“So, what do you do?” It's the quintessential industrialized, high-tech, stressed-out, uber-professional dinner party question.
If you respond by remarking that you're "self-employed," prepare for a lively conversation to ensue -- fraught with misunderstanding, sympathy, curiosity, condescension, respect, confusion and intrigue, all wrapped up in a layer of polite small talk.
If you're on the other end of the conversation, however -- merely curious about self-employment -- there are a few things you should know. Because self-employment, popular as it is, is still masked by a veil of misunderstanding and outright myths.
I want to expose some of those myths for what they are. But, as I uncover them, you'll discover that each contains a grain of truth. So, what do you think, based on your own experience? Are the following 10 myths just that, or are they your own reality?
Myth 1: You get to do what you love!
There’s a popular career advice that says, “If you do what you love, you'll never work a day in your life.” That’s true, not really, kind of, but not quite, sort of.
The fact is, we all have to do some work that is unpleasant. Work doesn’t have to be painful, laborious or dreadful, but neither is work a constant stream of rapturous joy. Like everything in life, life has its ups, downs and in-betweens. Self-employed people may be living out their passion, but it’s also a job. Jobs have demands, unpleasant episodes and sometimes long hours.
So, yes, self-employment is fueled by passion. But, no, it’s not endless euphoria.
Myth 2: It’s great to be your own boss!
Maybe it’s not so great to be your own boss. You may have a tendency to be either a hard-driving task master or a laissez-faire manager. Whatever the case, you may find yourself really frustrated at your boss -- yourself.
Myth 3: You have so much freedom!
“Freedom” in the context of self-employment is difficult to define. On the one hand, you may be free from the pedantic demands of micromanaging bosses and restrictive vacation policies. You may be thrilled to be able to pick your kids up from school or make it to their soccer games.
But, on the other hand, your freedom is cramped by the necessity to work for your survival. Gone is the paid time off, the holidays and the 9-to-5 boundaries. It’s all on you! And sometimes, that feels like the opposite of freedom.
Myth 4: Self-employment is risky.
All of life contains risk. You simply choose your preferred level of risk. If you work for a typical business, you are taking a risk. You are entrusting your job security, income potential and employment to other people. If you are self-employed, you are taking that risk upon yourself.
The choice you make depends on your level of trust in yourself. Most self-employed people I know don’t see it as a risk at all.
Myth 5: You’re constantly stressed out.
Stress is a constant undulating force in our lives. Even if you spend your days lounging on a beach in Punta Cana, you’re going to have some level of stress -- the stress of the hot sun, sharks, encroaching hurricanes or a lukewarm piña colada.
To be self-employed is to trade one variety of stress for another. If your conventional work environment stresses you out, perhaps you would prefer to be stressed out from being self-employed. And, sure, it’s stressful. But isn’t 9-to-5 work life kind of stressful, too?
Myth 6: You’re always lonely.
Just because someone is self-employed doesn’t mean that he or she is always alone. Of course, there are people who hole up in private offices all day long with only their computers to talk with. But many other self-employed people are busy meeting clients, greeting customers, mingling at networking sessions and interacting in coworking spaces.
Myth 7: You have to do everything yourself.
Many fear the world of self-employment because, they think, “I can’t do it all on my own!” To those people, self-employment sounds like an intimidating cocktail of legal incorporation, tax audits, business-plan formation, sales, cold-calling, customer interaction, data management and who-knows-what-else.
Who has all those skills wrapped up in one mind? Nobody, that’s who. That’s why self-employed people don’t and can’t do everything themselves, if they expect to last. Self-employed people learn to delegate, outsource and borrow brains when and where they need them.
Myth 8: You must have been lousy, lazy or otherwise unemployable.
This is the so-you-couldn’t-handle-it myth. I’m tempted to argue this notion and be 100 percent contrary on this point, but I do have a caveat. It is true that some self-employed people are unemployable, and this is why: They view the conventional model of labor as untenable, unrealistic and undesirable. They choose self-employment as the way to stay sane, achieve balance and do work they love.
Lousy? No. Lazy? Hardly. Unemployable? Well, if you want to call it that, yeah. By choice.
Myth 9: You’ll take any work for any pay.
Some people perceive self-employed people as “desperate” for work of any kind. In their view, self-employed people lunge toward a gig like a hungry dog toward a discarded hamburger. But this is far from the truth. Many of my self-employed friends regularly turn down high-paying work.
They’re not desperate. They’re discriminatory. They realize that not every gig is the right gig.
Myth 10: You don’t have a “real” business.
We live in the age of the solopreneur. A “real” business doesn’t require a zip code, office space or even a website. Self-employed people realize that their businesses are as legitimate as they come. These gigs generate income, fill a need and occupy a niche.
It’s great to have choices -- the choice to work for an established business, the choice to work for yourself or the choice to do something different entirely.
Whatever the myths surrounding self-employment, you can feel empowered to do things your own way. Someone will always misunderstand, but as long as you keep your head screwed on, you’ll do just fine.
What are some common misunderstandings that you’ve heard regarding self-employment?