Chapter 28

The key for the market of quid
pro quo: Competence

If you want to lead a self-deter­mined life, you must strive to be able to choose your profession. First requi­rement: Become a master of your craft! The only way to be able to pick and choose what you do is to establish an excellent reputation in the market you want to operate in. Second requi­rement: Let your light shine! Skills include coope­rating with other people respect­fully and speci­fi­cally. The third requi­rement entails living according to the motto “Together we’re strong!”

What there is no training for

Years ago, at a company in the manufac­turing sector, I met a machine operator who could run two machines simul­ta­ne­ously at high speed with a low reject rate. His colleagues were only able to run one machine at medium speed and an accep­table error rate. They had received the required training and the corre­sponding quali­fi­ca­tions and their colleague, who was from North Macedonia, had no training whatsoever.

Here is another example of excellent skills: At a medium-sized construction company, the boss had hired a guy to do odd jobs, whom he employed after a while to do all the somewhat more sophisti­cated work and to coordinate the work processes. The man had no skilled training whatsoever and was a bit older. He had his eyes every­where, he recognized hazards earlier than everyone else and almost always had a solution for problems. He was absolutely reliable.

These and other obser­va­tions at companies have led me to believe that there are quali­fi­ca­tions that are neither taught by the educa­tional system per se nor by other formal training insti­tu­tions. These are skills and charac­te­ristics that everyone can only acquire and maintain themselves over the course of their lives. Ideally, from an early age:

  • use your five senses
  • observe other people
  • imitate role models
  • recognize the way things interconnect
  • establish connec­tions
  • gather experi­ences
  • record processes and procedures
  • try out alternatives
  • assess risks
  • radiate a zest for life.

People who have been animated by their parents and their surroun­dings to  develop these kinds of skills and charac­te­ristics only need to be disco­vered by an employer or dare to become an entre­preneur themselves. There is no prescribed training with a final certi­ficate awarded for the profession “entre­preneur”.

Conti­nuously improve your reading, writing, and math skills

Entre­pre­neurs are people who have basic skills that cannot be learned, but that they can only discover, develop, and unleash in themselves. Everyone has, at least in part, the prere­qui­sites to become an entre­preneur. But for most people, they are already buried or even destroyed during childhood by expec­ta­tions that are too low or too high, by coercion up to depri­vation of freedom or by neglect or by misguided high expec­ta­tions on the part of their parents or by inappro­priate educa­tional measures imposed by government officials.

Young people, parti­cu­larly in the econo­mi­cally developed countries, once they have cut the cord, have an oppor­tunity to focus on their entre­pre­neurial gifts and to try them out. Most people will discover at least one skill or charac­te­ristic for acting independently and autono­mously within themselves. This is a great oppor­tunity to step up to the plate: Taking your life into your own hands and becoming your own entrepreneur.

The first indis­pensable preli­minary stage for extending your horizons beyond the neigh­borhood of your early years is elementary school. Learning how to read, write, and do arith­metic is essential for becoming fit for life and opening up paths to the world to you. You need to maintain, further develop, and expertly use these funda­mental skills throughout your entire life.

When you grow up in an environment where there are no books, where there are only newspapers with large banner headlines and magazines with large pictures of movie stars and where the TV is on night and day, or the only activity is playing with your smart­phone, elementary school can offer you a way get a foot in the door on the path to develop what is within you. Adults who prevent children from acquiring the basic skills for a self-directed life are criminal. This already starts by being a bad role model.

Crèches and day cares can’t offset develo­p­mental deficits in children that arise when parents are at work during the day and prefer to relax or focus on their hobbies in the evenings and take on no respon­si­bility aside from housing, feeding, and clothing their children and claim for everything else, “That’s what government insti­tu­tions are for!” If on top of everything the parents break up, this spells disaster for the children.

Schools have always been and continue to be subject to criticism. What do children and teenagers need to learn for their lives? This is a question for which there never will be a unanimous response. One reform is replaced by another. There is no school system that satisfies everyone.

