Work not just to earn, but to learn widely

I recently revisited a set of childhood parables on financial independence written by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter in the bestselling book Rich Dad Poor Dad. I remain intrigued that, almost 20 years after its initial publication and worldwide success, the majority of the book’s simple and relevant insights remain widely underutilised.

Even though many of us aspire to achieve wealth and financial independence, few of us choose the path that could get us there, such as owning a business or making strategic investments. As a result, our economy continues to suffer from low levels of entrepreneurship and high levels of unemployment.

Our society continues to define getting a job as a sign of success, when jobs should be seen as a means to an end, not the final destination. In fact, we should be choosing to be in a job because we want to learn certain skills that will help us become better multigenerational wealth creators.

This requires a complete mindset shift from the old mentality of choosing jobs based on what we stand to earn. Instead, we must focus on what we stand to learn. Many of us shy away from following through with our entrepreneurial aspirations because of a perceived lack of skills needed to get the job done.

As a result, we end up spending the rest of our lives in salaried jobs, momentarily excited by the next promotion or raise, instead of using the time as an opportunity to learn the skills needed to create our own wealth.

Income gained from a salaried job is often limited to a fraction of the value that you add to a business each day. In contrast, there is no limit to the income you can extract from utilising the skills acquired from a typical job. The value of skills can be timeless.

This mindset shift from money received to skills gained can be the game-changer that will increase the consistently low levels of entrepreneurship in this country – an important lever for addressing the unemployment challenge.

As a passionate investor in up-and-coming African entrepreneurs, I have noticed that spending time obtaining relevant skills can help reduce the anxiety that comes when entrepreneurs take the leap to start their own businesses.

The transition from a job to self-employment is far easier with the right tools in hand. For example, entrepreneurs are often required to be all-rounders and must be especially skilled at understanding and managing business finances.

Almost all companies have an accounting and finance function, but few people outside this department actively go there and ask to learn. Being in close proximity to people with complementary skills can present ample opportunity to learn from them.

Sadly, we live in a world where people are hardly ever taught about finances unless they are affiliated with the accounting profession. This should be a core part of the school curriculum.

If you are serious about your entrepreneurial aspirations yet have no clue how to manage money, you should use your time in the corporate world to learn how to do so from your peers. The same is true for human resources, or any of the other functions necessary to help a new business owner succeed.

There is a reason aspiring CEOs are often put on rotation programmes that allow them to work with the different functions of the company. This is because anyone running a business needs to have a decent understanding of all the departments they oversee. As an entrepreneur, you will similarly be responsible for all of these functions in your own business.

I am conscious of the upcoming internship and holiday work season, when many unemployed young people get opportunities for part-time jobs.

Let us encourage our young people to get out of the mentality of choosing these jobs based on their income potential. Instead, they must start choosing part-time jobs based on what they stand to gain in terms of skills and exposure.

They will soon realise that what they stand to learn from some part-time jobs far outweighs the potential salary.

At the very least, they will gain the work experience most employers seek. At the most, they will gain the skills they need to create their own wealth, become their own bosses and create plenty of job opportunities for others.

This article was first published in the Business Times on 06 November 2016

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