Were You Taught to Earn The Wheelbarrow Way?

Were You Taught to Earn The Wheelbarrow Way?


They can’t be blamed. They were doing the best they could with what they had. But when past generations handed their wisdom on to us, more often than not, they gave us a blessing and a curse. And most of us can’t spot the difference.

Here’s what happened in my family:

My grandmother worked in a manor house in Manchester. Arriving early at work each day, she wore the full maid’s uniform, carried the feather duster, and had all the accessories that we associate today with the sexy French maid stereotype. But it wasn’t like that.

This was a woman who had calluses on her hands, and no voice in the face of authority. This was a woman whose means barely outstripped her needs for the duration of her lifetime. She was what Dr Graeme Codrington, expert in generational norms, calls ‘The Silent Generation.’

And so, when it came time to pass on wisdom about the world of work to my father, she went rummaging around in her mental filing cabinets and selected two things. The first was a Protestant work ethic, and that was the blessing. The second was ‘working class ideas about wealth and earning.’ And that was the curse. And I’ve spent the last twenty years trying to unravel it and escape it.

The wheelbarrow way

The working classes are taught the Wheelbarrow Way. They teach it to their children, and so the ensuing generations remain poor. Hard working. But poor. TheWheelbarrow Way goes like this:

‘My son, you are young and healthy. Pick up your wheelbarrow. Go and fill it with bricks. If you want to earn coins, you must push your wheelbarrow for a number of hours. Each hour you push your wheelbarrow, my son, you will earn a coin. If you want more coins, you must push your wheelbarrow for more hours.”

And so the trap is set.

Working class ideas about wealth are interesting. At their core, they teach that work is noble, but money is not. Money, in fact, is shameful. And it is entirely possible to follow working class ideas to complete poverty. In their thrall, you can work very hard indeed, and still die bone-grindingly poor.

The working class solution to poverty is interesting too: “If you’re not paying the bills, then you are not working hard enough. You must get a second wheelbarrow, and in the evenings, you must push it around for more coins. “

The Epiphany of the Wealthy

High-earners and entrepreneurs quickly realize that the trick is to dump the bricks and carry gold. In other words, they see the importance of raising the value of their labour, the value of their offering, so that less hours equates to more coins.

That’s the key to wealth. That’s the key to escaping working-class income levels. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Most people will never have that epiphany. And that’s why they’ll stay poor.

So how do you practically go about raising the value of what you do?

Here are two options:

1. Become More Valuable Per Hour

Your first option is to raise the worth of your hourly labour. You can do this by studying further, taking courses, or investing in learning, so that your qualification entitles you to more money for the same number of working hours. Additionally, as you gain experience in your job, you may get pay increases.

But you can also increase the value of your labouring hour outside of traditional employment, by positioning yourself as an expert. Become the big name in your industry, and the deals and the money start coming to you. Moreover, a prominent public profile changes the scale of your remuneration. The average business consultant might earn x for his input and ideas. But Richard Branson will earn x plus three more zeroes, simply because he is Richard Branson. He has raised the value of his name, and it alters his remuneration.

2. Escape the Hour-Concept Entirely

Individuals who sell and do deals have learned that that one important hand-shake can be worth half a years’ salary. And so their emphasis is not on ‘putting in hours,’ but on ‘landing deals.’

Others have learned to develop passive income streams, for example, by selling books. While they sleep, people pay them money, and as such, they have escaped the hours-equation. Certainly, they had to put the hours in initially. But after that, their gains simply continue, and often grow exponentially.

And you needn’t think about selling anything as boring as widgets. Take Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the comic-strip ‘Peanuts.’ He sold a three-panel comic strip, over and over, to newspapers around the world, for fifty years. Forbes lists him as the 4th highest posthumous celebrity earner for 2012, ahead of John Lennon!

Others still have learned to scale up what they do. Once they discovered that there was market value in their offering, they hired others or created systems that could multiply their effectiveness.

Raising your value is not as difficult as it may sound. You need to solve important problems, which are worth money to people or organizations. You need to sell en mass. You need to create things that keep selling after you have input your labour. You need to raise the intrinsic value of your name and brand, through enhancing public perception of you. You need to scale up the valuable thing you do, so that you are not limited by your own capacity. You need to offer more to those who already like what you sell or do.

Above all, you need to question the thinking that was handed down to you. Can you remember hearing phrases like, “Get a trade, and you’ll never go hungry”? Or, “Get a steady job, be grateful and don’t make waves”? Or, “Money is the root of all evil”? If so, you have inherited unexamined ideas. They’re like racism. We can accept them without question. Or we can unravel them, extricate what value they may have, dismiss the rest as outdated, and move beyond them.

Personally, I’m dumping the bricks and carrying gold. How about you?

Watch a video on this topic: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbsNuStRS5M&feature=g-upl

Douglas Kruger
Douglas Kruger is the only speaker in Africa to have won the Southern African Championships for Public Speaking a record five times. He is the author of ‘50 Ways to Become a Better Speaker,’ published in South Africa and Nigeria, ‘50 Ways to Position Yourself as an Expert,’ and co-author of ‘So You’re in Charge. Now What? 52 Ways to Become a Better Leader.’ See Douglas in action, or read his articles, at www.douglaskruger.co.za. Email him at Kruger@compute.co.za, or connect with him on Linked In or Twitter: @DouglasKruger
  • I am also dumping the bricks…

  • who would still be carrying the bricks after reading this? i think it is a great article with workable ideas. thank you and keep us inspired.

  • amazing! !!!