As I begin this post, I am nine days, six hours and 31 minutes away from leaving a very comfortable, generously-paid job where my colleagues and leadership respect me and treat me well. In just over a week’s time, my girlfriend (and adventuring partner), Aubrey, and I will be driving off into the night, embarking on an incredible roadtrip to seek out a new home somewhere beyond the Rocky Mountains.
There are no words to convey my excitement.
For as long as I’ve existed, there has always been an obligation to someone else’s rules lurking just beyond the horizon. Even on vacations, where time is theoretically mine, there was the lingering, ever-present knowledge that before I knew it, I would go back to a world of obliging someone else’s whims. For the first time, I’ll escape those bonds. It’s a feeling of freedom I’ve never known.
It must be stressed that while Full Sail has been a great place to work and I’m grateful for the experience, I had a job there and I have a handful of problems with working any “job,” no matter who supplies it. When I say job in this context, I mean any paid activity wherein you provide 40+ weekly hours in exchange for a regular paycheck, benefits and perhaps a reasonable approximation of social interaction. I’m a difficult, demanding, even impossible person, so these problems loom larger for me than perhaps they do you.
When you arrive at your job and get down to the business of working, you are addressing problems that are not yours. These are the problems of whatever organization has hired you for your job. Depending on your level of career advancement and achievement, the problems you solve may range from the tedious (data entry) to the complicated (project or team management). No matter the complexity of your daily tasks, though, you can be assured that none of the problems they address are actually your own. While it is true that, through initiative, hard work and persistence, your handling of the organization’s problems can enrich your knowledge, experience and career prospects, this doesn’t change the fact that you’re doing someone else’s work.
Unless you’re working at some sort of hippy, ultra-progressive company, you give 96% of your weeks to your job. That is a shitload of time. When I write it out like that, the egregious criminality of giving away that much of your life to someone who isn’t you seems so obvious, I can’t even come up with anything else to say.
I’ve spent a lifetime resenting any condition where someone else had authority to direct the discharge of my energies. The trade you make while collecting a paycheck is that in exchange for the money, someone gets to tell you what to do with 96% of your weeks. Even with the best boss, this deal is crap: Who wants to spend this much of their lives following orders?
In the typical job arrangement, I would show up each day and give a significant amount of time, energy, imagination and passion to the tasks of the organization. If I worked exceptionally hard while not being a douche and doing my best to help others be successful, I could earn promotions and more money. I would not become wealthy. Meanwhile, assuming successful management of the company, those who own the organization would increase their wealth. For many people, maintaining the wealth of others in exchange for a job’s security is a fine trade. That doesn’t work for me. If there’s anyone who should be wealthy off the sweat of my brow, I’m the first person on that list.
This is also including the assumption that whomever it is who owns the company is making the right decisions, which is absolutely not a given. There’s an illusion of security in a paycheck that comes crashing down as soon as layoffs or bankruptcy are announced (hello, domestic auto manufacturers). I’d rather have control of my fate than leave it in the hands of someone else.
Alignment of Interests
If your company did not need you, you would not exist there. This is a simple, business-driven reality and under no circumstances would I ever begrudge any organization this simple fact. Business is not and should not be charity. Still, think about it. The interest of the business is always and will always be the business. Never you, as an individual. This is an important fact to remember as you commit 96% of your weeks to the job that has hired you. You are the only person you can trust to have your own best interests as a top priority. Rest assured, if the business felt as though it could get more of your time while paying you less, it would surely take that arrangement. It’s just business.
You show up early, stay late. You take on extra projects and complete them in your spare time. You’re good to your coworkers and can always be relied upon in a pinch. Congratulations, you’re on your way to promotions and potential raises.
The trouble is, if you gave this level of effort for clients instead of your boss, you’d make a whole lot more money.
If you’re following the thread of my argument, you might be thinking “hey, wow, having a job is slavery and my company is screwing me over!”
Two things to note: Having a job gives you incredible opportunities to learn, grow and network while giving you the stability to develop yourself over the long term.
Secondly, unless you signed some sort of contract, you can leave any time you like. If you’re prepared.
So prepare yourself. Maybe I’m young and idealistic, but I firmly believe that the pursuit of things I genuinely love will bring me infinitely more reward than being paid to worry about someone else’s problems. I believe that dedicating the bulk of my time to my own growth, wealth and self-selected challenges, rather than to the development of someone else’s business, is the only conscionable use of my time. I believe that investing myself in an organization whose best interest is something that isn’t me would be to ignore one simple fact: I’m going to die one day. I need to make the most of my life and working for someone else isn’t going to cut it.
