As I transition to working for a new company today, I’m reflecting on the language people have used when talking to me about working as a self-employed person vs working for a company. After news broke that I’d be transitioning my practice to Reed Longyear, I heard “When do you start work?” My new job was referred to as “gainful employment.” Another person called today my “first day of work.”
All of these phrases subtly minimized the work I was doing as a self-employed person. It suggested that my foray into entrepreneurship was somehow less than working for a company. It was not gainful; it was not work.
I don’t think the people who used these words had ill-intent, or even thought about how cutting and hurtful their language might have been. It is representative, however, of a deeper cultural disregard or diminishment of a self-employed person.
Don’t believe me? Just look at the advice surrounding how to write about self-employment on a resume. One article suggested addressing extenuating circumstances that took you away from your career path. As if running a business wasn’t part of your career? Many others discuss the pitfalls of what a prospective employer might read into a period of self-employment. One article even suggested not listing short periods of self-employment, because it could be seen as a liability.
When we think about our self-employed friends, I want to challenge each of us to be mindful of how we talk to and about their work. Owning and running a successful company (even if the sole “employee” is the owner) is hard work. Harder than showering and showing up at an office to work for someone else. Self-employed people must be entrepreneurial and willing to take risks to achieve great success. They have to work hard to build great relationships with clients and do impeccable work. They seek out challenges. And they likely have experience in many aspects of running a business besides doing the work they promise to clients (e.g. finance, marketing, etc.).
In the end, if they do it right, it will be gainful – both personally and financially.