The Only Expression Of Ideal Life Work?

April 26, 2009

A friend asked me a very serious question about my work the other day. It wasn’t just about my work; it was about the beliefs I hold that energize my work. That sent me on a couple of new quests.

The friend is Shaun Kieran. Shaun is a fellow coach and was interviewing me about the way I use coaching in my business. I explained how coaching can help people with the process of uncovering their natural gifts, talents, and passions so they can use them to help design work that they love. I said that since jobs are boxes defined by employers’ needs, people pursuing authentic life work usually wind up in some form of self-employment.

Shaun said, It sounds wonderful for everyone to follow their calling. But is everyone really capable of being an entrepreneur?

At the time I said yes, of course, I believe everyone can go through the process of self-discovery and learn what it takes to have their custom-designed work. Actually, I was on a roll and my passion was flowing, and then we had a technical glitch and the digital recording and our phone call were interrupted. I’ll never remember exactly what I said, but I’m sure it was good!

But I’ve been thinking about that question off and on for a while. I mentioned in my answer that until the industrial age most people were essentially self-employed, as farmers and ranchers or craftsmen and tradesman.

Of course, in a feudal society where people work as serfs on the land of a nobleman, there is not self-employment. But in the history of civilizations that left behind serfdom there is a period where people move towards owning their own property and their own tools so they can control the fruits of their labor.

The rise of industries created jobs, and many people were eager to leave the uncertainty and ongoing struggle of self-employment for the perceived security of a job. I think I even said the United States was founded and expanded by immigrants coming to pursue the freedom to create their own lives, not people pursuing good health care and a 401-K. Wanting to take charge of one’s destiny and own the fruits of one’s labor are rare traits today, and they’re seen as foolish desires by many pursuing the security of fulfilling other people’s visions.

I’ve been sketching out the sections of an e-book on self-employment. A working title I’ve used is “How To Make It Self-Employed.” I toyed around with the idea of calling it, “Can I Make It Self-Employed?” with a subtitle to challenge all the doubts. My thought was that people are worried they can’t do it, but really they can if they’ll just challenge their limiting beliefs and learn a few skills.

But I’m less certain now. Many people who find their calling, or at least come close enough to a calling to define work they love which feels natural and comfortable and enjoyable, don’t think they’ll get to do that work. They worry that they don’t have the skills to plan and undertake all the steps necessary, and they’re not in a position when they start out to pay someone else.

Many don’t understand marketing, are scared of it, or can’t stand it. Many don’t want the challenge and excitement of monitoring how things are going, making adjustments when necessary, and coming up with new service models or products as the market changes. They want to do the same thing every day or every week, they want to believe that what they’re doing will always be wanted and needed, and they want someone else to find clients or customers and figure out how people get paid. They want to do their thing and make some money and believe the work and money will be consistent.

My first new quest is finding ways to narrow one focus of my business to people who are self-employed or truly want to be. I enjoy the excitement of people taking charge of their work lives and embracing “the greatest self-development program there is,” as Barbara Winter refers to self-employment.

How do I find them? How do I make sure they are really interested in self-employment and not just looking for a way out of a miserable job or chasing the quick buck? I want to commit part of my time to working with people who want the adventure. I want to know they’re committed, too, not just frustrated. I don’t want to invest my time if they are going to give up easily when a job with good pay and benefits comes along.

The second quest is to begin to define another area of my business, one that helps people who want to be in some sort of job find ways to incorporate their natural gifts, talents, and passions in their career plans, or at least include them in their lives without the job interfering. I’m guessing that the desire for security might supplant the desire for authenticity and enjoyment for a lot of people. When faced with a choice of honoring their true nature or suppressing who they are for stability and steady income, I think a lot of people will sacrifice their dreams. Working with clients who face such choices will be a constant battle for me.

My guess here is more than wild speculation. In practically every story I’ve heard of people who have left the job world to find meaningful and enjoyable work, there is a turning point. The person describes feeling stuck, empty, or miserable, and says things like, “I felt like my soul was suffocating,” and, “giving up what I loved to keep a miserable job for security turned out to be the least secure thing I could do.”

I’m open to the idea that someone can find enjoyable and meaningful life work that is expressed through a job. There are things, like health care and news reporting, that are mostly done through employment. But I will be on alert for all signs of people compromising their personhood for the perceived safety of squishing their dreams and abilities into a little job box. And on behalf of all hearts, which suffer when squished into little boxes, I will speak up.

May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,

Steve Coxsey
Authentic Life Work & Self-Employment Expert (I’m still tweaking it)


3 Responses to “The Only Expression Of Ideal Life Work?”

  1. Darcy on April 27th, 2009 10:23 am

    I think one key to being an entrepreneur might be farming out the stuff you don’t want to do yourself, bringing in others that can supplement your strengths. Administrative systems is another one like marketing that stops many people cold, they just don’t have the aptitude to design, implement and maintain those kind of routine systems that keep the day-to-day going smoothly. Recognizing that you aren’t good at everything it takes to run a small business and getting help where you need it sounds like an important ingredient for success that gets ignored in a lot of the information out there.

  2. April 27, 2009 : On The Twisting Road on April 27th, 2009 10:18 pm

    […] Is Self-Employment The Only Expression Of Ideal Life Work? […]

  3. Steve Coxsey on April 27th, 2009 10:48 pm

    Absolutely right, Darcy! I think choosing well when it comes to getting help is a little bit of a high wire walk for some people. They have little cash to put towards paying someone until the revenue starts coming in, and they can’t get the revenue coming in until they get certain things in place.

    People with an established business who want to expand can contract and do joint ventures easily. Start-ups are just figuring out how to get traction anywhere.

    The real secret: most of them (us) don’t have anything to sell, except maybe direct service at a premium price.

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