I really like James Altucher’s blog. I disagree with him some of the time, but he usually makes me think, whether I agree or not, and I appreciate that. Of course, one of the challenges in reading his blog is ignoring his heightened rhetoric. (Heightened rhetoric is great for blog traffic, but it makes ideas harder to talk about.)
My friend pointed me to the recent James Altucher post “How to be a Slave.” Its main point is that if you work for someone else, you’re trapped and getting a bad deal: you’re losing all this money you could be making in the company’s overhead and paying your boss’s salary, and then also you have to sit through boring sexual harassment seminars and dress a certain way and act a certain way. So you should go work for yourself and be free.
But it’s not that simple. First off, there is a trade-off working for a company vs. working for ourselves, and it depends on our individual personalities and circumstances which one we’ll be more comfortable with.
If you work full-time for a company, you often get paid time off (vacation, holidays, sick days) and access to cheaper and sometimes better health insurance. This is part of your compensation package, so yes, you’re paying for it, but it’s nice to have vacation days and good health insurance, so it might be compensation that you want. If you receive a salary, you know about how much money you’ll make this year. On the other hand, there’s also the possibility you could be laid off. You have an imposed structure to work within, which some people find quite appealing. Overall, people at companies are perhaps less self-directed, but the amount of self direction depends from job to job and company to company.
If you work for yourself, you do not get paid for time you don’t work, and health insurance is more of a problem (although we’re all crossing fingers it will get better in January). Basically you have to earn more money to make up for the alternate compensation methods you’re not receiving. You have complete control of your time, but this can be a double-edged sword. The amount of money you’ll make in a year tends to be more variable. You can’t be laid off, but your business might do poorly. My favorite part of working for myself is that ultimately, the decision-making is up to me. But some people don’t like calling all the shots; it can be a lot of responsibility.
In addition, it is simply not true that if you work for yourself, you automatically can spend all your time the way you like or dress the way you like or treat people like crap because they’re the opposite sex from you. It is true that you can avoid a certain amount of red tape, wasted time and money, and procedures that are inefficient and ineffective. But many people who work for themselves have clients/customers, and in order to be successful, they have to cater to these clients. I couldn’t dress like a slob as a music teacher, or no one would have hired me. I had to do tasks I didn’t enjoy to keep the business running healthily. I always tried to be polite, respectful, and professional in all my interactions with my students. If I hadn’t done these things, my business would have failed. Sure, I had more choice, and that was fabulous. I didn’t have to deal with policies that had no purpose. But I still didn’t have the leeway to consistently make poor decisions.
The irony is that even though I disagree with many of the arguments in that article, I have done what it suggests. I have never had a full-time salaried position. I like being in control of my time. I like working for myself.
But what I would like to suggest is that different people need and want different things. Some people will thrive working for a company, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Other people will do better working for themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. Some people will go back and forth between the two. If you’re miserable, by all means change things up.
But if it doesn’t work for you, you don’t have to live somebody else’s dream. You get to create your own.