The New Entrepreneurs

One of my new neighbors is an attorney. Who is bent on doing something else for a living. Sooner rather than later. Her sentiment has a lot of company with one distinct exception – those who own their business. A big part of the reason is the autonomy; people like having ownership of the decisions that impact their lives, even if those decisions involve the periodic stereotype of the business owner of someone who is never truly off the clock. Opportunity, control, and freedom are also on the list.

The growth in entrepreneurship is at its highest level in 15 years.   A still-sluggish economy is part of the reason; for a large chunk of the workforce, spinning one’s wheels has become the new norm. The average anticipated pay raise for employees this year is about 3%. Weigh that against the increase in your cost of living; for the most part, it’s a wash. That sameness is the impetus for wondering what else is out there, particularly among more seasoned workers.

And that’s just the population still in the workforce; the labor participation rate is at its lowest since the late 70’s. Think about that for a second. Millions of people who are no longer counted in unemployment figures. It defies reason to believe that each of those individuals has simply given up.

My attorney friend couldn’t help but notice that her previous firm had a definite preference for people barely removed from law school. My own experience as I was finishing graduate school was not much different. There are few things more unusual than being interviewed by someone who, literally, is the same age as your children. In an earlier time, experience carried an implied value. Today, the primary implication seems to be “he’s going to want a lot of money” even if he doesn’t. The secondary one is “he’s after my job” even when he is not.

You have not truly lived until you have actually said to an interviewer “I’m not here for your job; I’m here for the one being advertised. I’ve had your job and it has headaches I do not particularly want again. On the other hand, I can help you in coping with those headaches and I will not add to them.” That, evidently, is not convincing.

A cursory Google search of why people become entrepreneurs yields more than 24-million responses, many of them like this. None of this is to say that the process is all rainbows and unicorns. Small business owners face a lot of worries that the typical employee does not – making payroll, coping with new government mandates and their costs, and the day-to-day of keeping a business humming. But it seems those worries are the fuel that drives the decision in the first place – determining how to conquer uncertainty, controlling the calendar, and being accountable to that person looking at you in the mirror.

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