What It Really Means To Work for Yourself

Jane started her career as a promising architect with a large international architectural firm. After winning a prestigious award to design a cultural center in Japan, she was quickly promoted to associate. Now she’s been with the firm for 12 years and is under pressure to become a partner.

Instead of doing what she loves — “designing important, quirky buildings and being an artist” — Jane spends most of her time working on revenue generation, client development and managing the firm’s young designers — all of which she describes as “a huge energy drain.”

Jane has been thinking about going out on her own so she can do the design work that drew her to her profession. She has no debt, other than a small amount remaining on her mortgage, and her husband has a good job with a great benefits package. He’s nervous about the loss of predictable income, but she’s confident in her talent and the loyal network she’s established. Although she’s tired of a steady diet of client development, she’s comfortable marketing herself. “I didn’t go into this profession to make money for the partners,” she says. “I’m not a profit center, I’m an architect.”

An architect is a person who plans, designs, and oversees the construction of buildings. To practice architecture means to provide services in connection with the design and construction of buildings and the space within the site surrounding the buildings, that have as their principal purpose human occupancy or use. Etymologically,architect derives from the Latin architectus, which derives from the Greek (arkhi-, chief + tekton, builder), i.e., chief builder.

Professionally, an architect’s decisions affect public safety, and thus an architect must undergo specialized training consisting of advanced education and a practicum (orinternship) for practical experience to earn a license to practice architecture. Practical, technical, and academic requirements for becoming an architect vary by jurisdiction.

Varying Incentives

Some professionals choose self-employment. Others fall into it through circumstances by virtue of their age, skills or geographical location they cannot find suitable full-time work. Even those who opt for self-employment as a temporary measure, however, often discover that they thrive on it, to the point where they can’t imagine going back to work for an organization.

Some self-employed professionals are “authenticity seekers,” disdainful of corporate values and the perceived need to wear what they view as a corporate mask. Some are independent thinkers and “autonomy seekers” who are tired of office politics and mercurial bosses. Others seek out self-employment to reap the rewards of their own efforts or to gain freedom to do the work they love. Many also want flexibility to spend more time with family or pursue other interests.

A growing number of professionals are expected to undertake some form of self-employment in the years ahead. Large organizations are increasingly concentrating on their core functions and outsourcing a range of services once provided in-house, including corporate communications, sales, payroll and human-resources administration. As a result, fewer positions will likely be available with large companies, but there will be more opportunities for free-lance and contract workers and for small, independent businesses.

Psychological Challenges

There used to be a sharp division between self-employment and working for someone else. Today, with the erosion of the traditional employment contract, those differences are increasingly blurred. After all, everyone today has to take responsibility for their own employability and financial continuity. There are still some important differences, however. When you work for someone else, you have a safety net. While you don’t have a guaranteed job, you at least have some protection under the law, along with a chance at a retirement plan, depending on your age. You also have psychological support from co-workers with whom you have a history and emotional bonds.

For those who’ve worked in large organizations for a long period of time, going out on their own can be a shock. They’re often unprepared to operate with minimum resources or be completely responsible for their livelihood today and tomorrow. Consider the woman who went the self-employment route after being downsized from two jobs. She says, “It took six months to realize “I am ‘it’ ” — that I had no one to do the admin stuff for me, that there was a direct relationship between what I do and whether my family eats.” Whether you’re dreaming of being in charge of what you do and when you do it, or free from office politics, remember, you have entered into a world in which there is little protection and no guaranteed income.

The freedom can pose its own challenges. Yes, you have the flexibility to take time off from work to watch your child’s soccer game, for example, but you also are flexible to work until 2 a.m. to deliver your project on time. Achieving work-life balance can be particularly difficult when you’re working from home, as many self-employed people do.

When your house becomes your office, you can never leave the office — and you can never come home. And because it is your business, it can be hard to switch off. The danger is that your business will become all-consuming and you’ll end up working all the time.

Myths About Self-employment.

It’s a myth that you need to be an “autonomy seeker” to be successfully self-employed. In fact, many successful small-business operators aren’t concerned with being their own boss. They choose small-business independence because it meets lifestyle needs or a desire to use certain professional skills. What matters is that you’re self-managing.

It’s also not true that you need to be an entrepreneurial, risk-taking visionary. These qualities are an asset, not a basic requirement. There are many types of self-employment for which being competent, organized and offering a cost-effective service are the basic requirements.

— Dr. Moses is author of “What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life,” from which this article has been excerpted (DK Publishing Inc., 2003). She is the president of BBM Human Resource Consultants Inc., an international career-management-consulting firm headquartered in Toronto.

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