What if you could make a salary of six figures before thirty without the burden of student loan debt, the risk of entrepreneurial startup failure, or the lifetime consequences of a bad sex tape?
Today I want to introduce you to the true story of Mr. X, a millennial 20-something who did just that.
Mr. X entered the work force at a young age, affording him financial independence early on. By the time Mr. X left home for his first year of college, his education and lifestyle were entirely self-funded, paving the way for a critical career moment- a college work-study program.
Having helped with various tasks around the house during his childhood, Mr. X had a basic skill set that lended itself well to work in the scenic shop of his college theater. There, while building sets for shows in his off-time, he expanded his carpentry abilities while taking a full-time course load in nursing.
A faculty member in the scene shop spotted a combination of quality skills and tremendous work ethic in Mr. X that resulted in a summer job offer at a professional theater nearby. Over the course of that summer, a coworker noticed that same killer combination and recommended Mr. X for a full-time position.
And thus, much to his mothers’ chagrin, 19-year-old Mr. X dropped out of college to become a professional carpenter.
I know I already gave away the big spoiler, but just to reiterate – today, not ten years after this college dropout moment that might have some of you shaking your heads in disapproval, Mr. X collects a substantial six-figure salary and is poised to continue enjoying the benefits of increased earnings as his carpentry career continues to flourish.
Had he continued his four-year college program, Mr. X would have graduated in 2008. He may have easily become part of a young professional work force suffering a 1.8 percent earnings loss per year over the span of the decade thanks to graduating into a high unemployment economy. He may have easily become one of the 7.9 percent of 18- to 34- year olds who were unemployed as of December 2014. He may have easily become one of the 42 percent of households under age 35 carrying student debt.
But he didn’t. He chose something else – something that for too long has been dismissed or entirely passed over by young students assessing their potential career paths- an essential skill set in high demand. By rejecting the narrative of a requisite path or formula for success, Mr. X became one of the most successful people I know.
So why don’t more people follow that path- one that skirts the financial burden of tens of thousands of dollars in student loan debt while providing a substantial return?
According to Mike Rowe, host of the former reality TV series “Dirty Jobs”, the issue is status.
“[…] compensation and status are very different issues. Compensation is determined by the market. “Status” is more a product of respect and public perception. If the two were always in lockstep, the Kardashians would have a Nobel Peace Prize, and first responders would all be rich.”
While simultaneously sad and hilarious- Rowe is right on.
“I know many plumbers and welders that make six-figures a year. But I don’t know many parents who encourage their kids to explore those careers. That’s not a pay problem – that’s a status problem.
The skills gap on the other hand, is not a problem at all – it’s a symptom of what we value. And until we rethink the prevailing definition of a “good job,” the gap will widen and swallow us all.”
As Rowe notes, there is a shortage of workers pursuing high paying careers in skilled labor. Even post-recession levels of youth un- and under-employment haven’t instigated a meaningful shift in the “success narrative”- we’re still selling the idea of a four-year degree as the singular pathway.
Rowe is taking on the challenge of the “status issue” surrounding trade work by rebranding with his own mikeroweWorks PR campaign. And he may be on to something…
From a financial standpoint, the pursuit of professional trades is a no brainer. Minimal up front investment, huge demand, little competition, and high returns make trades an attractive way to make six figures before thirty and enjoy the benefits far beyond.
As young people continue to scramble, struggling to find their footing in the professional and financial worlds, perhaps we can all stand to take a page out the play books of Mike Rowe and Mr. X – remembering the high value of good, skilled labor.
Related Reading: The Complete Guide to Making More Money