In my experience: Some of the best years of my life were the years before my first day at school – without any crèche and kinder­garten. My parents and my older sister were the people who were always there for me, challenged me, and were role models to me who gave me stability and orien­tation. The time during and after the war resulted in the first years of school only taking place with many canceled classes. I enjoyed this period without school as freedom. I was constantly out and out in our neigh­borhood, especially in nature. My mother was criti­cized for granting me this freedom. But her response was, “You can’t tie the boy to a chair!”

School experi­ences

My time at the German gymnasium, the academic track secondary school, was one of the most depressing times of my life. I had the feeling that I did not learn anything I needed for life. There were 30 pupils in my class. Two or three teachers knew how to engage my interest in what they taught: music, art and sports. I scheduled my main activities for the after­noons and evenings. And that was primarily sports. Then I wanted to have a motor­cycle and I worked two after­noons a week for two or three hours until I had saved up enough money to buy a used motorcycle.

I only realized many years later what my parents had done for me during my youth. Above all, they gave me freedom. My mother never let me feel her fears that she – as I know today – had when I moved away and she had no idea where I wanted to go. And in many cases, I myself didn’t know where I wanted to go either. I just took off where the sense of adventure led me, to discover the world.

Back then, we didn’t have GPS or smart­phones for navigation. I only understood why it was a good to learn Latin and Greek when I kept running into the roots of my European origins during my studies and during later years. One of my first trips as a student was to Athens.

Whatever it is: Every young person has to be able to deal with school. For some of them, it’s no big deal. You need to take advantage of the educa­tional oppor­tu­nities provided by the respective school and explore the world as an entre­preneur outside of school. You need to cut the cord from your parents. This will take you to the jumping-off point from where you can take the leap into life as a young adult.

Specialist skills aren’t enough!

Your profes­sional training starts after your general schooling. We acquire knowledge and experience in specia­liz­ation. You should be aware of the fact that while in today’s world, you cannot survive without expertise, that expertise is not enough to be able to lead a self-deter­mined life.

It’s risky to base your life on expertise alone,

  • since knowledge and experience today become obsolete ever faster due to new developments,
  • since more and more people are qualified in more and more areas of expertise and become compe­titors when jobs are awarded,
  • since processes that do not have to be custo­mized or require creativity are incre­a­singly performed by robots.

To reduce these risks, you need to know the corre­sponding theory in addition to profes­sional practice on the job with a focus on an area of expertise. Theory helps you to:

  • obtain and maintain an overview
  • follow the major developments
  • learn about others’ assessments
  • recognize links to the neigh­boring areas
  • be able to form your own opinion
  • prepare for profes­sional innova­tions early on.

People who don’t notice changes until they come about in their profes­sional field will hardly have an oppor­tunity to react to these changes on their own terms. They have to then accept what they are offered or what is left over for them. Profes­sional quali­fi­ca­tions you once acquired will play only a marginal role.

Conti­nuously focusing on your area of expertise in theory and practice can be exploited to conti­nuously improve your ability to learn. There is nothing that could be organized better, designed to save more time, recognized in more detail with its inter­con­nec­tions, thought through more compre­hen­sively, managed with a more syste­matic approach, and developed further over and over with new ideas.

This not only lets you remain compe­titive in your original area of expertise; but you can explore other areas of expertise as well, at least theore­ti­cally. It’s like learning a language: Once you have learned one or two foreign languages, learning every other language becomes easier.

Know your way around your markets!

Our life is organized based on the principle of give and take. Tit for tat. People who want to be wealthy have to offer goods and services that are hard to come by and are in great demand. The exchange of services occurs in markets. They give rise to prices so everyone knows how much they need to give – expressed in money – to be able to afford what they want to afford.

If you earn you money as an employed person, you have to be aware that our profes­sional perfor­mance is expressed in our income in terms of the valuation based on the demand by others. The level of our income depends on our profes­sional quali­fi­ca­tions. Academics earn more than high school dropouts. Since the valuation of what we are able to give takes place through markets on the part of demand, you should be knowled­geable about the markets you  take part in:

  • Who are the other suppliers?
  • Which quali­fi­ca­tions are offered?
  • Who are the employers?
  • Which current trends are there?

