Leaving Corporate Life

Retiring the resume, putting away the degrees, archiving the portfolio, and never filling out another job application or W-4 – it’s a feeling of such freedom and relief. I have operated some kind of self-employment since I was 12 and my father gave me unlimited access to his wood shop and materials. Anyone who somehow solves the problem of overhead costs, bringing them to zero, can see that everything after that is profit. So I started making rubber band guns to sell to the neighborhood kids. That business folded when some boy shot his sister in the eye, but the concept was good. I just didn’t have the proper packaging and disclaimers, backed my general and professional liability insurance. I’ve sold comic books, unsuccessfully. I’ve sold computer services and hardware, marginally successfully. I ran a landscaping company for 15 years, pretty successfully.

I always had two or more irons in the fire – at first, because I tended to be stellar at getting jobs (that’s just sales and marketing) but not particularly good at keeping them (I just don’t think in job mode, and I’m no good with arsehole bosses, reputation management, endless fluff that masquerades as substance, or outright stupidity. Most of all, I don’t like taking orders from inferior minds. There, I said it. Stupid shouldn’t boss me around. Eventually I played with just taking jobs during off seasons, or as a means to get somewhere ‘respectable’ to someone else. I was young, and defining myself, which requires experimentation, contrary to popular belief. And finally I went all in, got a Master’s Degree, and tried to make it in the corporate world. I just didn’t fit, and never will. I could do it – I was stellar when doing what I’m good at – but I suck at the game, and am unmotivated to play it. Don’t pretend you don’t know which game, unless you’re doing coke in the bathroom stall to get through it, and then that’s your own game.

When I started the business that would eventually morph into my current brand, the market had tanked, and I had an in, and I had this idea that I could keep other small business owners afloat through effective marketing, which they either sucked at or didn’t feel they needed to do in a bubble/boom market just emerging into digital everything. My value proposition was “If I keep you in business, you’ll keep me in business.” It worked, and my company took off. I had started Jobhacker to talk about the emerging marketplace of independent professionals who don’t want “jobs”, but I wasn’t yet entirely there. By the time I was offered another corporate gig, my brand was booming, and I took the job frankly out of fear. I wasn’t yet all in. I should have been. What was supposed to be a 10month corporate project went like most corporate projects do, long on budget and time, and so it was 2 years to completion. I added to that, because I finished my part (the instructional design) quite early, and pitched them on doing the train the trainer after that. They didn’t believe me ’til I blew away a class full of corporate execs twice on a “give me the rope, and fire me if I fail” dare. I spent the next year and a half going all over the US, and into Canada and the Caribbean doing stand-up training from line level to exec, so their teams could train their teams.

As the project winds down, they start offering a project completion bonus to anyone who’s there ’til the last day. That’s because most people start finding other places to land a couple of months before completion, and your project can tank that way. Previously, I had promised myself that when I hit a certain dollar amount in the bank, I’d give up corporate life for good and be all in with my own company. Guess what – the completion bonus was slated to take me to exactly that amount. So quietly, about 45 days before the end, I stopped looking for my next gig within the company, and just didn’t pursue any more opportunities. I had always said the only reason to get a job is not to live on, but to raise capital to start a business. A job isn’t an end, it’s a means to one – a waystation. That was radical back then. I think it’s just wisdom, and the culture is catching up with me. Sometimes we get it right, as the avante garde. I began saying on Jobhacker that I don’t want a career, ever. If someone tried to give me a job, it would be like Cagney in “White Heat” – “Come and get me copper!”

My brand has evolved, and I got involved in other brands, and have some stake in them, and I’m still contributing to the definition of the independent professional and the open marketplace. In this, I get to remain cutting edge. They didn’t get it back then. I got cast as just a perpetual kid who couldn’t hold a job. I was just early; I never wanted a job. And instead of becoming a slacker, I became an owner. I have the skill set to create an income out of almost nothing, if I can just locate the in or the edge — a way to reduce overhead or streamline processes or get referrals or market a new idea or create a new role or see where the market is going before it does. For me, it’s all strategy.

This experiment, which is really the experiment in independence and freedom, as a man, as a human being, and in that most important of categories of human existence – work, is a success.