to the blogs and keeping everything real.

  8. Larry has good advice but I cannot agree 100% with his assessment of a college degree. Some educational programs – but only a few – actually provide knowledge that is valued, useful, immediately marketable. Engineering is one of those programs. Unfortunately, too few U.S. students have the determination and high school background to be successful in such programs. Instead, they major in meaningless subjects such as general business, library science, or “American studies” where good grades are bought with the cost of tuition.

  9. Larry says:
    “Another comment on the posting is this: Anyone – again ANYONE who makes minimum wage is only putting out minimum effort. Tough approach I know, but it is true. Minimum wage jobs are STARTING places – they are entry level jobs into the employment pool. The people who get them and stay in them are the people who aren’t willing to go beyond minimum effort and show their employer they have more than minimum skills.”

    Your statement appears to be a misguided generalization; my experience and observation differ.

    Some employers use minimum wage as a ceiling as well as a floor.

    I delivered one heck of a lot of pizzas when I was in college, and at one of my pizza jobs there were NO raises for hourly employees. When employers have a surplus of competent and educated labor, they have no competitive need to pay more than minimum.

    After six months at this job, I asked the manager – who had an incentive to keep wages low since he was paid a base salary plus percentage of store profit – for any standards on which raises are based. His reply was that the way to make more money is to deliver more pizzas. (Drivers received a percentage of delivered dollar volume as compensation for the use of their car – so getting a few more dollars in exchange for more wear and tear on your car doesn’t really make you more money. Theoretically you could also get more tips, but college students are notoriously poor tippers. This was one workplace where superior performance was not rewarded with a raise – I was consistently among the top three drivers (out of approx 15) but every hourly employee was paid the same minimum wage.

    Currently I work in a convenience store at minimum wage. We have two dozen hourly employees and all are believed to earn within 20 cents of minimum wage. (The high earners are a half-dozen lifers who have been there more then ten years; there have been no known raises in the past five years – most of us have compared notes.)

    Our employees’ ages are well-distributed from twenties through fifties, and approx 20 percent have college degrees. (BTW, our homeownership rate is zero and our marriage rate is under 10 percent.) This is another workplace where minimum wage is more or less a wage ceiling, superior performance won’t get you a raise, and average performance won’t get you either a pay cut or a pink slip.

    Having said that, most of my minimum wage jobs over the years (in college I usually had two or three jobs at a time) had rapid raises, although there was usually a ceiling approx 20 percent above minimum.

    I now live in an area with a continuing in-migration of young college graduates – an area with a glut of overeducated baristas.

    My workplace has some hard-working high performers (mostly the new hires) but there’s no tangible reward in it.

    Your Mileage May Vary but sometimes in the minimum wage world, raises do not exist. Why Pay More if you don’t have to?

  10. Chad said:

    “The people that get paid the most are the ones that deliver the results the company is looking for day in day out. They get up leave the cave, kill something and drag it home.”

    Unfortunately, there are NO benchmarks or performance evaluations where I work, so none of us really know well how we are doing. We all have a general idea how we’re doing but nobody knows more than that.

  11. Larry said:

    “What are you reading? What are you watching? What are you listening to? Will it make you a better employee? employer? manager? salesperson? janitor? or will it only entertain you and leave you as stupid as when you started?”

    My reading consists essentially of personal finance and business books and periodicals. (This is not entirely a good thing; I am motivated to learn as much as possible about ‘financial literacy’ partly to show that financial literacy without money isn’t quite as valuable as its advocates appear to suggest.) Currently I am reading Adam Shepard’s _Scratch Beginnings_.(I have not read fiction in years.)

    I listen to (uh-oh) mostly talk and news radio, with a little music (oldies, classic rock, jazz) mixed in.

    Several years ago I read _The Goal_ and successfully worked through the first of two story problems in the book. Happy to have gotten the right answer, I considered it unnecessary to work through the second problem; I was enjoying the book as a good read and wanted to finish it.

    For the first time in many years I am watching television – I rent a room in a house with satellite TV (marginal cost zero) – and my watching consists mostly of (in approximately descending order) Fox Business, Fox News, Science Channel, Discovery, Nat Geo, Food Network, History Channel, CNN, Planet Green, Military Channel, Animal Planet, plus a bit of sports on various channels. My “network” watching is pretty much limited to sports (e.g. Sunday football) and local news. There is more entertainment here than might appear: I enjoy watching How It’s Made but haven’t found application (yet) of it.

