The life of an entrepreneur is tempting, but there's much to be said for a stable income
If you’re committed to a life-less-ordinary, one of financial success and freedom of time, then you’ve likely had someone tell you that jobs are for suckers.
For the risk-averse, the average; the unadventurous.
They’ll remind you that nobody got rich by saving their income.
They’ll warn you that the comfort and relative-stability of an employment contract, with its fixed working hours and a regular pay-checks, are stifling your creativity and killing your ambition.
Doing their best impersonation of Tony Robbins, they’ll assure you that “You’ve got to burn your boats if you want to take the island.” With a route of escape, you’ll never commit yourself fully to the fight.
While each of these sentiments may be true to some extent, in some cases, I’m here today to present the case for the humble day job as the cornerstone of entrepreneurial ventures.
There are many reasons that prevent us from becoming rich — the brilliant Desiree Peralta covers ten of them in this excellent piece. I’m a firm believer, though, that remaining in employment is not a barrier in and of itself to achieving success and riches.
Is it such a bad thing to hold onto the steady income for as long as possible?
Does it really dilute our efforts, commitment, or hunger for success?
Should we be looked down on as lacking dedication or drive if we try and maintain a safety net beneath us?
I think not.
Escape the J.O.B.?
The first personal development seminar I went to in 2016 was attended by about 200 people and ran for two intensive days. Motivational speakers took their turn on stage, whipping the crowd into a frenzy as a they shared stories of rags-to-riches and described the characteristics of those who succeed.
There were common threads running through each of the presentations.
- Each professed to be financially-free — with photos of them leaning on their Ferraris and selfies with Tony Robbins, Gary Vee, and other luminaries of personal development scattered through their slide-decks.
- Each offered their own follow-on series of training or mentoring that we could sign up to on the day (at low-low, never to be repeated prices) and learned how to replicate their success for just a few grand on the credit card.
- Each believed wholeheartedly that jobs were for losers — for the risk-averse who didn’t have the guts and grit to escape and strike out on their own.
Their conviction went as far as them spelling out the word J.O.B. rather than saying it — as though it were a dirty word?
At the time, I was a self-employed contractor rather than a permanent employee, but I still felt singled out. It seemed that in needing the stability of a regular monthly income, I was denying myself some sort of competitive advantage and hindering my own chances of success.
One of the main takeaways from that seminar, and one that I hung onto for many years after, was that escaping my day job was a pre-requisite for entrepreneurial success on any scale. It felt as though any enjoyment or fulfilment I might have taken from my job had been soured. For a while, I contemplated quitting and supposedly doing myself a favour.
Rolling a few years forwards, I’ve actually moved further away from that so-called ideal of entrepreneurial life where I’m free and my own boss. I’ve taken a permanent job with a former client.
It’s a move I struggled with initially, but I’m now totally at peace. It’s felt particularly smart in times of Coronavirus when contractors have been the first to be shed by many employers (including mine).
That said, my entrepreneurial drive is stronger now than ever before. I remain committed to developing other sources of income, some of which will hopefully become passive in the long term. I want more financial freedom for my family and me, and eventually more free time too.
I’m putting in more time than ever towards various side-ventures (including writing, podcasting, and investing), for I realise that the modest successes achieved to-date won’t be sufficient to rely upon going forwards.
But here’s the thing — I feel that much of these successes and the personal growth I’ve experienced have come about because-of not in-spite-of keeping my day job throughout.
The Beauty of Stability
The biggest benefit of having a job and a steady income is that we can all sleep at night. It’s not to be underestimated.
My job gives us a predictable and stable income. Of course, this hangs in the balance, and at all times, I could be given one-month’s notice that my employer is letting me go. Nonetheless, while I’m employed, we can count on a baseline of income that meets our living costs and allows me to make some modest investments. It provides various benefits too that I never bothered with when I was self-employed.
Freedom is appealing, but so is being able to keep a roof over our head and food on the table while we work towards achieving that freedom. I realise that my salary alone won’t necessarily enable the life I want to create, but it’s a good start.
