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This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World by Marshall Brain, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9. For more information on the book please click here.

Chapter 5: You Must Have a Job to Live a Life

In Chapter 1 you saw how important money is. You need money so that you can pay rent and buy food. It is also nice to have extra money (discretionary income) that you can spend on luxuries, give to charities and so on. What you learned in the Chapter 1 is that it takes a remarkable amount of money to live what is considered to be a "normal" American lifestyle. It is this simple fact that forces you to get a job.

Most people miss this fact of life until they are well into their 20s or 30s. By then it is more difficult to do anything about it. If you start thinking about it as a teenager, however, you gain a tremendous amount of control over your life. Given that you have to have a job, why not have a fun one? Why not have a job you really enjoy? Why not have a job that pays you $100,000 per year or $1,000,000 per year rather than $20,000? Why not? You WILL have a job. There is no way around it. You might as well make it a good one.

If you look at life this way, then you can start to formulate four questions at a very early age:

  • What is a "good" job?
  • What do I need to do to get a good job?
  • What kind of jobs are out there?
  • How can I get better jobs throughout my life?
If you start asking and answering these questions now, as a teenager, when you have a lot of free time and no expenses, you are doing yourself a huge favor. You can accelerate the process tremendously. By the time you are 25 you will be well on your way while the rest of your peers are still standing around trying to figure out what is going on.

What Is a Good Job?

Here are some of the things you want to be thinking about as you consider your employment options. A good job has the following characteristics:

  • You enjoy it
  • It pays well
  • The payment model matches your personality
  • It gives you the opportunity to learn and grow
  • It has advancement potential
All of these elements are important. The first one, however, is the most important. You are going to be working 8 to 10 hours a day for the rest of your life. You might as well enjoy it. Chapter 6 discusses this topic in detail and shows you how to prepare yourself for a job you will enjoy. The "pays well" part is also nice but might be irrelevant if you are truly happy in your job. Given a choice between "truly happy" and "rich," most people would choose "truly happy" in an instant (see also Chapter 41). What fun is it to be rich if you are miserable?

The payment model is important because certain payment models work well for some people but not for others. There are several different payment models in use in this country. Here are a few examples:

  • Volunteer work—You receive no pay for your efforts.
  • Piece work—You receive a payment for completing a specific task. You might see this sort of payment model in a garment factory (where a person is paid for each piece of clothing he or she completes), but could also be considered the model for delivery companies, trucking companies, etc. that pay by the trip. Even a doctor, who charges each patient, is in a sense doing piece work.
  • Commission work—Similar to piece work but applied to sales positions. You are paid a percentage of each sale you make. This model is common for Realtors, car salesmen, etc.
  • Gratuity work—Some or most of your income comes from tips.
  • Hourly work—You are paid for each hour you spend on the job.
  • Salaried work—You are paid a fixed amount per year.
  • Self-employed—You own a business (a restaurant, printing company, consulting firm, car repair shop, lawn-care service, etc.) and you take home the profits from that business (see Chapter 44).
You can have a good job under any of the different payment models listed above. For example, if you are making $50 or $75 an hour you are doing very well, and that hourly rate is common for both high-end software developers and high-end electricians, plumbers and welders. High-end sales people working on a commission basis can make a very good living under the commission model. For example, Realtors typically make 7% on the sale of a house (to be technically accurate, the listing agent takes half and the selling agent takes half and the realty office takes a cut as well, but you get the idea). Therefore, a Realtor who lists and sells just one $200,000 house every month can do extremely well. If you are an actor getting paid per show you are doing piece work, and if you are making $10,000 per weekly show you are doing very well indeed. Waiters and waitresses at a fancy restaurant can clear $40,000 per year on tips alone (1997). The point is, you can make good money under lots of different payment models. The key is to find the model that best fits your personality.

When most people think of a "good job" what they have in mind is a salaried position. A typical low-end salaried position has the following characteristics in 1997:

  • Pays $30,000 per year
  • Provides free or low-cost health insurance for the employee and family
  • Possibly provides other types of insurance: dental, life, disability and so on
  • Provides at least two weeks of paid vacation time per year
  • Provides some amount of paid sick time
  • Provides a 401(k) retirement plan with some level of employer matching
  • Provides a good level of "upward mobility," meaning that you can see a promotion path to better positions in the future


A good job is normally part of a good career. A career, according to Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, is "the pursuit of consecutive, progressive achievement especially in public, professional or business life," and also, "a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling." As you build up skill in a certain area it makes it easy for you to advance to new jobs in that area. The result is a long career in a certain job category.

As an example, let’s say your first job is as a car salesman. You move between several different dealerships, eventually becoming a manager of sales at a large dealership. You have a career in "automotive sales" as a result. Or perhaps you move from car sales to heavy equipment sales and then electronics. You have a broad career in "sales." If you were to work in sales, then in the service department and then in purchasing, you could start your own dealership. Then you have a career as an "automobile dealer and businessperson." If you start as a car salesman to learn the ropes of sales, get a college degree in electrical engineering and then focus exclusively on computers, electronics and eventually the sale of satellite transponders to corporate clients, you have a career in "technical sales."

Compared to a minimum wage hourly job, a salaried arrangement looks very nice. For example, in an hourly job you can take vacation or get sick, but your income is cut off during the time you are out. The "upward mobility" part of a salaried position is also important. Once you are in a company, you have the opportunity to rise to higher positions as you gain experience.

The fact that you are only making an hourly minimum wage right now tells you something. You are only "worth" $5 an hour. How do you earn more? What might make you more valuable? How do you find a "good job" for yourself? The following chapters will help you to understand what makes the difference between a minimum wage worker and a highly paid professional.

This is a chapter from the book The Teenager's Guide to the Real World, ISBN 1-9657430-3-9, published by BYG Publishing, Inc. For more information on ordering a copy of the book, click here.

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Keywords: teenagers, teenager, teen age, teenage, teens, teen, adolescents, adolescent, parents, parent