Every Day, I Think Less Like an Employee
I used to feel satisfied by getting a steady paycheck that grew slowly over the years. The promise of climbing the corporate ladder as long as I focused on working hard, and working smart, seemed great to me.
Recently, I’ve realized that this settle-in mentality is way out of date. Some of the most talented people around my age, and I’m a millennial, that aren’t even entrepreneurs, are accurately described as opportunists, and not loyal employees.
They’re always on the lookout for the next best thing and don’t allow themselves to be lulled into complacency in order to gain tenure at companies that don’t challenge or compensate them enough.
One reason for that is that these days, being tenured doesn’t hold the same significance that it used to.
Compared to 50 years ago, people must now plan independently for retirement. Their companies’ 401K plans don’t protect them from stock market volatility. There’s a lot of risk of their hard earned investments not yielding much return. Also, the pensions our parents were rewarded are not something we have to look forward to. Some companies don’t help their employees invest in their futures at all. Many people I’ve worked with have had the unpleasant experience of dedicating a decade or more of their labor to a company, only to have their positions eliminated and not replaced. Sometimes, it happens without any warning.
I haven’t experienced it personally but I’m sure that at the moment one loses their livelihood, they must feel terrified. Insult adds to injury through the betrayal felt if a trusted manager or peers knew of or planned their elimination for months behind their backs, all while interacting with them as though no change were afoot.
The possibility of being laid off is part of being an employee at any company. Once realizations like this enter your mind, you may find it hard to stay motivated. You may struggle to maintain hope that somewhere out there a company exists that treats their employees like human beings that have families to support, and feelings.
Another thing that moved me toward change was wanting to escape from mundanity.
I’d always worked in after-sales departments. The kinds of roles I was headed for didn’t have the best earning potential with performance barely affecting compensation. Money isn’t the most important aspect of life, but it’s one of the enjoyments we receive from working. The limited earning potential and lack of challenge failed to compel me, whereas the more I collaborated with colleagues in sales and engaged in revenue generating activities, the more excitement I felt.
Performance-based rewards, not being stuck behind a desk all the time, networking, and constantly learning new things made it clear that sales was much more of a fit for my personality and long-term goals. And my love for taking care of customers is transferable to sales, and in return the better care I take of my customer, the more I gain.
Working outside of the US was the icing on the cake. I’d always dreamed of working in a foreign country, and now I can say that it’s done, off of my checklist. Working in Cairo, which required commuting every day through a population of over 25 million, weaving through crowds and clouds of pollution like I’d never seen before, was not for me.
Many companies in the city never pull a work permit for foreign workers to legitimatize the situation, ensure rights are protected, or that taxes are properly paid. They also seem to have missed the no-smoking-in-the-workplace memo that went around over 25 years ago. Working in Cairo can be like visiting a strange version of the 1970s: There are laptops, smartphones, and lots of cigarettes.
There are progressive companies in Cairo, but I missed western business culture. So, I started to search and it took some time, but I finally found companies that allowed remote work. I officially became a contractor, and not an employee.
The feeling of freedom I got working from my home office -or anywhere I desired- was uplifting. No more rush hour rat race, I could choose my schedule, the work I did, and the results. In contrast to the monotony of office life, with the outcome being the same no matter how little or much effort I put in, working as a contractor was motivating.
Realistically, being a contractor, or self-employed, requires extreme discipline. The time of graduating out of being an employee is not slack-off time. It’s a time to seriously step up your game.
The freedom of working on a contract basis and not relying on a paycheck, is no longer intimidating. In fact, I now know a paycheck can be a limitation. Being able to go out and create opportunities isn’t. I don’t want ever want to rely on anyone for a salary again. That’s my conviction, and it’s how I know I’ve broken free from being an employee.