"When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story." -Barney Stinson

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Jobs Are Overrated

October 5th, 2009 by David Safar

Next up in my survey of things that are overrated is traditional employment: jobs are overrated!

There isn’t much I’m going to say here that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by a host of bloggers across the web.  But I would be remiss if I didn’t include this topic in this series of posts, as I do believe that the popular addiction to traditional employment is harmful to many (but not all) of the people who are affected by it.

So, just what have I got against jobs?  Plenty of things!

  • Little control over your time. Most jobs require you to be there at a fixed time and remain there for a fixed time — whether it’s a typical 9-5 or a variable schedule set by a manager.  The standard 40 hour workweek takes up a big chunk of your time and, combined with a need for a healthy amount of sleep, leaves you with less than a third of your weekday to yourself — especially after considering the “overhead” involved in getting ready for work, traveling to and from work, and taking your mandatory lunch break (which, let’s face it, typically doesn’t really give you the time or freedom to make good use of it as personal time).  At my last job, my “eight hour” workday often cost me twelve hours — 7 AM to 7 PM.  Leisure activities, relaxation, education, and personal growth must be squeezed in around this massive drain on your time.  At the typical job, you must do your work when you are told.
  • Little autonomy. Jobs generally require you to work in a location determined by your employer, whether it is conducive to your productivity or not.  They also tend to entail working on tasks decided by someone else in a manner that suits their whims, regardless of whether those are the best tasks or the optimal methods.  As I write this, a Metallica lyric from Eye of the Beholder comes to mind: “You can do it your own way, if it’s done just how I say.”  (I’ve embedded a link to the song at the bottom of this post.) In the workplace, your job even has the authority to make you attend unproductive meetings and perform busywork which do not in any way contribute to getting your work done — and it’s your responsibility to make up this time!  At the typical job, you must do what you are told, how you are told, where you are told.
  • Little influence. By necessity, not everyone can be in charge, and the larger the company, the less say the typical employee has.  Which means that unless you are in a position of power, odds are you will have little to no ability to change the company’s course if you can see a better way to do things, have a new idea that might benefit the company, or know that the choices being made by those in charge are illegal, unethical, or just plain stupid.  Many companies are loathe to change, and even those that are open to change usually improve at a snail’s pace, a phenomenon I refer to as “moving at the speed of business”.  At the typical job, you have very little influence on those who tell you and others what to do.
  • Little security. Have you ever heard the saying “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket?”  It’s generally considered a bad idea to gamble all your savings on the performance of a single stock — why would it be a good idea to gamble the continued existence of your income on the performance of a single company, or sometimes even the whims of a single manager?  If your company goes under, downsizes, or gets acquired, or if someone in authority simply decides they don’t like you, you could lose your entire income overnight.  This can happen to anyone, any time, as our recent banking crisis and continuing recession have proven.  At the typical job, you have no reason to believe your job will still be there tomorrow.
  • Little compensation for achievements. If you saved or earned your company an extra ten thousand dollars tomorrow, how much of it would you see?  If you’re lucky, you might get a thank you.  Maybe a small gift card, if your company is particularly generous.  Likewise, if you learned a new skill tomorrow that made you a more valuable employee, many companies would not recognize and compensate that — your increased skills would merely result in an increase in the company’s bottom line, with no guarantee that you would receive any benefit from it whatsoever.  At a typical job, an increase in your value to the company does not guarantee an increase in your compensation.
  • Emotional factors. Allow me to let Dale Carnegie discuss this point for me:
    “Psychiatrists declare that most of our fatigue derives from our mental and emotional attitudes… What kinds of emotional factors tire the sedentary (or sitting) worker? Joy? Contentment? No! Never! Boredom, resentment, a feeling of not being appreciated, a feeling of futility, hurry, anxiety, worry–those are the emotional factors that exhaust the sitting worker, make him susceptible to colds, reduce his output, and send him home with a nervous headache. Yes, we get tired because our emotions produce nervous tensions in the body.” -Dale Carnegie from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

    ‘Nuff said.

On the whole, employees in many companies are treated like children.  They are required to get up at a time determined by someone else’s whims, go where they are told to go, sit where they are told to sit, do what they are told to do the way they are told to do it, risk, receive less in compensation than the value they create for the employer (by necessity — if they didn’t, the employer wouldn’t make any money), run the risk of their income being cut off at any time for any reason or no reason at all.  If they disobey the authority figures, a system is in place to discipline them and bring them back in line.  A routine of this nature was not fulfilling, beneficial, enjoyable, or conducive to personal growth and well-being in elementary school, nor is it any of these things in adult life.  This is a system designed to force individuals to sacrifice their well-being for the good of the company without regard for their individuality, liberty, or humanity.

Isn’t it ironic so many of us in the so-called “free world” willingly choose to live as slaves?

This is the reason why I seek self-employment, and why I would suggest that anyone who is dissatisfied with traditional employment do the same.  Freelancers set their own hours (which, admittedly, may be long, but that is a personal choice and not an arbitrary requirement imposed by others), their work, their clients, their methods, their workplace (where applicable), and their compensation and benefits (limited only by the amount of business they are able to do).  The freelancer has the power to make decisions and to quickly change things that aren’t working, and with multiple clients comes a security from sudden and immediate lack of income — if you lose a client, only a fraction of your income is lost instead of all of it.  If you have a profitable idea or increase your value as a worker, you personally reap the benefit of that in your income.  You can focus on types of work that are less fatiguing to you, and if you find yourself feeling stressed anyway, you can take a break.  Self-employment has a great many benefits over regular employment, and while it’s not a panacea and there are indeed people who are perfectly happy with their jobs, I think the world would be a happier place if more of those who are dissatisfied with traditional employment investigated self-employment as an alternative.


(Note: This song has a long intro which starts very quiet — it may take several seconds after you press play before you actually hear anything.)

2 Responses

  1. Athena

    This is a fantastic article and I can relate to pretty much every point, the main real difference being I’m a teacher so I am less sedentary than office workers, I often walk around. When I show I have good ideas, sometimes I get more money yes sometimes I don’t but I also get given more responsibilities even if I say no I don’t have time to do that. This post is very encouraging, I am leaving my job in 9 weeks (already quit but as it’s a teaching job I have to be there longer after I quit) and this makes me feel less scared and more excited, yes a big part of what I will be doing involves freelance & being self employed!

  2. David Safar

    Glad to hear that my post helped to reassure you about your decision, Athena. My my math, the nine weeks should be up right about now… congratulations on your new adventure!

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