Did you get goosebumps during that moment of the Pursuit of Happyness movie when Chris Gardner (Will Smith) cried when offered a permanent job with Dean Witter Reynolds? That was Gardner’s moment of happiness. Mine was quite the contrary.
The title of my blog post is slightly misleading. I didn’t exactly quit my job. It was a period when I was disengaged and ready to leave and was hoping my employer would offer me a generous exit package. He did, and I took it.
Apart from a short interim in a local small business, I’ve spent my entire employed life at the same company. Ten years in total. I started young and moved up the ladder pretty fast. The region I worked for was on a growth spurt, and business was effortless. I didn’t experience the struggles of young professionals: I started with a very decent salary that grew exponentially fast. I had authority and responsibility at a very early stage. And with company paid trips, I traveled the world in business class, learned to appreciate a Dom Pérignon for breakfast and stayed at the most luxurious hotels on the planet. And cherry on the cake, I was well perceived and was doing my job with tremendous ease and speed. That gave me some privileges like leaving office on time to go for my daily bicycle training or being assigned the most exciting projects. For a while, I thought I was happy at work, but as I matured and started to look at life differently, I quickly realized I was miserable. The problem was not my employer. The problem was being an employee. It was time to free myself from the corporate world. These are the 10 reasons employment made me miserable:
1. I COULDN’T PLAY THE COMEDY ANYMORE:
You have to imagine the workplace as a stage play. Everything you see is choreographed. Nothing is real. Every employee in a company is constantly acting with the sole objective of personal gains and self-protection.
When it is time for the managing director to report to the President, his whole team is mobilized for weeks to work on his presentation. To hell with selling, attending to customers or running the business. The presentation is the moment of truth for the MD, and it must be his affiliate’s priority of the moment. The same behavior is witnessed throughout the hierarchy, with the middle management racing to present to the MD and the junior managers running their own battle with their direct supervisors. And what about business, customers and sales? No one really cares.
2. I COULDN’T AVOID CHARLATANS:
Genuine and fake people are everywhere. You find them at the office, in private ventures, at school, in politics, in families, in sport… Now, as a self-employed I have the privilege to avoid working with whoever I don’t find honest or genuine. If a supplier is cheating me, I am free to switch supplier. If I suspect a client to be a crook, I can cut business ties with him.
What made employment so hard for me was being obliged to work and interact with everyone irrespective of their integrity. I had no right as an employee to cherry pick my team or my boss.
I must admit I was very lucky to have worked in an environment made up of mostly very talented and genuine employees. I owe them a lot for the business maturity I reached which helped me successfully quick start my own business. But I occasionally had to work with some pretty fake people. Those comedians still fascinate me to date. They jump from one company to another always with a higher-grade job. With their amazing talent of articulating sophisticated words, they would hide an absolute ignorance and incompetence in the business they have been entrusted to run.
Of course, sooner or later, companies identify charlatans and fire them. But it takes time. Usually, it happens after the person who hired the charlatan is fired or relocated because no one admits to making a recruitment mistake. During that time, subordinates suffer and the company loses talents who don’t want to work with impostors.
3. I DIDN’T MAKE A DIFFERENCE:
Realizing today that I have spent the prime years of my life doing something that made no difference, had no influence and brought no added value, is the biggest regret I have for having been employed in a big firm. You see, companies try to convince their employees that each one of them is important and contributes to the growth and destiny of the brands. This is hardly true especially when it comes to large corporations. Even Steve Jobs’ resignation from Apple had little influence on the company’s performance. Every iPhone released after Jobs’ death has outperformed its predecessor in terms of sales volume.
Today I am the sole owner of a startup. That’s a huge downscale from the 10th most valuable brand on the planet that I used to work for. But I am happy, because every move I make, every decision I take and every penny I spend influence the path of my business. That moment when I close a big sales deal after a year of dedication and hard work, that moment is my moment of happiness.
4. I WASN’T INSPIRED BY WHAT I WAS SELLING:
Let’s face it. How many of us end up working for the company they always wanted to join as a kid? Probably very few. Furthermore, even if you are among the lucky few who end up joining their dream company, you may find out that the position, responsibility and brands you are in charge of were not exactly what you had imagined.
The company I worked for sells a product I don’t use. I was not inspired by what I was selling. But lack of inspiration does not hinder your ability to succeed in your job. I met some exceptional salesmen who did not believe in what they were promoting and yet were superstars in their industry. That’s because selling is about interpersonal skills, not honesty. Inspiration is not essential to succeed in your job, but it is absolutely vital if you want to be happy at work.
5. I DIDN’T LIKE HOW WE REPORTED TO THE PUBLIC:
When you work for a giant S&P100 company, you quickly realize that shareholders determine the fate of the company’s executives. Hence, even at the junior level, we learn to manage public opinion. For instance, we would dedicate much more time fine-tuning company performance reports than we would actually spend on finding solutions.
After witnessing how we reported and forecast sales to shareholders, I stopped investing in stock markets. If you want to gamble with stocks, don’t put your money on companies that sell the best products, but on those that have the best Planning and Reporting Analysts.
6. I WAS NOT IN CONTROL OF MY FINANCIAL LIFE:
Claiming that employment is the safest job you can have is one of the biggest lies of our times. It’s absolutely incorrect and quite the contrary. As an employee, my fate is beyond my control. Here are just a few factors outside my grasp that can get me out the exit door and lose my income stream in the blink of an eye:
– My position gets redundant following a bad business year or industry slowdown. You recall the massive layoffs of 2008-2009, do you?
