When I worked as a freelance musician, I was self-employed.
I currently work in higher ed, and the way I see it, I’m still self-employed. In fact, I go to great pains to remind myself of this frequently.
We all want to create change in the world while simultaneously advancing our careers, right? I’ve found that approaching any and all work with a self-employed mindset helps with both of these goals, and I’m asking you to consider thinking this way for three reasons.
1. Safety is an Illusion
One of the perceived benefits of working for an organization or an established business is a feeling of safety.
Getting paid by direct deposit twice a month and not having to crunch the numbers ourselves makes our jobs feel secure, and it’s not just a feeling: There really is stability in working for an organization.
But there’s not as much stability as we like to think, and not having to look at the numbers every day doesn’t mean the numbers aren’t there. This is why being a CFO is such a tough job: managing a company’s finances is difficult, stressful and fraught with worry. No one wants to lay someone off.
If your job really is secure, if you have a safety net, here’s my advice:
Pretend you don’t.
You will do better work, which will (paradoxically) strengthen your safety net.
2. Attendance-Based Compensation Is Over
In The New Know, Thornton May tells us that “attendance-based compensation”–getting paid just for showing up–is over.
It sure is. And thank goodness.
It’s easy to fall into this mindset as part of an organization. Come to work, do what you’re told (no less and no more), and go home. Wait for instructions and execute them adequately. This kind of mindset feels comfortable, but as Seth Godin says in Linchpin, “There are no longer any good jobs where someone tells you precisely what to do.”
Besides, who wants to spend their life doing exactly what they’re told? Not you and me.
The freelancer doesn’t rest on his laurels, because he can’t. Showing up won’t cut it. He’s got to bring his A-game every day.
3. We Get Paid Only for Creating Value
For the freelancer, there’s a direct and nearly immediate correlation (time-wise) between effectiveness and compensation.
The freelance writer knows she needs to do great work on her current project, or there might not be a next project. Failing to create value today affects her next month, not 5 years down the road.
When you work for an organization, the correlation is still direct. It’s just not as time-bound. We might get away with coasting (creating as little value as possible without getting fired) for years before it catches up with us. We might even think we’re getting away with it.
Working for a large organization can insulate us from the truth:
Our jobs are tied to the value we create, and we aren’t owed anything.
The freelancer is acutely aware of this fact. The 9-5er can easily forget it, at least for a while.
Should someone who works for a large organization have a different mindset than a freelancer?
I don’t think so. We’re most effective when we remember that safety is an illusion, just showing up isn’t enough, and we get paid for creating value.
The self-employed mindset is for everyone.