You Are a Business, Not an Employee

Perhaps the most insidious concept that public education has convinced us to accept is the idea that we gain some amount of safety and security by becoming a part of large organizations. It makes a lot of sense on the surface because it seems to naturally follow that when we band together in common cause we have a lot more authority and power to leverage against whoever the opposition might be. In many cases this is true, but depending on what your goals are, this way of thinking might be hurting you in the long run.

There are certain principles that apply to every aspect of our lives, regardless of how disparate they might seem at first glance. From the price of goods to relationships to even just having quality air to breathe, it’s all about supply and demand. Someone else has something that we want and it is going to cost us a certain amount to obtain it. Even if what we want isn’t owned by another person, there will be some amount of effort that we will be required to expend to gain access to it. Nothing is ever truly free.

Successful people in the business world understand this cold, hard fact of human existence. They have no illusions that every action they take will have some level of cost associated with it, and what makes them successful is their ability to ignore situations where the cost meets or exceeds the expected reward. Even in their dealings with their employees, the first thought on their mind isn’t having a quality employee; their primary concern is maximizing how much money they can make off your labor. In a successful business model, your feelings are irrelevant, regardless of how much they might try to convince you otherwise.

As employees, we tend to put far more of an emotional investment into those who hire us than the other way around. Part of this is out of gratitude that we have a job at all, but a lot of it is simply that we have put ourselves into a submissive role to someone else in exchange for a piece of their prosperity. For us, it isn’t a business arrangement as much as it is somewhat of a family dynamic. We are the children and they are the wise father providing us with an acceptable lifestyle.

This mentality is exactly what allows large corporations to have the kind of leverage that they do today. Employees simply don’t see themselves as what they truly are: a microbusiness with a valuable skillset and a range of customers available to them based on the current level of demand. In the same way that your employer seeks out customers to sell their services to and have to convince people to pay money for it, your individual goal is to convince an employer to hire your services in exchange for payment.

What most people fail to realize is that they tend to give their services up cheap. We all tend to understand that a business wants to minimize cost while maximizing profits, the general idea being to “get the best bang for their buck”. In simpler terms, a business wants to spend the least amount of money to get the most amount of benefit. In furtherance of this goal, they want to minimize how much they pay you and maximize how much you give them. It makes so much sense when we apply it to a business that few people really question it. This is just the logical way of doing things if you want to make money.

When it comes to we employees, however, we tend to have a very different way of thinking. From our point of view, the job is our means of making a living, and while the goal might be to get as much money as possible from our employer, we tend to ignore other factors that are just as important. When we start seeing numbers that truly grab our attention, we forget to think about the unanticipated costs and expectations that come along with that hefty new salary.

One of the things I’ve learned about myself throughout my time in the working world is that different people have different priorities for different things. Society convinces us that it’s all about money, and I certainly won’t disagree with that idea completely. Money is what really “makes the world go ’round”, and if you want to have any significant level of happiness or contentment you’ll need a fair bit of it. However, once you reach a certain point, more money doesn’t really help with that anymore. Where the point is will be different for each person depending on their goals, but eventually you reach a point where money is no longer the primary concern.

For myself, I have learned that the most valuable resource by far in my life is time. After serving more than a decade in the military, I’ve experienced a great deal of my life being wasted by waiting around for things. Military service is well known for the “hurry up and wait” mentality, rushing around to get things done and then sitting around waiting for the next thing to happen. I was never much of a fan of it, nor was anyone I served with. It was just part of the way things worked and we all just had to “suck it up” and get through it.

Now that I’m in the private sector, I’m much less patient with people who waste my time. Every minute I’m spending doing something I hate is a minute I’m not spending doing something I love. Unlike money, you’ll never get your time back. Once that minute is gone, it’s gone forever. As you get older, you begin to understand the value of your time and it becomes ever more important to minimize the amount of it being wasted on things that aren’t important to you.

Obviously the person who places the maximum value on your time is going to be you. Let us be under no illusions that anyone is going to care much about how much of your time they might be wasting. Like many things in life, value is determined by the consumer, not the provider, which is why there is always such a harsh negotiation when it comes to salary. My time is worth a certain amount to me and a certain amount to the employer. Our agreement depends on many factors, not the least of which is the ratio of time versus benefit for both sides.

As I stated before, the employer will be looking to maximize their cost to benefit ratio based on the services you will be providing. For them, it isn’t really the final number on your employment agreement as it will be the amount of production they get out of you per unit of time. You might be making that magical six figure salary, but if you’re working eighty hours a week instead of forty to get it, then you’re basically working for half pay. It’s a great deal for the employer, but in retrospect not so great for you.

When I look at my career, I’ve shifted away from worrying about how much money I make to really considering my work/life balance. My approach to this is exactly the same as how the employer does it: maximizing the ratio that is important to me. However, instead of worrying about the amount of money versus how much I have to give someone, my primary concern at this stage in life is getting the most amount of money for the least amount of time. As my most precious commodity, it has become the primary factor in how I approach my work.

Unfortunately, this approach isn’t going to make you popular with your boss. When you decide that putting in all that extra time and effort to impress your employer just isn’t worth giving up the time, you’re not going to win any medals at the office. If you’re like me and the opinions of others are far less important than your personal peace of mind, then this isn’t much of a problem. You simply go in and do your job and then go home; I rarely think about work once I’m off the clock. However, if climbing to ever higher levels of success and income are your goal, then perhaps this philosophy isn’t right for you.

In the end, what I’m talking about here is a choice between becoming hyper-successful or choosing to prioritize your time over money. It is up to you to decide what is important to you, and that can only happen if you take a step back and really think about what you want out of life. If it’s millions of dollars and a super yacht, then obviously nothing in this article will apply. However, if you’re like me and you just want to have as much time as possible to do the things you want, a change of perspective might be in order.

Just remember that you are a business, not a slave. If the customer won’t meet your price, you don’t have to sell to them, just the same as they don’t have to hire you. Regardless of how scary it might feel, there are plenty of other customers out there willing to pay for your services as long as the terms are reasonable. Don’t give up your time out of fear. The sacrifice should be worth the compensation. Only you can decide how much is worth it.

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