Don't say the 'e' word

Dan Benjamin's latest podcast, Quit!, wasn't really created for me. At least, I'm pretty sure it wasn't. But that hasn't stopped me from listening to every episode so far.

I was reflecting today on why I listen to this show. I'm not interested in quitting what I do. In fact, I sorta already did that back in September when I left my corporate actuarial position to work full-time on my previously part-time role in online actuarial education.

So in a sense, I guess, I represent what a lot of the listeners of Quit! want to be—someone who had the stones to stop doing something they weren't fully emotionally invested in to do something they were.

But I think the real reason I listen is because I have this insatiable urge to be around people who have any kind of entrepreneurial spirit. Quit! fills a void in my ears. It's a form of entrepreneurial entertainment that doesn't exist, at all, in mainstream American culture.

In 2013, mainstream cable television remains obsessed with archetypal twentieth century careers. How many shows about doctors and lawyers can you fit between the hours of 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM? Maybe it's not a coincidence that two of the most bemoaned and expense-bloated industries of modern America also boast the most romanticized career paths.

Which leads me to an aspect of Quit! that really troubles me. . .

A lot of people who call into the show are 18 to 25, and they sound trapped. Truly trapped. These are people with no kids. They aren't married. They really have no responsibility to anyone but themselves—and they have the voice of a burned-out 45-year-old with four kids, a resetting mortgage on an upside-down home, two car payments, and a deck of maxed-out credit cards.

Why are these people, barely out of childhood, already so afraid of change and so unable to take any kind of risk?

As Cameron Herold said in his 2010 TED Talk, kids just don't grow up around entrepreneurial role models. Instead, they're groomed to conform to traditional career paths. And when they get too close to the electric fence that guards socialized education, they're shocked back inside. Many of the behaviors of highly successful entrepreneurs, even CEOs, are punished in school.

And so when someone, even early in life, gets an itch to do something that doesn't conform to social stereotypes, it's met with a paralyzing mental dissonance. If America was a polytheist society, Risk would surely play a Satanic role.

This is a serious modern economic problem—one that no one seems to be talking about.

For every kid that wants to grow up to be a doctor or lawyer, we really need a thousand kids that want to go out into the world and solve other business and social problems.

I truly believe that job creation will happen naturally as more entrepreneurs enter this century. As I said recently, it's ironic that we're so short on jobs in a time of problem surplus. The boilerplate careers from the last century just aren't solving today's problems, and no amount of government stimulus is going to grow jobs in the infertile soil of last century's fields.

So parents, I guess this is for you:

If you have kids, understand that they are not going to learn to make their own success and their own rules in grade school. They are not going to learn it in college, and they are most certainly not going to learn it in a cubicle. That leaves you. Cameron's talk has some great tips for fostering the entrepreneurial spirit in young kids.

Good luck to you, and God help me and his teachers when my son enters grade school.