– I have a new boss who doesn’t like me. Remember that everything in life is about perceptions. Let’s just recall the case of Steve Jobs getting fired from his own company because someone up there wasn’t a big fan, to be later reinstated as CEO when someone else who admired Steve got in the driving seat.
– I repeatedly underperform or I mistakenly breach the company’s compliance code.
– I am getting old and expensive.
– The company gets acquired and I become the victim of restructuring.
My sense of financial insecurity was growing as the employment years went by. I was getting older and expensive for the company. I started witnessing that most of the colleagues I started with 10 years before were out or moved. I knew my turn would come and that I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. Not that I wanted to. That’s when I started looking for alternatives to employment.
7. I WANTED TO MAKE MORE MONEY
This may sound absurd to most people reading this blog knowing the huge salary I was earning but everything in life is relative. Yes, I was making a decent living, but my ambitions were beyond a cozy family house, children schooling and a retirement plan. As an employee, you are limited to how much money you can make. As I was climbing the career ladder, my salary was increasing by 5 to 15% per year. That’s quite a decent increase in today’s economic environment, but it was way below the three-digit growth my little startup was experiencing year after year. By the 3rd year, my business was generating four times the profit of the first year, although my salary did not quadruple in four years. It was clear to me that I should leave employment and invest all my time in growing my business.
Those who say that money doesn’t bring happiness are not being honest with themselves. While money is surely not the only path to happiness, it definitely is one of the most obvious. Yes, you can be a millionaire and die prematurely from cancer. Your money may not save your life. You can own super yachts and lose a child in a car accident, but these examples do not justify why you should not strive in life to become rich. Diseases can strike you rich or poor. You can die in a car accident whether driving a Renault Duster or a Ferrari 458 Italia. I for one would rather die in a Ferrari.
I blame socialism for spreading plutophobia (the fear of money and wealth) around the world. Why is it a taboo to say “I love to make money”? Don’t we all do? Why work after all? Why deny our materialistic needs? If you are a successful and hard-working person who built himself an honest wealth, never be shy to show it.
8. I WANTED TO SPEND MORE TIME WITH MY FAMILY
It’s a common assumption that self-employed people are very busy and dedicate all their time to business. At the end of the day, it depends on you and your priorities. A smart self employed person would know how to balance between work and life. It’s about finding that marginal point where every extra minute spent working creates more harm to your family, your health and your happiness then it will create wealth. I never cross that point.
As an I employee, I used to leave home at 8:00 AM and return by 7:00 PM 5 days a week plus the occasional weekend. And I was considered to be managing my work-life balance pretty well. Most of my colleagues would spend much longer hours at the office. Today, I manage my business taking in consideration that family is the priority. We have breakfast together as a family every morning. I walk our older daughter to the nursery and start work at 9:30 AM. I share lunch with my wife at 12:30 PM. I take a break at 4:00 PM to play with the little one. As my own boss, no one can alter this daily routine unless I decide to. Apart from rare exceptions, I set up my business meetings outside the “sacred family time” slots.
When it comes to vacation time, gone the constraint of the 30 vacation days a year. Last year I spent 70 days with family abroad and visited parents and friends around the globe.
9. I NEVER ACCEPTED THAT IT WAS ALL ABOUT THE “WHAT”. NO ONE CARED ABOUT THE “HOW”:
Employees do not genuinely care about the company’s interests. Of course, the system is clever and is programmed in a way that the interests of the employee and those of the company move together. Hence while an employee grows his own interests, he contributes to the growth of the company. For example, a sales manager targeting a career promotion by the end of the year will have to meet or exceed sales targets. So where is the problem? Well, the issue is not in the WHAT. It’s in the HOW. While our ambitious sales manager succeeded in growing sales two-fold to meet the yearly target (He met the WHAT);but HOW he did it is the important question.
– Did he make the life of his ten sales executives a hell, making them work overnight and during weekends?
– Did he ship some containers to a banned region or country?
– Did he bribe his distributors and wholesalers to overstock?
– Did he show the results in a 12 months moving average to mask the real trend?
Breach of one of the points above is enough to get an employee fired immediately for compliance reasons. Unfortunately, companies couldn’t care less about the HOW. Companies will never ask HOW it was done. If dirty laundry shows up from the sales manager’s office, chances are that an employee seeking revenge badmouthed the boss. Otherwise, you can be sure the company will never ask HOW you did it.
I suffered a lot with this company’s attitude to business. The WHAT was so predominant, and the HOW was just a fictional exercise mentioned at the yearly employee appraisal.
10. I WAS SPENDING SO MUCH UNPRODUCTIVE TIME WHILE LIFE IS SO SHORT:
My employment contract says eight hours a day, five days a week. I actually spent much more time for my employer than what I have signed for. Let’s calculate the number of unpaid hours per day that are directly linked to performing a job:
– 45-minute morning commute to the office (and I am lucky there isn’t much traffic on my way).
– 1-hour lunch break spent with colleagues which are not all friends, talking about work while I would rather have lunch with my true friends chatting about topics that inspire us.
– 45-minute evening commute back home.
– 1-hour at home attending to urgent job related emails and phone calls.
That’s a whopping 3.5 hours extra per day spent for my employer. In other words, 45% more hours than what I was being paid for. I didn’t care about the unmade money, but I was enraged at the massive daily hours I was giving away doing nothing productive.