There's not one among us who hasn't been
exposed to the image of the overworked, stressed out
executive unappreciated by his bosses, given an endless
amount of tasks for which he earns too little praise.
Perhaps you've been or are that very executive, eager
to raise your middle finger in your superior's direction
so as to advise the
boss to stick it where the sun don't shine.
Gurus, work-at-home schemes (or scams),
and multi-level marketing operations thrive on this imagery.
Why spend hours commuting and working for someone
else when you can be the top dog working for yourself?
You will be endlessly urged to become your own boss
and earn what you 'deserve.'
Seminar legends promise to instruct you, for a hefty
fee, how to become an 'expert'
and position yourself so you can charge thousands of
dollars per hour working when you want, with the implication
that this will be as little as you want.
Not long ago a bestseller came out with the assurance
to teach you the magic formula to have a single-digit work
week and live a life of leisure.
It's really critical in situations like
these to separate the sizzle from the steak.
What the consultants and seminar stars and self-help
coaches dangle before you is achievable . . . for
some. It's just
not achievable for all and doesn't come with hours per week
Take leadership for starters.
Not all of us can be leaders.
Not everyone has the personality, temperament, or
skill to be a leader; but even if we accept fully that
leadership in its entirety can be taught, if everyone were a
leader, then who'd be the followers?
Military organizations work because of their top down
Soldiers need commanders to tell them what to do,
just as the commanders need the soldiers to do what they're told.
Some soldiers will, over time, rise the ranks to
become commanders and give their own orders.
Those that do will achieve the honor by the strength
of their commitment and perseverance.
Most won't get there.
And this is where I think the majority of
seminar studs and self help gurus are being disingenuous.
At least in the military, when most start out with a
hard to reach goal, such as being an air force pilot, each
is warned up front about the tremendous challenges ahead and
that most at the starting
>gate will never
cross the finish line.
These odds are posed as a challenge -- do you want to
be one of the select few?
The gurus, on the other hand, promise or allude that
everyone can be an expert/millionaire/happiness junkie,
provided they pay the workshop fee.
Don't misunderstand me.
I'm not suggesting that everyone hawking an
excellence seminar or how-to-become-a-millionaire course is
a charlatan. The
well known gurus really have achieved some degree of success
in what they're peddling, though in
most cases you
can't be sure if most of their success came from the field
they're instructing others in or from getting others to sign
up for that instruction from them.
I can readily think of one financial literacy
'expert' who markets a very popular line of financial
He's very vague about how he personally climbed the
financial ladder, and many of his tips have been ripped to
shreds by other experts.
It would be readily believable that this guru
achieved his big financial paydays from hawking his message
rather than practicing it.
Where the gurus are misleading, assuming they walk their talk, is in
convincing anyone that they can successfully mirror the
If I am shown to possess sophisticated ballet talent, then
perhaps I'll be in a position where I can mirror Mikhail
average dance student would never get to that position, even
with intense practice at young ages.
Tiger Woods was a golfing prodigy by the age of
wasn't the first toddler to take up golf, but how many have
achieved his progress?
The path to riches isn't as clear cut.
One needn't be the best, the smartest, or the first
to get rich.
Nonetheless, one has to be clever, have good ideas, or be
able to execute mundane ideas better -- and not everyone has
Simply put, not everyone possesses the ability to get rich.
Or to be a great writer, a great masseuse, or his own
boss. It's just
a simple fact of life.
Nor can everyone be a expert.
The dictionary definition of expert is somebody with
a great deal of knowledge about, or skill, training, or
experience in, a particular field or activity.
The acceptable definition in today's internet age is
more like somebody perceived to have a great deal of
knowledge, skill, or training in a certain field.
True experts satisfying the dictionary definition are
very hard to find.
The true expert understands his subject matter inside
and out, so well that he can discern patterns and
relationships across seemingly unrelated fields.
An expert chef, for example, might be well versed in
food science, farming techniques,
and nutrition, in addition to cooking -- or at
the very least, he's studied cooking in a variety of venues
to perfect his craft and had real diners do the judging.
The perceived expert is someone who
seems to know what
he's doing. We
see him on television or his book on the shelves, and we
imply, like we're supposed to, that he's an expert.
How else could he have gotten the TV show or the book
experts, more often than not, are experts at marketing, if
A perceived expert usually makes more money -- a lot more -- than the
This is because the real expert is actually out there
furthering his expertise while his perceived expert cousin
leverages his perceived expertise to sell a highly marked up
product or service.
Think of most infomercials you see on television in
which an 'expert' offers to share with you his 'secrets' --
it could be for no-money down real estate, cash flow notes,
or a making money package.
