I’ve been noticing more and more personal development “experts” knocking people that have jobs and pretty much calling them inferior. Some go as far as calling them slaves. A few years ago, I would have shared their opinion (but not nearly as strongly). However, two things have changed my mind. First, I’ve met a number of people that actually very happy with their jobs and the work-life balance that it gives them. But the big eye opener for me was when I taught my first Job Interview class a few years back — half the people in the room were business owners looking to get back into a nine to five position.
I was taken completely off-guard with this — every entrepreneur I had ever meet (and I had met a few hundred through the years) never looked back and would never consider working for someone else. After the class, I spoke to a few of them for a while and learned some interesting things. The first was that being a small business owner is a very tough career path — and just like a regular job, can take its toll on you. Anyone that has ever owned a small business knows this — in fact, in “Rich Dad, Poor Dad
” Robert Kiyosaki points out that many small business owners are as bad (and sometimes, worse) off than working stiffs. But the other thing was that they wanted more time with their families and friends. One gentleman told me he was sick of working 80+ hours a week while his kids were growing up and his parents were dying. It sure got me to think a little differently.
So while all this didn’t convince me that working for someone else is always better than working for yourself, I did get me to realize that the personal development folks are being a bit harsh and a bit out of touch with reality. Both the employed and the self-employed can be considered slaves or can be the ideal career for a given individual. Let’s take a closer look.
Slaves in the work place:
There’s no doubt that many (if not most) workers are unhappy with their current work environment. Some of the factors that contribute to this unease may include:
- Bad boss.
- Low pay and poor benefits.
- Few or no opportunities for advancement.
- Office politics.
- Fear of job loss through downsizing.
- High stress.
As someone who has experienced all of these points, you certainly can feel like a slave to the daily grind or a rat in the proverbial “rat race”. Having the infamous “boss from hell” can certainly affect your self-esteem and make you feel worthless. Low pay and sub-par benefits can make you depressed, as can constantly being passed over for promotions. Office politics and tight deadlines lead to stress, anxiety and can destroy your self worth. And nothing keeps you up at night more than wondering if tomorrow will be the day you’re downsized.
But work isn’t bad for everyone. For many, it’s a place where they can be social, have freedom to put their skills and creativity to work and challenge themselves in a healthy way. And some simply like being able to work a fixed set of hours each week for a steady paycheck. For people who want to spend nights, weekends and holidays with their families, this isn’t a bad option — provided you have a job you like. For others, you may get free perks like travel, training and other benefits most business owners couldn’t even imagine.
Of course, many people simply lack the desire or ability to run a business. While one can take courses to learn skills to help run a business, they may not have the desire to work the hours, perform all the necessary duties or keep up with the latest trends.
Slaves to their business:
It’s hard to think of business owners as slaves (unless you’ve run a small business). After all, some of the freedoms and benefits that you get when you own your own business include:
- You don’t need to answer to a boss and can make your own decisions.
- You can choose what projects to work on, what services to offer, where to work out of and which hours to work.
- If a client gives you too much trouble, you can stop doing business with them.
- When you work hard, you’re the one that benefits from your efforts.
- Your advancement is limited only by your own skills and abilities, as opposed to someone above you on the food chain.
If freedom to do what you want to do is your number one priority in a career, then you won’t be happy unless you have your own business. For many entrepreneurs, the mere thought of having to “report to” someone strikes fear in their hearts. And there’s nothing wrong with this — small businesses are important to the growth of our economy
But does having a business mean that you’re no longer a slave? Well, some people with businesses are just as enslaved as their working stiff counterparts. Consider the following:
- You don’t have a boss but you have clients and customers.
- You can set your own hours but if you don’t work, you don’t make money.
- Yes, some clients can be miserable but if they account for a big chunk of you’re income, they are essentially like having a boss as you must meet their needs.
- When you own a business, you’re on call 24/7.
- Running a business takes more than the skills needed to do your craft. You need to do accounting, taxes, marketing, customer service and manage your finances (especially your cash flow) among other things.
So is a business a lot of work? Absolutely. Is it worth it? It depends. The fact that you control your own destiny is a big plus. But keep in mind that there’s some statistic that 60% of small businesses fail in the first five years, many small business owners sacrifice personal relationships (and have a higher divorce rate) and a single event can be a game changer (either for better or for worse). Again, it takes a certain type of person to run a business. I see a number of people at networking events trying to push a multi-level marketing or network marketing business figuring they’ll make easy money. A business can be exponentially more rewarding than working for someone else, but it’s also exponentially more work.
People in denial:
Something I’ve found interesting is the stubbornness of many folks that both in the workforce or self-employed. They are clearly not happy with what they’re doing yet try to pretend that everything is fine. I’ve know people that have both the skills and ability to be a successful entrepreneur yet say things like “I’m happy with my job” even though they’re college educated yet take home the equivalent of minimum wage because of all the overtime they work. I also know small business owners that keep telling themselves that all their efforts are worth it, even though they constantly complain about their lack of a social life due to their schedule.
I personally feel that those who work for others run the greater risk. It seems like every event where employed adults are present (whether it’s a business or social event) I hear at least one person say “at least I have a job.” This mentality lowers your standards. If you think this way, you’re more likely to accept a boss (or company) that’s bullying you, a request to do more for less and accept pay cuts and/or fewer benefits for the “security” of keeping your job. More astute employees are appreciative to have a job, but recognize when their employer is taking advantage of them — and most importantly, do something about it.
On the flip side, working for yourself when it’s not the best thing for you can be just as bad. Yes, the freedom of not having a boss is great. But it gets tough when you see the weeks, months and years pass you by but your standard of living is not improving. The thing that always sticks out in my mind was one person saying to me that if he could go back in time, he would not have started his business because he missed seeing his kids growing up. He practically broke down while telling me about the look in his son’s eyes when he was confronted about not attending any of his little league games.
The bottom line:
There are pros and cons for both working for yourself and for working for someone else so it really boils down to your goals. While there’s no shame in working for someone else (despite what these so-called gurus try to tell you) you can go a lot farther with your own business. I sometimes speak to groups of college students and get asked what I think is a better option. I recommend that if they want to start a business, go for it right after graduation (or get a head start while you’re still in school). It’s a lot easier to deal with the demands of a business before you have a spouse, kids and/or a mortgage. Plus, you have the energy to work the hours you need to.
For others, a hybrid approach is more appropriate. Start a side business while working – just make sure you’re not doing anything that could be considered a conflict of interest with your employer. There’s an advantage to this approach as you get to do everything on a small scale so you get to learn about all aspects of running a business — from taxes to marketing to dealing with clients. And if the business fails, you still have your day jobs.
On the flip side, many business owners get a part-time job to supplement their business. Some do it to get benefits and/or a steady stream of income while others use it to gain access to potential clients. I once met a guy who owned a business that offered tours to the various Disney theme parks. He met most of his clients through his part time job at the Disney Store.
The key to a successful career is doing what makes you happy and not caring about what others think is best for you. So take a moment to figure out what’s best for you and don’t be afraid to go for it.