…except I didn’t.
With the advent of a deep recession, or depression, or whatever the experts choose to call it today, the traditional and new media are running story after story about freelancers or entrepreneurs or similar types. I read a dozen blogs by people who left the corporate world to become freelancers, or start their own companies or some other entrepreneurial venture. I am taken aback by how few of the people who claim to have made a brave leap into entrepreneurialism did so voluntarily. Some are open about the reason – a layoff followed by a time without finding a new job forced them to improvise. Fair enough. Others look back and claim that a brave moment of clarity prompted them to leap into a new lifestyle – when in reality they, too, were forced by circumstance. Not as honest.
If you get laid off and can’t find a new job, the venture into freelancing or entrepreneurialism or whatever you’d like to call it becomes a necessity (let’s call it entrepreneurialism for now, even though that’s not exactly the right term). Someone in this situation can, of course, look back ten years later and pretend that they did it out of a suddent insight or burst of bravery. Maybe at a later date that person had a chance to go back to a full-time job and chose to stick with their new path. Maybe circumstances changed and that person enjoyed their life better after changing to an entrepreneurial lifestyle and adjusted in other, less visible ways – a spouse went back to work, or the family relocated, or the lifestyle was downsized. But if you were forced to do it, and adapted, say so. Don’t pretend you were Bill Gates, dropping out of Harvard to follow your dream.
I don’t think that entrepreneurialism is for everyone. I see some famous “lifestyle bloggers” or whatever you choose to call them decrying the cubicle life – the language on the blogs can be bitter, and on twitter some can be downright condescending (if you ask me). I’ve seen some derogatory language used towards people who aspire to the employee lifestyle. Hell, I do it. I’ve done it a lot, in fact. But not everyone can be a web designer or blogger working out of a coffee shop. Some people may choose to live a less “free” life in exchange for the lifestyle. This lifestyle is addictive. It’s nice having money that comes in regular bursts (until it doesn’t). Chasing down freelance work is difficult. What’s close-minded and feeble is calling people fools for making the choice, one way or the other. I have a friend who gets a kick out of untangling complex corporate accounting problems. He likes what he does and has never expressed a second’s interest in going it alone. Calling him a desk jockey or a cubicle troll would be silly – he’s happier than a lot of people I know.
I have had four working experiences in my life. I was a teacher (substitute grade school and a graduate teaching assistant), I worked for large firms and corporations (the bulk of my working life), I did contract consulting (the last five years) and over the last few months I’ve been attempting to forge an “alternative” work pattern. Each of these four experiences have had plusses and minuses. I moved from teaching to corporate life for money, from corporate life to consulting for the lifestyle, and from consulting to freelancing out of necessity. I might have chosen to freelance eventually on my own, but despite the best intentions to do so I only did it once I was forced to do so. It feels like a proper evolution, so hopefully the recession will turn out to be the kick in the butt I needed. But if I ever claim with a smile and a giggle that I took a bold and courageous step to seize my future, please give me a thwack in the ear. Choose a path, but be honest about why you chose it. Own your decisions – or lack thereof.