Reader Submission: Stop Telling People To Start Their Own Business

This column is a reader submission from MakeItADouble. To learn how to make a submission, click here.

I’ve spent the last year working as a personal assistant to a C-level executive. It was cool at times, but I’m sure you can imagine the hoops that I had to jump through on a daily basis. It all came to a head when I had somewhat of a Devil Wears Prada moment and realized I was done, and decided to quit right then and there. No two weeks notice, no new job lined up, nothing. Risky? Yes. Do I regret it? No. That being said, I suddenly found myself with all the freedom in the world and, for the first time in my life, not a god damn clue of what to do with it. I spent the first few weeks of unemployment procrastinating on applying to jobs because I didn’t want to face the anxiety of not knowing what I wanted my next move to be. I was the literal human embodiment of that meme of the dog sitting in a room engulfed in flames saying, “This is fine”. So, being utterly lost, I decided to try a counseling session with a life coach. I clearly was not having any luck sorting out my life, perhaps a paid professional would have some pearls of wisdom for me. Her advice? “You should just start your own business.”

I’m sorry…and I say this with the utmost respect…but what the fuck?! I just got done telling you that I don’t know what I want to do, and you’re telling me that I should start my own business? This was quite possibly one of the worst pieces of advice I’ve ever received. Arguably worse than when Cosmo told me I should use my makeup brushes to tickle a guy’s balls during sex. And yet, this is definitely not the first time I’ve heard this proposal. It’s actually a very popular suggestion when people are in a bit of a transition period. And everytime I hear it, I wonder why the fuck that is. 

First of all, you need an idea for your business. My so-called life coach obviously wasn’t listening to me since the main reason I was talking to her in the first place was because I didn’t have any. But, for argument’s sake, let’s say that I did. I don’t know shit about shit when it comes to running a business. And, no shade to small business owners, but a lot of them don’t either. The bulk of my career has involved selling advertising to small business owners, and you would be amazed at how many of them don’t even have a business plan. Again, I’m not knocking them, but the reality is that a good number of people that decide to strike out on their own are not qualified to do so. A story I heard time and again from my clients was that they were dope at a certain skill, decided they didn’t like working for someone else (yeah join the fucking club), and peaced out to start their own operation. However, just because you are a rock star mechanic does not mean that you will have a successful auto shop. That is why about 50% of SMBs fail within 5 years. 

Second, I do not have the capital needed to start a business. I read somewhere the other day that the average millennial net worth is about $8K (I found that to be wildly funny until it…wasn’t). Yes, I am aware that business loans exist for this exact reason, but going into more debt when I’m currently unemployed just doesn’t do great things for my already high anxiety. I’ve seen way too many episodes of Shark Tank where the entrepreneurs tell stories of how they took out 25 mortgages on their house and drained their kids’ college funds and have yet to turn a profit. 

And finally, running your own business is a ton of work! Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of rolling up my sleeves, but work/life balance is very important to me. I’ve experienced burnout before and let me tell you, that is not a road that I am eager to go down again. I think a lot of people get these delusions of grandeur when it comes to being your own boss. Coming and going as you please, getting to tell people what to do, putting in minimal effort while cashing checks – yeah that ain’t how it is. At least not at first. You might get there one day. But before you do, you will be eating, sleeping and breathing your business. There’s also a lot that goes into training your staff and being a good manager. And, like I mentioned previously, you probably won’t be making a whole lot of money in the beginning. If you’re prepared for all of that, then yes perhaps starting a business is a great move for you. Personally, I need a little more stability. 

At the end of the day, if you are able to make a living doing your own thing, props to you because that is no small feat. And that’s why I don’t understand why so many people just casually throw it out there as an idea when someone is struggling in their career or job search. Sure, for some it might be the turn around that they needed. But it shouldn’t be regarded as this cure-all for when your professional life reaches a plateau. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the “do something you’re passionate about” bullshit. I’m “passionate” about playing Catch Phrase, but unfortunately that’s not going to pay my rent. 

No, I think the better thing to do, and what my life coach should have told me, is to reflect back on all your work experience. You might even go as far back as what you chose to get your degree in. It might not give you a clear answer on what you want to do, but it will for sure tell you what you DON’T want to do, which is a start. When I did this, I tried to identify aspects of my job that I liked doing, even if it wasn’t the job itself. For example, while most of my roles have been in sales, I discovered that I always find myself gravitating to content creation, contributing to presentations, and learning best practices for reputation management. As such, I had a breakthrough moment and realized that I want to apply myself in the world of PR and expand on those skills. It was a bittersweet moment to be sure. On one hand, I was thrilled to no longer feel like a directionless loser. On the other, I was pissed that I had wasted 50 bucks on that damn counseling session. Anyway, my point is, stop telling people to just start their own business. And also, if you haven’t already, stop getting sex advice from Cosmo. 

1 comment

  1. This reminds me of a former coworker who thought he was The Best at everything and couldn’t handle being managed by anyone else. He decided he was going to start up his own law firm because apparently being good at litigation means that you’re also magically good at things like securing lines of credit, accounts receivable, advertising, network security, picking insurance plans, setting up a mailing system, hiring and firing – all of the things that have nothing to do with being a good lawyer. He went around telling people he was going to leave and start his own firm and asked them if they’d consider joining him. He also told them that he was going to bring over a really large client with a major portfolio. His reasoning for this was that he’d once one a very large judgment for them in a trial. He was very proud of this trial, despite the fact that the costs ended up eating a sizeable part of that client’s judgment. Anyway. Once he’d stoked his own ego with the fires of everyone telling him “oh you’re so smart! Yes, I’d love to come work for you!” he walked out without notice in the middle of the day. You’ve already guessed the moral of this story. The client didn’t leave with him – they wanted nothing to do with a guy whose only business skills were in negotiating settlements and who was now footing his own malpractice insurance. I think he’s nebulously self employed now, without health insurance, and the last I heard he wouldn’t work for another firm because “the young guys there are afraid to manage such a highly skilled and experienced lawyer.” Yeah, I’m sure that’s the reason why.


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