No, I’m not asking about your boss, organization or company… I want to know why you work. Let me add some perspective to my question, courtesy of the Greeks:
“Where there are kings, there must be the greatest cowards. For men’s souls are enslaved and refuse to run risks readily and recklessly to increase the power of somebody else. But independent people, taking risks on their own behalf and not on behalf of others, are willing and eager to go into danger, for they themselves enjoy the prize of victory.”
Man, that’s a powerful quote! I’ve struggled for a long time to finish this article because it hits so close to home. From the very moment I read it in The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, the quote has stuck with me like one of those annoying little gnats flying around your ear. I’d swat it away only to find it drawn back into my head.
It hits close to home because I believe it to be very true. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been passionate about my work before, and I’m very thankful to my employers for providing a great living for my family, but there’s always something missing. I don’t feel I’ve been working at my full potential since college.
I felt closer to “full potential” in college because I was involved in leading multiple activities along with taking classes and really enjoyed it. As the quote says, I was willing and eager to go into danger because I was enjoying the prize of victory, even if it meant 16 hour days.
However, after I graduated from college, I got a “good” job at a consulting firm. Things were ok, but I quickly discovered it wouldn’t be the same. I feel like much of my working life after college has been much like the example of what happens when we work for kings who are now the businesses we work for. I don’t get to do what I love, instead I get to do what the king needs done.
Our kings treat us well and we choose to remain cowards afraid of taking too much risk. Many of us receive a sense of security with our jobs even though we’ve seen the lay-offs over the last couple of years. We give up our lives to them, and they continue to give us paychecks.
As I mentioned when talking about the Company Store, we often create our own reasons for getting stuck at our jobs – often times debt. We sacrifice our freedom from the kings for stuff acquisition.
Another reason we don’t take large risks in our jobs is because we know we don’t always reap the full outcome of the reward or as stated in the quote, we won’t enjoy the prize of victory. If we pour our lives into designing a new process that saves our company millions of dollars, most of us would only receive a pat on the back – usually the same pat on the back we receive for completing mediocre work.
Next, if we take the large risk and fail, it could lead to us losing our title or even our job. It’s hard for many companies to embrace the culture of allowing people to fail in the trade-off for possibly hitting it big. Once again, if we don’t take risks and continue doing our job, we will probably stay safe.
There should be some difference between us and the early Greeks because the king’s people didn’t have full control of their lives and were typically stuck under the person who ruled their lands. The only options were to leave everything behind to risk success in a new land, overthrow the king, or just deal with it. We’re different though because we have a choice… right?
So what are our options?
The key is to not blame your “king” for the position you’re stuck in. We can quit and change jobs without worrying about getting hunted down like a rabbit by an angry king. However, the “switch jobs” option more than likely means you’ll go to work for a new king and you still won’t be taking risks on your own behalf.
Another option is to start working on our passion on the side, while using your current job as a tool to get you where you want to go. You might use it to gain skills, save money, or even network while you try to turn your side job into the full time job that you willingly take risks as independent person thirsting for the prize!
However, none of this will even matter if we don’t take control of our money and invest wisely first. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, how the heck are you ever going to be able to leave your job and take risks on your own? You may not even know your current battle cry or what you want to do with your life, but you must start taking control of your money so you can someday control your life.
There are no kings holding us back, we do it just fine by ourselves. Once you get the taste of independence and treasuring the work you do, you may never turn back. I hear this time and again from successful entrepreneurs… and I’ll continue to work towards getting there myself. What about you, do you work for a king or are you your own king?