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Don’t Sell Your Soul to Corporate America

| August 14, 2009 | 16 Comments

Business woman with moneyOnce upon a time, people would line up to sell their souls to big corporations like General Motors and IBM. Of course they did! The corporations were paying a good price: nice salary, prestige, lifetime employment, secretaries to do the typing, decent hours, company pension, not a bad gig at all. I’m sure that the “organization men” of the 50s and 60s had to endure their share of jargon, management fads, group-think, and other corporate nonsense, but it seemed like a much more humane as well as profitable experience than we see today. Sure, the company would lay off factory workers, but they were blue-collar, the white-collar guys were insulated from that sort of insecurity, and they had the cache of being “management,” and managers were part of “us,” not “them.”

In the years since, the social contract between corporations and the employees and managers that staff them has been completely rewritten. The first casualty was security. Regardless of how much you like your job, company and boss, and how safe it may seem, you are in fact one merger, one outsourcing, one re-engineering process away from unemployment. And if you haven’t been tending your network, you may find yourself out of work for a long time, months or years, even if you were good at your job. As a result, you may have to purchase your own health insurance, dip into your 401(k) to make your bills, and confront personal demons from procrastination to full-blown depression. Even the company pension is gone. Companies may match your 401(k) contributions, but you are on your own to create you’re a retirement plan.

On the flipside, many people who have jobs can’t escape from them. You may put in a LONG workweek (because you need to put in “face time” to show you are “serious” and “dedicated” so you can “get ahead”), and even then you aren’t done. They’ll find you, with your BlackBerry, e-mail, cell phone. You may be expected to check in while you are on vacation, at your child’s soccer game or uncle’s funeral, in the labor and delivery room. To make matters worse, they are allowed to monitor your company e-mail account, and recruiters can find private information about you by searching FaceBook or running a Google search to see what blogs you comment on.

Lastly, while much of the good stuff like job security, status and company pension have vanished, most of the annoying traits have remained: inflexibility, conformism, pettiness, and the soul-crushing cubicle with fluorescent lights. A handful of progressive companies are experimenting with flex time or results-only work environment and other ways of actually treating employees like adults, but most still require that you be in a certain place, at a certain time, dressed in a certain way, so that someone else can monitor your activity and ensure that you are behaving. Yuck. I don’t want to feel like a sheep, thank you, constantly herded from meeting to meeting or stuck in my pen.

Why this litany of corporate venality? I think we are at a major decision point, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1930s. The rules have changed, slowly, imperceptibly. They put the lobster in the pot and turned the heat on. It took a long time for us to notice we were getting cooked, but now we know: the concept of career that our grandparents understood is gone, and the void is being filled by a combination of fear, opportunity, moonlighting, freelancing, personal initiative, indecision and insecurity. Maybe you want to sell your soul to a large corporation to get a steady job with nice benefits. The trouble is, they aren’t buying on those terms.

So, since you can’t get a good price for your soul, why not keep it? Now is the golden opportunity: what do you really want? What is important to you? Why not start your own business? Or take a job with “meaning,” like helping the elderly or working in the art world? Why not freelance, or cobble together multiple streams of income? Particularly if you are young and do not have a huge mortgage, braces for the kids, a “reputation in the community” to maintain. No one is going to create safety, fulfillment, or joy for you, but you can create it yourself through your own efforts, and think how sweet that will be, when you have designed your life around what is important to you, and “the boss” can’t take it away! What’s the cost? Acknowledging the risk and accepting the responsibility. The risk is there anyway, even at a supposedly “safe” job, all you need to do is actually admit to yourself that you are taking on that risk. It requires accepting responsibility for yourself, instead of delegating that to a boss in a company who will manage your efforts for you. You will need to find your own clients and customers and find out what is important to them. You will need to manage your own plans and goals and achievements, a tall order for some, but ultimately so much more satisfying, because you get to keep your soul and live your life according to your own wants, needs and values. So stop looking for someone else to create security for you and start creating a life worth living!

Contributor Dave Kaiser works with entrepreneurs and job-seekers to define and realize a career that is emotionally, spiritually and materially rewarding his clients.  His mission as a coach is to evoke excellence in my clients. Check out www.BigAndBoldCoaching.com, where you can request a complimentary strategy session.

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Category: Startup Advice

  • http://Under30CEO.com Jared O'Toole

    Great post. It is a very different world from the 60s. Not only was corporate life more stable but it was simply tougher to get a business going for yourself. Today you can hop online, start networking and have a client or 2 by the end of the day without leaving your home.

    There is risk with either path in life. However I truly think the reward of doing something you truly love and that you control is no comparison to even the best corporate jobs. It will take time to succeed on your own but at the same time you could work at a company for 15years only to be laid off in the next recession.

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  • http://twitter.com/asmartbear Jason Cohen

    A mentor of mine once said: You'll never get rich working for a company, you have to start one.

