Entrepreneurship is the new gluten-free.

According to Sir Richard Branson, 2014 is the Year of the Entrepreneur.  If that’s the case, what happens in 2015?

It seems that “becoming an entrepreneur” is the new gluten-free, grass-fed, hybrid-powered thing to aspire to, whereas having a regular job is widely denigrated as the occupational equivalent of white bread – hazardous to your health and to be avoided at all costs.

But when did it become fashionable to ditch stability, benefits and structure – if they’re what you need and value?

When did going it alone become more appealing than working in a team – if you’re a great team player?

When did starting your own business become the thing that everyone should aspire to do – whether or not it’s right for you?

Starting your own business does, at least on the surface, sound thrilling, particularly if you’re unhappy in your current job.  But, as described by Morra Aarons-Mele in this HBR online article, it tends to be a glossy, airbrushed vision of reality.  The fact is, and the experience of most of my clients is, that working for a big company can indeed be full of opportunity, growth and fulfillment.  Sadly too many organizations pay too little attention to their company culture and people and as a result the idea of leaving to something more flexible, creative and autonomous sounds pretty good.    

Now don’t get me wrong. I am patently unemployable, and happily so, having worked on my own for almost two decades. In fact, I’d wager that there are several of my old bosses out there who’d say I’m much better in my own business than I ever was in structure or hierarchy.  But in my own defense I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. Both of my parents owned their own businesses so I had no idea what it was like to work for someone else.  

Yes, having your own business is wonderful – if you’re well suited to it.  If you’ve got sufficient tolerance for risk to withstand cash flow variabilities and business ebbs and flows.  If you can do whatever it is your business does AND sell, market, bookkeep, hire, fire, ideate, vision, take the trash out and make coffee.  AND if you can create an employment experience that is fun, rewarding and fulfilling for the people who choose to work for you.

But having a job is good, too – if you’re well suited to it.  If you can work well with others, demonstrate subject matter depth and/or differentiate yourself with particular expertise. If you have emotional intelligence, tolerance for the foibles and fallibilities of your co-workers and thrive within a defined structure.  And, perhaps most importantly, if you pursue continual growth and self-improvement so you’re always adding value and never taking your job for granted. 

Neither is good or bad in absolute terms.  And yes, I firmly believe that the growth engine of any economy is the entrepreneur – the person who creates something out of nothing.  But big companies are still the most significant economic force we’ve got, and the better run they are the happier their employees are and the more successful the businesses will be.  

So before making a leap, take some time to critically evaluate what it would really be like to strike out on your own.  The most important thing about work is that it make you happy, and that’s not something that is defined by what’s trendy or what your friends are doing.  And if you choose to remain in the employ of an organization, do what you can to help it be great, because in a perfect world the employees are as happy as the employers, big or small.

 Personal note:  Next week I’ll be on site in Skopje, Macedonia with the Leader Project from Ivey Business School.  It’s the perfect marriage of a big business machine contributing to revving up the entrepreneurial engine in a developing economy.  I can’t wait, and I’ll write about it when I get back.  Thanks to all of you who have supported my participation in the project!






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