Now Seriously: Is It a Shame to Choose 9–5 Over Entrepreneurship, Digital Nomadism, or the “Cool” Startup Lifestyle?
When you look at my resume for the past several years, you will find the footprint of “entrepreneurship” all over it. I founded an online platform for entrepreneurs. I’ve just published a book for entrepreneurs. I coach entrepreneurs. I run a publication on Medium for entrepreneurs. And I’ve co-organized dozens of events and training sessions for entrepreneurs.
On top of that, I’ve been traveling the world all along the way, working mostly with the help of my MacBook and internet connection.
Entrepreneurship was not my primary choice from the very beginning, though. I was the prototype of an intellectual girl, who preferred books to partying and who wanted to make an impact on the world. And for me, making an impact didn’t have anything to do with the words “doing business”, which was the only expression I knew as opposed to “doing good”, long before people started talking about startups and about youth driving change via innovation.
While trying to support myself financially at the university, I did experience working from a cubicle of a multinational corporation. Later, I also got a taste of the rigid environment of public administration. And last but not least, I was receiving a good salary from a 9–5 office job at an international organization, for some time.
But my hunger for adventure, travel, and exciting challenges eventually led me to freelancing and, ultimately, to registering my first company. And yes, since then there has been no looking back for me.
Is there really no other way than quitting a stable job, or never becoming an employee in the first place, when one wants to score enough cool points in the game of life?
Am I then trying to unequivocally support and further spread the message that entrepreneurship is the one and only correct way to feeling fulfilled and achieving success?
The answer is both “yes” and “no”. Yes for my belief that every person should strive to deliver certain value to the society and/or our planet, which should be in the nature of any individual who calls themselves an entrepreneur. And no for the fact that becoming an entrepreneur is more about adopting a certain mindset, not particularly about founding a startup, or working remotely from Chiang Mai.
Entrepreneurs are innovators who build sustainable businesses or engage in projects that make real positive impact.
I’ve been saying this for years, but I will repeat it once again. Anyone can be an entrepreneur, regardless of their age, gender, place of origin, or professional experience. Aside from that, I will add today that you can have a mind and a heart of an entrepreneur whether you operate a large enterprise, a local non-profit, or have a 9–5 job.
So if it’s about personal characteristics, values, and thinking patterns, rather than a specific form of making one’s living, who can call themselves an entrepreneur? How can we tell this peculiar species of entrepreneurs from others?
- Improves themselves every single day in terms of their skills, knowledge, body, mind, and relationships, so they can become stronger and more competent at serving others.
- Strives towards doing their absolute best at whatever they’re pursuing in both their personal and professional lives.
- Aims at making a real and sustainable impact by engaging in enterprises or projects that improve lives of other people and deliver value to their communities.
Founding a startup, traveling the globe, or working from your bedroom indeed sounds cool. But what really is cool is when a person can honestly say that they have made someone’s life better or that they have come up with a new solution to a seemingly unsolvable problem.
Being an entrepreneur and working a 9–5 job is not as irreconcilable as it seems. Many innovative companies have already understood that it is in their interest to encourage entrepreneurial spirit at the workplace, to embrace lean prototyping methods, or to put a greater emphasis on their social and ecological responsibility. And if you’re an individual, an employee, or a manager of a small team on a limited budget, you can do exactly the same. You can initiate change and inject innovation into your work processes. Shouldn’t it be possible for some reason, there’s still plenty of space outside of your official working hours to develop passion passion projects that can help you execute your visions.
And what if you’re perfectly happy with what you’ve been doing so far, simply doing your job as well as you can?
As long as you’re not hurting anybody, as long as you’re useful in some way to the people around you, and as long as you’re happy with yourself, do absolutely whatever you want!
People tend to be judgmental, especially if there’s something fundamental missing in their own lives.
They may tell you that you should get a proper job instead of chasing silly dreams. They may tell you that having a stable job is dull and boring. They may tell you that you’re just a greedy capitalist. They may tell you that you’re a corporate rat. They may tell you that you haven’t got the slightest idea how the world works. They may tell you that since you’ve invested so many years and so much money into your university education, you should not waste it by switching careers. They may tell you that you will deeply regret opening a company instead of starting a family. They may tell you that you have betrayed your potential by staying home with kids. They may tell you that you’re too young to understand business. They may tell you that you’re too old to succeed.
Are you going to listen?
I’ll tell you a story of a good friend of mine instead. When she was in her early twenties, still a university student, her dad made her sign a couple of loans for himself in her name, since the banks would not give him any more money. She was not stupid and knew what it meant for her in the future. She cried with every new signature. But it was her dad and she loved him. It was practically impossible for her to say “no” to him since he was very persuasive, making her believe that he couldn’t make it without her help. And as far as her own dream was concerned — becoming a presenter on a radio station — he had always actively supported her.
