Go Beyond

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Working for Yourself vs Working for a Corporation

I guess the title isn't quite exact, but I'll run with it. I have a fair bit of experience working in corporate settings. And I guess I'm nearly approaching SporeStack's three year anniversary.

Maybe you've been thinking about quitting your job and working for yourself. Not having a boss, setting your own hours. Picking where you work.

Sounds great, right?

Yes and no.

What it's really like to work for yourself

It's a lot harder. You're not guaranteed pay. Your butt is always on the line, for everything.

Every field is a bit different. In my case with tech, while I have 100% ownership, everything I work on is building equity, a brand, a name, a reputation, and a product. It's a continual investment. It may never pay off, or it might pay off in spades.

Owning a business is like constantly making dice rolls, except the effects of the dice rolls are accumulative. Sometimes you gain nothing, sometimes you lose a lot, a little, or you earn a bit. You get the idea.

My three year average income, not counting work on the side, is probably a third of what corporate work has been for me.

What it's really like to work for a corporation

It's easy. You work some 40 hours a week and you get paid the same amount, on time, every time.

Are you sick? Take the day off. Family vacation? Take the day off.

I think the main real downsides are attachment and meaning.

Are some corporate jobs meaningful? Sure. It's arbitrary but I think most would agree that some roles are fulfilling. But then the vast majority, do you really believe in your products? Do you think things are better with it on the market? I'm guessing maybe half.

And then the attachment. With a corporate job, you're really only paid with experience and income. If you get equity, it's really just income because it's not enough equity to have any realy say in the company. So if your job ever turns from clock in, clock out, to something you deeply care about, you're putting more and more into something you don't control.

You may control it in the immediate term. You influence projects, decisions, and so forth. And maybe will even impact it for a long time. But because you do not own it, it all can vanish. The most likely cause? Office politics. So many people who don't actually own the bottom line that interests are not aligned. There's no one person to report to. And speaking of, what is a corporation anyway?

A corporation is an organization whose sole purpose is to make its shareholders money. That is it. If the shareholders are you and a friend, maybe that's fine. But if the shareholders are 80% venture capital, 0.1% you, and 19.9% other employees, you are supposed to make as much revenue per quarter as possible. If not, you must answer to the shareholders.

So even if you can make some money being a reasonable and honest company, your shareholders can always ask for more. And more may likely be making inferior products with superior marketing.

Is this the case to a T? Usually not, but it mostly is. Your company may claim to have different missions and mottos, but even past adequate success, it's likely to pursue more and more, even to the point of something you are no longer proud of.

I can understand the need to work for a paycheque. I imagine it's the default reason people choose. But I think if it's for a corporation with nameless shareholders, it's not worth investing yourself into. It's just a cog in the wheel. You can lose your job at any time for any reason. All of the changes you make can be reverted. If that were the case, how would you work? Is it worth the experience and the salary? Hopefully, yes. But I think for some the job becomes a life because you actually care about it. And caring about something that you have no real control over seems risky. It's like putting your faith in Blackjack. Eventually, you're going to lose against the house.

I think the reason so many people are unhappy is that they let external forces decide their happiness. Metrics for success are based on how well your job review went, not well you actually thought you did. How others see you, and not how you see yourself.

I'm not saying starting your own business is for everyone. It's way harder and worse in most ways. But, I think truly investing in a career at some company is a risky bet. It may pay off financially, but if it becomes a source of personal value for you it's just temporary. I think family, your own hobbies, your own projects, are all safer bets on an emotional level.