Sam Holstein

Read This Before You Quit Your Minimum-Wage Job

Read This Before You Quit Your Minimum-Wage Job

There are few things which are more universal than the complaints of people who work a minimum wage job.

Those complaints completely justified, of course. There are also very few things more dehumanizing than the nature of minimum-wage customer-service jobs. So when people tell me they hate their jobs because they’re monotonous, low-paying, dehumanizing places of misery, I’m sympathetic. If it were me working a minimum wage job, I’d quit my job and opt to be homeless instead.

But when the same people tell me, “fuck it, I’m going to quit this job,” I always think the same thing to myself:

“What are you going to do instead?”

Here’s What You Are Probably Going To Do

You are probably going to spend a week or two relaxing, playing video games, and trying to decompress from your dehumanizing manual labor job. I support this. But after you run out of money, when it comes time to find another job, what are you going to do?

If you don’t have a plan, you are going to have to get another dehumanizing job. Eight months from now, you’ll be as miserable as you are today. Why? Because the circumstances that forced you into your shitty job haven’t changed.

You can’t get a better job just because you want it. To get a better job, you need experience.

For many people working minimum wage, this sets them up in a double bind. You need experience to get a better job, but to get experience, someone has to give you a better job!This double-bind creates a vicious cycle that traps people in poverty.

How To Escape The Vicious Cycle

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to go from minimum-wage-job to minimum-wage-job forever. Unlike many people throughout history, you are blessed enough to live in a world where you can escape the cycle.

The bad news is it’s challenging. There are only three ways I know of to escape this cycle, and all of them suck:

  1. Work your way up the corporate ladder until you are no longer a minimum-wage employee.
  2. Go to college for a lucrative vocation like accounting or software engineering. While also working a minimum wage job.
  3. Turn yourself into a solopreneur: teach yourself a valuable skill using the internet, start a side hustle to demonstrate your capability with this skill, and find a highly paid job utilizing this skill. While also working a minimum wage job.

I’ve seen #1 work for people, but I’ve never done it myself. Here is my understanding of how to do this: tell your boss you would like them to promote you and ask them what they would need from you for that to happen. Do what they ask. Rise and repeat.

I’ve seen people attempt #2. The key word here is attempt. Students are often under the impression that merely having a degree means they’ll get work in their field — that is not the case. To get work in your field (indeed, in any field), it’s less important that you have a degree and more important that you have business skills, such as resume creation, the ability to network, and the ability to present yourself professionally. Universities don’t tell students this, so students often spend 4–6 years slaving away at their degree only to find that nobody is willing to give them a job when they graduate and they don’t even know why. This leaves them in the same position as they started, rotating between minimum wage jobs, only now they’re five years older and have student loans to pay as well. If you’re interested in going back to school (which I don’t recommend), you need to have a game plan for how you will leverage your university program to secure better work.

Therefore, the way I recommend is way #3 — become an entrepreneur. Teach yourself some valuable skills and build something using them for free. Then, market yourself aggressively until someone decides to hire you or your side hustle takes off. They call this becoming a solopreneur.

How To Become A Solopreneur

Becoming a solopreneur consists of three main steps:

  1. Teach yourself a valuable skill. It takes most people about three months of working fifteen hours a week to reach a level of competency that people are willing to pay for.
  2. Start a side hustle. This side hustle serves two purposes: It demonstrates your capability with this skill to a potential employer and it builds an audience for your work to which you can later sell things. Continue to work this hustle, even if it feels like it will never take off.
  3. Start freelancing to build a portfolio of completed work. Take as many jobs as you can, even if they don’t pay you a living wage. Your aim here is not to make money, but to build a portfolio of completed work and gain professional experience. Once you have this portfolio, you can use it to gain employment that does pay a living wage.

You continue doing these activities for free until either a) someone decides to hire you full-time for your valuable skill or b) your side hustle takes off.

What Skills Can You Learn?

The library of valuable skills you could teach yourself is vast, but there is a specific kind which is best for you to focus on: anything you can do with only a computer and an internet connection. These kinds of skills are best because they don’t require much upfront investment and there are many people who want to hire people with these skills.

These skills include, but are not limited to:

Why These Skills?

Every single skill I listed above is something that is:

  1. Very easy to learn: takes less than six months, requires no special equipment other than a computer, and does not require you to pay for any coursework.
  2. Very easy to demonstrate: You don’t need anyone to pay you to put these skills on your resume. You can do work for yourself, and list that work on your resume.
  3. Very easy to find work in: freelance gigs for these skills are available all over the internet, especially on sites like Upwork, making it easy to build your portfolio.

