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I am far from unemployed (simplechatter.com)
70 points by zmoazeni on June 9, 2010 | hide | past | web | favorite | 57 comments

I'm from the Midwest and that was the response I got from a lot of people when I first started my own business.

More interesting is who really supported me at the start - I'm from the upper middle class and people always expected me to go off to work at some big company after college. Most of the other upper middle class people treated me with this sympathetic (and, I think, condescending) type of tone when I was starting out. But most of my best friends are actually from a lower income group (you'd say blue collar or skilled labor), and they and their families really encouraged me and understood I was being ambitious and doing this of my own volition.

Of course, now that my partner and I have 3 employees working for us and are profitable, I don't get much sympathy from anyone any more :)

I could see that making sense. Someone making, say, $60k or less a year could very well see starting a business as the only realistic way to greater income and autonomy. To someone making more it could look like a risky venture that jeopardizes a decent income. Middle class apathy...

Don't worry, I feel sorry for you~

But it may be more of a class/culture thing, Paul Graham talked about how people like Ford and the other industrialists came from the working class, rather than the middle class because starting their own business was considered too much a risk when you could get a secure job with a really good salary for the rest of your life working at a big corporation.

Or maybe it is just because until fairly recently the price to start a company that would need the skills you would have to pay a salary that would put your employees in the middle class for would cost several million dollars and as a consequence would be rather rare, whereas most of the blue collar workers could imagine starting their own plumbing company, because that isn't such an unusual thing to do.

As an aside, getting into the trades would be a great way to make a lot of money without having to pay of college debt, the work can't be outsourced and since everybody knows you are supposed to go to college, getting into the trades is undervalued.

Indeed, a good tradesman is never unemployed, and they usually make good money.

On the other hand, I guess there are people that would rather risk unemployment than the "blue collar" perceived stigma.

Not to mention that many of the well-paying trades are actually not easy to learn! I have a lot of respect for them.

Great essay on this topic (it was later expanded into a full-length book):


I am a student who decided to quit my internship this summer and work independently on various projects. Mainly because I wasn't going to learn much of anything at my job besides how to fetch coffee and run errands. Anyway, I have been getting this same reaction from a lot of people except for maybe my mom and and few close friends who know me. People just can't understand why I would ever give up a decent paying job to strike it out on my own and some people even get half hostile about it. I really think it comes from jealousy. Though, the whole work a job or your a slob thing is really engrained in people in Western PA.

Congrats on following your gut jdbaugh. Good luck to you!

I don't know if it comes from jealousy, but I do think some people view work differently.

For me this isn't a career, it's a lifestyle. For those who view a job as a paycheck it's hard to think about it any differently.

This is pretty much spot on: when you go this route, a lot of people assume that you're unemployed involuntarily.

To them, working is a subset of having a job. They couldn't imagine themselves choosing to not have a job before retirement, and they assume that you look at it the same way.

The bottom line is that one of the hardest things in the world is looking at things from the other person's point of view. The truth is that it's something that all of us have to actively work on.

Thanks riffer for your support! I totally connect with "looking at things from the other person's point of view".

I'm curious how he is framing his current situation.

"I'm currently looking for freelance work"

"I'm trying my hand at contracting"

is much different from:

"I'm a small business owner"

"I'm the principle of an IT contracting firm"

Excellent point, because my first thought was: what on earth is he saying to people to have them ACTUALLY say what they are saying????

I've been in business for 10 years for myself, and I have always told people I run my own business and nobody has EVER said something about me trying to find a job or being unemployed. Ever.

It must be a vibe he puts off, or the way he describes what he's doing. Maybe he's wishy washy in what he says he's doing, or doesn't speak with confidence.

Great feedback @djb_hackernews and @dpcan! I'm constantly evaluating how I'm communicating with others and improving it where I can.

While this isn't justification for poor communication skills, a conversation is affected by the other's perceived notions as much as the way you present yourself.

Just remember he's from Michigan, #1 in unemployment. Everybody here knows someone that's been laid off, can't find work or is underemployed.

I imagine he's saying 'I'm self-employed' which in this state, people just assume you're out of work. Because who in their right mind would try and start a business in this economy...

Sounds like it's not such a bad idea after all.