    I like to think my reading and viewing make me better and more broadly informed. This certainly could potentially help me be a better employee, employer, manager, salesperson, or even janitor (e.g. I might learn something ‘green’ which could be helpful in a janitorial position) although I have difficulty identifying and executing specific applications. As a generalist, I’ve never been particularly specialized in anything (I recognize this has drawbacks).

    One big problem I have is that I see numerous opportunities and have numerous interests, but lack focus. If I had one or more primary skills I’d be valuable but my aggregation of interests and knowledge isn’t worth much.

  12. I agree with Larry, except for one thing – there are certain degrees (such as engineering and the sciences) where a degree in the field is extremely helpful (but not necessary). I could have the job I have today without an engineering degree – but it would have taken a hell of a lot longer.
    I will also point out that the idea of going to college to earn loads of money is a relatively new idea (post-WWII). Before that people went to college (except for professional degrees) for personal growth.

  13. @ Taxed:

    You made Larry point to the “T” in your examples. Delivering pizzas and working in a convenience store are not “career” environments. There are no special skills that are specifically required for either and neither are known as “career growth” industries. No matter what you read or watch or learn nothing is going to offer those employers any additional benefit because there is no need for educated, skilled workers in those particular jobs.

  14. Education is a key to unlock a door to a high paying career and thus an improved lifestyle.

    You’ve got to choose the right degree and once you have the degree you need a good mentor. When you come from a poor family and work your way up from the bottom, you need someone to show you the ropes and college won’t give you the practical experience only book experience.

    I was fortunate to have great mentors at the last three companies that I have worked. They were all successful people that had similar values; honesty, diligence, persistence, solution oriented(not a complainer) and the skillset to think outside the box to solve a problem.

  15. AFM,

    Poor Boomer leaves several comments on everyone’s blog. At first his name was “minimum wage” now he changed it to “poor boomer”

    I glad to see you giving him attention. He needs it.

    Larry Winget is the man, looking forward to reading his new book

  16. Moneymonk,

    I never made the connection. Makes sense though.

    Thanks for the comment.

  17. Moneymonk –

    If I submit a comment to your blog and the comment goes into a black hole, did I leave a comment on your blog?

  18. @#17 Hard to say. Did the falling tree make a noise in the forest?

    In any event, Merry Christmas Poor Boomer. May your prospects for 2009 be as bright as you choose to make them!

  19. As posters above mentioned, there is a number of fields where a degree leads to a profession – engineering and sciences are two such examples, but accounting and finance could lead to a career as well. In some cases – teachers, writers, translators and interpreters, professors – a humanities degree can lead to a career in the field. It is tougher in humanities than in sciences to earn a good living, but it’s not impossible. One can teach, for example. It is very rare for an English major to become a writer – I know one such person, but this lady is very very talented (her short story won O’Henry award, her book of short stories was just published and won some award for young writers – don’t remember which one) – but one can become a technical writer, for example; many technology companies need people to write manuals. In a field like music, you have to be exceptionally talented and also have a bit of luck to earn a living, but if you have both, your degree can lead to a career. Or you could teach. Most pop musicians don’t have a degree in the field, but most classical musicians do.

    Regarding “poor boomer”. If his plan was to become a lawyer but he didn’t have money, why couldn’t he get a job in a law office as a paralegal for a while, for example? Sure salaries aren’t as great, but they are better than minimum wage. The writer I mentioned above actually tried it for a while, hated it, and went to a prestigious graduate workshop for writers instead. If the “poor boomer” is the same as “minimum wage”, then he also had a minor in CS. In this case he could’ve tried to get an assistantship to one of special graduate CS programs targeted for those without an undergrad degree in CS (Illinois at Urbana had one such program at the time, Princeton had one as well). Assistantships pay tuition and a small salary as well – the salary is usually small, but it is way better than minimum wage.

