Modern society has conditioned us to believe that having a job is the safe route; that the artist’s or entrepreneur’s life is only for those fearless few who don’t mind the risks.
Artists know that creation-as-business is more rewarding than playing cog in someone else’s machine. And I’d like to show you four ways self-employment reduces your risk.
I’ll say it plain: making your own way is the safe route.
Not that you’ll hear this in the voices around you… Your mother wonders when you’re finally going to get a real job. Friends ask if you’ve “gotten it out of your system.”
Even you sometimes wonder whether it wouldn’t be safer to take the well-traveled road.
I say again, vehemently: no, it would not.
1. Taking control over your own happiness
First, by spending 40 or more hours a week at someone else’s beck and call you will sacrifice control over your own happiness. I direct your attention to everyone’s favorite unpronouncable name:
Because for most of us a job is such a central part of life, it is essential that this activity be as enjoyable and rewarding as possible. Yet many people feel that as long as they get decent pay and some security, it does not matter how boring or alienating their job is. Such an attitude, however, amounts to throwing away almost 40 percent of one’s waking life. And since no one else is going to take the trouble of making sure that we enjoy our work, it makes sense for each of us to take on this responsibility.
Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p. 101-2; emphasis mine.
Working for someone else gives them final say over what you do, how you do it, when you do it, and who you do it with and for. Surrendering those autonomies is tantamount to surrending control over your own happiness.
An obvious point, perhaps, but one it’s easy to forget when bills come due.
That brings up our second point.
2. Jobs have nothing to do with financial security
Once upon a time perhaps they did, but it’s no longer the case. We’ve all formed a conspiracy of silence to fool ourselves.
Sure, income may be tight for the artist. For the suddenly-unemployed, income is nonexistent – usually with no warning, because your employer, not you, decides whether you remain employed.
Oh; if you had a job for a few years, you could live on your savings for a while? If you’ve seen statistics on who is saving, and how much, you know that’s not generally true.
3. You escape from the hedonic treadmill
One reason even those with well-paying jobs fail to save is the hedonic treadmill. Here’s a third risk you’ll reduce by working for yourself…
The longer and more frequently we engage in an activity, the less pleasure we get from the activity and the more intensity it takes to achieve the same level of pleasure.
Materialism is designed to put you on the hedonic treadmill. This month’s nice restaurant isn’t quite as nice after while, because you’ve seen the ads for nicer places. A three-year-old car seems old. A week in Vail is replaced by a week in Gstaadt. A subscription to the gym gives way to a personal trainer.
None of this stuff is bad if you can afford it. That’s the problem: you can afford it, so you do. Why would anyone live without the nice things you work your head to the bone to have?
And there you are, on the hedonic treadmill, always needing more because enough is never enough.
Bear in mind that it’s not the selfish or materialistic who have this tendency. If you’re human, you suffer entropy of satisfaction: what thrilled yesterday pleases today and bores tomorrow. It takes marvelous self-control and dedication to avoid getting sucked into the lifestyle promoted by the marketing machine’s endless barrage.
Few entrepreneurs have a steady, regular cash flow. Most have ups and downs. It’s always a juggling act, dividing time between doing business and working on the business. Spend time marketing and work slows down. Then the marketing starts to have an effect and work picks up, so you have less time for marketing. You take a vacation, and have to find a way to earn the money beforehand for both the vacation costs and the lost income while you’re away from the business.
Constant focus makes complacency less of a danger. When your cash flow fluctuates (within acceptable limits) you’re less inclined to live at the higher limit all the time when you can find ways to budget to the lower limit. With planning, this automatically creates a savings account to help when life breaks out of the limits.
4. Placing a greater value on your own time and effort
A fourth, closely related risk: forgetting the connection between money spent and the time and effort it took to earn it.
Taking greater control to manage your own life is a huge step off the hedonic treadmill. The connection between money and the time and effort it takes to earn it is far more tangible. Dinner out is no longer a slide of the credit card, it’s 3 or 4 hours of work. It may well be worth it, but being more aware of the connection means you’ll stop and think.
We all know people who’ve mentally and practically lost the connection between hours spent working and the cost of fun.
Some of the power of the hedonic treadmill is thrill-seeking. Most of us live to some degree, as the poet said, lives of quiet desperation. While desperation may be too strong a word, think back to the last time your life was truly thrilling without a huge price tag. For many people, their memory doesn’t go back that far. The daily grind seems to grind away life’s edges, nudging us to go find edges which still challenge.
We need excitement in life. The entrepreneur’s life includes it by default. A more visceral and immediate lifestyle reduces your risks and increases your rewards.
Hanging on with your own hands
Picture this scene: walking along a mountain path, you slip – and go right over the edge. Your hired guide grabs your hand. Whew! Safety.
Then, he starts to slip…
Look into his eyes. Imagine it. This is no lifelong friend, no loved one, no trusted ally. Your only relationship is money.
When he starts to slip, would you rather be hanging from his hand, or hanging onto something with your own?
Despite the fact that I’m a bit of a control freak, it took me over 25 years to learn the lesson that working for me carries less risk and more reward than working for anyone else.
I want others to learn that lesson without waiting 25 years.
Over to you
Does a job really play such a large role in the pursuit of happiness?
Does the hedonic treadmill affect your finances?
If you currently have a job, do you depend on it, or do you believe it’s a calculated risk?
About the author: He may have taken a knock to the noggin in his leap off the hedonic treadmill, but Joel D Canfield still manages to string sentences together most days. Though he pays the bills as a web developer (self-employed, of course) he’s managed to write and self-publish his 10th book, released this month. Its cheeky title is You Don’t Want a Job and he believes every word of it.