I used to feel satisfied with getting a steady paycheck that grew slowly over the years. The promise of climbing the corporate ladder as long as I worked hard and smart seemed great to me.
Recently, I’ve realized that this settle-in mentality is way out of date. Some of the most talented people around my age, (and I’m a millennial) that aren’t even entrepreneurs, are more accurately described as opportunists, and not loyal employees.
They’re always on the lookout for the next best thing and don’t allow themselves to be lulled into complacency to gain tenure at companies that don’t challenge or compensate them enough.
One reason for that is that these days, being tenured doesn’t hold the same significance that it used to.
Compared to 50 years ago, people must now plan independently for retirement. Their companies’ 401K plans don’t protect them from stock market volatility. There’s a lot of risk of slowly earned investments not yielding much return. The pensions our parents were rewarded are not something we have to look forward to. Some companies don’t help their employees invest in their futures at all.
Many people I’ve worked with have had the unpleasant experience of dedicating a decade or more of their labor to a company, only to have their positions eliminated and not replaced. Sometimes, it’s happened without any warning.
The idea of sudden loss of livelihood is terrifying. Insult adds to injury through the betrayal felt if a trusted manager or peers knew of or planned the elimination of the axed party for months behind their backs, all while interacting with them as though nothing was changing.
The possibility of being eliminated like a number is part of being an employee at most companies. Once realizations like this enter your mind, it may be hard to stay motivated. Maintaining hope that a company exists somewhere out there that treats their employees like human beings that have families to support, and feelings, can become a struggle.
No longer being a loyal employee frees you from being a liability and the dragging mundanity of a treadmill work life.
I’d always worked in after-sales departments. The kinds of roles I was headed for didn’t have the best earning potential with performance barely affecting compensation. Money isn’t the most important aspect of life, but it’s one of the enjoyments we receive from working. The limited earning potential and lack of challenge failed to compel me, whereas the more I collaborated with colleagues in sales and engaged in revenue-generating activities, the more excitement I felt.
Performance-based rewards, not being stuck behind a desk all the time, networking, and constantly learning new things made it clear that business development was much more of a fit for my personality and long-term goals.
Working outside of the US was the final determining factor. I’d always dreamed of working in a foreign country, and now I can say that it’s off of my checklist. Working in Cairo, which required commuting every day through a population of over 25 million and using a very interesting public transportation system, weaving through crowds and clouds of pollution like I’d never seen before, was not for me.
Many companies in the city never pull a work permit for foreign workers to legitimatize their employment, ensure rights are protected, or that taxes are properly paid. They also seem to have missed the no-smoking-in-the-workplace memo that went around over 25 years ago. Working in Cairo can be like visiting a strange version of the 1970s: There are laptops, smartphones, and lots of cigarettes.
There are progressive companies in Cairo, but I missed western business culture. So, I started to search and it took some time, but I finally found US companies that allowed remote work. I officially became a contractor and not an employee.
The feeling of freedom I get working from my home office -or anywhere I desire- is uplifting. No more rush hour rat race, I could choose my schedule, the work I do, and the results. In contrast to the monotony of office life, with the outcome being the same no matter how little or much effort I put in, being a contractor is motivating.
Realistically, being a contractor, or self-employed, requires extreme discipline. The time of graduating from being an employee is not slack-off time. It’s a time to seriously step up your game.
But, the freedom of working on a contract or freelance basis; not relying on a paycheck is no longer intimidating. In fact, I now see a paycheck as a limitation.
I don’t want ever want to rely on anyone for a salary again. That’s my conviction, and it’s how I know that like many others out there, I’ve broken free from being just an employee.
Are you someone that’s chosen self-employment? Are you happy with it, or do you regret it? Tell your story in the comments!