how I made a courageous decision to become an entrepreneur

…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.

16 comments

  • Thanks for saying this. I wouldn't say I “love” my desk job but I do like it quite a bit. The reality is that it is a far better way to make a good salary than anything else I know.

  • All very honest observations. I am currently receiving a regular paycheck in the corporate world while exploring alternative income sources and secretly hoping for the day that I am forced out on my own… I think I would need a kick in the butt to do it but I am not bold enough to give it up on my own. And I am not proud of that either.

  • I'm sure some of them made the leap out of bravery.

    I'm currently employed at an above average pay rate in a pretty secure job and very secure industry. I am, however, putting together a business plan and talking to banks and leasing agents.

    At this point, I'm still on the fence about branching out on my own, but I'm strongly leaning that way and already have some private investors and partners on board for the leap.

  • It's not for everyone and I think you need basic working experience before you can venture off on your own. Think it would be too tough to do so without experiencing another work and lifestyle. It's difficult, especially for those wanting to. They may not know the first steps to freelance. Could you recommend some?

  • I chose freelance/short term consulting, starting around 1990, as a supplement to a paycheck, rather than an alternative. In the last 19 years, I've spent perhaps six weeks without a steady paycheck, so the freelancing hasn't been financially necessary. However, I always felt like I was better able to take risks at work because I had that to fall back on. It's not easy work, and with my skill level (or willingness to price higher), it's never been enough to live well off. My best years were around $75K, and normally it's between $30-40K. I don't track hours, so I can't speak on the return on my investment in time, but it's always been important to me.

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  • I don't know that it matters if people made a conscious decision to quit their jobs and start a business or were pushed into that decision by circumstances. I guess what counts is the ultimate result.

    • @Shadox: I don't think it matters, either – but I think it DOES matter if you pretend that you made that choice yourself if the reality is that you were forced into it.

  • Good point. Some people want to take all the credit for something that was a success when it wasn't their idea to begin with. I think beinghonest about one's motive is good. There's a difference between 'had to' and 'chose to.' I also like your statement about owning your decision …good or bad..own it.

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  • You make a good point – each choice (employee, entrepreneur, etc.) has benefits and drawbacks.
    While I aspire to be an entrepreneur, I'm not even close. Being a contractor is great for the freedom, but it can be difficult finding and dealing with clients.
    There are days where being an employee seems appealing, especially as I get older.

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  • this doesn't help me with my project -.-

  • Entrepreneurism is great at time, but when the income does not come in as plan there is no where to go for help. Therefore, you have to keep working at it until it comes back, I guess. LOL

  • Entrepreneurism is great at time, but when the income does not come in as plan there is no where to go for help. Therefore, you have to keep working at it until it comes back, I guess. LOL