November 29, 2015

Nathan Smeal

Working for the Man Is Not Everything

entrepreneurIt’s hard to believe that I’ve been a part of the #Strella team for 16 months before writing my first post.  Needless to say, it’s time. In case you don’t know me yet, I’m Nathan. Rachel contracts my business to provide services for some of her clients, but I’m also her spouse – a.k.a. her ‘victim of marriage,’ as she eloquently states on a recent post.

My story is one some of you are well familiar with: the plight of the entrepreneur.

Let me first share how I was raised. My parents, whom I love dearly, worked for the state for over two decades. Prior to that, my Mom was a teacher and my Dad worked for the now defunct, Bethlehem Steel Corporation. They believed in going to work, putting in your time, and clocking out. They took care of our family and saved a little for retirement, too.

This is the life they wanted for my brother and me. My brother works for the state and he’s following in their footsteps. But, I opted for a different path.

I spent 14 years as a manager in retail before starting my own business. Retail, by nature, is no 9-5. And anyone that’s run a business knows this to be true, as well.

I was recently offered a position with the state, which I had to turn down.

Yeah, I would save some money for retirement through a pension – and even get a match as I put in my time. And yes, the benefits would be decent after I paid to get what I needed.

But are benefits and retirement the reason to take a job?

Maybe for some people, but not for me. First, this particular opportunity did not give me the compensation I needed.  The opportunity to move up, often an incentive working with the state, would not be found in this department.  Second, the job was mere paper pushing, which is not exactly motivating or fulfilling – not sustainable with any zest. Third, there’s no flexibility, which is a want rather than a need, but something I value, despite the long hours I put in now.

Would I do what I had to do to provide for my children? Absolutely. But I’m making more than the job offered in my own business, so essentially, I’m just banking on benefits and retirement.

I’ve worked for dozens of people in my retail career. I work well independently and I can’t recall a single time I viewed my job as ‘putting in my shift and clocking out.’ I always had people looking over my shoulder, though. And they always wanted more because I worked hard. And then they stick me on long-term overnight shift for the third time in my retail career, despite my incessant pleading that it would significantly limit the amount of time I spent with my children.

That was it for me. I needed to get out and I knew my retail experience was not going to allow me an immediate jump into a comfy position with the same pay as I earned. That’s when I decided to start my own show.

I love having my own business. I love that my wife has her own business. I get something more out of work than retirement or benefits. It’s something that an entrepreneur can understand, but something the folks from my parents’ generation find themselves struggling with.

I don’t have to work a 16-hour shift on Thanksgiving Day and multiple 12-15 hour shifts the next few weeks. But, even if I did, I would love it because it was on my terms. I would love it because I’m servicing my customers when they need me, not just when a boss tells me I have to work.

It’s the satisfaction I get knowing that I make a difference at the end of the day. Even a simple ‘thank you’ goes so far.

In small business, or any business for that matter, it’s ebb and flow. And when your business is your only source of income, it makes it that much more important because everything you do matters. It all affects the bottom line in one way or another.

Many are programmed to think like my parents did… go to school, get a degree and get a good job. I did all of those things and I was miserable. What’s a ‘good’ job anyway? Is it working for a billion-dollar corporation making a six-figure salary? Is it a steady 9-5 working for the government?

Why can’t it be working from home with a bigger vision for the future? Why not a collaboration with other people who want the same thing?

If you’re a long-time corporate worker who is comfortable where you’re at, that’s great. Part of what makes this world perfect is that no two people are exactly alike. But, if you’re like Rachel or I, you want something more. You feel it with everything inside you, despite the frequent setbacks and hardships in business. I would not be content working for ‘the man.’ I would do it if I had to, but in this case, I’m perfectly happy running my own show, beside a woman who runs her own show (and who just happens to be my wife).

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