In 2019, it seems like almost everyone has had a crack at some kind of side hustle in their time. More and more people are throwing the towel in at their day job and doing their passion project full-time, and the internet is plagued with long-form Facebook ads that start with “I remember feeling stuck in my day job”. This is usually followed by a schpiel about how a blonde barefoot couple quit the corporate rat race and now live a smuggish fantastical existence in a van, leaving us average folk shuddering into our packed office lunch in despair that we’re not living that entrepreneur life.
“Working for the man” and “building someone else’s empire” are sentiments that have long been associated with those who build a life around being an employee. In what I’m sure will one day become known as the “hustle era”, it sometimes seems like success just isn’t considered success unless you’re working for yourself.
And I’m calling bullshit… for a number of reasons.
Firstly, we need to do away with this “working for the man” thing. Aside from it being wildly sexist (let’s work for the woman too, people), the people who throw it around seem to be forgetting something. Someone’s gotta work for “the man” or nothing would ever get done!
But secondly and more importantly, success can be anything you damn well want it to be – whether you work for yourself or not.
Many argue that being an employee sucks because it means your income is static, whereas when you’re an #entrepreneur, #bosslady or other irritating buzzy hashtag, you’ve got the flexibility to grow and earn more and more.
And yeah, I get that. But in return for that lifted ceiling, you’re handing over structure, perks, sick leave, holiday pay and the safety net of knowing that you can pay your bills each week. If you’re an employee with a side gig, you kinda get both. Your employment income is fixed each week, regardless of whether you’re sick with tonsillitis, on a beach in Bali, or actually in the office. Meanwhile, you’re chugging away at your side hustle when you can, and you’ve got uncapped income coming in from there.
I personally have swung back and forth on the self-employed pendulum multiple times. Having gone in and out of employment and self-employment a few times – and spending a big chunk of of the time juggling both – I’ve gone through phases when I’ve been set on the idea of working for myself, and then flipping back to loving the employee life.
I often come back to this niggling feeling that if I have the opportunity to work for myself, then shouldn’t I? Working in creative services means it’s far easier (and cheaper) to set up on your own than it would be to open your own bricks-and-mortar shop, so the universal obsession we have with demonising the employed workforce does make me wonder whether perhaps I should be pursuing my own stuff. But something I have actually realised during my time as an employee – and I’m sorry to toot my own horn here – but I’m actually pretty good at it. I actually enjoy going above and beyond (classic only child syndrome), I enjoy the camaraderie of having coworkers, and the structure of having somewhere to be everyday.
I go to work, I do my thing, and in my spare time I work on a few side projects in varying capacities. There’s my extra income, and I still have the flexibility of being able to take a sick day, take paid annual leave, and know that my retirement savings are being topped up all on their own.
So why are we obsessing over “today’s office” posts and notebooks with “do what you love” sprawled across the front in a cheap cursive font? NEWSFLASH: you can do what you love as an employee, too. Not to mention you have a team of peers that you learn with and grow with, and the opportunities to learn new things, take risks and develop your capabilities while getting paid for every second of it. Not everybody has to be an entrepreneur, and that simple fact is part of what makes the world go round. This piece by Brandon Turner powerfully explains how and why he quit his business to work for someone else, and will change the way you think about working for yourself.
Employees are the backbone of a developed economy. We can’t all be working for ourselves, so stop subscribing to the idea that you have to in order to be successful. Success is whatever you want it to be, with or without a weekly paycheck.