If you ask someone what they most want from life, there’s a good chance that ‘being happy’ will be top of their list. Of course, there are many factors which influence our capacity for happiness, but employment choices will always be a major contributor. Why? Well, for a start, we spend a reported one third of our lives ‘at work’. And if we are happy in our jobs, then it surely bodes well for other aspects of our life. So, here’s the big question. Are we more content when we work for other people – or when we work for ourselves?
Them or Us
Let’s ponder that for a minute. Working for someone else often brings regular holidays, limited responsibility and guaranteed income. Working for ourselves often brings long hours, less income and nobody to help in a crisis. On paper, sticking to paid employment might look like the sensible option – but in reality, it is the self-employed who report higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction. So, if you are starting or evolving your own business, don’t be afraid to put the following happy thoughts into the equation.
People are happiest when they live by their own values and choices. Being self-employed offers this sort of freedom. And by that, I don’t just mean freedom to wear jeans to work! This is more about how to mould our businesses so that they fit around our lifestyle, preferences and principles. We can choose recycled packaging even if it costs more; or ditch a task if we think it’s pointless. We can revel in the autonomy and confidence of our own decisions.
When you work for someone else it is likely that you won’t have much control over what you do or what you can aspire to. Your employer has already set the limits and boundaries of you and your job - and that means setting a limit on your potential and your development. I don’t mean that in a bad way because that is what ‘being employed’ is all about. There are lots of great employers out there who will genuinely allow you to develop in your role but it’s not your business and your choices will always be restricted to some extent.
Tapping the Untapped
Untapped potential is a terrible thing. You will find plenty of it in the workplace but the same cannot be said for most self-employed people. There are no personal development boundaries when we start our own company. You are at the helm. You can do great things and when the going gets tough, you won’t have a boss to refer to. There will be no Head Office picking up the slack or the challenges. Scary yes - but also stimulating and life changing.
Ultimately, as self employed, we are more likely to discover untapped skills and talents which will boost our business, our sense of self – and our happiness. When we run our own business, we have an absolute sense of purpose and reward for effort. Not only that, but we are in control. We can change it.
The chances are that, when self-employed, we will be interested in our tasks; we will be motivated and engaged in our goals. We might earn less money, but we might earn more. Either way, we’re less likely to care. We may work longer hours, but it won’t always feel like it. Instead of differentiating between ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ activities, we need only focus on how that activity makes us feel. You might not think it, but analysing your sales reports might be just as enjoyable as watching the entire box set of Friends.
Meet Your New Workmates
So what about our lifestyle? The biggest influence on our happiness is, arguably, the presence of positive relationships with our friends, families and acquaintances. Time at work is bound to eat into time spent with loved ones but starting our own business can work the other way too. It can allow us to work at home or to work with friends and other family members. Being our own boss might mean that caring for older relatives or young children is easier to manage.
If relationships with others are important, then we might worry that self employment is an isolating move. This need not be the case! We might miss the banter of an open plan office but it’s likely that we will slot into a dynamic environment in which customers, suppliers and service providers become the people we enjoy interacting with. And of course, once we are part of our local business community, there will always be someone to talk to – and talking makes most people happy!
Happiness or Success - Which Comes First?
On a final note, let’s consider this ‘chicken or egg’ scenario. Richard Branson is an obvious source of business inspiration quotes but there is something very personal and notable about his recently published ‘Letter to a Stranger’. In it, he talks about the relationship between success and happiness.
Specifically, he tells us that it is not success which brought him happiness; but happiness which brought him success. He elaborates further on this, but his main message is clear. When we are happy, we are more likely to be rational and to have a clear head. We are more likely to make the right decisions, do the right things and to forge great connections with others. For the self-employed, that’s a cheery thought indeed.
If you are thinking about starting your own business, remember that you don’t need to do everything at once. Feeling stressed can make us unhappy so take your time to get things right before you make the leap. Feeling insecure can make us unhappy so keep your day job as long as you need to and build your new business into your non working time! You might find a balance between self employment and paid employment - or you may eventually leave your paid employment to go it alone. Whichever way you do it - let’s hope that happiness can drive your decisions.