This is the exact manner in which I became a writer. I was working in a completely unrelated career, doing something I didn’t like very much, and I was tired of it. So I made a plan to become a writer. It was a simple plan:

  1. Read as many books as I possibly could (learn how to write)
  2. Make a Medium account, publish three times a week (start a side hustle, demonstrate I can write)
  3. Get freelance writing gigs at (build my portfolio of work, gain professional experience)

My simple plan worked. 12 months later, I had my first full-time writing job as a content writer for an AI company. It came with healthcare, sick days, vacation, a laptop, and a salary for more money than I’d ever made in my life.

Getting out of your minimum wage job is simple. Pick a skill, practice it fifteen hours a week for three to six months, do work for yourself (build an app, create a portfolio, write articles), use that work to get low-paying freelance work, use that work to get high paying freelance work, and use that work to get a real job.

To Quit Or Not To Quit (Your Day Job)

In those first few months and years of work, every solopreneur has a choice. They can work a day job and work on their company, which gives them enough money to survive, but requires them to work two jobs. Or they can quit their day job and only work on their new company, which gives them plenty of time to focus but often leaves them below the poverty line.

I chose to live below the poverty line. I was freelancing as a new writer, and when you’re a new writer, people won’t pay you anything. The only way to convince people to hire you as a writer when you have no portfolio and no experience is to bribe them with one free article, and the rest at an extremely reduced rate. It’s common for freelance writers who are starting out to make no more than 1¢ a word. (At that pay rate, this entire article would only earn me $15). To make a meaningful amount of money, it took a lot of writing.

I was also writing for Medium’s brand new Partner Payment Program. I’m now able to support myself off of my Partner Program income, but that’s only after close to two years of writing for Medium. For many months, writing for the Partner Program was effectively the same as unpaid work.

I had to spend a lot of time on unpaid overhead work as well. I spent a lot of time managing my writer website, reading books to improve my writing skill, watching online courses about how to write, and all the rest. And of course, none of this was directly compensated in any way at all.

All this added up to a lot of work for very little money. I was regularly overworked, and even when I wasn’t, I was too broke to spend my free time doing anything that required money.

For about a year I lived this way, perpetually near the poverty line and always worried each freelancing check would be my last.

It Was Worth It

Through it all, I had no idea what I was doing. Nobody guaranteed me a writing job at the end of the rainbow. There were more than a few nights I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, wondering if I was wasting my time, wondering if I was driving myself crazy with financial and career stress for no reason, wondering if I would be better off just finding a regular job, giving up on my dreams of being a traveling writer, buying an Xbox, and living the best life I could with what I had.

I am so glad I didn’t.

First, I got a job writing for an AI company. After eight months at that job, I struck out on my own as a high-budget freelancer. I got a gig writing business proposals for another company. Then, 22 months after I started writing for Medium, my Partner Program paychecks got so high I could quit freelancing altogether. I’m not juggling freelancing clients and writing jobs and writing for Medium anymore; I have more free time and more money than I’ve ever had in my life, 24 months after I’d decided I’d had enough. None of that would have happened if I wasn’t willing to go through the 12 months of suck.

The idea of working for pennies for two years building an unexciting skill like writing or Java proficiency probably doesn’t sound very fun to you. Much of the time, it isn’t. But it is worth it.

Success Takes A Long Time

I meet too many people who start teaching themselves something, don’t experience instant success, and then decide it’s boring. Instant success doesn’t happen, not really. Sometimes it happens to strangers on the internet, but it’s not going to happen to you, and it’s definitely not going to happen to you if you plan on it happening.

What you should plan on is this: plan on working two jobs for at least 24 months. And instead of having more money like other people do when they work two jobs, plan on having even less money. Plan on also giving up fun activities like drinking with friends, playing hours of video games, and going for frequent fun weekend road trips. You will be able to take the occasional night out or the occasional road trip, but you won’t be able to live young, wild, and free. You won’t have the time or money for it anymore.

And it will be worth it.

You Have A Choice

The choice isn’t whether you quit your minimum-wage job right now because it doesn’t really matter if you do or not. If you quit right now, you’ll end up at another.The choice you have is whether you are still going to be working a shitty minimum-wage job 24 months from now. Are you going to spend your free time over the next 24 months playing video games, watching TV, smoking, drinking, or otherwise goofing off? Or are you going to spend it learning valuable skills, freelancing for pennies, and demonstrating you can do the work?

One option leads to continued misery. The other leads to a way out. The choice is yours.