Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and Bill Gates. All wildly successful entrepreneurs. Often portrayed as some of America’s heroes, they have a celebrity type status leading to roles on tv shows and even making appearances in Marvel movies. We constantly see them being put on display as examples for how we should lead a successful and happy life. With intense work ethics and a powerful drive to win, they seem to have more in common than not. They’ve amassed fortunes building tech/software companies in which the financial result is a net worth so immense (combined net worth =~$315 billion) it would make LeBron James envious. Each of their lives have created inspiration and impacted the world in many positive ways, but the uniformity in their ventures has created a dogma that becoming an entrepreneur is a preferred path to take in life.
I’d tell men and women in their midtwenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.
— Phil Knight
For these business magnates aforementioned, it is safe to assume they are pursuing what we would deem a passion or vocation. Not one of them would choose to switch industries or jobs if they had the choice. For most of our young lives we are pushed to do what they’ve done — find our calling, a job that we find truly rewarding. The day after I graduated from a university with a business degree, this narrative changed and I was quickly pressured into making what I thought was a lifelong career decision. It was as if I was not only choosing for myself, but also for my retired self, forty or fifty years down the road. Of course I had a strapping two full years of internship experience under my belt and thought the only real way to success is to start a business, move to a new city and bunk it with some friends whose diets consist of ramen noodles and take-out pizza. Any route I chose outside of the start-up world seemed like a bit of a let down.
I believe that issues arise when we only allow for such a narrow window of career paths to be regarded as fulfilling. It is todays norm hearing friends and coworkers alike talking about how they are sticking it to the man and starting a new business venture from scratch. For many 20–30 year olds, they would rather be unemployed than having to admit working for a Fortune 500 company.
Never having to take orders from a boss and buying a ping-pong table that fits perfectly in between the bean bags in your office, what could be better? We are constantly being sold on all of the positive aspects of entrepreneurship having rarely seen a true depiction of how hard the work may be. If the business that someone chooses to start is in line with the long term vision for their life, then we may see the potent mix of passion and work that results in the Mark Cuban and Gary Vaynerchuck types.
But what about the firefighter that quit his job to open up a gym, only to find out that while he may love lifting weights, running a business that involves selling memberships can be a nightmare. Or how about a project manager that leaves a dreaded 9:00–5:00 job with a company where she loved her boss, coworkers and four weeks vacation time. What if now she is running a t-shirt business which never allows her to turn off her phone in fear of missing a sale, is unable to make her sons basketball game because of crucial meeting with a new manufacturer, and to top it all off hasn’t taken a vacation in over two years. These sacrifices are surely worth it if you are one of the lucky few who has figured out exactly what you want in life, but they may be unnecessary for those of us still trying to figure it all out.
What we should do is leave the door open that one day we might prefer a different type of work than what we do today. Maybe the accountant realizes he is better fit running a local restaurant or coffee shop, or the clothing store owner is better suited conducting research analysis for a large firm. If we are capable of finding tasks and projects that we enjoy and they also create income, (hypothetically) we will never work a day in our lives. For some this may be creating the next Twitter but for others it may be teaching at their alma mater. We are right in celebrating these brilliant individuals who are creating products that improve our lives — but we should similarly celebrate the beaming truck driver who has travelled over 500k miles in 30 years, seeing more parts of the country than we can imagine.