Giving Yourself a Job

In 1950 in New York, looking for a job consisted of catching a subway at 6:30 to pick up a copy of the New York Times, searching the classifieds, and then pursuing the most promising opportunities.

After doing this for forty weeks straight, Bill still didn’t have a job. Times were tough: meal time would come and there was no food; this lack created tension between Bill’s parents; the family was under tremendous discouragement.

Coming home after yet another grueling and fruitless day, Bill made a radical change. At the kitchen table with his brother Jerry, Bill said:

“If no one will give me a job, I’m going to give myself a job.”

Jerry thought his brother had finally lost it. There were no jobs to be had. It seemed ridiculous to magically produce one for yourself. But Bill was determined, and so the brothers pulled together all the money they had to start a business: $13.

After deliberating together they decided to start a technical writing company for $13 because you could buy pens and enough paper to get started on that budget. Bill said, “I’m going to sell. You’re going to go to the library and learn how to do technical writing.” Bill figured he could sell to companies of ten people or less who were doing government work.

In three weeks Bill made his first sale, and Jerry began putting his new tech-writing skills to work. The books were accepted. Within a few years they were able to hire a typist, then an illustrator, then rent an office in downtown New York (prior to that they all worked out of the brothers’ tiny apartment).

Today, sixty-two years later, this company has tens of thousands of employees. I had the opportunity to meet Jerry today, sixty-two years after he and his brother struck out on a $13 budget. I was very much impressed with this startup story. Through resourcefulness, fortitude, and hard work, Bill and Jerry created their opportunities. I believe the same opportunities exist today. Jerry had the library, where he could become a competent tech writer for free; today we have the Internet, where you can become a competent almost-anything for free. Your chances of becoming a multi-millionaire are probably low, but the reward for initiative, hard work and perseverance in today’s world is what is was in 1950: success.

Bill’s decision that he would not be ultimately dependent on others, but would take responsibility for improving his situation himself, is an admirable attitude. I wonder how many today carry that same attitude: “If no one will give me a job, I’m going to give myself a job.”

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