It perhaps seems bold and exciting to contemplate casting off the shackles of the job and to know that I could be entirely free to spend all day, every day pursuing my passion. If I were to do that, I don’t know if I could handle the pressure of still having the bills to pay.
All things considered, the day job feels like a supporting structure that has enabled me to pursue other projects rather than a constraint that’s preventing me from succeeding in them.
You’ve Got Time
A quick search through personal development rhetoric will also remind you that most ventures take much longer to bear fruit than you imagined they would. The same gurus remind us that we’ve got plenty of time each day to devote to productive and creative pursuits if we choose to use it as such.
My job has never prevented me from pursuing other projects alongside it — it’s simply a matter of priorities and how I choose to use your 24 hours each day.
I’m not about to preach my own variety of hustle-porn; I need 7 to 8 hours sleep each night, or I’m no use to anyone. I’m also a father of four with plenty of interests and other demands placed upon my time. But I’ve also trained myself to wake early, and I’m disciplined about planning my time to make the best use of it. I research and write early in the morning and do the same after I log off from work.
It helps that I’m now a full-time homeworker too , which makes it’s easy to switch from job to side-hustle and back-again when time allows.
I still fit in exercise, family time, and leisure, but I’ve culled the lower-priority, lower impacting activities from my life to make room for my side-projects.
When I became a permanent employee, I negotiated to compress my hours. I now work full-time hours but over a 9-day fortnight. This has given me alternate Mondays to devote to side-projects. I saw this as the best way of gaining flexibility and time but without losing income.
It’s all about priorities and how you manage your time. If you want to devote time to a project alongside work, you’ll find the time to do so.
A Career is a Long Time
For many years after that seminar, my attitude towards my job had been soured. I viewed it as something that was keeping me from my destiny — living the bejewelled life of an internet-entrepreneur.
Now that I’ve come to my senses, I’ve rekindled interest in my career — project managing cyber-security initiatives. It’s interesting, rewarding, and stimulating mentally. It’s also well-paid enough to support my family and me, and I’ve been reminded of the fact that I’m actually quite good at it.
Maybe the idea of gradually building a career, developing a skillset, gaining responsibilities, and working for a corporation for a few years is unpalatable to many — I’d certainly bought into the rhetoric that I should feel turned off by such notions.
Lately, though, I see it for what it is. A career happens over a long time, whether that’s as an entrepreneur, master-investor, or employee. I don’t think there’s shame in committing to one field for a few years and gaining credibility and chops within it.
Perhaps it’d be nice to make a few million day-trading FOREX for a couple of years, but I’d still have plenty of years to live and plenty of energy to expend. I’d need something to do besides dabbling my feet in an infinity pool on a tropical island. Taking time to hone my craft and build skills in my chosen field has been rewarding in its own right. In the same way, the skills I’m growing in my side-ventures have taken the time and consistent effort to gain.
My job in cyber security has started to intersect more with my side-projects too. I’ve worked for years in banking and IT security and am now starting to get involved with Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency, too, as an investor and technology enthusiast. I’m starting to write about Bitcoin Investing and Project Management — my day-job is starting to bleed into the side-project. It’s funny how things tend to converge.
I don’t think that it has to be a case of working a job, building a career, OR pursuing a side-hustle or passion project — one thing often blends and merges into or informs the next. Things aren’t so black and white.
One size does not fit all, of course. Life circumstances determine the level of risk that each of us is comfortable with taking — those without kids, a mortgage, or anyone to support but themselves will be able to make the bold moves and experimental actions.
Attitudes to risk also differ from one person to the next, too, and while the thought of losing my salary would be detrimental to my productivity and creativity, others will find it exciting.
We’re all entitled to choose an approach to life that fits our own goals and circumstances without feeling like we’re letting ourselves down or leaving advantage on the table if we don’t go gung-ho and abandon all financial safety nets. If you’ve got the drive and determination to create something from the seed of an idea, then chances are you’ll find a way of making it work, job or no job.
A side-hustle without a day-job is just a ‘hustle.’ If I’d been reliant on my side-hustles to support my family and me we’d have hit the skids long ago.