I kinda hate the stories that a lot of entrepreneurs and business owners tell about themselves:
I started my first business when I was six and sold friendship bracelets to my classmates at recess.
I lost my job in high school because I kept trying to tell my manager how we could run the fast food joint more efficiently.
I launched my business while I was taking an accelerated course load in college so I could graduate early, while working a full-time job and tutoring kids on the weekends.
All these examples of what are basically origin stories showing how their entrepreneurial ambition or boss-skills or inhuman work habits are inborn character traits.
I hate these stories because I can’t relate to any of them.
In college, I worked at the on-campus food court one summer. (I wasn’t taking summer classes. I did have another job, at the Express downtown, but between both jobs, I still worked barely 15-20 hours a week.) At one point, when I went home to see family, my dad asked me how work was going.
“Well, at the Avenue, I’m almost completely useless,” I said.
It was a running joke I had with another co-worker—actually, by the end of the summer, I’d worked almost every shift and food station possible, and my manager was genuinely bummed when I told him I wouldn’t keep working once fall quarter started.
Which was stupid. It was, like, 8-10 hours a week max (maybe not even that much, there were more students jostling for shifts during the school year), I could cherry-pick my shifts, and it would’ve padded my bank account at least a little. Instead, I kept working a couple days a week at Express (and blowing most of my paycheck on their clothes, thanks to the employee discount)—just for a few more months until I realized that there are no holidays in retail and I was like “work the day after Christmas? No thanks, I’ve got a date with my snowboard.” (Again, the managers there made a point to say they’d re-hire me in January if I wanted.)
When I look back on high school and college, it’s embarrassing to think about how little I worked. My family was firmly “upper middle class” and I didn’t need to, so I didn’t.
Now I need to, so I do. But the truth is, if I have a free Saturday, I’d prefer to spend it chasing my dog at the beach, or watching a baseball game, or binging House of Cards—literally nothing that could come close to being remotely productive, or even creative.
I would have loved to have found a regular, steady office job that either A) allowed me to get to the office, work, leave nine hours later and go about the rest of my life without work encroaching even the slightest bit, or B) actually sparked some passion in me that would make me want to give up my nights and weekends to achieve the company’s goals.
Over the past couple years, I’ve come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I don’t have any particular drive to “work.” My natural state is one of extreme laziness and inertia. I don’t seem to share the ambition and passion of most entrepreneurs and business owners, and yeah, that scares me a little.
So why am I doing this? Why am I still so determined to make this freelancing thing work?
One, because I cannot fathom giving over complete control of my schedule or my workload to anyone else ever again.
Sorry, but a huge part of why I do what I do is because I’ve decided that I don’t really have many other options—I never want to deal with all the BS of having a boss and office politics ever again, so on my worst days, I look at solo freelancing at the least-terrible option to make the best of.
(Luckily, those “worst” days don’t come around that often.)
Two, because I really do love helping people.
It sounds corny and trite, but it’s true. I may not always love the actual work of writing a certain piece, but when I hear about how it helps my client earn some more business? I’m all, hell yes.
The thing is, what’s important to me isn’t the exact method so much as the structure of my job (calling my own shots) and the outcome (helping others succeed in some way). Writing is something I’ve always been decently good at, and generally, for the most part, I enjoy doing it, so right now it’s the best way for me to help people.
That’s why I do this. It’s not the same sexy story you usually hear, but you know what?
I’d rather be honest about my less-sexy reasons for being here than try to convince you (and myself) that I have some grand calling or passionate drive to do exactly this and nothing else. I’d rather have some clarity to help me decide what to do when things change and new opportunities arise in the future.
That’s my why. Do you know yours?