Yesterday I was doing a lot of thinking about some of the discussion here regarding earning a living. I hadn’t intended when I took this column on to make it an entrepreneur’s’ journal and certainly not a “make money online” column, although these are my current ‘hot button’ subjects. But I am of an age where I can look back at 50-odd years of life experience and think about successes I have had and areas where I probably didn’t make the right choices. I am also sensitive to the turmoil in a lot of people’s lives as they consider thing like perhaps making a huge change in their lives by moving to the Philippines … what’s the right time, if ever, to do something like that and if such a move is right, whenever might be the right time.
And how on earth could I earn a living and what can I do if I can’t find a job? Along with these thoughts come years of discussions with people often struggling with this issue which frankly can get a bit tedious at times because, from a country that was built on entrepreneurship and self-reliance we, speaking for myself and the Americans I know, seem to have ‘shrunk’ to a fraction of our ancestor’s size … building our lives around what other people tell us is ‘safe’ and making sure we finish our years never ‘taking a risk’ because everybody knows risk is wrong and the best move is always to ‘play it safe.
Well I could go back to Colonial times when 13 well-off colonies of great Britain took it upon themselves to break free from the ‘mother country’ and form our own. Oh course virtually the only citizens of the original colonies who had jobs, with benefits at that time were workers employed by the King of England … most of the dissatisfied Colonists who wanted to break away were independent storekeepers, farmers, mill owners and newspaper publishers. The ones who wanted to strike out on their own didn’t have Social Security, Medicaid, pensions, tenure, FDIC and all the other safety nets that make our life so secure today. Do you think the US could even be formed today? I doubt it. Wouldn’t be ‘safe’. Wouldn’t be prudent. Wait a while and ‘the government’ will make everything right.
So let’s look at something a little closer in time and smaller in scale than ‘nation building’. In 1881 the Denver and Rio Grande railroad forged a whole network of narrow-gauge (only three feet between the rails) railroads through the Colorado Rockies to tap the rich gold, silver and lumber ventures being formed.
Over the next century the railroads evolved, some were made full-size, others were abandoned or sold, but overall a lot of money was made. One hundred years later there were only two major pieces of the narrow gauge empire left, the most photogenic one being the line from Durango Colorado through the Animas River canyon to the town of Silverton. The railroad company was still very much a going concern, making a lot of money hauling coal for power plants among many other freight sources. But they had a terrible, terrible problem that they spent a fortune telling the world and lobbying Washington about. It was going to drive them out of business, it was terrible, the government was “killing” them.
The “problem” was the antique “Silverton train”. A corporation in the 1980’s in America could not possibly make money running an antique steam railroad, and, at that time, government regulations prohibited the parent company from doing what they wanted to do … abandoning the toy-like, horribly old-fashioned steam trains. I mean it didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out … everyone knows that you can’t succeed by being different and by doing something no one else does. Help us, help us please.
Well, they got their wish. During the Reagan era (the Great Deregulator) the D&RG got permission to abandon their unique and horribly unprofitable steam trains. End of story and happy ending in sight, correct? Well, yes, but not in the way the “security experts” would have predicted.
A fellow named Charles E. Bradshaw refused to listed to government and private industry “experts” who know all about security and the “right way” to do things. He formed the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad Company, took over the worthless, antiquated equipment (which the original, professional railroad owners didn’t even consider worth hauling away for scrap) and put together what is now, by far, the most well-known and profitable passenger railroad operation in the world. Trains are booked for months in advance. Ticket prices run upwards of $45 USD one way for a child) on up into the hundreds of dollars for a chance to ride in the cab and covered with cinders and soot for a couple hours. Worthless? Well you sure wouldn’t think so to look at it today.
The point we all can learn from Bradshaw and the “Silverton Train”? Experts are just one source of opinion. The ‘ordinary’ way is just one of many ways to do things. And belief in the dream that you, and you alone, decide is the best for you is more important than every expert, every government caution label and every piece of advice from those who want to see you stay right there in the same place as they are. Perhaps because they truly care about you, or perhaps so they themselves won’t feel bad bad when you’ve succeeded and they have stagnated.
This train that we are riding today, (life) runs but for a short time, and then we never get another ticket. At the end of the line do you want to be a Charles Bradshaw or a Philip Anschutz, (the last CEO of the D&RG who despite government help and relief from terrible ‘burden’ of the narrow-gauge lines couldn’t last past 1996 and folded the company … doing all the while doing what the ‘experts’ told him and playing it safe.