Proud to be an employee: A perspective on employment vs. entrepreneurship
You walk into a dinner party organized by your friends — everyone there is well dressed, looks smart and seem to be having meaningful conversations with each other. You make your way into a conversation and after a few minutes of engaging with the topic of conversation, the new people who don’t know you ask you ‘What do you do?’. You pause and prep your response…
Do you say something like:
- “I work in finance, what about you?”
- “I am a fraud and risk prevention analyst at CompanyX for Latin America. We help governments track and prevent fraudulent transactions”
- “I am a co-founder a company called CompanyX, where we are reimagining how companies can personalize and scale company culture.”
Your response to ‘what do you do?’, tells someone a little more about who you are. Of course, there is no wrong response but it signals how proud you are of what you do.
The Glamorization of Entrepreneurship
Before I go further, I want to define who I refer to as entrepreneurs. For the sake of this article, I refer to ‘entrepreneurs’ as the breed of startup founders who have emerged since the so-called ‘tech boom’ of the late '90s.
In the past few years, media has done an excellent job of giving entrepreneurs a platform to share stories about their journeys, from being nobodies to celebrities, nerds to millionaires — and sometimes about their rejections and multiple failures. Regardless of how the story has been told, media has glamorized “entrepreneurship” in the public eye. It’s very sexy to say you’re an entrepreneur.
The image of an entrepreneur today is almost similar to the image of the noble warrior who fought in a war and came back victorious against all odds (even though more than 7000 of his men who helped him died killed during his conquests).
Our obsession with treating entrepreneurship as the ‘better’ choice is not grounded in reality. This obsession has been dubbed entrepreneurship porn.
What people don’t know about being an entrepreneur
Anyone who has been at close quarters of being one or being around an entrepreneur will tell you that:
- There is no guarantee of success when you start a company.
- Not only do you say goodbye to a steady monthly paycheck, many a time, you also pay yourself (less than) half of what you used to earn.
- Even if you do find initial success with customers, you have to then worry about paying your team to ensure you sustain the success before you give yourself a hefty paycheck.
- You say goodbye to your social life — say ‘no’ to invitations to dinner with friends because you may not be able to afford the same lifestyle as you did with your previous income.
- Work never leaves you and whether you like it or not, you’re always thinking about it — even if you’re upside down on a rollercoaster!
- Unless you have co-founders, it’s a pretty lonely ride. And with co-founders, you have to work hard to ensure that there are no ego battles.
- If you got into entrepreneurship to make millions, that usually means selling your company and that is not in your control (unless you’re a unicorn — which have their own issues - real unicorns only exist as emojis 🦄 🦄)
- Before you hire people to do this — you have to be the maker, the salesperson, the HR person, the marketer, the support person, the finance person and receptionist — even if you don’t like being any one of those.
- Not being an employee at a company also leaves you vulnerable — you don’t have the same access you did to insurance, healthcare benefits or a 401k/provident fund match to save for retirement.
The side-effect of entrepreneurship porn has been on the morale towards “employment”.
In my personal experience, when I’ve asked someone about what they do, often the response I’ve heard employees who work at an organization, reply saying, “Uh… I work in finance” and they stop there. I’ve sensed a lack of pride in their voice almost as if it is something they are being forced to do or ‘have to’ do to earn money. As the conversation continues, when they hear that I am a co-founder of a my own company, pursuing an itch to do my own thing, outside of the construct of an organization, they say, “Ya, I also want to do something on my own, but don’t know what yet”. It’s almost as if, there can only be one true aspiration — being your own boss is the ultimate goal.
Let’s put the pride back in ‘employment’.
It wasn’t until long ago that having a job was a moment of joy and pride. Having a job gave you respect in the community. A strong remnant of this mindset is our education system, which has been designed to do nurture individuals to get good jobs — of course, education is a discussion for another time :)
But employees are the ones who are smart. Here are some of the positives of being an employee:
- You have a routine that can help you plan your life better.
- You can plan and set a vision that you have for your future-you or future-family because of the assurance of a consistent future and growth you can expect if you do your job well at your company.
- You can focus on being a specialist, an expert who develops a deep understanding of a specific industry that sets you apart and makes you a valuable asset.
- You have a community of like-minded peers you can belong to. If you’re having any issues, you can share this with your peers and hopefully resolve the problems together.
- You can have work friends. One of the best things about being at work is meeting individuals who extend your friends network beyond the ones you developed in your neighbourhood, school, university. Every time you join a new company, you can grow your circle of friends.
- You can leave your job at work. After the 9–5 and go back home to your family and friends — thus having a better chance of building memories. (of course this is a bit unsettled in a remote/hybrid world but it is still a possibility).
- You have the option to switch jobs if you don’t like your current one (of course one needs to do this mindfully).
- You get to learn new skills just by working with other colleagues and experts. And because your head is not thinking about ensuring the next paycheck for your team, you can focus on learning something new.
Clearly, both employment and entrepreneurship are co-dependent (mostly). If an entrepreneur wants to expand their operations, they need employees and if an employee needs a job, they need to approach a business that was started at some point by an entrepreneur.
So in reality, no one choice is better or smarter than another — but it is important to acknowledge that employees add as much value as entrepreneurs do — even if it is from behind the scenes.
It’s odd for me to write this because as a startup founder, I’ve clearly chosen the path of entrepreneurship. But I did not make the choice because I hated being an employee. In fact I would fall into the breed of founders who really enjoyed the places I worked at and experienced a lot of growth in my career journey when I was an employee. My choice to become an entrepreneur was not out of angst of being an employee or the false notion that it was a ‘better choice’. I made the switch because I had an itch to build something of my own and challenge myself to build something from zero-to-one.
It’s possible that after my chapter as a founder, I may have the itch to be an employee again. There are so many beautiful businesses in the world where I would love to contribute my expertise, learn from the smart people who work there, meet new work friends and enjoy all the benefits of being an employee :)
If you’re an employee — don’t allow media to control how you feel about your job. Think deeply about what you have access to today as an employee. And if after that you feel like entrepreneurship is something you ‘want to’ pursue, then go ahead and pursue it.
Why this matters to me as a founder? Employment is the life and blood of the economy. People who have jobs and go to work (or work from anywhere) deserve to feel proud of the 40 hours of the week they spend doing what they love and spending time away from their loved ones. As the founder of Tydy, I want anyone who works for a living to feel proud of being an employee adding value to the bottom line of the companies they work with.
Disclaimer: My perspective is skewed to people who switch to entrepreneurship as a misguided path to ‘being better’ than being an employee. There are many people who 'have to' do their own thing because of various other scenarios like being underpaid, unrecognized, not having the right opportunities in front of you. I also recognize that not all employment is equal and for the sake of this article, I am calling out people who have the privilege of being in white collar jobs that are more secure than other jobs in the industry.