You can easily trick yourself into believing that entrepreneurship is all the rage among young people. Hacker meet-ups, entrepreneurship clubs on college campuses, and the sudden growth of incubators and accelerator programs can present fodder for this case. But these are really just ways to talk about starting a company.
Zachary Slayback says, “Entrepreneurship among young people is actually relatively uncommon. Relatively few young people today own stock in a private company, and a good chunk of those who do likely aren’t entrepreneurs anyway, but rather work for companies who issue equity to their employees.”
The reason entrepreneurship is relatively uncommon is it’s too high risk for 90% of Generation Y. They are simply not risk takers. Their parents raised them to be successful in the most common sense of the word, which precludes risk taking. Because risk takers look crazy, not successful. Confirming that reason is the Wall St. Journal, reporting that Gen Y is starting businesses at a much lower rate than Gen X.
Gen Y wants fulfilling work, but starting a company is not-fulfilling, it’s all-consuming. There is no half-time alternative. (The difference between an entrepreneur and a startup founder is not the hours or the pressure or the craziness. It’s the size of the business.)
The picture up top is what people want: stable, but interesting home life. The problem is how to get interesting and stable at the same time. Here are some answers.
Recognize that your job is not your life.
Another way to look at it: your job is not your life, so a super-interesting job does not make an interesting life. It makes a workaholic. Think about it: anyone you know with a status symbol job is someone who works all the time or took enormous risks instead of picking a predictable path.
After coaching hundreds of people I’ve discovered that most people who say they are in unfulfilling careers are actually unfulfilled in their personal life. This is because work is not your life, it’s your work, so if you’re unsatisfied in your life it’s probably not a problem with work. It’s just much easier to ask for career advice than life advice. And it’s much easier to change jobs than change your personal life (get married, have kids, stop being a slave to your parents’ vision for your life, etc).
The good news is that we can stop listening to the hype about how entrepreneurship leads to fulfillment. We know it’s not true.
Get a safe job.
Dan Lyons author of Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble, spends 300 pages talking about how poorly startup employees are treated. And those lucky employees who do make a ton of money from working at a startup are more like lottery winners than people who do something significant in their job. So don’t bother with the startup.
When you work at a large, stable company you get a regular paycheck, predictable systems, and a management team that answers to a board of directors. There is a career path for you at a company like this, and it is safe and predictable.
Which means that you can create the life you want outside of work. You can make a safe, stable family, and you can follow your passion—which is not something you should get paid for, but it is something you should make time for in your life.
Climb a corporate ladder halfway.
I recently talked with the bestselling author in India, Karan Bajaj. And I realized he has created a lot of ways to make a stable, boring job a path to personal passion. He worked at Proctor and Gamble and wrote his first book at night, after work. You can only do this if you actually have time after work, if you can keep your work from seeping into all hours of your day. And the best way to do this is at a corporate job.
Taking a year off in between jobs is an effective tactic for completing projects that have a clear start and finish, but it won’t help you balance kids and work. It’s really hard to take vacation time because the 24/7 nature of technology means we often work when we are not supposed to be working. But if you take a year off, you are totally removed from work. Karan wrote this most recent book, The Yoga of Max’s Discontent, during a year-long sabbatical from work.
Not everyone fits into a large company, and not everyone feels comfortable with a boss. If you think you’ll die going into work every day, then freelance.
Freelancing as an alternative to a daily grind. Freelancing is not entrepreneurship. Freelancing is finding someone to work for, but you work for them occasionally rather than every day. Just like getting a safe job, someone else has the company vision and you fit yourself into it.
As the entrepreneurship craze declines, freelancing rises, and by 2020 40% of the workforce will be freelance.
Freelancing is great if you want control over your work hours without the craziness of entrepreneurship. So it makes sense that one third of freelancers say they do it for their kids. (Here’s how people get the guts to start freelancing.)
Work in slow motion.
I think this is the route I’m taking. Because I told Karan I’d be writing about his book on my blog. And then it took me one month to actually publish the post. This tactic doesn’t work for building anything, but if you already have what you want, working in slow motion is a way to preserve it without destroying your personal life.
Did you see the movie Zootopia? The sloth? That’s what I feel like when I’m working. I used to criticize myself for working so slowly, but I am coming to terms with this pace. It’s like people dialing down their corporate jobs for children. Or taking a sabbatical to write a book.
I’ve had the photo up top for a long time, but I didn’t use it because I felt like it’s too domestic. But now that I understand my personal life better, I see the cabinet full of dishes can be interesting in the right light.
Most people are not balancing work and kids so much as calibrating between stability and instability. We each look for a way to create a stable enough life so we can enjoy what is interesting about that life. But not so stable that the thrill is gone. The art of life is in the instability. But no one enjoys art if they can’t eat.