Do You Work For Yourself? If So, Then You Work For Everyone!
Every week I come across people who want to dive into the world of an entrepreneur in order to “Be their own boss.” the simply don’t realise it, but they’re buying into one of the most popular myths of entrepreneurship: the myth of freedom to control your own actions, your own schedule, and perhaps even your own destiny.
I totally understand the appeal. In fact, when I was building my own company, I often justified my 16 – 18 hour days (yes no exaggeration) by arguing that at least I was working according to my own schedule.
Surely you see the paradox. When you’re working a 16 – 18 hour day, it doesn’t really matter who’s schedule you’re following since you’re filling every waking minute with work.
As a matter of fact, I am not entirely sure how I fooled myself into believing I had freedom. Nevertheless, I genuinely believed I was in charge of my own destiny until, finally, I took a job.
Yes, I have a boss now!
I no longer “work for myself.” However, the biggest difference isn’t that someone else can control what I work on. The biggest difference is that only one other person directs my work. In contrast, when I was working for myself and running my own company, I had thousands of bosses… I just never recognized them for what they were.
#You’ll work for your employees
Running my own company meant my employees were my bosses. While they technically worked for me, in reality, I spent every day working for them. They would tell me what they needed in order to be successful accomplishing the work they’d been assigned, and then I’d spend most of my time trying to provide those resources.
This was particularly true when running private-investment-backed tech companies which were largely pre-profit. Since the companies operated at a loss, we constantly relied on private funds to keep the lights on and pay salaries. If I couldn’t raise more money, I had to let some people go.
Did I want to spend weeks at a time fundraising? No. But I was doing it because that’s what my company (and my employees) needed me to be doing.
#You’ll work for your investors
Since I was running investment-backed tech company, my investors were my bosses. They were my bosses because they sat on my board and could, theoretically, fire me. Granted, investors always want to avoid firing their CEOs, but it was certainly a possibility.
Regardless of whether they were or weren’t going to fire me, my investors were my bosses because they regularly made demands on my time for updates, board meetings, reports, and so on. When they did, I had to stop what I was doing and serve their needs.
Did I want to create report after report and slide deck after slide deck to explain what was happening in my company to people without day-to-day knowledge of the business? No. But I was doing it because that’s what my investors needed me to be doing.
#You’ll work for your customers
While employees and investors are important, my most important bosses were my customers. Ultimately, I was operating a company for them. It was my job to figure out what they needed and deliver it. If I didn’t, they wouldn’t hesitate to fire me.
When customers needed things my employees couldn’t provide, I was the person who got the call. Depending on the value of that customer to the company, it could mean running point on a critical new feature or driving across Ireland at a moment’s notice to save a contract renewal that was looking shaky.
Did their needs align with what I wanted to be working on? Never.
Did I work on what they needed instead of what I wanted? All the time.
#We’re always working for other people
Yes, I officially have a boss now. Yes, she can tell me what to do. For example, during the summer she said I looked overworked and told me to take a week off. What a caring woman, #AmIRight?
When I was my “own boss,” can you guess how many times I told myself to take a week off? Never! And when I did take time off, either for sickness or even for “holidays,” I never truly unplugged. Instead, my “time off” always stressed me out because “holidays” just meant having to stay up late into the night doing all the work I couldn’t do because I spent the day “relaxing” and “enjoying myself.” Yeah right… you try relaxing and enjoying yourself when your company is burning money faster than it’s making it, you’ve got employees expecting salaries, and you haven’t hit the metrics you need to raise another round of funding.
In contrast, now that I only have one boss, I look back on my time “being my own boss” and I chuckle. How could I have been so naive? When I was my own boss, I never got to work on the things I wanted. I never even had time to do things like write this article. Worst of all, every minute I spent not working on my company felt like I was letting down the people who — theoretically — worked for me.