    I’d also like to mention that the idea of going to college for “personal growth” is an American idea. It seemed really strange to me when I came to the US from Russia – I truly couldn’t understand people who majored in “art history” for example unless they had rich parents; I also couldn’t understand how can one just declare music as a major without any kind of audition. Frankly it seems a bit strange to me now. College is expensive, so why spend the money unless it can help you make a living? If your parents are rich – OK, but if they aren’t surely you need some plan of what you’ll do with your degree? Some things mentioned – like discipline needed to study or basic writing skills in a native language I believe should be learned in high school.

    In most countries people go to college to get a profession. In some countries, you apply directly to a specific department, not just to a university as a whole, and the number of students accepted as well as the entrance requirements vary by major. In these countries, you couldn’t major in your native language, for example, unless your writing ability is already much better than that of most of your peers. Where I grew up, one needed to pass a writing exam (among other exams) to enter any college or university, but while future engineering majors only needed to demonstrate the knowledge of native language and literature and excellent grammar, future native language majors had to show they can actually write better than 10 other people applying for the same spot. Since fewer people were accepted to these programs than, for example, engineering and because more people applied the competition at admission was 10 people for 1 spot for most humanities vs 2/1 in engineering or 1000s/1 in any of the performing arts. The latter I think is true for at least some places in the US – like Juilliard, for example.

    I’d also like to add that there are a lot of opportunities in the US for motivated people. My cousin who immigrated from Russia at the age of 40 used to be a pharmacist there. Since she didn’t know any English when she came she couldn’t pass the exam and get a pharmacist license in the US. So instead she finished some home care classes and worked in home care caring for elderly for a while. This gave her medical insurance and small salary. While doing it, she studied on her own, passed the exam for a pharmacy technician and got a job in local CVS. This job didn’t pay much and charged a lot for a health insurance – although it was better than the minimum wage, so she kept her home care job for weekends and worked in CVS during the week. After she saved a little money, she left the CVS job while keeping weekend home care job for the health insurance. By that time she learned enough English to go to one of NY city colleges (if I am not mistaken) that offered professional program for radiology technicians. After she finished it, she passed an exam and became a radiology technician, and got a job in a local medical group. Them she took additional courses in nuclear medicine to get a better paying job in the same field.

    I also had a friend who worked as a live in nanny for several years. The family she worked for gave her Saturdays and Sundays off, so she used these days to clean people houses on weekends. She saved a nice amount of money during this time that she used to pay for computer courses – this was during internet boom – and get a well paying job. This is a bit off subject of colleges, but it shows that there are a lot of opportunities here for people who are motivated.

  20. Re: working as a paralegal

    Yes I thought of that. I live3d in an area with a third-tier law school. In the general legal hierarchy, graduates of first-tier law schools get hired by leading law firsm, graduates of second-tier schools often get hired by trailing law firms, and graduates of third-tier schools often end up working as paralewgals. So I was at a competitive disadvantage looking for work as a paralegal.

    Re: going to college for “personal growth”

    One option gaining increased consideration is taking a ‘time out’ for a year or two after high school for personal growth, e.g. traveling overseas to expand one’s worldview.

    Re: “I’d also like to add that there are a lot of opportunities in the US for motivated people. ”

    Oh yes, I see opportunities all over the place, but they usually require money in one way or another. (e.g. starting a business usually requires money – not necessarily a lot, but more than a broke person has – and going to school requires money.)

  21. My husband came from a poor family and couldn’t really afford college. He went to an in-state college (lower tuition costs) but really could not swing it financially. The state he lived in allowed you to sell your blood to the blood bank for money, which he did till he collapsed.

    He realized this was not going to work, and instead joined the Air Force. While in the service, he learned computers as a career field, worked really hard to excel, and completed 4 years active duty. Based on that experience, he landed a job at a company in the IT division, and started moving up from there. Today he is very successful, makes a good salary, and still has no college degree. Many of the skills needed to succeed in college are the very same ones needed to move up in the service.

    All along he had a ferocious drive to better himself, and his life is quite a success story in everything he has done.

  22. Here the thing….finance is really easy! Complete retards can sell something and run figures everyday. Really it’s not hard. I write 50 papers quite often…is it hard? Nope. It is time consuming, but it is not hard. Some of the minimal wage jobs I had through out life were actually harder than writing a large paper.