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Work for Yourself – College May Not Lead to Career

Question about career options: to continue with university? Start a business? Work for yourself? “Would appreciate anything at this point as am more than directionless. Have thought of opening business here in Brno instead of grad school. Bought into the whole “go to college get a good job”, shite that worked for our parents (who [...]

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Question about career options: to continue with university? Start a business? Work for yourself?

“Would appreciate anything at this point as am more than directionless. Have thought of opening business here in Brno instead of grad school. Bought into the whole “go to college get a good job”, shite that worked for our parents (who made the world what it is, in one generation and Kudos, Kudos…) but now it doesn’t work…”

Hello Brandy,

Thank you for your question, it provoked a rather interesting angle on making money while traveling.

To start, if I wanted to find a job in archaeology — a profession which I had previously completed nine seasons in, am fully degreed and certified to work in — all I would need to do is pick up the phone. If I wanted to work on a farm or teach English abroad, I would just need to knock on a couple doors or email over my resume to a few schools. If I wanted to make more money all I would need to do is apply for employment in a half dozen trades.

The trick is sometimes not just to make money, but to make money working for myself.

If I take a job in archaeology — or another profession — I work, get paid a decent amount of money, spend it, and find myself back where I started. Working for others is a circular path: you never really get anywhere but where you are.

The goal is to work for myself.

You see, if I put a page up on this website I may only make, on average, 80 cents per year from it. This is not a lot of money, even if I put up three to five pages each day. But the benefit is found in the fact that if I put up a page today on my own website I will always benefit from it for as long as it stays up on the internet. In point, I am benefiting now from pages that I made six years ago.

I am making money today off of the work that I have been doing each day for six years.

[adsense]My work builds on top of itself, slowly growing into a mountain each day.

Running your own business — especially one where you produce a product that can make you money without end while continuously remaining in your possession (such as making web pages) — is a way to walk a straight path in terms of travel work. This page that you have provoked me to make will only bring me in 80 cents a year, but when it is combined with all of the pages that I made yesterday, last year, tomorrow, years from now, it will someday be enough to call a decent living.

Or so I hope.

My despair that you read about in Vagabonds Must Diversify Income was just a bump in the road: I was frustrated that I have been at this for six years and have not even come close to the income projections that I made upon commencing this project. It was the rambling of a guy who thought he would be at the end of the road when he really only reached the half way point. It seems that if I keep going the way I am now it will take me another six years of hard work before I am bringing in the $50 to $75 a day that I would like from this project.

I reached a false summit.


But it was also a wake up call that I need to start looking for other ways to make money from this website. So I toil at making ebooks, print books, a monthly digital magazine, and try hard to bring in a specified amount of money each month through reader contributions.

Though I do not want to knock down formal employment. Working a job for someone else is a great way to seize an impression of a place and people that you could not have any other way. Working formally is also a great modus operandi for learning new trades, new skills, and gaining knowledge that would not otherwise be available to me. It also gives me something to write about.

The benefit of a university education – or lack thereof

I graduated with a degree in cultural anthropology (and journalism) some time ago, and I do not believe that it was a wasted effort. I learned a lot of skills in university that I use each day — some make me money, most do not. Though working in archaeology is a great way to make up a living on the road, as is teaching English, which requires a college degree.

Your projections about how much money you can make as a field archaeologist are right on — though you still make less, even with an advanced degree, than many people working manual trades in the USA. In fact, archaeology is the second lowest paying profession in the country when weighted against how much education you need to do it. In point, I make around $12 an hour as a professional archaeologist in the USA.

Like so, your observations about how university is not always the best way to find yourself with a good career anymore are also right on. We were raised under the world view of our parents, but the world has shifted under our feet. All too many of us have gone to university, gone way into a pit of debt, just to find that the lines of income that were suppose to lead us out do not exist — or, at least, are vastly more difficult to grab on to than projected.

Now that so many from our generation have gone to college to “get ahead” the country is saturated with young people who have an education but few avenues to put it to use. The sad part is that employers seem to know that each year the university mills are going to churn out a fresh stock of potential employees more than willing to take entry level positions for little pay. There is often little incentive to grant raises or to provide a ladder for employees to climb when there is such a vast pool of crabs willing to stay at the bottom of the barrel — as they know that if they don’t there is another that will.

We are now beginning to see the myths of our time for what they are: myths. Going to university in order to find a good career is now no better of an option than going to trade school or learning a skill that society NEEDS. Us anthropologists are completely disposable — we are not needed for society to function — and the money that is made available for us is only what is left over after the carpenters, tinknockers, truck drivers, secretaries, garbage men are paid.

My father is a working man who learned a complex trade. He worked hard through his adult life to cultivate a son who would go to university and someday have a better life than he has. That son went to university, did well, got stamped with a degree, and spit out onto the market just to find the fruits that were suppose to be in full bloom sparse and shriveled.

I write the above as a parable, though I must admit that my case is far from typical. I have an unusual independent streak and I never angled myself towards a career of any sorts, other than what I do working for myself. Though I do believe that there is a lot of truth to these words I tick out right now.

The new pattern of employment has been made apparent: to truly get ahead in this age it is best to learn a trade that society NEEDS that takes many years to master — a profession that someone cannot just walk into. I.e. a greenhorn carpenter will not take the job of a master, and a master carpenter will get the wage he deserves.

Our world has been flipped upside down. It is the men and women with thick callouses on their hands and practical knowledge in their heads who have secure careers. While the people with soft hands, egg heads, and university degrees — us — are so often left behind to fight over the scraps. Our country was once filled with working men toiling in factories, building, creating, now it is full of university trained egg heads whose education lead them to the unemployment line or the lower rungs of the working world. Finding rocket scientists waiting tables, working under people who never stepped foot into a college classroom, is the great irony of our times.

Degrees are now valued more as a statement of character — it shows that you worked hard at something for years and completed an objective — than a statement of skill or knowledge.

I am trying to leave this world behind by putting my education to use working for myself. Though I know that the skills that I use daily are so often not the ones represented by that crispy sheet of paper framed and hanging on the wall of my mother’s home.


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Filed under: Education, Independent Travel Business, Travel Help, Traveling Webmaster, Work

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3720 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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