You may be following this, finding none of my assessments about having a job objectionable and thinking to yourself that I am, in fact, absurdly difficult and demanding. If that is so I salute you: your expectations for your life are much more easily satisfied.
I’m stuck wanting something else for myself. Thankfully, I’ve got some role models to help me handle this drive for a self-directed life.
I heard Adam Savage give a talk where he mentioned that his line of work is mostly freelance. This perked up my ears. If you’ve spent any amount of time watching MythBusters, you know that Adam has a singular passion for the creative work that he does. He currently has the best job in the world because he desperately, obsessively craves the joy of making things. He’s incredibly good at it. I’m certain he never could have attained his world-class skills without first loving the work to begin with.
Nick Popovich, Super Repo Man
If you need a defaulted plane retrieved from a deadbeat, you call this guy. Nick had some flight skills and did his first repo on a whim. Now he owns a $20 million business grabbing planes from all corners of the globe. He’s good at it and he enjoys the work. Imagine the waste of his talents if he had stuck to being a traditional pilot and never realized his unique ability to resolve impossible, dangerous situations.
John is obsessive about details in design, typography, user experience and software development. He’s also obsessive about Apple. It shocks me that time and again, John is able to render completely accurate predictions about Apple’s direction and upcoming products. It’s a level of insight no one else on the web can match. It also puts professional investment analysts to shame. Is it incredible that six-figure salaried analysts can’t match the insight and prescience of a guy working from his home on a blog he maintains by himself? A little bit, but it should not be surprising at all. Only a love and passion for his subject matter could have made John the authority on all things Apple on the web.
I don’t know that she feels great about me saying so here, but it’s important to the legend: my mom didn’t finish high school or go to college. She does have a GED. She’s a minority for whom english is a second language. In pretty much all the ways a single mom can have the chips stacked against her, she had.
My mom loves animals – always has. It’s truly an obsession with her. In my childhood, I can recall the ownership of three ostriches, a donkey, six geese, dozens of chickens, an African Grey Parrot, dozens of dogs, some cats and multiple generations of coral reef tanks with tropical fish that made the house a viable field trip destination.
When I was very young, my mom took a certificate program at the New York School of Dog Grooming. To pay homage to James Herriot, no capped and gowned don ever looked back to his years among the spires of Oxford with more nostalgia than did my mother to her two months at NYSDG.
If I am difficult and demanding, then my mom truly is impossible. Nonetheless, she endured years of working for shitty bosses at shittier dog grooming shops. I don’t know how she did it, but one day, she had enough. I’m not sure where she got the funds, but she put together enough money to lease and renovate a commercial space, adding all of the kennels, baths, and other equipment necessary to provide absurdly clean, professional dog grooming services. For pretty much the rest of my childhood (and to this day), she was self-employed, her own boss. Despite the statistics for small business failure, my mom was and continues to be wildly successful at her trade without any training in business, marketing or finance. She doesn’t need it: she’s just incredibly good at what she does, wanted to provide the best possible service and has always loved her work. Not many other people can offer this. This was enough to ensure I never went hungry as a kid.
The message is clear: if you love the work you do, you can become so good at it that whatever rewards you seek become attainable.
I’ll say it again: I’m going to die one day. I don’t know if it’s next year or many decades from now or somewhere in between. What I do know is that expending my energies within the narrow, limiting, self-denying confines required by the traditional job is a complete waste of whatever existence I have at my disposal.
Aubrey has brought many incredible gifts of insight to my life, but chief of among them is this: you shouldn’t spend any significant amount of time doing something you don’t want to do. I owe so much of my evolution to that crucial realization.
I’m excited to be in business for myself. The nagging feeling that plagued me for so long, the feeling that I was somehow missing the point of life and wasting my time, is completely gone.
I’ve discovered a list of things that I absolutely love to do. I’m already good at some of them while others will require years of time to develop. That’s no problem – the love makes it easier to get through the rough spots. I’ve spent years aggressively growing myself to reach this point. I had no idea where I was heading.
Now I know. I can’t wait to be able to focus on what’s truly important, free from the distraction of minding someone else’s business.
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