And many more other questions.

As customers, we know our way around the markets where we take on the role of the customer. But we should also know our way around on the markets where we are the suppliers. Not only producing our services, but also marketing them. Otherwise, you will be at the mercy of inter­me­di­aries who make money off the back of marketing our work perfor­mance. Having a self-deter­mined life not only includes being a specialist in your field, but also having market compe­tence for what you have to offer.

As an independent person, you need to be the producing and marketing entre­preneur on your own behalf. Anything else means giving yourself up a bit and other market parti­ci­pants will ruthlessly take advantage of that. Still others want to protect us from that and see themselves as offering us as some sort of guardians who purpor­tedly are acting on our behalf – obviously for some remune­ration charged as a fee. Except for if you wish your activities in your employment market to remain anonymous. Then you need a headhunter. If you don’t want to fall victim to one or the other, you can’t avoid acting as your own entre­preneur in the long term, both in your business and in your market.

Observe and improve your social behavior!

Because no one can live or work for himself alone in the long run, since others are always involved in the process of give and take, everyone needs to both be able to perform and market services and also be able to work together with others.

When the boys in my new neigh­borhood challenged me after I moved there with my family, I couldn’t assert myself at first. It took me a few weeks for me to free myself from the role of a “weakling”. The reason for me getting into this role was that I had lived in the countryside beforehand and had had very little contact with other kids my own age. So I never learned how to accept or carry out conflicts and I was not able to defend myself when I was picked on. I had to catch up on that. The pecking order in the group was confirmed or redefined with daily wrestling matches and dares.

Everyone bases their social behavior on what was formed for them during their childhood and youth due to their idiosyn­crasies and due to the impact of their parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, neighbors, educators, or teachers.  For most adults, the socia­liz­ation processes of their childhood and adolescence are recognizable. They assume that their develo­pment is prescribed, do not reflect it and also do not observe themselves regarding how others may perceive them or how they may appear towards others.

Some people like the way they are and feel it is up to other people to learn to deal with them. You sometimes also run into people who practi­cally challenge you to treat them dispa­ra­gingly, with downturned eyes, a weak handshake, despondent voice, and other signs that they lack self-confidence.

Neither self-satisfied people nor pussy­foots, and all the variants between these two types would ever consider trying to change themselves. They do not realize that everyone needs to develop as a person and that no one has to stay who they are and that they can change themselves at any time.

Life skills beyond supply and demand

Most people develop subject matter, market, and social compe­tence unevenly. Many people try to base their entire life on subject matter expertise while others try to hide their weaknesses in subject matter expertise and yet others are virtual sales geniuses when it comes to marketing their own person without actually being adequately skilled in terms of their expertise or social behavior. We all know ivory tower dwellers, show-offs, euphe­mists, windbags, charlatans, and wallflowers. This is what matters most: Improving regularly and conti­nuously in all three areas of compe­tence. These skills have to complement each other, not replace each other, or overlap.

The position you take on in a society depends on your expec­ta­tions for life and life goals combined with the charac­te­ristics and skills you developed. The machine operator and construction workers mentioned at the start of this chapter have developed excellent skills from the things they adopted during their childhood and youth and incor­po­rated into their adult life. But in the complex societies of the econo­mi­cally developed countries, they are unable to climb the ladder. They simply lack the requisite education with its credentials.

Nevertheless: There is a world beyond supply and demand. Both the machine operator and construction worker were solidly grounded in their large families and commu­nities of faith. They exuded confi­dence and a zest for life. They made sure that their children were good students. I got to know them as people with a vital confi­dence in life. You can neither buy this on markets nor can the government allocate it. If our life skills do not get stuck in a capacity for living defined exclu­sively by prosperity and hedonism, then we too can find this happiness beyond the markets.

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