Work and Inflation+Economics
At least 2 times in my life, I have been walloped by circumstances. In youth group, I had risen to the top. But in college, I was back at the bottom. I can remember one time in class, the project was to describe yourself to a fellow student and then they would describe you. I was paired up with a young woman and I began to describe myself in terms of how I had been viewed when I was at the top of the food chain in my youth group. I can still remember the shock I saw on her face. She did not view me like that at all. How embarrassing!
This happens to many people around the same time in life. Maybe they go from the starting quarterback to being a bench warmer at the next level. Think of a great college quarterback like Tim Tebow being only somewhat effective in the NFL.
The second time I experienced this “walloping” was when I had my first factory job. Before that I had worked in many restaurants, always rising to the top. I trained other servers and was even involved in the hiring process on occasion. But I started to take things for granted and developed a sense of entitlement. It was never directly stated but I did feel like I was better than those I worked with and even treated them in a very cruel manor at times. The sad thing was that even know I kept getting fired from these jobs, I really could not take the hint.
During the economic downturn of 2008 I found myself unemployed. At that point I was willing to take any job. My wife had a connection in the company that her father had founded called Seymour Midwest. Her connection was the plant manager, Gib Knoop. They hired me and I went to work for this small rake manufacturing plant in northern Indiana. The job started at minimum wage. Ouch! I continued to think I was above all of my coworkers but this time there were actually productivity rates that were measurable. Being on my feet all day was also painful and getting small nicks and scratches was not my idea of a good time.
One day we had a huge order of lake rakes. This product was being used to clean up the beaches during the gulf oil spill. One day they asked all employees if they could work 2 extra hours. I agreed but stipulated that I would need an extra 15-minute break in order to do so. Newbie making demands…not a good idea.
The next day Gib called me into his office. He explained that my rates were slow and people were complaining about me. He then said something that changed the impression of the whole conversation. He said, “I had such high hopes for you.” As stinging as it was to hear his assessment of me, his hope in me made me want to be better. From that point on, I decided I would better myself, to become the person I had imagined myself to be.
Putting myself together.
First, I decided I would reach the ideal rate for the factory and if possible, be faster. I would show up for work early, stay late and not complain. I realized I had to put myself together in other areas as well. I was 28, had no college degree and was only able to type 20 words per minute. This was going to be a challenge! Each morning, I woke up at 4 AM and practiced typing until I could type between 60 and 80 words per minute. I also enrolled in college. Within a couple of months, I was offered full-time status at the factory. Interestingly enough, I started being offered other jobs and that made me more attractive to my current employers. Eventually I finished my degree and by that time, I was managing 2 other employees.
It was then that my family and I really felt called to move to Costa Rica to pursue other opportunities. When I left the company, the owner gave me one of the nicest complements I have ever received. He asked me to consider staying and he wanted to talk to me about working in the offices in the new customer service department they were forming.
The term “putting myself together” is something that I borrowed from Jordan Peterson, who is currently very famous for encouraging people (especially young men) to get their acts together. When I heard him for the first time, I remembered Gib and the conversation we had many years ago.
Another thing I did not realize at the time is that, despite my ability to rise to the top of some relatively easy jobs like waiting tables, there was actually a very low demand for a worker like me. This stemmed from a principle called inflation. Normally inflation is thought of in terms of money but inflation actually is defined as follows:
“Inflation is the phenomenon that occurs when the amount of currency increases faster than the things which the currency can buy.” -Milton Freidman
Think of it like this. Either there is too much money and not enough things, in which case the money competes for the things. Or there are too many things and not enough money, thus the things compete for the money. Anyone who has ever been to an auction that is not well attended has seen this play out. Most things sell for a dollar, but some will sell for much more than that.
Now think of the unit of money being low skilled workers. Suddenly the market was flooded with them. Their purchasing power (ability to get a job) was less than what it had been.
“Putting yourself together” is nothing more than the process of improving your marketable skills in order to increase the demand for yourself in the market place. Or to put it differently, you are causing deflation to take place as your value increases. If you would like to talk about this more, I would be glad to talk to anyone about it. Or if you would like to read more about Jordan Peterson’s self-authoring program, click here.