Ah, the question of our generation . . . should we leave our jobs to pursue our passions? Or should we continue to work for the man in hopes of collecting that elusive drug: money.
I left my corporate job in 2012 and have long thought of the reasons why I was driven with a mad passion to do so.
In addition to writing, I own and operate a small antique e-commerce business. Although we are doing well, there are many drawbacks to this line of work. The first is that I don’t get paid unless I work every single day (at times including Saturdays and Sundays). Even though I have employees, most days I work alone, whether it’s sourcing product, photographing product, shipping product or researching product, I’m usually alone. At times I will hire temporary help, models, shippers and photographers, but those times are few and far between.
I used to work corporate (EvilCorp). Whole days would pass by the water cooler where I did nary a thing but chat about the latest Sufjan Stevens album. We got free lunches. I had contact with human beings that were very close to friend-type people. I got stock options.
Other than the yawning abyss chasing me down at two in the afternoon, I was quite comfortable. So comfortable I became bored.
I’ve written about this before. Boredom scares me to death. I start to make mischief. I get into trouble.
I left the job to restart my antique business that was on hold after the market crash in 2009. Without the structure of a regular job, I felt I was part of an entirely new reality. If I wanted to sleep all day, I could. If I wanted to spend all day playing ping pong, I could. No one was going to make me do anything. I could only rely on myself. This had some consequences. Time became perilously precious. I could no longer justify wasting the day in idle chit chat, or having lunch with friends because my time directly translated to my money.
The other night I had dinner with a large group of former co-workers who all still work for EvilCorp. I felt a bit sheepish explaining that I spent most of my days playing with old toys, sifting through other people’s attics and attending philosophy courses at the local college–and that it all was fun as hell.
They all smiled and nodded and I changed the subject.
I know how it must sound to them.
Why do some of us choose this way of working?
Here are a few theories.
1. TROUBLE WITH AUTHORITY
It’s a well-documented phenomenon. A child grows up with untrustworthy, cruel or inconsistent adults and they grow to distrust authority and even see them as silly fools. We learn to do the opposite of what they do. We feel we can’t trust these people will sustain us, so we start our own venture.
2. WE LIKE TO RULE OUR TINY KINGDOMS
This hearkens back to an earlier post on people who don’t like to compete. Some of us (and I will freely admit this is true for me) would rather rule a tiny kingdom of one (or a handful of people) than be a peasant in another person’s kingdom, even if it’s a benevolent kingdom. I track this tendency in me back to vast tracts of childhood spent alone with animals, toys and myself. They were all my tiny worlds and I loved them but most importantly, they didn’t make me do stuff I didn’t want to do or be something I didn’t want to be. I must note that I am not condoning this way of thinking as the universally correct way of thinking. There are many drawbacks to it. I am simply pointing out that there are many people out there with such “royal sensibilities.”
3. PEOPLE EXHAUST US
I love people and can spend all day chit chatting. However, I find that the mental power this requires overwhelms the heat sink capacity in my language center and I get exhausted in a way that feels like my soul has been flushed out my ears. I have to be alone in order to recuperate. This recuperation time is not possible for those of us who have families who we must care for at night, so working alone helps with our social recovery.
4. WE ARE “MODEL CHAMELEONS”
Some of us have a keen awareness of other people’s points of view and have the ability to adapt our own outlook to theirs when we are around them. This causes a cognitive dissonance that can literally confuse us as to what we want and how we should live our lives, pushing us into many directions–none of them what we might chose on our own. These types of people are called “people-pleasers” and I am absolutely of this variety of human. Remaining in a static self-supported environment helps us keep focused on what WE want and believe, not what others want and believe.
5. WE HAVE CONTROL ISSUES
Let’s be clear. Control issues are not always a bad thing. I suspect a great deal of people who have achieved great things were some version of a control freak. We absolutely need to feel that we have control in our lives in order to tamp down anxiety. This is why cleaning out our fridge can be more pleasurable than writing our next chapter. Some of us feel out of control when our financial fate is contingent on the whims of an indifferent corporation, and that feeling of lack of control can be intolerable.
6. WE WANT SOMETHING MORE FOR OURSELVES
Born within us is a huge desire to change something about the world before we give up the ghost. Even if it’s small, we want to affect some sort of transformation. We know that those who transform the culture often have a glory not given to mere drones. We go after that glory because . . . why not us?
7. WE TRIED IT AND DECIDED IT’S NOT THE ANSWER
What will make us happier? Sometimes we don’t know until we try both options. We believe that something we do for 8+ hours per day should at least be fun, interesting or challenging enough to keep us from hanging ourselves in the closet, and the job just isn’t either of those things for us. Therefore, we may try our hand at building something new simply to eliminate all possibilities.
8. WE ARE DUMB FOOLS
You’d have to be a dumb fool to think, “Yeah, I’m going to start my own business! I’m gonna invent a new product! I’m gonna end water contamination in the Philippines!” We are dumb fools because we have no idea how much competition is already out there, or we have no idea of how much it will actually take out of us. The idea may be new to us, and so we make the mistake of thinking the idea is new to the world. Trust me, there are no new ideas, only new names, descriptions, and particulars. Also, because we are not yet in the arena of competition, we may assume there are no other combatants, or at least a trivial few. When we develop our idea deeper, we find–sometimes terrifyingly–that there are almost innumerable other players in the arena, and many of them are far more clever and lucky than us. Therefore, it is important, in some respect, to be a dumb fool. If we weren’t, we would probably never get started.
9. WE PREFER INVISIBLE REJECTION TO OUTRIGHT REJECTION
We face all kinds of rejection in our lives. Invisible rejection is what happens when faceless people who we don’t know refuse to buy our product. Outright rejection is when a specific person says no. Self-published authors face invisible rejection. Traditionally published authors face outright rejection. Invisible rejection can hurt less because of the nature of the nameless, faceless masses. While both hurt, one has less of a sting.
10. THE GLASS CEILING DISAPPEARS
In every corporation, there is a hierarchy that represents how high one can ascend. In your own venture, the sky is the limit.
11. WE WANT TO MAKE SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T EXIST
Possibly the noblest of reasons for going out on our own is that we badly want something to exist and it doesn’t. We think “Wouldn’t it be great if there was a website where people could buy little outfits for the fire hydrants in front of their houses?” So we go out and build that website it just so it will exist. Our culture absolutely needs this kind of person because these thoughts lead to all manner of huge changes, and change is what we want.
The great news is, we don’t have to cast our working lives in stone. Should we try the solo venture and fail, there is always time to become a middle manager at a cereal box manufacturing plant. Perhaps the comfort of perceived stability will allow us to flourish in ways that the struggling entrepreneur, writer or change-maker cannot.