How To Be A Slave
By James Altucher
I hate being a slave.
One might think: don’t be a jerk. You weren’t in chains in the 1800s. That was real slavery.
Ok, I hate arguing. Go away.
But let’s take a look at the average person.
The average person works at a job. Fine, you might say, a job is a lot different from slavery: I can take a water break for instance. And sometimes go to the bathroom. And when I talk to people the same sex as me there aren’t even any rules governing what I can say.
Great. I agree.
But let’s just take a look at your income and your behavior.
Sure, you might say, I realize I don’t get all of my income. About 40% goes to taxes.
And there you would be wrong.
Your true salary is the value you create for the place you work.
Some percentage of it goes to your boss. He has to get paid also you know. Who do you think pays him? You do.
Some percentage of your salary goes to his boss and however big the hierarchy is. I know this, having been a boss, having run a company, and having been an employee.
Some percentage of your “salary” goes to the shareholders of the company before you even see it.
And some percentage goes to the vendors of the company. Like the insurance “benefits” your company gives you that you most likely will never need (if you were likely to need them, then the benefits would be higher, until you no longer need that much. That’s how insurance works).
And some percentage goes to employees that don’t pull their weight. The 80/20 rule applies where approximately 80% don’t pull their weight so any money left over from your efforts has to be used to pay them. You pay them.
Finally, you have to pay for your cubicle, your office supplies, the computer on your desk, your phone, etc. If you created no extra money to pay for these things then they wouldn’t exist. So this comes directly out of your salary.
I call all of the above your “Above The Line” salary. Try to figure out what your Above The Line salary is.
You can say, “my company gives me the opportunity to make this above the line salary”. That’s fine. But they take quite a bit. It’s probably four or five times higher than your “Below The Line” salary. There’s better ways to get your “Above the Line” salary so you personally benefit from it. Most companies are very wasteful and you pay for that waste directly out of your salary.
Then there’s your Below-the-Line salary.
40% goes to Federal and State taxes. This is already after your services have been taxed at the corporate level, now your being taxed another 40% at the personal level.
Note that only salaried employees pay 40%. Nobody else does.
The richest Americans pay less than 15% on average on gains in their net worth. That’s because salaried employees are slaves and have the least political power.
Another 5-8% goes to taxes on everything you consume. Now we are almost at 50%.
Then, like most Americans, you have a mortgage. Maybe this is another 10-20% of your salary. Your company likes you to own your house because you are less likely to quit (you need the money to pay the mortgage) and you are less likely to move (you’re not mobile).
Then student loans you are paying off. For the first time ever, greater than 50% of the unemployed have college degrees. So it”s pretty scary. You got this degree because (in part) you thought it would get you a job. But it didn’t guarantee anything and now you have to pay for it. Some percentage of your salary is sliced off every month to pay for that degree.
Then some portion of your salary goes towards health, upkeep of your relationships (they always cost money. This is not being cynical. Just reality), your transportation to your job (they force you to pay for the honor of transporting yourself to your slave quarters).
How much goes to you? You wake up before dawn. You travel. You work hard. You come home late. You’re feeling stuck. You’re mildly depressed and may take medication for this. And you have trouble sleeping and digesting.
Shouldn’t you get paid more?
As it stands, between above the line and below the line expenses taken out of your salary, you are probably left with 1/10 of your salary. In other words, you could be making ten times as much money if you started to un-slave yourself.
Then there’s behavior. “I can do whatever I want,” I used to say. In fact, when i was at a job I felt free. I could “sneak out” at 4pm. I could take lots of breaks. Vacations were big.
But did you look at the manual?
There’s a big manual. And sometimes there are workshops to go over the manual.
Like you can’t talk to people of the opposite sex in certain ways. They teach you what are good ways to talk to people of the opposite sex.
You can’t talk to your boss a certain way. Because for all of your slavery, all he has to say is, “you’re fired” and all of that goes away.
You can’t wear what you want. Most office situations have a uniform, either explicit or implicit.
You can’t be friends with who you want. You’re mostly just friends with the people you spend your day with – the other slaves. When they go away you never talk to them again.
You can’t be creative when inspiration hits. “Anything done on equipment owned by the company is intellectual property owned by the company”. Good luck arguing with that one.
You can’t have an office romance even though those are the only women you know. For one thing you might get fired. And all of your emails can be read by human resources. My closest friend when I was at HBO was fired when his office romance went awry and all of his emails were read by his boss.
If you want more money, you have to beg for it. There are entire seminars created just to teach people how to ask for 5% more money at work. People are scared to death to Ask.
And by the time you get home to have real social interactions, you’re tired and bitter and angry at work.
I know I’m doing a little bit of projecting here. This was my personal experience about having a job.
I felt like a slave. I hated it. Maybe a lot of people like it. But I am just doing the math. The Above the Line salary is real and comes straight out of your pocket before you even knew that money was there.
Most people can make 5-10x more by being creative and figuring out how to offer services on their own without the company taking out all of the “Above the Line” expenses. And then there are ways to limit the “Below the Line” expenses.
Money won’t solve all of your problems, but it will solve your money problems. Don’t let them take your money so they can keep you in slavery.
You want to own your time. Own your work. Own the value you create for others. Protect yourself so nobody can fire you. Not be owned by the bank or the government. Not be owned by your relationships. Own your thoughts.
“I can’t just quit my job!” you might say.
And I agree with this. Don’t quit.
So many people read self-help books to help them deal with what they think are the realities of work. Self-help books are often self-hurt books because they try to keep you happy about being enslaved.
For instance, “show compassion to the people who hurt you” many of them say. This might be good advice. But I’d rather show compassion to the people who love me.
Start to be an explorer. We live in a 15 trillion dollar economy. You helped create it. Just like slaves and death and misery helped create the beautiful pyramids.
But 90% of what you create is taken from you.
Start to explore what parts you can take back. Work every day on ideas. List every interest you’ve had since you were a kid. List every business or job that can be started from that interest. Read every day about your interests.
Don’t be angry at the people at work, even your boss. They are all slaves also. You need to break free from them. Don’t indulge your free thoughts on the other slaves with their Rolex shackles.
Study the lives of people who aren’t slaves. What did they do? Study the people online who seem to have broke free. What are they doing? Keep working on the idea muscle I discuss in my book.
I did this. And in six months my life changed completely. Sometimes for the worse. Much worse. I didn’t know what I was doing and sometimes I ended up on the floor, depressed and suicidal.
Sometimes freedom is very scary. It’s outside of the jail cell (“comfort zone”) you created for yourself.
But every six months since then my life has changed completely. My life is completely different than it was even six months ago.
Sixteen years ago I had a boss yell at me. He’s a good guy and has since broken free himself. But one time he yelled at me and I couldn’t yell back or I would risk being fired. I felt like crying. Actually, I did cry.
So I went to the library on 41st Street and 5th Avenue. I found a science fiction book I read once before as a kid. It had that cellophane wrapping and a library card in it. And it had that smell when you open the pages.
I went three or four levels down, to my private bathroom in the library. My sanctum sanctorum.
And I sat there and I read about a man who lived forever and was happy. And the world disappeared and for a brief moment I was no longer a slave.
From that moment on I plotted my escape. And every day since, I figure out new ways to escape, new ways to be free. New ways to own my world.