Powerless – A not-so-friendly reminder as to why we build our businesses

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Last week I was informed that a previous manager of mine, someone I consider both a mentor and a friend, received their notice at work. From my perspective, there were effectively no warning signs that this was coming. No lack of performance or misalignment to company goals; just a change in strategic direction that required the shuffling of teams and their managers.

I was surprised by this news, despite this very manager repeatedly telling myself and others that it is never a matter of if, but only a matter of when we will receive notice. This attitude was not due to pessimism, or a lack of dedication to the current employer. Rather, this person possessed an innate understanding of how the world of technology ebbs and flows. When your product is virtual, lacking real materials to produce, the only true cost in running your business is the people you hire to do the work. If you wish to make adjustments to your business, the most effective moves you can make depend on hiring, firing, or repurposing individuals.

Want to save a million dollars on your bottom line? Fire ten employees.

Want to develop a new product to go to market? Move ten engineers to a new project or hire new talent.

These shifts are happening constantly, and while I personally believe you get more mileage from evolving responsibilities over replacing with new talent, it’s not always a realistic approach if the skill set you are building is drastically different from the existing position. And so, while this is all a relatively new experience to me and my relatively naive view of the world, it is completely understandable.

So where does that leave me. Do I still have a job? Yes. Do I want to continue doing my job well? Yes (out of both personal values and now with an added healthy dose of fear). So what changed? Nicole and I had a brief conversation about cutting back on some of our expenses and saving more, and what we would do if I did lose my job.  Most critically, we felt that this was yet another push for us to pursue alternative forms of income, and reaffirmed how we felt about starting our own business.

Having a near complete lack of control over whether or not you are employed is a terrible feeling.  Sure, we can stack the odds in our favor with improved job performance, and careers in “infaliable sectors” like healthcare; but no matter what we do, ultimately our continued employment, and our income, is at the discretion of others.   There really is no such thing as job security. What the average person calls job security, is really the privilege of not having to worry about where your paycheck comes from. You just get to show up to work, do your designated task, and like magic, a sum of money is deposited to your bank account in regular intervals.  Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing inherently incorrect about this lifestyle, and many people value the underlying escapism that comes with being a W2 employee. For me, it’s not how I want to spend the next 30+ years of my life.

Enter the ten year plan.  I certainly don’t mind working a 9 to 5 for as long as an employer will have me, but I know for my own mental well-being there has to be a different end-game.  I want the uncertainty around my income and employment to be something that I can control. Currently, if I think I might be laid off, there is absolutely nothing I can go do to prevent someone in a back-room finance position from crossing my name off of list. On the other hand, if I own a business, and things are slow, I can always market, promote, sell, and do more to protect my own future. If all goes to hell in a hand basket, there will always be jobs out there that I can go back to.

We might start off powerless, but I’m certainly not going to end things that way.

-M

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