The 7 Ways to Earn a Living
“Work is love made visible” wrote Khalil Gibran. “If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple, taking alms of those who work with joy.”
In general there are 7 (maybe 8) ways of earning money:
By buying stuff and selling it for a higher price. Generally some value has to be added to the stuff for this to work, and especially in this highly connected, information-rich age when anybody can just fire up their web browser to find the manufacturer of the stuff you’re selling and buy it directly. The value might be convenience — shipping the stuff from where it gets made to where there are people who want it; it might be breaking up large volumes of the stuff into smaller, consumer-sized packages; or it may be taking care of the hassle involved in getting the stuff past the government induced frictions of customs and excise, permits and permissions; or by putting a large variety of stuff into one place so that it is convenient for people to buy many different sorts of stuff all in one go. And so on. This is called Shopkeeping. The Way of the Merchant.
By making stuff. Getting hold of some raw materials and assembling them into useful stuff that people want. It can be as easy as making Cheese and selling it at a local weekend market or as complicated as building skyscrapers. I’m not saying that cheese making is trivial, just that it is easier than building, say, Rocket Ships or Computers. This is The Way of Manufacturing. I include in this category the growing of food, The Way of the Peasant, because these have in common the requirement for some capital investment — in machinery, buildings or land — the need for some specialist knowledge that then gets applied again and again and again to produce some stuff, be it manufactured goods or be it food.
By creating stuff. Usually entertainment (in a very broad sense.) You can do this by writing books that entertain or news articles that entertain (and incidentally draw an audience so that somebody can sell advertisements.) You can do this by making movies — whether you make The Hobbit or a video of your cats that you upload to YouTube. Or by making songs that people like to listen to or like to sing, or pictures that people like to look at. You get the idea. This is the Way of the Artist.
By getting people to pay you for using your skills and knowledge to achieve their own goals. You accumulate some skills, usually quite early in your adult life. You apply those skills for a time — perhaps ten thousand hours or more — and, along the way, you learn some useful lessons about applying those skills to real problems. It is useful to people who want to achieve some end requiring those skills to pay you to advise them. Essentially to apply your experience in service of their ends. Teaching people some of your knowledge is a subset of this way of making a living. This is the Way of Consulting.
Then there is the way of earning a living by doing stuff that somebody else tells you to do. It might be pretty broad based and open ended such as an unskilled labourer may be forced to accept, or it may be within a more restrictive agreement that limits the kinds of activity your employer may ask you to perform, for example assembling motor cars or rocket ships, or typing letters. Or working as a farm labourer or pizza deliverer. This is the Way of The Serf. It has the properties of not requiring you to exercise your judgement, and it generally absolves you of any responsibilities for the results of your actions. You clock in, you do your job, you clock out, you get paid. This is desired by many people.
There are those who, using their skill and knowledge, perform certain services that other people desire: Diagnosing illness and offering cures for various ailments. Replacing the oils and filters in motor cars from time to time. This is the Way of The Service Provider. It is an awfully fine line between this and the ways of The Serf or The Consultant, but I wish to make distinct the worthy work done by doctors, motor mechanics and baby minders who perform tasks requiring considerable skill and knowledge, carry a weight of responsibility for exercising right judgement, and are things that most of us would far prefer not to have to do ourselves.
There is the way of applying an understanding of Strategy and Tactics to situations so as to achieve some larger goal. This might involve persuading other people that the goal is a noble or useful one, or at least necessary. It is the activity of organising people, first and foremost yourself, of mastering their diverse wishes and wayward attentions and marshalling them towards a common goal. This is called the Way of Entrepreneurship. Also called the Way of the Warrior. Once you understand how to think about strategy and how to apply tactics, you can succeed in any endeavour. It is necessary to think deeply about this and from one thing to know everything.
There are other ways to obtain money. I do not say “earn” money. They are the ways of worthless parasites. Politicians, Confidence Tricksters and Burglars come to mind. They add no value to the human situation nor to the wider world that supports all life; they only feed off the efforts and endeavours of others.
Now ask yourself the question, “In which of these ways would you like to earn the money you need to live in our present society?”