If each of these "experts" were truly making a mint
doing what they're going to teach you, why then would they
be offering courses for hefty fees so you could purportedly
do the same? You
don't see Warren Buffet in an infomercial hawking investment
courses or Brad Pitt soliciting students for a do-it-at-home
Each man is too busy making money actually investing
and acting. 'Expert'
is so watered down a word nowadays, when I see it next to a
name, I instantly think of the terms "award-winning
filmmaker" and "gold medal beer winner"
phrases that have been used too often and too
indiscriminately to mean much on their own.
The good news is that with the loose definition of expert practiced
today, it's a lot easier to get yourself classified as one.
The bad news is that
most people still don't possess the marketing chops demanded
to position themselves as a pseudo-expert
able to call his own
It doesn't really matter if real or imagined expertise
can be taught
either, because there's still an
even more compelling reason why everyone can't be his own
boss: time and goal
To be your own boss, you have to be able to set your own objectives and find
ways to fulfill them. If
you truly are an expert, you have to find ways for people to
know about you and employ you.
(Ultimately, you're never your own boss.
Your customers are your boss, and without them, you
have no job).
You may have to develop your own product, and once
that part is finished, find out how to reach the people
who'd benefit from it.
It's not easy, and most of the be-your-own-boss crowd
would give up before they started.
For those that forge ahead anyway, they have to know
how to break tasks down and then allot the time it takes to
complete the tasks, never knowing for sure if the effort
will pay off.
The majority of people go to work for a boss.
Their superiors tell them what to do and by when to
have it done.
They don't have to hunt for clients or assignments unless
that's their job description.
Quite possibly, they hate their jobs, but all they
have to do is show up and do the work to some satisfactory
standard and get along with fellow employees to some degree
to be assured of collecting a predictable salary.
As tempting as it could be to shout four letter
expletives at the bosses, it's these bosses that tell you
how you're going to utilize your day to earn that
You might have better ideas how you want to spend
your day, like playing pool or watching sports games on
cable, but those ideas don't generate an income.
At a regular job, in which superiors monitor your
work, you couldn't take 4 hour naps and read
Comopolitan out in
the open. You
have to document some kind of productivity.
When you're your own boss, there is no one above you
to tell you what you can't do.
You must monitor
your own progress.
The conventionally employed show up in an
office during conventional hours.
The Be-Your-Own-Bossers work when they want.
An advantage of being able to set your own hours is
that you can fit in activities the conventional worker
can't, like go kiteboarding for three hours mid-afternoon or
do laps in the pool.
The disadvantage is lack of productivity.
With no one but you to oversee your progress, it's
too easy to be unproductive.
For the undisciplined, unstructured time
becomes a license to waste it.
Watch the typical conventionally employed during
their time off.
They lounge in front of the television set or sleep half the
day. It's not an
issue for them.
They can waste this time.
There is a clear delineation between their time on
and their time off.
Not so for the be-your-own-bossers.
A be-your-own-bosser has to be more vigilant with his
>Are you the type of person who can manage your
own time well when there's no one else around to set your
agendas? Or are
you the sort of person who turns all unstructured time into
your own personal free time?
How you answer will determine whether you are even
qualified to attempt to be your own boss.
And then there's the last important
Can you motivate yourself to work regardless of the project
To many, a job is a job, and if that's how you see
your current conventional employment, stick with it.
All a job fundamentally is to you is a way to earn
money to pay the bills and elevate your lifestyle.
A be-your-own-bosser sees the work as an extension of
putting in so much of his own time into a project he
personally chose to be involved with that what he does
should matter to him, so much that he can summon the energy
to work long hours without a surefire payoff.
The upside is certainly there if his ideas and
efforts pan out.
The downside is all that effort could be in vain.
But the be-your-own-bosser doesn't see it that way.
He feels his full potential would have gone untapped
had he remained a conventional employee doing what The Man
I always possessed the be-your-own-bosser
mentality. I zoned out when asked to work on tasks that had
no interest to me.
On the other hand, I could self initiate projects and
see them to completion without supervision or guaranteed
promise of reward.
When I'm out on the waves kiteboarding for several
hours, I have a gnawing of guilt that I should be working.
It's this feeling that pushes me to advance some
project to some degree every single day -- unless I'm away
from home on vacation, ill, or have some other pressing
reason why. I
don't always know how to get from step A to step B -- in
fact, most of the time I have no clue -- but I know there's a
step B, then a step C, and then a step D I have to reach.
I wish I could stand to work conventional hours at
a conventional job, a pipe dream about as concrete as
wishing that most conventional jobs offered work for me that
was fascinating and amazing.
Sadly to say, most of those jobs aren't so thrilling.
When I worked as a software engineer for a Swedish
startup, even I fell asleep describing to others what I did.
As if it hasn't been made abundantly clear by
now, I don't believe you can teach the be-your-own-boss
mentality; and for those that would argue that you can,
certainly not as easily or as quickly as the seminar and
infomercial jocks promising you quick riches would have you
your own boss is more a life mission than a vindictive act
against all the prior superiors who've wronged you.
Like durians, caviar, and disco, being your own boss
is not for everyone.