“You can’t get rich working for someone else” is a LIE

I’m tired of seeing “you can’t get rich working for someone else” and similar messages littered online. Here’s an example text exchange shared by r/antimlm user sunshinehazard.

From Reddit user u/sunshinehazard

Network marketing companies and other sales organizations pander to the egos of their customer base with messaging like…

Be your own boss
Quit the 9-to-5
Gain financial independence

Ironically, this is a popular strategy employed by people who want YOU to work for them.

Mantras like these are for people who aspire to be wealthy and want to feel superior over others. Actually wealthy people understand that they’re working for someone all the time.

  • CEOs of public companies work for their shareholders and board members
  • Freelancers do work for multiple clients
  • Entrepreneurs work hard for their customers, especially when they haven’t figured out product-market fit yet.

The danger of entrepreneur worship comes from selling the dream while avoiding the work.

Entrepreneurs easily work more hours than the 9-to-5.
Starting a company can be incredibly stressful and costly.
Consultants give up one boss (full time job) for a multiple bosses (clients).

And lest we forget —survivorship bias ensures that we hear about success stories who made it, not the 90% who’ve failed.

How did we get to this entrepreneur worship?

I believe the dark side of “hustle culture” (and its terrible motivational mantras) is a function of a highly individualistic, capitalist society that values humans based on monetary net worth.

This winner-takes-all mentality means that people think that unless they’re gangbusters rich, then they’re poor. Maybe that’s why lotteries do most damage to those who can least afford them.

There’s also this bias for “pulling oneself up by their bootstraps,” AKA do it all on your own.

There’s a ironic disregard for companies that create jobs that fuel the lives of millions of employees.

I thought about this when I was trying to pull off doing business as a digital nomad. For example, it would be amazing if my side hustle got to $50,000 per year in revenue. It would be even more amazing if my business was doing well enough such that I can pay 1 full time employee $50,000.

Successful companies pay tons of their employees this amount of money and more. They create value, which creates jobs, which pays for the entire lives of dozens to hundreds of people. I don’t take that lightly.

Being paid by someone is a privilege.

How to get rich while working for someone else

The appeal of entrepreneurship is that you can make much more than what the traditional job market offers. How does this compare to being an employee?

According to small business revenue statistics, 86% of small business owners make less than $100,000 a year in income, with the average being $71,813 a year. Meanwhile, the average tech worker makes a median salary of $88,240, more than double the average median income of $39,810 (as of May 2019).

What if we calculated the expected value of wealth as the probability of success, multiplied by the expected annual earnings?

Office workerEntrepreneur
Expected value: Normal scenario90% x ($39,810) = $35,82910% x ($71,813) = $7,416
Expected value: Ideal scenario90% x ($88,400) = $79,41610% x ($500,000) = $50,000
Expected value = probability of success X average income.

The expected value of even a massively successful 1st year in business ($500k is more than 5x the average small business annual income) is less than a normal tech job.

Finding a job is a much lower barrier to entry than launching a successful business, which comes with its own costs and competition. (What if you launch the wrong product and no one buys?)

I think people instinctively understand this tradeoff, and that’s why side hustles have proliferated.

Why not do money-making experiments on the side while bringing in a steady paycheck? You can…

  • Trade stocks on the side.
  • Invest in property income.
  • Earn extra by driving Lyft or delivering groceries.
  • Try making money online.

    I personally find this to be a worthwhile approach that balances practicality with passion.

This isn’t to sway intrepid souls from starting their next million dollar business.

It’s just that I think the idea that you can’t get rich working for someone else is one dimensional and inaccurate.

“Getting rich” is getting it backwards

Let’s take a moment to flip the script, and get specific about our values.

“You’ll never get rich working for someone else” is a futile exercise if the more fundamental question is not asked:

What is a rich life to me?

What kind of life do I want to create, and what kinds of tradeoffs am I willing to make to achieve that life? 

Maybe it’s not making millions of dollars. Maybe it’s having a near-unlimited supply of Krispy Kreme donuts. Or traveling someone new every season. Or saving enough for your future self.

The more power we focus on creating our own meaning for life, the richer our lives will be.

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