What next? This question rings loud in my mind as I approach my final year of college. When the classes, projects, exams, and back-to-schools are over, what next? When I walk out of campus on graduation day having been awarded my degree (which is really just a stamp of mediocrity by conventional educational systems) and I wave my graduation hat with pride, what next?
That time when I am expected to become independent and fend for myself is rapidly approaching and I am anything but ready for it. With it comes all the questions that require me to justify my degree and position in this world. Society would begin to ask: “what are you contributing to my development?” Mentors will begin to ask: “what plan have you created for yourself?” Friends will begin to ask: “Where do you work?” My mum will begin to ask: “When are you settling down?” No pressure!
As I begin to prepare myself for this next stage of my life when I will have to take this adulting game to a whole new level, I still can’t seem to find a path to take. Entrepreneurship or employment?
I happen to be a part of a community where entrepreneurship has become a buzzword and having a ‘revolutionary’ business idea is the next best thing to a steamy plate of Nigerian jollof. So the temptation to take the entrepreneurial path just for the sake of ticking boxes is quite powerful. In this same community, employment has also become an alluring fad, but only when referring to working at elite companies like McKinsey or Google. So the (elite) employment path is also another seductive lady in red.
You see, both entrepreneurship and employment are paths to financial independence, professional development, impact creation, and self expression. It all depends on which leaves you the most fulfilled.
Entrepreneurship is a great path to follow. It promises us total freedom over our work schedules, over our paycheck, and even over what gets to be on our business cards. But more importantly, it promises to give us the space and tools that we need to create impact; to really build a business around the transformation of lives.
It also promises competition. I am a sucker for competition because it forces me to not only outdo others, but, more importantly, outdo myself. It forces my talents through the furnaces of risk, uncertainty, and limitation. Overcoming these allow me to come out as gold.
But I am not an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship involves a great deal of risk and a level of persistence that comes with getting back on the horse after repeated bouts of failure. But I am one of the most risk-averse people I know; I love my structures. I panic at the thought of uncertainty. Yes, you guessed it: I tend to overthink things. The thought of having it all one morning and waking up on the streets the very next day is a nightmare that entrepreneurship can bring into my reality. Although I am building my muscles of persistence, it’s still not enough to see me through the hurdles of entrepreneurship.
Employment, on the other hand, is also a great path to follow. It promises me moderate stability, predictability, and an opportunity to rise up the ranks. It allows me to know how much I’m getting paid at the end of the month, I know that so long as I do my job in such a way that meets (or exceeds) the expectations of my managers, I will always have a source of livelihood…at least until I turn 65. It promises me a playground as I ascend the corporate ladder. I call it a playground because I find no game more thrilling than that of power. By observing office politics to monitoring the large-scale inter-company power wars, my entertainment is guaranteed.
Employment, however, hesitates to promise me a space to create real impact in people’s lives and a medium for self expression. Those depend on the quality of the company I get to work for and how aligned their operations, product, and culture are aligned with my personality and my values.
While I am still iffy about employment, I am uncomfortable with the obsession around entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurs are highly talented people, no doubt. But if all talented people become entrepreneurs, what talent will be left to build the business? Most times, it is better to use your talents to support another person’s revolutionary idea rather than creating a redundant one and expecting to shove it down people’s throats simply because your mother thinks it’s cool.
There’s really nothing wrong with being an employee, but we still need entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are people who create a business solution/opportunity out of a need, problem or challenge. Entrepreneurs are people who understand that “the obstacle is the way.” I tend to see them as magicians who create something valuable out of nothing.
The paradox is that neither can exist independent of each other. Entrepreneurs need employees just as much as employees need entrepreneurs. It is for this reason that I cringe when I hear renowned entrepreneurship ‘gurus’ feed into the entrepreneurship obsession by speaking so lowly of “having a 9 to 5 job.”
While the entrepreneur gets the company started, the 9-to-5’ers keep the company running.
Therefore choosing which end of the entrepreneur-employee spectrum to build a career on depends less on what you want to do, but more on who you are and who you want to become.
Personally, I have a clear sense of who I am (professionally). I am a young man who is obsessed understanding how consumers (and people, generally) think, and creating profitable brands around those psychologies to ensure the creation of shared value between the brands and their stakeholders.
(Un)fortunately, who I want to become remains an ever-evolving image in my mind. But I am more confident to face this entrepreneur-employee dilemma because I now know that the answer lies within the question: “Who am I?”
It probably does for you too.