Column

You Shouldn’t Have to Be Good at Your Job

Our economy has been optimized to the point that only elite workers truly thrive. Where does this leave the middle class?

Drew Magary
GEN
Published in
6 min readDec 18, 2019

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Photo: Paul Harizan/Getty Images

InIn 2011, Walter Isaacson published a now-canonical biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs that painted the man in full. Jobs was a visionary who believed his products would change the world (they did), but he never stopped to consider if that change would be for the better or not. He was also a terribly strange, entitled, and cruel man: verbally abusing his charges and service workers alike, parking in handicapped spots because he felt like it, etc. He was also, almost as a side pursuit, a cunning and ruthless businessman. That Machiavelli-as-altruist side of Jobs was on full display when, after returning from Apple after being forced out over a decade earlier, he laid off over 25% of employees from one division at a company stand-up. This is how he fired them:

“You guys failed. You’re a B team. B players. Too many people here are B or C players, so today we are releasing some of you to have the opportunity to work at our sister companies here in the valley.”

Steve Jobs is a brilliant book about a frustratingly brilliant man. It is also, in many ways, an ominous portent of how people can become horribly warped by the need to realize their own vision. But, in perhaps the most enervating thing about what has been an excruciatingly enervating decade for America, a parade of influential folks took Job’s life story not as a warning but as a PLAYBOOK for how to run things. CEOs, politicians, TV stars, your local TED speaker: They ALL want A players now. They refuse to be surrounded by anything other than the best of the best, and they want you to maintain similar standards as well. They want to win.

A middle class must, by definition, have middling people in it. Middling people are not winners. Is that a crime?

And indeed they have. We are a country of winners. The problem is that there are WAY too few of them among us. You can find any number of gasp-inducing charts to illustrate this fact. Here’s one:

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Drew Magary
GEN
Writer for

Columnist at GEN. Co-founder, Defector. Author of Point B.