Yeah Michigan does have it tough, but there are some great pockets of entrepreneurship popping up both in West Michigan and the Ann Arbor area. I'm hoping we can turn around the feeling of hopelessness to something better.

It's "principal". :-)


My family is so culturally influenced by the Chinese cultural idea (through my wife's Taiwanese heritage) of "寧為雞頭,不為牛後" (better to be the head of a chicken than the rear of a buffalo) that it never really occurred to us to seek big firm kinds of employment. We have always enjoyed being entrepreneurial. The trick is building a business that SCALES UP--that's what I learn a lot about here on HN.

It's not only Chinese, there's a Spanish saying "Más vale ser cabeza de ratón que cola de león", which translates to "It's better to be the head of a mouse than the tail of a lion".

I also see a similarity between the early Spanish immigrants (started small businesses, farming, etc) and the current-day Chinese immigrants (which usually start their own businesses over here as well).

Or the English saying, 'better to be a big fish in a small pond'?

Or perhaps "Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heaven."

That seems to have the opposite connotation--after all, it is Satan who says that.

Milton certainly intended it to have the opposite connotation (and Satan even goes on to admit he was lying out of pride), but I have met people who genuinely believe it's a good philosophy to live by.

There is a similar saying in Thai that translates to 'Better to be the head of a dog than the tail of a tiger'. I think it's one of those phrases that transcend cultural barriers. Great to see the different versions.

I can understand that others go the independent route in order to be the decision maker and not the follower, and I do think there is a part of me that resonates with that.

However for me going independent was a better way to help others. I believe strongly that a good leader has to first be a good follower, though I still have a long way to go as a leader :)

I think successful consultancies put their client's success as first priority, and they use their passion, experience, and talent to achieve that goal. I try to model my relationships after that. If I naturally become the lead in the project, that's great but it isn't a priority.

I learned about this cultural drive to entrepreneurship when I met a Chinese girl a few months ago.

Her parents own a Chinese restaurant in Paris, but she wanted to work in finance: she went to a good Business School, and was interning in a well-known french bank. While working in finance is considered by many to be a prestigious job, her family is not very supportive of her choice to become a salaried employee.

She told me, that for chinese immigrants, you were deemed successful when you had your own venture, such as a restaurant or a bar. The most respected immigrants run Import companies. Those who take salaried jobs are seen badly.

You can solve the friends and family issue quickly, at least partially, by giving your business a name and having a few business cards to hand out.

Confidence is contagious.

Believe it or not, friends and family have been the most supportive. May just be the circles I run in.

Totally agree with "Confidence is contagious"

I find it a bit nuts that people don't get it.

Where I live - in Sydney, Australia - it's generally understood that contractors/freelancers make more money than typical working stiffs. I think I would always be able to make more money as a freelancer. I would still be doing so, if I hadn't found a great job at a great company.

What puzzles me, though, is the purpose of this blog post. Surely anyone reading it already knows the score. :-)

Actually it's not about the money for me. It's more about the freedom. I think if the bottom line is the primary goal, you'll become burnt out just as quickly as if you took a big salary at a company with a contradictory culture.

I don't have a strong agenda for my blog posts other than sharing my thoughts and hearing critical feedback that I can learn from.

That is awesome on finding a great company!

A word of caution: I work as a consultant and have for a while now. Ultimately, though, I think that building an actual business would have been a better road. As a freelancer, you're fairly limited in your upside compared to something like, say, Balsamiq, but it's easy to hit a slow patch and go below what would be a good % of billable time.

Why not have your cake and eat it, too? Pick a product that you can do on a part-time basis. Do it. Consult on the side. Alternately, reverse the order.

My product pays the bills, but a bit of consulting on the side right now makes it much less of a dicey proposition and pays for trips to see the family and for freelancers and whatnot to work on my next product, and unlike my customers, consulting clients still have work to be done in the summer.

Some of the skills you crosstrain in, like selling, are intensely valuable, and for a variety of consulting engagements you can use your own business as an object demonstration of what you can do for the customer. Plus, your BATNA is much better than the typical freelancers: oh no, if you don't want to pay my ludicrous hourly wages, I'll be forced to spend the time working on expanding my profitable businesses. How ever will I cope.

Sure, that's generally where I'm headed these days, but I wish I'd headed there earlier.

