You Can Be Your Own Boss

I don’t really know what an entrepreneur is anymore. People whom I regard as entrepreneurs are now saying things like “I’m not an entrepreneur” and those who don’t seem to fit the bill are flaunting the label around their necks.

Today, we find many articles written about the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs, inspiring young ones who are keen to build a name for themselves in the business world, but very few are targeted at those in the workforce. Recently, Timothy Tiah (co-founder of Netccentric) wrote a rather compelling piece from a successful entrepreneur’s point of view of why some people should consider working for others than to start a business. You can read this rather well-written article here.

While he made a good case as to why some people might be better off joining the workforce, I think that there are also some traits that people like me can learn to emulate from people like him. As I’m halfway through my fourth working year, I’ve learned that while we cannot become bosses of the business, we can be good masters of ourselves.

I’m not exactly a role model employee, but I do believe in continuous improvement, which can only be possible if we humble ourselves to learn from others. Here are the five (in no particular order) entrepreneurial characteristics that I think could make us better, happier and more productive employees:

  1. NO Fear

    This is the #1 trait I commonly find lacking in the workplace. I don’t think entrepreneurs are 100% immune to fear, it’s just that they certainly have a larger appetite for risks and failures as most of their decisions may or may not jeopardize the future of their companies. I often remind my teammates that we should work as if we have nothing to lose. So what if you stuttered or made an error in that PowerPoint presentation? The audience will forget it as soon as they leave the room. Need to disagree with your bosses? Speak your mind, and back it up with sound reasoning and technical data. He or she cannot fault you for trying to make a better decision.

    When we fear, we are limiting our capabilities to even greater things. Fear is a four-walled illusion that traps possibilities from coming to light. When we fear to fail, we are denying ourselves the chance of what might have been a bigger win.

    But what if you do fail? Entrepreneurs know that every minute counts, so they don’t spend it all on whining and self-pity. They learn something from their failures and shout “Next!”.

  2. Work It Like You Own It

    Entrepreneurs are well-known for one thing: they’re crazy passionate about the things they do. They eat, breathe, walk, talk their business all day long. If you share the same kind of passion as an employee, your boss is indeed very lucky. But it wouldn’t be fair to ask the same from us because we did not share the same dramatic foundation of building the company from ground zero. What more if you’re part of a gigantic corporation whereby its CEO will probably never know your name?

    While we may never attain the same level of passion towards our job, we are expected to OWN it. When you have a sense of ownership towards your job, many things will follow suit: meeting deadlines, making decisions, doing your research so that you are answerable to your work, be mindful about what you do and say because it reflects on your company’s image, and constantly seeking ways to improve. Sometimes, you can get the feels too (but that’s a good thing).  Employees who do not have a sense of ownership towards their job will sooner or later become dead weight.

  3. Have a GIGANTIC KICK-A** Goal

    Successful entrepreneurs have an end goal in mind even before they start. It could be making a million dollars before they turn 30, eradicate world hunger, or eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and so on. To reach the end goal, they have to make smaller goals along the way as check points. Sometimes these small goals change as the business evolves, and along the way they have to make tough decisions to remain competitive.

    When we understand this concept, we learn to shape our decision-making process around the bigger picture of things.  Granted, we can’t always understand our bosses and their sometimes odd decisions, but knowing that there’s a greater goal out there gives us room for reasoning and a benefit of doubt before insisting that we are right all the time.

    The greater goal ultimately applies to our own personal career path. This brings meaning to what we do. What’s our personal end game? When do we want to retire? Do we like our current jobs? If not, how do we make that career change? What do we want to achieve before we retire? How do we want to leave our mark in this world (yes, think outside the company)? Or are we going to be stuck in the endless maze, clocking in and out pointlessly until the day we die? (Note: It’s best to think about these deep stuff when you’re a little optimistic and sober.)

  4. Develop Good Habits & Stick To Them

    For 33 years, Steve Jobs asked himself every morning: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” No one governs entrepreneurs except for themselves (and maybe their spouses). Therefore it is crucial for them to develop discipline to stick to some form of routine and practice for a productive day ahead. Many begin by a good run in the morning, having a hearty breakfast, and spending some quiet time before going out to the battlefield.

    I admit, I don’t do all three of them (I’m one of those whose breakfast is a cup of coffee and the morning news from my desk) but I now try to get out of bed early to do some exercise to start the day (it’s really easier said than done, but trust me, it’s worth the mind game). My quiet time usually takes place just before I go to bed – it’s something like a reset button to purge all the remaining thoughts out of my head and let tomorrow worry about itself.

    Sure, getting good sleep and staying fit sounds like a great outcome. But the real reward actually lies in the increased ability to take better control of your mind and body. You become more aware of your surroundings, and you learn to listen when your body tells you it’s time to take a break. You reduce the days of dragging your feet to the office like a zombie and you increase your productivity at work.

  5. Learn To Accept Rejection

    You can’t run a business and be a crybaby each time a deal doesn’t fall through or when clients give you a bad review. Entrepreneurs are a resilient bunch, and they know that only the strongest will survive. Therefore, if they are going to toughen it out in the real world, they cannot take everything that befalls them personally. They learn to distinguish between the real constructive critics and plain haters – they listen to the first and toss the latter into the trash.

    As employees, we need to learn to eat feedback for breakfast. If our reviews aren’t great, take a step back and find out why. If your boss tells you that your report was less than impressive, dig deeper and then cover your grounds. It’s okay to feel slightly discouraged if your ideas are rejected, but don’t wear your heart on your sleeves at the work place. Most of the time (if not all), it’s really not about you. Company decisions are not made based on how you look, act or feel. They are made based on hard facts and figures (and sometimes layers of politics, but it’s hardly about you). A little bit of rejection is good for the soul – it helps you to evaluate and  improve the areas that you lack in your skill set that would ultimately help you to become a valuable player in the workforce.

You don’t have to take my word for it – I’m no expert. In fact, I’m still learning everyday. Will I want to get out of the rat race? Eventually. But I also believe that while we’re in it, we can still do meaningful work. And be awesome at the same time.

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