For years, if anybody would have asked me this question, I wouldn’t even think about the answer: entrepreneur, of course. I would have said this on auto-pilot, 100% convinced that this is, always has, and always will be the correct answer.
A little bit of context is required, though.
I became an entrepreneur when I was 30. I started an online company, managed it for about 9 years and then did a successful exit. It was a stressful endeavor, but it ended well. During this time, my entire life revolved around it and my identity took its shape. I was a successful entrepreneur.
After the exit, I started a more or less individual career, in which I tried not to employ other people, nor did I have some outstanding goals. More of a freelancing / consulting, solo approach. This also worked relatively well for another 3-4 years. Still an entrepreneur.
And then I got involved into another business, which this time didn’t survive. It was a coworking space which I had to close abruptly after two and half excruciating years.
At the end of this failed business endeavor I found myself in a very bad place: a lot of personal debt, bank accounts frozen and, given I was just getting out of a failed attempt, no prospect of getting involved in another business. Not that I would want to start another one, so soon. Basically, no visible exit, from the “entrepreneurship” perspective. I was stuck. I remember that, at times, I felt like I literally hit a wall.
After a couple of months of mourning the bad business – and trying to end it as clean as possible, which I did – I realized I have to do something really difficult: leave behind my “entrepreneur” persona and get a job. Now, finding a job was the easy part. Leaving behind the “entrepreneur” hat, well, that was the hard one. But more about this story in another article.
Small Predictable Income versus Big Uncertain Rewards
The real question is not “entrepreneur versus employee”, but “how much do you value predictability right now in your life?”. Being an entrepreneur involves significant risks. It also generates way bigger rewards (potentially unlimited). On the other side, being an employee has a lower risk, while generating limited and smaller rewards.
For years, the prospect of those potentially unlimited rewards made me stick to the “entrepreneur forever” mantra. That, and the perceived freedom that came with it. Freedom of choosing my own hours, of traveling whenever I want, of taking the business decisions I wanted.
Alas, I learned that those freedoms aren’t as tasty as I thought they were. Choosing my own hours soon proved to be a choice between 14 or 16 hours every day, whenever and wherever I could complete them. Traveling whenever I wanted proved to be an illusion, as my business was so dependent on me that I can barely be absent for more than a couple of hours. And those business decisions, well, it proved that sometimes I can be really wrong about them.
After I started the new job, I realized (after a few months of adaptation, but again, this is another story) that being an employee wasn’t even remotely as bad as I was thinking. First of all, with less responsibility came more freedom. Yes, I had to work a fixed number of hours, but, beyond that, I was free. No 14 or 16 hours daily anymore. Traveling? Well, since I work remotely, you can say I always travel, as I can choose my own office in any coffee shop I want (and allows me to, of course). Business decisions? Why do I even bother, as long as I work my part as I have to.
It also happened that the predictability that came with this job helped me pay my personal debt, unfroze my bank accounts and, overall, restore my ability to work in a creative way.
So, Which One Is The Correct Answer: Entrepreneur Or Employee?
The correct answer is: “it depends”.
It depends on the specific place you are in your life, at any given moment. It depends on how much predictability you want for your income, and how much are you willing to sacrifice for it (which, more often than not, isn’t that much). It depends on those who are depending on you as well: maybe you can take the hit of a few months eating rice and canned fish, but they may have other plans, expectations or goals, to which you committed, and now you have to deliver, to support them.
Context is everything. And I mean “context” in a broader sense, covering your age, your social environment, other commitments, etc. Some contexts may be more conducive to entrepreneurship than others. For instance, you may have less commitments and a higher risk appetite. Taking a hit under these circumstance wouldn’t be that bad. Whereas if you already have other commitments, then taking a hit would hurt not only you, but other people as well.
And the thing with contexts is that you can’t really influence them.
The only thing you can control is your response to the context. That’s 100% up to you and that’s the part that should be educated: your ability to adapt to circumstances. Sometimes being an entrepreneur would be the correct, adaptive response, whereas other times, being an employee could be the right approach.
So, instead of trying to find the “correct” answer to this question, I would focus more on being able to adapt and adjust, from whichever position I find myself comfortable with.
And try to steer away from labels, like “entrepreneur” or “employee”, which, at the end of the day, are just that: labels.