Who is responsible for your income?


I have some unhappy news:  Your job could go away at any time.

I think we all know this, but it’s in a vague or distant way, like how we all know that we are going to die, but it (hopefully!) is far enough in the future that it doesn’t affect our day-to-day living.

Stability (or security) has always been important to me; it’s always been of primary importance to know that my ability to eat or have a roof over my head was never in jeopardy.  And to have these things over the long-term, you need one thing: income.  (Okay, some will suggest alternatives, such like that it is possible to go completely off the grid and live off the land or something, but that isn’t the Unlikely Radical way.  We want to opt out of the consumerist zombie nightmare, not opt out of society in general!)

If you are like most people, you are employed by someone else.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2009, only 1 out of 9 people in the United States identify as “self-employed”.  Working for someone who has the ability to make you unemployed at a whim does not seem like security to me.

Should this be your situation too, the first thing we need to do is acknowledge that we are in a very untenable situation.  We are not stable or secure.  And if you are concerned about this (and I am) then we need to figure out what we can do about it.

What if we were responsible for generating our own income?  What if no one could fire you, because you were your own boss?  It sounds quite appealing at first.  And yet, if you are like me, you probably feel scared terrified at this prospect.  This is because we have not been taught the skills to handle such a situation.  I went to school for seemingly forever, and I was never taught a single thing about working for myself.  Instead, I was taught:  Get good grades, get a degree, and then go get a job.

I believe that our system is currently designed to push us into working for someone else.  In school, while you were taught a great many things, you were rewarded when you did things the way others wanted.  You can see how this attitude leads ineluctably to the workforce.  In effect, being rewarded for doing others’ bidding is a kind of addiction, and after we get out of school we miss that validation.  So we work for someone else, doing what they tell us, getting good marks all over again.

This is by no means a jab at education, but this was my experience.  I bought into the whole “do what I’m told” thing for a long time.  Being told what to do is comforting, because it allowed me to not think about myself and what I wanted, but instead to retrieve my sense of worth and accomplishment from others.  How nice.

Except not really.  After many years in the workforce, I came to these grim realizations:

  • No matter how obedient I am, it doesn’t guarantee my own security
  • I want to derive my own worth from me, not from others

In my experience, working for someone else is “easy”, and in my experience, easier is almost never better.  And when you find yourself taking the easy road, you should question yourself very intensely.

It seems to me that successful self-employment, either whole or in part, appears to be a way to generate security.  (Getting out of debt and saving up an emergency fund is vitally important, but even that won’t provide security over the long term without income.)  And my confession to you is that, while I feel like I am pretty ace at controlling the outgoing side of the financial equation, I have never been all that great at figuring out how to generate income.

So that’s what I’m pursuing right now.  In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be telling you about my adventures in exploring self-employment, from the (hopefully entertaining) perspective of someone who has had only the vaguest clue as to how to go about it.

I know that there are a whole different set of security issues when it comes to generating one’s own income.  I don’t want to minimize them; instead, I want to explore them.  After all, self-employment scares the hell out of me.  That’s how I know that I need to pursue it.  The system wants me to stay at my desk.  But that’s how I know I need to leave it.  And I believe that the system relies on us feeling insecure.  And that’s why we must all work toward our own security.  Let’s all be responsible for our own income.

But enough about me.  How do you feel about self-employment?  What helps you feel secure?


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