Owner freedom vs employee freedom

What drew me to business was freedom. Freedom from the shackles of employment and freedom to experience all the things that employment denied.

Or so I thought.

I don’t know when the thought “employment = bad, entrepreneur = good” took hold of me, but I clearly wasn’t the only one affected.

One cursory look at the blogosphere and their fantastical titles, with posts glorifying mid-day gym routines and “work” days spent watching Netflix, shows how far this thought has spread.

Now that I’ve experienced both sides of the employment coin, I’ve given a lot of thought to freedom. It’s clear that there are certain freedoms you gain working for yourself (I can go to the gym in the middle of the day, for example), but what about the freedoms you lose?

What about the freedoms you have as an employee that you don’t have working for yourself?

Here’s a few of the ways I’ve experienced freedom on both sides of the employment coin:

Owner Freedom

Freedom of your time

You can go to the store, take a day off, go to the gym in the middle of the day, etc, etc.

Yet when I do this, business is constantly on my mind and I feel guilty about not working harder. Even when the “workday” ends (does it ever really end?).

Freedom to decide direction

Your decisions have impact and can change the course of the company.

Yet this responsibility can be stressful and daunting. There’s nobody to fall back on.

Freedom to earn more and pay yourself what you want

If you have the revenues, how you compensate yourself is up to you.

Yet it’s a constant battle between paying yourself and investing in the business to help it grow.

Freedom to continue working

For as long as your business survives, you can improve your craft without the fear of getting fired.

Yet you have to make it survive. And you have to learn to be comfortable earning little for (probably) a long time.

Employee Freedom

Freedom to leave when your day ends

Both physically and mentally. Particularly the latter.

Yet during business hours you’re (generally) not free to leave.

Freedom to work within your area of expertise

Allowing you to become great at your craft and to avoid the stress of making decisions that could bring the company to ruin.

Yet you have to follow the decisions of management, even if you disagree with them.

Freedom to earn what you’re worth

Immediately, and without years of below-market earnings.

Yet this can be stopped in an instant, if a layoff or firing happens. And raises are generally structured and limited.

Whether I’ve earned my paycheque as an employee or as an owner doesn’t seem to matter – the “other” side always look greener.

This is an obvious mistake in retrospect, yet when I was employed I can’t recall thinking about anything but the upside of owning a business. And now that I work for myself, I seem to dwell on the freedoms I’ve lost rather than focusing on what I’ve gained.

So if I could go back and teach young naive Jeffrey a lesson, it would be this:

Owning is not inherently better than the employment (or vice versa). They’re the same in many respects and different in many others.

The only thing that matters is how you weigh these differences in order to make the right choice for you, so that at the end of the day – that long workday of decades (if you’re lucky), of triumphs, of challenges, of problems, breakthroughs and tears – you can look back at your life and be content with the tradeoffs you made.

For it’s true that there are always tradeoffs. Yet it’s also true that the grass is always green – at least some portion of it – right where you are now.