Do You Have What It Takes… To Be An Employee?

There are numerous articles about the topic ‘do you have what it takes to be an entrepreneur’? The article’s main idea, invariably written by an ‘expert’, is that you should stick with a 9-5 job if you don’t fulfill every single one of the requirements in the list.

But how much truth there is in this statement? I want to flip it upside down and present a different point of view: do you have what it takes to be an employee? Do you have stomach to endure a corporation lifestyle?

It is universal, common sense that you should study hard, get in a very good college, get an interesting job that makes you happy and then retire when you cannot fulfill your duties anymore. So I should do exactly that, right?

Think again. Small businesses create more jobs than all the Fortune 500 companies in America and most of these businesses are lead by people with little financial background, insufficient education, chronic procrastinators, lazy all-arounds. Still, they ARE successful in their own scale.

It’s not my surprise that many small business fail the first years of operation. It surprises me that many endure and go on for many years and the ones that ‘fail’ do succeed to provide their owners with substantial income. And they try again, and again and eventually succeed. Why then we don’t think of entrepreneurship as the ‘default’ choice when teaching our kids? Why is it only a prerogative of the rich NYC intelligentsia? Wake up, America!

I will then present my list of ‘are you fit to be an employee’ to make the point of this article:

1. No Job Security

Be prepared to know there is no such thing as job security. A company can only provide a secure income to one group of people: its owners and family. All the others are expendable.  This is capitalism, bro. Do you have the psychological skill set to hide entirely from consciousness that you might not have a job tomorrow?

2. Limited Creativity Allowed

Do you like experimentation? There is little experimentation in employee life. You will work on what your manager tell you to work. Many times, you will go through the project list (remember, he is not technical, he got a MIT engineering degree because of a basketball scholarship) checking bullets as you complete your half-baked solutions, whatever works and is acceptable, because the Project Manager + HR compute your bonus as a function of the number of items you knocked off in a year. Are you prepared to work day after day on a job where your daily routine is more scripted than Hamlet?

3. Expect No Mercy

Know you are going to be managed by people that do not have your best interest in mind.  I have been fired once a few months after a crippling sports accident where I was thrown head first into the sand while surfing, arm shattered in hundreds of small pieces, the humerus head was facing down, 180 degrees of the original position.  I was still on Tramadol (an opioid for strong pain) and the surgery stitches still bleeding when I received my pink slip – after years of excellent reviews. Capitalism thinning the herd.  (If you wonder how is it possible:here’s a video of a shorebreak)

Were they wrong?  Face it, companies have a fiduciary obligation to their stakeholders to produce increasing profits and, unfortunately, you are just a tool. Are you okay with the fact that you are just a replaceable Lego piece as an employee?

4. No Ownership Either

Do know you don’t own anything you build for the company. Even if their HR and managers ask their employees to have ‘ownership’ of their projects. That’s utterly stupid. And embracing that makes you a less intelligent person – in my opinion.

I’ve worked as an engineer and I’ve heard many construction workers talking about ‘their’ buildings, meaning the buildings they built as employees, in an almost delusional way. And many others complaining that they worked for a company for 30 years just to be fired one day! Outrageous!

Well, welcome to the employee life. You don’t own anything you build, despite the companies management working overtime to build up this fallacy: you are part of the ‘team’ as if you owned the company yourself. When it’s too obvious, some make key employees ‘partners’ at 0.0001% just so that they are happy with a meager paycheck and live life with some dignity.

Company’s employment agreement generally contain clauses where they own everything you do even when not during work hours.  All financial companies I know do have such clauses.

Software engineers have perhaps even more of an emotional link to the code they produce. To the point they break that mental barrier and take it with them (remember Sergei at Goldman or Yihao Pu at Citadel?).  It is a very hard thing to do but software engineers as employees should not attach emotionally to their code since it’s not theirs.

Write and forget your baby. You got paid for it. Get over it. It’s someone else’s now. Move on. Are you ready to deal with the fact that you will never have ownership of anything you create?

5. No Stable Income

Business owners can delegate, sell, rent, make a joint venture, sublease, hire when they are not at their prime anymore. If their skills go away, they have numerous other alternatives to make money out of their businesses. As an employee, your financial health depends on your skills. When your skills go away for any reason, health, mental disease, hormones, accident, your income ceases to exist. Do you have the stomach to put your family’s financial future solely on the permanence of your skills?

6. The Follower Mindset

Being successful at large organizations require not so much excellence at the discipline you master. It requires excellence at interpersonal skills. In other words, social  manipulation. Having a subservient mindset, being able to endure complete control over your work and your life in general is a plus.

If you are the alpha type, if you hate to take orders (like myself) you can mask and adapt but you might be very unhappy your entire life. Some folks will be happy to get a position high enough they can pretend it’s theirs. But it’s self-deception. Your daily routine is still being scrutinized by someone higher up.


It might seem counter intuitive but being an part of someone else’s company is not for everyone.  Would Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Richard Branson succeed at being employees?  Likely not.  Are you doing the right thing being an employee?

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