Today, she is 33, and she has lived most of her adult life with a multi-million debt on her shoulders. She has never seen anything of that money. She has never traveled. She can’t have a baby since the state leaves her only a bare minimum to survive. The word “promotion” has had only little meaning to her since most of her salary would be taken from her anyway.
But you know what? I’ve never seen her sad, frustrated, or frowning. She is quite aware that life has given her many other beautiful gifts. She has a marvelous boyfriend (even though they can’t get married either, without a complicated, and costly, prenup contract), who supports not only her but also her mother who lives with them. Her mom is an energetic, cute elderly lady with the sharpest sense of humor you can imagine. And my friend was also born with a melodic, beautiful voice that enabled her to accomplish the dream of working for a radio station very early in her career.
But this is not the end of the story. After many years in the radio, pursuing her “dream job”, and 4 years before the state will finally pronounce her debt-free, she decided to quit and become a nanny, among others because she cannot have a baby of her own, yet.
A nanny! What a shocker for many of her friends. So much judgment has been showering down on her since.
A few weeks into the new job, I asked her how the experience had been so far. She told me she had not been happier in a long time. “I’m essentially ‘playing’ the whole day,” she said. “I love what I do, I’m left with more money, I’m my own boss, and I have plenty of new clients flowing in.”
This woman decided to go it on her own, although on paper her starting position was one of the worst ones you can imagine. Moreover, she has given up her childhood dream for a brand new one, without feeling guilty. Without giving in to the urge to explain herself to other people.
Another story I will share with you is that of my boyfriend. When he was in his twenties, he obtained a PhD in Architecture and Art. He spent five years building a successful career as a freelancer, designing interesting projects for a great architectonic studio. And just in that moment, when his reputation was taking off and his girlfriend back then suggested to buy a house and start a family, he decided to give all that up, booked a one way flight ticket to Barcelona, and traveled the world for the following 6 years, with merely a backpack on his shoulders, a camera, a laptop, and a few T-shirts.
People around him have had a very hard time digesting this decision. Nevertheless, when you meet him today, you’re amazed at the sheer amount of fantastic places, wonderful adventures, and also the new professional experience he has accumulated. He has worked for some good companies along the way, learned about new trends in technology and design, and founded a few startups himself. When you listen to his stories, you can’t help yourself but feel envious at least a tiny bit.
Still, even he has not been spared: You’re too old to live a nomadic life! What do you have your degree for? Shouldn’t you settle down at last?
And again, it is not the end of the story. This person, a true globetrotter, an entrepreneur, and a free spirit, has decided to accept a full-time job offer which requires him to stay in one city for at least a year and go to the office every week day at regular hours.
He is quite aware of what he is giving up and what he is gaining. No one in his department — people who have been employees for most of their lives — has his unique experience and thanks to that, he has been hired to promote innovation within the organization. And for him personally, it’s a new and challenging opportunity to learn new skills and to manage a team of people from all around the world, enabling him to build solutions he would not be able to build alone.
Has he betrayed his dream to trade freedom for 9–5?
I don’t think so.
The last story I’ll tell here is of my other close friend. We used to attend a prestigious bilingual high school together. She is extremely smart. She was one of the top students in the class and could easily apply to any university of her choice.
And she chose… to study pedagogy for primary schools. Today, she is a teacher employed by a small alternative school, receiving rather a modest salary at the end of each month. Besides, she is a mother to 3 little children, having a mortgage with her husband for another 20 or so years.
Has she betrayed her potential?
I don’t think so either. She is one of the people I admire most in my life. She is an angel in my eyes.
She has always known what she wants. Very few people can say that. Besides, she is absolutely dedicated to her job, which has helped her make an impact on the lives of hundreds of children, who will most probably grow into confident, open-minded individuals with a life-long hunger after knowledge.
For me, this is what genuine entrepreneurship is about. Making a positive impact on people’s life. Never to stop learning. Always doing your best. And never succumbing to people’s “well-meant opinions”.
No matter how much you think your own story makes you a misfit, a loony, or a bore, rest assured that for every judgment you receive, there’s someone who has probably been offered 10x more. At the end of the day, we all go back to our own lives. We bear consequences of our own decisions. And yet, we can all make a change in the world. No matter if we work from Starbucks, no matter if our baby dribbles onto the keyboard while we finish off emails, no matter if we have a nasty boss screaming over our shoulder.
Choose your own life. Or ten different ones.
No one’s story is linear. Allow it to branch.