Enough with Celebrating Entrepreneurs! Let’s Give a Round of Applause to the 9-to-5 Employee Instead


8 strengths employees have that entrepreneurs may lack.

As a kid and teenager, when faced with the question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” My answers were: at four – a painter, at five – a rock star (even though I didn’t play a guitar or drums), at seven – a Olympic gymnast, at nine – a movie director, at 12 – an actress, at 14 – a chef, at 16 – a psychologist, at 17 – a hotelier, at 19 – Stephen King.

I’m guessing most other kids were not as fickle or grandiose as me! I often wonder however, how many of them had replied with: a due diligence analyst, a cashier, a sales executive, a bank teller, a press officer, a customer service rep, a security guard, a data entry clerk, an orderly, a waiter, or a personal assistant. It seems that even as kids, certain jobs – usually those that allow one to be creative, expressive, share opinions and ideas, and that accord one with a certain amount of autonomy, prestige, and the prospect of recognition and respect – are more desirable than others.

These days, when I ask youngsters or those in the bloom of their careers that same question, seven out of ten times I hear: “I want to run my own business. I want to be an entrepreneur.”

In today’s hyperconnected economy, where “start-up”, “disruptive innovation”, and “lynchpin” are some of the sexiest terms in the business lexicon, escaping from the office, and owning a business seems to be the holy grail for many who are sick and tired of working for others.

Recently, I wrote some marketing copy for a new start-up that sells inspirational videos and business tools to aspiring female entrepreneurs. I’ve managed to make a decent living running my own freelance content creation business for the last nine years, and am always appreciative of the fact that I can work in my pajamas if I want to. Working on this project, I was intrigued, and flattered to discover that many professional women wanted what I already had – the chance to take the bull by the horns, chart their own career path, and break free from the 9-to-5 work week.

As I pondered my good luck, my head started to swell, and I began walking around with my chest puffed out like a Frigatebird, feeling like part of an elite crew that included the like of Bill Gates, Sara Blakely, or Warren Buffet. At the time, I was also reading articles like “10 Things That Set Entrepreneurs Apart From the 9-to-5 Crowd”, “10 Uncommon Skills You Need to Be an Entrepreneur”, “ 10 Things That the Artist and the Entrepreneur Have in Common”…you get the gist.

Soon enough, my self-aggrandisement thoughts shifted to how I had received the education and the opportunities that allowed me to make my entrepreneurial dreams a reality. I got to thinking about my father who worked for many years as a sales manager at a big machinery company (before venturing out to start his own company), my mother who worked as a shop girl, then a secretary, while I was a baby. I thought of my grandmother who raised my mother with her earnings as a chambermaid, and my own husband who takes care of two thirds of our monthly rent with the data analyst job he’s had for the past 16 years.

If you want support and encouragement for your entrepreneurial ambitions, you’ll find plenty of that on the Internet. If you want someone to tell you how special, organised, focused, and driven you are because you’ve managed to extricate yourself from the rat race and make your own bread and butter, you’ll certainly find plenty of literature on that too. Make no mistake though, you are different, but not superior to the salaryman.

After riding the wave of entrepreneurial self-satisfaction – which very quickly turned into ugly, entrepreneurial arrogance ­– for about a month, it dawned on me that 9-to-5 workers have many assets that creative, entrepreneurial types like myself lack.

While I am aware that the following points may come across as generalisations, I believe that 9-to-5 office workers deserve a big round of applause for showing up every day, even if it is just for the pay cheque. Here are some positive character traits of desk-bound employees, which entrepreneurs may not have.

  1. Employees develop grit

Entrepreneurs have some leeway to no to tasks they don’t like, and choose only projects and clients that they do. This can result in entrepreneurs developing a “take it or leave it attitude”, which impedes professional growth and learning. Office workers show up every day and persevere with a task whether they like it or not, no matter if it “adds value” and “has meaning” or not. They do the work even when it isn’t rewarding. Otherwise they get fired. This makes them more steadfast and helps to develop an indomitable spirit.

  1. Employees are more dependable

Because they have an office and a desk, there’s a higher chance that you’ll be able to reach them when you need to. Freelancing entrepreneurial types on the other hand are better at “setting boundaries” and “saying no”, and often go AWOL when they need to engage in deep, creative work.

  1. Employees play better in teams

Being a worker amongst fellow workers means you constantly have to consider what your department and team mates want and need, so your mind is oriented towards achieving a common goal. Though many entrepreneurs consider the welfare of their employees too, when it comes to setting goals and working out how to reach them, it’s usually just them and the drawing board.

  1. Employees are better listeners

Employees listen and take instructions better than entrepreneurs because they have to take them almost every day, not only from customers, but from their bosses, and supervisors too.

  1. Employees aren’t as obsessive and workaholic as entrepreneurs

Unlike entrepreneurs who have a more vested interest in their work life, employees have an easier time leaving their work behind after office hours. When they’re home, employees are able to give more of their time and attention to their loved ones compared to the entrepreneur whose mind is often occupied with plotting and planning his next business move.

  1. Employees bring home the bacon every month

One point that’s often omitted in those “you can do it!” articles for entrepreneurs is that you won’t (especially when you’re starting out) always be able to pay your bills on time, and that one wrong move could mean goodbye to your kid’s college tuition. Employees on the other hand have the security of a monthly pay cheque, which certainly helps if you’re the type of person who likes to eat from time to time.

  1. Happy employees are content

Entrepreneurs and self-starters do what they do for many reasons. One of the biggest motivators for starting my own business was a state of restless discontent. I’ve never been happy for long in any office I’ve worked in because I’m always seeing something wrong with the system. It seems as an entrepreneur, I am hard-wired to look for the flaws in way things work (or don’t work), to seek out problems to solve, whether that problem is the number of zeros on my pay cheque, how many hours I need to clock in, my annoying boss, uncooperative colleagues, or an ineffective workflow. People who are happy and engaged in their 9-to-5 jobs have a skill that I believe is rare in today’s ultra-flexible, people-first, modern workforce – they are able to suit up, show up, and do they best they can in the absence of the rewards of “creative satisfaction” and even professional recognition. Happy employees have a rare gift – they understand that work is simply what we do to live, not the purpose of our lives. And perhaps entrepreneurs can learn something from that.

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