What It Was like Earning a Living 20 Years ago

Growing up in the 90s


Jameel Randeree

2 years ago | 6 min read

I’m a millennial that is about to put on his “boomer” shoes to tell you a short story about how work-life was back in the day.

Is it that much different than it is now? Are things so much better or easier now? Were the youth in the early 2000s much more intellectual than the youth of today?

These are some of the questions I hope to answer here. Hopefully, the 21-year-old reading this will realize the amount of opportunity there is out there today.

Or maybe they will tell me to shut up!

Growing up in the 90s

Like the show Friends, only those with formal education and a degree had a good chance of success. Yes, I’m talking about Ross.

We were raised to believe that without a college education, you would have no chance of achieving a successful lifestyle. So it was either you studied hard until your mid-20s to get a degree and live the life, or you didn’t go college and lived a mediocre-to-poor lifestyle.

This belief inspired a bunch of overachievers and underachievers in my generation. My friends in school were either “going places” or “going nowhere.”

I personally really wanted to go to college, get a degree, and live a successful life as a professional Graphic Designer. However, I ended up not going to design school, even after being accepted because my dad couldn’t afford to pay for it at the time.

This crushed my dreams and plans for a better life and sent me spiraling down towards a simple, more inferior lifestyle. Or so I thought.

Trying to Find a Job in the 2000s

I had no work experience or qualifications when I began looking for work. All I had was a fair working knowledge of computers.

This helped me land my first job in the spares department of a VW dealership. People were still getting around to using computers back then. However, computers were becoming more and more essential to operating bigger businesses.

Photo by Pedro Santos on Unsplash
Photo by Pedro Santos on Unsplash

Hiring someone even with a little computer experience was a significant advantage. It was easier to train someone on work procedures and tasks than to teach people how to use computers.

I worked hard and learned a lot in my three years there. But sadly, I made little strides in earning a decent salary.

When I eventually left, I had to train someone to do my work. This guy had no work experience and didn’t know a lick about computers. I had to teach him from scratch.

When I look at where my friends were at that point in our lives, most of the guys that had engineering or medical degrees were thriving. I was left to hustle it out at the bottom.

Starting from the Bottom

In the early 2000s, if you had no formal qualifications, you would have to start right at the bottom of a company and slowly work your way to a decent salary. The difference today is that many countries are not allowed to pay staff below their minimum wage.

Back then, you got lower than the minimum when starting. I don’t see anything wrong with this because some companies hire a person with no experience. I can’t see myself being paid more for having almost no experience.

On the other hand, I also understand how companies can abuse the system by paying people below the minimum wage. I earned so little at first, and of course, everything went straight into partying it up with my friends!

However, after three years, I realized the experience gained was valuable. I moved to a larger city and got a high-paying job based on those three years of experience from my crummy first job.

It took me about a decade of hard work and promotions to earn a respectable salary for a 30-something-year-old man.

I recently started a new career and business online. It took me less than two years to earn more than what I used to earn at the height of my old career.

Key Takeaways

  • The traditional system of starting from the bottom is an extremely slow way to progress in your career.
  • I initially thought that if you had no formal qualifications, you had no chance of being successful. Funnily enough, I came across so many people with degrees that either had no jobs or worked for minimum wage. So for a while now, degrees don’t necessarily guarantee success.
  • When I just turned 20, it was impossible to find work related to my skills. I just had to take what I got. Today, you can try out so many different avenues online, like being an influencer or YouTuber. You can even become a freelancer and do basic graphic design and slowly work your way up.

How Did People Hustle Back Then

As far as I know, there was not much of a hustle culture back in the early 2000s as there is today. If you wanted to start a business from scratch, you needed a substantial amount of cash, hence the saying “money talks.”

Today, you can start a business with zero funding and bootstrap your startup to success.

Our way of hustling back then was to get a job, learn the ropes, and progress till you find a better paying job. So, theoretically, if you jump through 3 different positions within five years while continually asking for a higher salary, then you will see a drastic increase in your wage in 5 years.

This strategy is great until you become too costly to pay. Only a few companies will be willing to pay above the market value for staff.

Things are drastically different now. The world is your oyster! You can apply for work halfway around the world and still manage to communicate effectively with clients and meet deadlines.

Back in the 2000s, the pressure was really high to perform so that you didn’t lose your job. There was a limit to the number of companies that would hire you in your area or city. Now you can continue applying for work with companies globally.

Key Takeaways

  • Funding was an absolute necessity in the past to build a physical business.
  • People moved around a lot to earn higher salaries. It was the quickest way to get ahead back then.
  • It’s so much easier to start an online business today with little to no funding.
  • You can also earn income online as a second job on evenings or weekends.

How Easy Do We Have It Now?

As mentioned earlier, you can build a career online more quickly than you would at a physical job (in most cases or circumstances). Online jobs were non-existent 20 years ago, which is why people today certainly have an advantage over people in the past.

Also, we have an endless amount of information at our fingertips. You don’t have to study graphic design anymore formally. You can turn pro by watching a bunch of YouTube tutorials as you go along.

The process can be as easy as landing a job to design a logo, watch a couple of YouTube videos, design the logo, submit, and get paid.

Sure I might seem like I’m downplaying the process above. However, I have done this countless times.

Jumping in the deep end, figuring out how to do something on-the-job, submitting your work, making changes, and getting paid is all about gaining experience and increasing your skills.


After reflecting upon the last 20 years of my adult working life, I am more than excited about the opportunities that are literally at our doorstep today.

I can start an entirely new career tomorrow and progress quickly enough to earn a respectable income within a few years. This wasn’t possible before. I tried endlessly to change industries, but I couldn’t catch a break.

If you have made it this far and you are reading this, I suggest you appreciate today’s opportunities. Take advantage of them, continuously build your skills, work hard, and you will be young and successful!

Unlike me — Young and broke!


Created by

Jameel Randeree

Advanced Online Marketer, Content Manager, and Writer for This is where I share my most valuable marketing lessons, mistakes, and career goals.







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