A Teachable Moment: to the Young Person Who Complained About Her Job/Pay at Yelp and Was Promptly Fired

You identified two problems but do not propose any solutions to either one, and you missed the two real problems.

This open letter from a young customer support employee of Yelp in San Francisco to her CEO has garnered a variety of comments that display a common bifurcation: some are sympathetic to her struggle to get by in a very costly region on a modest salary, while others wonder if the letter is an Onion parody of clueless entitlement: An Open Letter To My CEO.

My B.A. is in philosophy, which has a similar market value to your degree in English, i.e. near-zero. But this doesn’t mean my training in philosophy has no value; it simply means you can’t walk up to a potential employer and say, “Hi, I have a degree in philosophy, hire me.”I am sympathetic to anyone who arrives in a very competitive “big city” with no local contacts and not a lot of experience or specialized training. That describes me when I arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area a few decades ago.

The value is only reaped by applying what you have learned. Studying philosophy taught me a number of specific analytic skills: to seek out false assumptions and identify problems and potential solutions. If you can’t frame the problem accurately and coherently, it’s impossible to identify any useful solutions.

These skills have served me well, despite my “worthless” degree. Though nobody had any sound reason to pay me a lot of money simply because I had a B.A. in philosophy, life presents a constant flow of problems that need to be analyzed in ways that enable the development of solutions.

In other words, there is a super-abundance of opportunities to apply what I learned.

Taking my own experience as an employee, employer, business owner and entrepreneur, I’ve condensed what I’ve learned about creating value (i.e. earnings) and the emerging economy of a book: Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

It is less a career-guidance book and more of an explanation of how the economy actually works. It covers the eight essential skills you need to successfully navigate the economy as it is, not as we wish it was.

Rather than tell you the book is useful, I’ll apply what’s in it.

I don’t think your age, gender, ethnicity, etc. is relevant. Anyone can apply what I’m sharing.

You have identified what you perceive as your two big problems: the cost of living in the S.F. Bay Area is very high, and your pay is too modest to enable the lifestyle you anticipated/expected.

You identified these two problems but do not propose any solutions to either one, and you missed the two real problems. Problems don’t solve themselves; problem-solving requires analysis, diligence and a willingness to learn from others, to experiment and fail–not once, but continually.

You did not identify the third problem: your expectations are completely misaligned with reality. The S.F. Bay Area is one of the most attractive, stimulating, dynamic urban regions in the world, and it attracts capital and talent from all over the globe.

The demand to live and work here outstrips the supply of dwellings and high-paying jobs, so the costs of living are very high and the pay for labor is low unless you’re able to take advantage of specific skills or social contacts.

Many of the people who come here seeking work are highly educated, experienced, creative, ambitious, hard-working, dedicated, etc., and many possess enviable social skills (social capital).

If you intend to find work here (i.e. if you don’t have a large monthly income from a trust fund), you will be competing against extremely competitive, ambitious people, many of whom focus not on the hardships but on the opportunities. Expecting to outcompete these people for a high-paying job is unrealistic unless you have competitive skills, a strong work ethic, abundant social and human capital, etc.

Whatever you lack, you will have to acquire in order to be competitive in this environment.

if you want a degree that opens doors, earn a Ph.D. in EE/CS from UC Berkeley or Stanford, or get top marks in your Stanford/Haas School (UCB) MBA program.

For the rest of us mere mortals, credentials don’t offer much advantage, as this is one of the most over-credentialed locales on the planet.

The question is: what can you do to create value? It’s not so much a matter of having job skills or experience; it’s how those can be applied to create value–either for your employer or for your own enterprise.

So the real problem you have is: what can you do to increase your value creation and thus your earnings? “Unfair” doesn’t count. Labor has a market value, end of story. Unfortunately, there is an oversupply of labor around the world and a scarcity of high-paying jobs.

It may seem like there is an abundance of high-paying jobs in the Bay Area because we’re in the bubble factory of the world, but this is only a reflection of frothy VC-fueled valuations of zero-profit companies and highly paid employees’ ability to make their employers obscene amounts of money.

if you want to earn $100,000, you need to bring in $500,000 in revenues for your employee, minimum.

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