    Having made enough money that I don't have to work again, and having done three startups, I'm an example of that.

    I especially like the points above about having a “job with meaning.” My next “startup” is likely to be a non-profit; in fact I have one in mind already designed to donate money to starving artists around the world.

    But you can do both! My last startup Smart Bear was lucrative but we did something important and good for the world: We helped developers fix bugs and teach/mentor each other. Everyone grew professionally and software their customers use has fewer bugs.

    Yes you can make money by screwing people, but there's just as many ways to make money by delighting people. If you do the latter, even if you fail you'll be proud.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Jason, I saw an excellent entrepreneur speaker once say: “it's too easy to make money the right way”. Pretty cool.

  • davekaiser

    Jared, Jason,

    You both make some great points. Not only is the “benefit” of working for a big company lower, and the “risk” much higher, than it was once upon a time, the barriers to entry for creating a small business are much lower, and the rewards, as always, are wonderful, from control of your own destiny to doing it your own way to the tax advantages.

    What's really becoming obvious, as you point out, is that there is risk either way, big company or own biz, so why not have some fun?

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  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Dave, I always think: why make someone else wealthy when I could be making myself and my hard working employees wealthy…

    It's hard work in the beginning but your potential for growth is exponential.

  • davekaiser

    I think the big difference is actually responsibility. Getting ahead as an employee, and building your own business both require work. Being an employee now carries tons of risk, just like being an entrepreneur always has. But if you ae in business for yourself, you have the responsibility for making sure stuff gets down, setting strategy, deciding EVERYTHING. There is no boss or company or policy to decide for you. THis is both liberating, and for some, terrifying.

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Dave, I like to be in control of my own destiny. I like to be in charge of my future and know that I'm not going to be laid off or have someone else controlling when I work, when I go home, what I have to do.

    The hard part is getting your start. The people who fight through this struggle starting your business are the people who in out in the long run–living the lifestyle they want and being in total control of their future.

  • kimjimmerson

    My grandfather worked for the same company most of his life. It was a small town and he worked at the local saw mill. Even after he retired, the owners would visit him and always sent a ham for Christmas until he died and for almost 20 years after he passed to my grandmother. I've never known that sense of security in any position that I've held. By the time I grew up, it didn't exist anymore. It still doesn't. Jared O'Toole is right. There is a risk no matter whether we decide to work for someone else or for ourselves. However, at this point I would rather succeed or fail on my own endeavors than continiously rely on others for my “jobs.”

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Kim, awesome personal story. I think it's something we can all aspire to as entrepreneurs–giving our employees the type of security your grandfather was given. Imagine how happy your grandfather would have been knowing his employer was still taking care of your grandmother and imagine how fulfilled the business owner was doing such a deed.

    Very few people these days stick with their company for their entire life–I wonder if it's because of how the owners treat their people…? or just a change in psychographics of employees…

  • kimjimmerson

    My grandfather worked for the same company most of his life. It was a small town and he worked at the local saw mill. Even after he retired, the owners would visit him and always sent a ham for Christmas until he died and for almost 20 years after he passed to my grandmother. I've never known that sense of security in any position that I've held. By the time I grew up, it didn't exist anymore. It still doesn't. Jared O'Toole is right. There is a risk no matter whether we decide to work for someone else or for ourselves. However, at this point I would rather succeed or fail on my own endeavors than continiously rely on others for my “jobs.”

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Kim, awesome personal story. I think it's something we can all aspire to as entrepreneurs–giving our employees the type of security your grandfather was given. Imagine how happy your grandfather would have been knowing his employer was still taking care of your grandmother and imagine how fulfilled the business owner was doing such a deed.

    Very few people these days stick with their company for their entire life–I wonder if it's because of how the owners treat their people…? or just a change in psychographics of employees…

  • kimjimmerson

    My grandfather worked for the same company most of his life. It was a small town and he worked at the local saw mill. Even after he retired, the owners would visit him and always sent a ham for Christmas until he died and for almost 20 years after he passed to my grandmother. I've never known that sense of security in any position that I've held. By the time I grew up, it didn't exist anymore. It still doesn't. Jared O'Toole is right. There is a risk no matter whether we decide to work for someone else or for ourselves. However, at this point I would rather succeed or fail on my own endeavors than continiously rely on others for my “jobs.”

  • Pingback: Twitted by JaredOToole

  • http://under30ceo.com MattWilsontv

    Hey Kim, awesome personal story. I think it's something we can all aspire to as entrepreneurs–giving our employees the type of security your grandfather was given. Imagine how happy your grandfather would have been knowing his employer was still taking care of your grandmother and imagine how fulfilled the business owner was doing such a deed.

    Very few people these days stick with their company for their entire life–I wonder if it's because of how the owners treat their people…? or just a change in psychographics of employees…