Business owners are happier people
Why scraping nasty chemicals from the bottom of boats beats working for a living
In 1984 I arrived in Sydney as a corporate refugee with my wife and daughter. Until that time, I’d trained and worked as a journalist on various newspapers in Holland. But it was time to change the corporate Smoke-filled, Alcohol-fuelled offices of a daily newspaper in Holland for the Sun-filled, Wholesome Great Outdoors of Australia. Specifically, I wanted to work on and around sailing boats on Sydney Harbour.
We had very little money when we got here (The Dutch money we brought with us, converted to Australian dollars, was precisely enough to buy an old Ford Cortina and pay the rental bond on a grotty little terrace house in Redfern, and that was just about it) and I needed to make sure I got a job quickly. So I jumped on the first thing I could and got a job at the old Dairy Farmers Factory in Ultimo, packing yoghurt beakers into cartons.
I worked there for a couple of months, and some of the gloss had started to come off our big immigration adventure, when I met up with an old friend at a typical Sydney backyard barbeque. I’ll never forget his words, he said: What are you doing working in that factory? Right now, while you’re not fully settled in yet, is the best opportunity you’ll ever have to create the future you’ve been dreaming of and the longer you keep working in that factory, the harder you’ll find it to get moving.
Walking on the dock of the Bay
He was right, the next day I walked out of the factory. I went down to the big yacht-marina in Rushcutters Bay, and simply asked anyone I saw around the docks if there was any work going.
I’ve not worked regular hours, taken home a regular wage, or been told what to do by a boss since.
I won’t sit here and tell you it’s all been plain sailing (!!). Far from it. I’ve had to do some pretty unpleasant work from time to time (Scraping old antifoul paint (nasty chemical stuff that stops algae from growing on the bottom of boats) from the hulls of old trawlers in 40 degree Sydney heat is not one of my fondest memories), and I’ve stuffed up various contracts in those early years (The look of horror on the face of the owner of a boat I’d painted in entirely the wrong colour, still comes to mind from time to time), and I’ve naively been taken to the cleaners by unscrupulous customers at other times, but I’ve somehow managed to make a living, pay various mortgages and send the kids to school from 1984 to now.
Wild rollercoaster rides
Slowly but surely my work became a business and the business evolved away from boats to houses, it grew steadily and 20 years later I sold the building business to a junior partner. In 2004 I started this thing I do now called business-life coaching and mentoring. And I feel good about myself and my life to date. It’s been a wild rollercoaster ride at times, but I am forever grateful to my old friend who shook me up at that barbeque in 1984. I am basically a happy chap.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, you see, I meet all kinds of people, those who work for The Man and those who work for themselves. And I’ve come to believe that people who work for themselves are generally more content with their life and themselves than those who are employees, especially those who work for big companies. I believe this is because people are happiest when they feel they have agency, when they feel they are in control of their own lives.
As a business owner. when things go well you can pat yourself on the back for making that happen and when things go badly you know that the buck stops with you just as much, and that they have it in their hands to turn things around again. Business owners know they are largely responsible for the outcomes of their lives.
Dogs and electric shocks
I read a book by Prof Martin Seligman a few years ago. Prof Seligman is the father of “Positive Psychology” (not to be confused with something called “Positive Thinking” which is basically rubbish). In the book Seligman describes a set of experiments run with dogs in the sixties. In the experiments dog A is given a light electrical shock every time a bell rings. The dog learns to associate the bell with the electrical shock, and knows the shocks cannot be escaped, it’s a fact of life. Then the dog is placed in a large crate that is divided in half. Half the floor is electrified and the bell is rung and the shock is applied. The dog could easily move to the other half of the floor to get away from the shock, but doesn’t and lies down on the floor shivering in fear.
Dog B is not conditioned beforehand and is also placed in the crate. The floor is electrified and the dog immediately moves to escape the shock.
The second dog has a sense of control over his life that the first one doesn’t anymore. Dog A has become depressed (if there is such a thing in dogs) and Dog B is full of vitality. Seligman referred to the condition of Dog A as “Learned Helplessness”.
I believe as humans working for large organisations we are also prone to “Learned Helplessness”. I am not saying that all people working for all companies have learned that they are helpless and are all depressed or that all depression comes as a result of having a job for a company. Obviously not. There are many different circumstances and many different strategies that people employ to maintain their vitality and sense of agency at work and in life.
The choice that changes everything
What I am saying, though, is that being a corporate refugee and starting your own business can absolutely be one of those strategies.
There is an enormous sense of reward and satisfaction that flows from building something you created yourself and that you are entirely responsible for. There is a wonderful sense of freedom in knowing that you can simply take the rest of today off if you choose to do so, but that you may actually choose not to do so, for whatever reason. You might be tired and grumpy and overworked and you’d love nothing better than go to the beach and veg out for the rest of the day, but you choose not to, because something else is at this moment more important to you.
That choice changes everything, because now you are at work, because you choose to be at work, not because your boss or your organisation has told you to be.
Business owners have agency
Clearly I am biased, I’ve worked for myself for more than 30 years and for the last 12 years supported those who do work for themselves. I can’t even remember anymore what it was like to be a journalist working for an editor in the hierarchy of a big corporate office. But I do know for a fact that none of the small business owners I’ve ever met show any of the symptoms of Learned Helplessness.
So, if you sometimes feel your job is draining your vitality, consider leaving the rat race, escape the corporate world and take control of your own life… The adventure is worth all the heartaches and frustrations … I promise you.
#FunInBusiness #Happiness #ControlOfYourLife #LeavingTheRatRace
Btw, If you’d like to know more about what it takes to get a business off the ground, you can download my first book: The Ten Truths for Raising a Healthy Bouncy Business for free!