Thanks for bring this up davidw. My freelance network also reiterated this before I went independent. Right now I'm not focused on building a scalable company or figuring out a better way to trade money for time.

No doubt after a few years I'll have the urge to start a product again. Luckily I've been able to scratch that itch with my time at Elevator Up.

I've been "self unemployed" for just over a month now, and I love it too. My friends and family are all very supportive - not one had the sympathy tone the post mentioned.

Congrats on the move pierrefar! I should revise my wording, my family has been extremely supportive. Perhaps they sensed I'd go this path eventually.

I also got the same reaction here in the midwest. Although people would be supportive, there was frequently a tone of sympathy as well. It was surprising to see how people reacted, especially those who are more indoctrinated into the corporate lifestyle.

I'm sending you good vibes imp. Good luck to you!

Is there some epidemic of calling self-employed people and freelancers "unemployed" that I am not aware of?

No, but in some circles there's an assumption that self employment is just a stopgap, and you're only working for yourself until you can find another position where you can pad someone else's bottom line instead of your own.

As far as I can tell, the people he spoke to assumed he was going freelance because he couldn't get a "normal" job.

I've certainly had people criticise my choice to be self-employed (mainly my family), but I've never actually encountered the assumption that it was my only choice. Regional attitudes vary, I guess.

When people ask what I do, I often break the ice by saying "I'm self-unemployed" with a smile. I can then explain the somewhat complicated web of open-source, startup building and consulting projects that fill my day, without some of the awkwardness that being hard to categorize sometimes invokes.

Or I just tell them I'm doing so well that Facebook got scared and tried to sue me out of business!

As he said in his article, it probably depends on your location and social group.

Two things:

1. You are not officially self-employed until you file your taxes and officially state that as your occupation.

2. Nobody is really "unemployed." Unemployment benefits are taxed as income. That makes you "self-employed" anyway. To me, calling yourself unemployed is simply destructive thinking.

Nobody is really "unemployed." Unemployment benefits are taxed as income. That makes you "self-employed" anyway

I'm not sure I follow you. Being employed is trading your labour for income; if you are collecting unemployment benefit you are not trading any labour. That doesn't mean that you are not working but you are definitely not employed. Cf. a stay-at-home parent may work their butt off but is not employed in the normal meaning of the word.

I'd imagine that this article doesn't help much either: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/02/opinion/02reich.html

Very timely article, thanks for sharing it j_baker.

I feel sorry for people that are employed.

Since I was in my late twenties (about a decade ago), I've had exactly the opposite reaction.

I've always been involved in 'projects' and working on ideas aside from my main gig, and when I take on proper contracts now, it seems most people think of it as a bad thing. As though I've given up or I'm not doing what I am supposed to be doing or something like that.

Am I the only one who gets this kind of reaction? Completely the opposite of the author.

Even though you're getting a different reaction, I wouldn't take it to heart.

One of the reasons for my move was that it aligned what made me happy, helping others, and making a living all in one. If that's the same for you moving from side projects to your main projects, more power to you!

Out of curiosity, what part of the country are you in?

I always seem to get "Well, you should call my uncle Bob, he's always looking for bright new people. I'm sure he could find something for you to do."

I know they mean well, but more than once I've growled back self not un.

Hah, I haven't gotten that response yet. But I agree they most likely mean well. Unless Uncle Bob is a pain in the ass to work for :)

there is a reason most of us work for someone else.

It's usually easier.

To strike out on your own is to cut the safety net.

The safety net that can be dropped out from under you "at will" is not the true safety net.

And that's what makes the difference between those who dream and make it big and those who like to stay within their comfort zones. The next difference?.. is just a matter of time =)

> And that's what makes the difference between those who dream and make it big and those who like to stay within their comfort zones

"Those that dream," "those that make it big," and "those who strike out on their own," are complex groups with varying degrees of overlap.

Many people "strike out on their own," for a variety of reasons unrelated to "making it big".

BREAKING: an individual's family has a beef with that individual's chosen path in life. News at 11.

Them's the breaks.

Reminds me of one of my favorite new t-shirt messages: "I'm not unemployed, I'm NSFW"

Link here: http://store.dieselsweeties.com/products/im-not-unemployed-i... , and no, I have no connection to the website whatsoever.

I'm not sure why people marked this down, I thought it was pretty funny :)

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