A reader writes:
How can I stand being employed by someone when I don’t want to have a boss? I’ve always had trouble working for authority; my experience with authority, and this isn’t just a perception as I’ve tried changing that too, is they walk all over me, getting what they want, leaving pennies in the end.
You can skip the rest if you’d like, but it provides more insight into why I have trouble with having a boss.
As most things, it does start as a child. I’ve seen too much indifference; in school, it was bullies getting away with things and me the one punished.
In work, it’s bosses allowing other employees to do less work and still earn more. This may sound arrogant, but at my previous job I knew more about IT (that’s my field) than the system admin did; this in turn had me teaching him, and yet, he was earning far more than me. Eventually, that job turned into three jobs (development, graphic design, and marketing).
My previous employer asked me to help with a lot of things, not just writing software. I ended up taking work away from an outsourced graphic design agency, saving the company money, and getting a meager raise that didn’t change along with the workload. I found out too much, and discovered the company was being held on retainer for more than 3x the amount of my yearly salary, which didn’t include the costs for the projects they did have.
People asked me at that job, “How can you stand it?” I guess I should have left sooner. I was even told by my managers that they could replace me with someone else. My personal problem was how I handled frustration, but how can I hand frustration when the owner of the company literally (yes, literally) sat behind me for 3-5 hours of the day, telling me how to move my hands on the screen. I eventually left because I’m tired of doing work that I don’t want to do anymore, and I feel terrible that I’m not getting anywhere in my life.
The truth is, I feel great writing fiction and non-fiction. I wouldn’t mind doing stand up comedy, but I don’t have any experience performing in front of others — I was the kid who pulled the curtain during the school play. I did manage to write and self-publish a fiction novel, with humor, and I might publish a book under a pseudonym that I’d use as a stage name, too.
Yeah, this is a lot; it’s why I shoved it down here and away from the point. I apologize if it comes across as annoying, or someone who’s ticked off. I am, a bit. I’ve quit every job I’ve had over the same reason: I severely disagree with management, burn myself out, and can’t even get a single break to say, hey, let me get things organized.
I don’t have a job at the moment, and inside, I really don’t want one. I’m tired of listening to people talking down to me like I’m garbage. I mean, if your own employer has the gall to talk about prospective employee’s pay (exactly dollar amount), with someone who has no business knowing, wouldn’t you feel terrible? That was the last I needed to hear from them, and the rest fell into my mind, and I had to leave.
Now, I’m not lazy. If I were, I wouldn’t be seeking help in any form or another. I’m just tired of it, and it makes me irritated when I think that I less than a month’s worth of money left, and I can’t stand the thought of getting a job.
Well, no one is going to force you to get a job. It’s a choice that you make if you want the things that come with it — a steady stream of income, primarily.
If you decide you’re willing to forego the steady stream of income, there are other options. You can start your own business (which is categorically not for everyone, but an option for some). You can find some other way to pay your bills, like marrying someone who’s willing to support you. Or you can have no money at all and rely on the taxpayer-funded social safety net, which means a very low standard of living, obviously.
So you need to decide which of these options is most appealing to you — or, probably more realistically, least unappealing. What’s your bottom line — are you willing to deal with a job and boss you might not love in order to have a paycheck? And can you see them them as a direct trade of one for the other?
Most people decide they’re willing to get a job and have a boss, even if it doesn’t make them especially happy, because they want what comes with it. And in fact, for most people, work is not a source of pleasure and fulfillment. It’s a source of income. We often talk here as if it must be the former, but that’s a very privileged viewpoint that we’re lucky to be able to have. Many, many people work solely as a means of putting food on the table.
I think you need to get clarity around exactly what your choices are and what trade-offs you’re willing to make in order to have a home or disposable income or whatever it is that you want in life. Everyone makes these calculations a little differently; what’s essential is simply that you make them.
Additionally, do some thinking about your own role in your experiences so far. When someone has never had a job or a manager that they’ve been satisfied with — to the point that they’re considering not working at all as a result! — there’s often something going on with them, whether it’s an inability to be satisfied, or a problem with authority, or an anger problem, or difficulty getting along with others, or something else entirely. (And frankly, some of your examples in your letter sounded … well, a little naive. For instance, yes, companies charge clients more for your work than they pay you. Sometimes a lot more. If you don’t like it, you have the option of trying to go into business for yourself. So I do wonder if you have unrealistic expectations, at least in some respects.)
There’s also this, although I don’t know how to say it diplomatically: People who are really good at what they do generally build up options over time. If you’re good enough, you can pick and choose so that you end up in better workplaces with better managers. You can leave bad situations, and you can often avoid them in the first place. After a certain point in a career, if you’re really good at what you do, you shouldn’t need to consider sweatshops where your boss treats you poorly. So it’s worth looking at your own work to try to figure out why you’ve haven’t worked your way out of this spot. It could be that you’re in the wrong field for your strengths, or it could be that you under-value yourself and so never try for something better, or it could be something else — I don’t know. But you should try to figure it out.
(And please know that I’m not trying to imply that you’re some sort of incompetent buffoon who is incapable of earning better treatment — I’m not. But something’s going on here that would be useful to examine.)
In any case, as is true of so many problems, this comes down to being ruthlessly realistic about what your options are. For instance, most people can’t make a living off of writing fiction or doing stand-up comedy (even the very few who do generally work a day job for years while they get their careers to the point that they’re self-funding), but maybe you’ll decide you’re willing to deal with having a boss for eight hours a day and know that your fulfillment will come from writing on the side. Or maybe you’ll decide that you’ll forego a steady paycheck, do odd jobs, and drastically lower your standard of living. There are a bunch of different combination of options, all with their own consequences.
The key is to take a brutally honest look at what’s important to you and what’s not, and what trade-offs you’re willing to live with, understanding that each choice means not choosing something else … whether it’s money, security, a boss, absolute autonomy, or something else entirely.