How working for someone else is like renting


I like finding connections between seemingly disparate aspects of our lives. And while thinking about the self-employment-versus-working-for-others issue, I realized that there is an interesting and unlikely connection between the type of job you have and whether you rent or own your living space.

Revisiting the renting vs. owning issue

One of the very first posts on this site was called “Why renting is better than owning.” Now, in general, I still adhere to that belief, but I do reevaluate that on a regular basis. This is not because I have any particular interest in buying a place, but because I’m aware that by not doing so, especially when I have the ability to (no debt, six months of emergency fund in the bank, etc.) I feel like I’m bucking a common piece of financial advice.

And while there’s not necessarily a connection between what the majority thinks and being correct (cough cough, worrying about your credit score) in this case I’m not sure that I can unequivocally come down on one side or the other. I’m simply unsure of what to do.

But you don’t want to read about me waffling

After some thought, I realized that, once again, just like whether you decide to work for yourself or not, the choice of whether renting or owning feels “safer” comes down to your own personal temperament and history.

Did you grow up with a sense of instability in your living space? Have you ever been evicted? Did you move around a lot when you were younger? Were you ever (unintentionally) homeless for a time? If so, chances are that buying a place will seem like a more safe and secure choice.

On the other hand, did you encounter none of these issues? Have you always had a stable housing situation? Did you live in the same place for a long time? If so, then the allure of owning might be trumped by other concerns.

To wit (those other concerns): If I buy and my roof caves in, then I need to buy a new roof. I’m in charge of my lawn. I need to gain an interest in plumbing and electrical wiring and gutters (none of which I have right now, I assure you). It’d all be my problem. That doesn’t make me feel safe; it all feels like a huge risk. I love knowing that I can call my landlord and they will take care of things.

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But I also I trust that my landlord will do these things, and that’s because I’ve not had those kinds of troubles with landlords before. I think that if I had to deal with, say, issues where I didn’t have any heat in my apartment, I would feel very differently.

The parallels between jobs and housing

This leads me to the connection I mentioned above. In an interesting and unlikely way, there are parallels between how you work and how you house yourself.

  • Working for someone else is like renting: you relinquish your absolute control over the situation because you trust in the process, trust in others, and prefer the simplicity.
  • Working for yourself is like owning: you have absolute control over your situation and destiny, trust in yourself, and relish the freedom that this provides.

And once again, I stress that there is no right answer. We are talking about feelings of safety and security, and your answer will say more about you than about any situation at hand.

So at the moment, you could say that I rent my job (as well as my apartment). I pay my rent every month (in the from of work), and my job provides shelter (in the form of money) and benefits (in the form of health care and so forth). And while it’s always a possibility that my job could evict me, I consider myself a very good tenant. Some things are going to be out of my control, of course, but I feel secure enough at the moment. I can always revisit going elsewhere at another time, and most assuredly will.

But enough about me. Do you “rent your job” or “own” it?

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