When asked what they like most about owning their own business, the majority of entrepreneurs put “freedom” at the top of the list. They describe it in a number of ways, working for myself, being my own boss, making my own hours, but it all boils down to freedom.
When asked what they dislike most about owning their own business, the answer is typically about workload or the weight of responsibility. Long hours, too much risk, too many tasks, an inability to balance work with personal life, too much stress.
So why do we equate the burdens of living “in” the business with freedom? Are we so buffaloed about the vision of the independent entrepreneur that we can’t see the contradiction? Or perhaps we are just afraid to tell the boss (ourselves) what we really think.
Most of us identify with our businesses in a way that no employee can fully appreciate. When the time comes to sell a company, I often hear folks say “Gee, it must be like selling your own home.”
Not hardly! Unless you have a home that you designed, and then you grew the trees that became the studs, and quarried the sand that became the concrete, and built it by yourself, adding each room one at a time.
That’s what it’s like to build a business. If you started it up, you probably landed every customer personally at the beginning. You designed the product or service offering. You hired each employee. You determined every policy. There is nowhere you can look in your company that doesn’t bear your personal stamp.
I know business owners who have reached their goal of true freedom. Starting in a bedroom or rented office, they have built organizations that no longer require their presence to generate substantial income. What do they do then? Many of them start another business!
Entrepreneurs don’t equate freedom with a lack of work. In fact, for most of them freedom means the right to work as hard as they wish. The lack of freedom in a job meant having someone tell you that you’d done enough, or that you could only work limited hours, or that your earnings had a ceiling.
Two hundred and thirty three years ago a few very frightened men signed a document in Philadelphia that changed the world. They were picking a fight with the most powerful force on Earth, the British military machine. Many (and perhaps most) of their countrymen thought they were crazy. They were deliberately surrendering the empire’s protection, world trade, and the best established rule of law in the world because it didn’t meet their concept of freedom.
They were under no illusions about the difficulty of their objective. Their risk was tremendous, and the odds of failure high. There was no pulling back; once your signature was on the Declaration of Independence it became win or else lose everything. Not only would you face the death penalty for treason, but your home would be confiscated, and your family imprisoned or killed.
The spirit of the Signers continues in every one of the 25 million small business owners in America today. Each has traded security and predictability for freedom. It’s not freedom from want, or freedom from fear. It is the freedom to act.