Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Getting Off the Hamster Wheel

"Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes… working jobs we hate, so we can buy s**t we don’t need." ― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

How many of you don’t get any true satisfaction from your job or work? How many of you feel you’re your job is lacking in job security? And how many of you just simply hate your job?

I feel one of the great deceptions of our time is the promise of the ‘middle class American dream’. You know the drill…. study hard in school, get good grades, go to college, get a good job, work for the next 45+ years, and finally enjoy a comfortable retirement. It’s such a part of the national narrative that most never question it, and if they do it’s usually not until middle age or beyond. 

Now a small part of the lie is the assumption that the life of the employed professional is the very definition of happiness and success. To be fair, many people are genuinely happy with that; they either prefer a higher level of structure and certainty to operate in, or their passions and interests lie outside their work and they couldn’t care less what they do as long as it pays the bills (many of my friends tend to be the latter). But I suspect they are not a large majority. How many of us stick with our current jobs only because of debt obligations, or retirement plans, or fear of losing health benefits, or simply because they feel it's too risky to try something new? So many probably see employment as not their ideal situation but rather the least crappy option available. But the bigger part of the lie is the stability and security that has been traditionally associated with professional employment. As an employed professional you have less of a say in what work you do, how you do it, when you do it, where you do it, and less of a stake in the success of the company. But in return you get the promise of a steady paycheck, reasonable job security (provided you’re somewhat competent), and a path to funding your retirement via pension (less common) or 401k (more common). Plus you don’t have to take on the added responsibilities or extra effort associated with running your own business. Now that’s not necessarily a bad trade, at least if you’re the kind of person that values security and stability above other things. The problem is that steady paycheck, that job security, and in some cases that retirement plan and/or pension are fast disappearing from the employment landscape. Many have had to accept cuts in hours or pay at their jobs, and frequent layoffs and business shutdowns large and small in size continue to plague the US economy. And to make it worse, many companies are imposing arbitrary educational requirements for jobs where additional schooling is pointless, thus requiring many job seekers to go heavily into student loan debt merely for the chance to get professional employment. Considering this all, it seems odd that the current rate of small business ownership among Americans is far less than it was decades ago, when employment was far more stable and came with more benefits.

The purpose of this rant is not to blame businesses and business owners; while some are worthy of contempt with how poorly they treat their employees and/or customers, many if not most others are moving in this direction out of necessity. The business climate is changing due to a sick economy and government mandates & interference, and unlike elected officials, business owners have to deal with reality and adapt to it to stay solvent. The point of this is to get people to examine the changing situation and figure out if remaining someone’s employee is truly in your own best interest. If you like the freedom from responsibility that employment gives despite the growing uncertainties in pay, job security, and retirement funding, well then I say "May the Force Be With You" and recommend you do your absolute best to make yourself as indispensable as possible to your employer. But if the whole concept is starting to sound like a bum deal, then seriously explore the possibility of going into business for yourself. Start looking at your job merely as a temporary thing and a means to an end in gathering the capital and experience to get where you want to go. Find the skills and/or ideas you have that are marketable, and make a plan and save up some money to make it happen. It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow and it doesn’t have to happen all at once (if you’re part of a two-income household, one of you keeping your day job while the business is getting established is an excellent way to mitigate your risks). Heck, my own plans for going into business for myself have been several years in the making and won’t truly kick off until next spring (needless to say the needs and welfare of family required some extra time to carry it out). But just having that goal has made my work and the mind-numbing, bureaucratic environment a little easier to tolerate.
The new world we are likely to see is going to see a lot of people going into business for themselves out of pure necessity as the quality and quantity of jobs steadily shrivel. So if one has some skills, an idea, an inclination towards working for yourself, and feel one’s job and/or career path may be in jeopardy, why not start now when you can carry it out more on your own terms? Making that move sooner than later might just help you beat the rush and get your business established before the crush of new competition and desperate entrepreneurs-of-last-resort comes in full force.

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