You are Self-employed. Act like it!
Not too long ago, I delivered a Lunch and Learn with the title ‘Own Your Career’. As I mentioned last week, I had to bypass my usual development cycle for the talk, so I am revisiting the ideas here. This week I want to share a bit of career advice I got from my father. ‘You are self-employed. Act like it!’ Now, by the time my father uttered that phrase, I had already been working a few years. But I realized that, though he’d never said it before, he’d trained me in this idea with all of his advice. Whether it was on how I ought to work, or when he counselled me about surviving a layoff, his advice rang true. ‘You are self-employed’.
To understand the implications, it makes sense to contrast the model with it’s counter. If you aren’t self-employed, you are by definition other employed. Or put shortly, you are an employee. In such a model, your job is at the mercy of another. You career growth depends on the plans and promotions delivered by that other. Taken to an extreme, what role you are to fill, and your path to it ultimately rests in the hands of another. With many simple statements, and a subtle implications, it tempts you into passivity.
I have felt that pull, and heard that siren’s song. ‘It’s not my fault, my company’s development plan sucks.’ 'Oh, I can’t do that, I’m just a … '. I remember hunching over a keyboard, praying that maybe they’d like this resume. Wondering all the while if my resume really meant anything. I remember the sharp icy sting of panic setting it, as I watched now the fourth colleagues being walked away from their desk. Wondering if I was going to be next. Wondering what I would tell my wife, as she held my infant son.
But there is a strength of spirit in being self-employed. If you are self-employed, your employer is actually just your current client. You can and will go find others. Even if you’re laid off, there are other businesses. That resume you just wrote? It is NOT the summation of your worth as a human being. It’s actually marketing material for Corporation You. And if it’s Corporation You, then You must be the CEO! Congrats on the promotion!
That said, being CEO of Corporation You draws attention to a startling fact. If you’re self-employed, you’ve got a lot of responsibility, to go with all that new found authority. You’ll have to figure out where you want the company to go. You’ll need to lead yourself. If you’re self-employed, then your employer no longer owns your career growth. In addition to deciding where You Corp. is headed, you’ll need to plot the course to get you there. phew While liberating, being self-employed involves a LOT more responsibility.
As I’ve thought more about what it means to act like you’re self-employed. I realized that thinking of yourself as a company helps a great deal. One thing it drew my attention to was the quality of my work. If you’re just an employee, your pay is stuck at whatever your employer agrees to. If you choose to offer up higher quality work, its quite possible that the guy, in the next cubicle, with the same title, is getting the same pay you are. But what if you’re self-employed? Well, even if not noticed today, the quality of your work is building the brand name for You Corp. When it comes time to find that next client, your work will speak for itself. Your references will gladly attest to it. Your efforts will come to fruition in the fullness of time.
From the day you entered the work force, you have been Self-employed. And you always will be. You may have signed an agreement to work for your current employer, sure. But as recent economic times have taught us, no such contract lasts forever. So take ownership of Corporation You! Lead that company well! Develop you own plan to get You Corp. to where you want it to be. Don’t hesitate to deliver your best work! Even if it isn’t recognized where you are, you’ll be building the You Corp. Brand.
P.S. The above article is an opinion of the author, and should not be construed as blanket career advise. Instead, please use this mental model to evaluate your situation and employ your best judgement in applying it. I pray it serves you well!