Why the Entrepreneur’s Life Makes Psychological Sense

This guest post is by my friend and co-author Joel D Canfield. His newest book (his tenth!) is cheekily titled You Don’t Want A Job, newly available on Amazon.  I can attest that it cogently analyzes the ‘risks’ and rewards of being self-employed. Please make him welcome:

You Don't Want a Job coverEntrepreneurs live with fear.

We don’t let it define us. We rarely let it stop us. Where ordinary folks use fear as a compass to show them what to run from, we use it as an anti-compass, to show us what to run toward.

We spend our days overcoming. We don’t avoid, we conquer.

We are driven. We don’t put in time waiting for the next day off, we thrive on the challenges.

We are solitary. We don’t look for approval, we create it within ourselves.

Sometimes, it’s not enough. It’s largely because humans are social creatures.

Confidence is the juice in your veins, but it’s tiring to always break trail instead of strolling once in a while.

It’s important not to need approval but it’s nice to hear it.

Loving your work is so much better than the alternative, but running the machine flat out will burn it up, and quicker than you think.

We get precious little confirmation from the world at large.

Let’s get some from modern science, then, eh?

The Psychology of Happiness Is On Your Side

Here are some quotes from my newest book. Since I’m not a scientist, and possibly not even modern, they’re from a couple chaps you may have heard of. Just in case you’re not familiar, I’ll introduce them both. (Emphasis in all quotes is mine.)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Flow

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is noted for his work in the study of happiness and creativity. He is best known as the architect of the concept of flow, the altered state of consciousness we sometimes find ourselves in when totally engaged with a challenging task. Martin Seligman, former president of the American Psychological Association, described Csikszentmihalyi as the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology.

Csikszentmihalyi on why it matters what we do for a living, and whose job it is:

“Because for most of us a job is such a central part of life, it is essential that this activity be as enjoyable and rewarding as possible. Yet many people feel that as long as they get decent pay and some security, it does not matter how boring or alienating their job is. Such an attitude, however, amounts to throwing away almost 40 percent of one’s waking life. And since no one else is going to take the trouble of making sure that we enjoy our work, it makes sense for each of us to take on this responsibility.” — Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, p. 101-2.

Abraham Maslow and What We Need

Our second expert is Abraham Maslow, whose name is forever tied to his theory of self-actualization as illustrated in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

From Maslow we learn that personal growth, not complacency, is the path to happiness.

“All people in our society (with a few pathologic exceptions) have a need or desire for a stable, firmly based, usually high evaluation of themselves, for self-respect, or self-esteem, and for the esteem of others. These needs may therefore be classified into two subsidiary sets. These are, first, the desire for strength, for achievement, for adequacy, for mastery and competence, for confidence in the face of the world, and for independence and freedom. …More and more today . . . there is appearing widespread appreciation of their central importance, among psychoanalysts as well as among clinical psychologists.

“Satisfaction of the self-esteem need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability, and adequacy, of being useful and necessary in the world. But thwarting of these needs produces feelings of inferiority, of weakness, and of helplessness.” — Motivation and Personality by Abraham H. Maslow, p 45

Again from Maslow, consider these benefits of seeing a higher purpose in our own actions:

  • Living at the higher need level means greater biological efficiency, greater longevity, less disease, better sleep, appetite, etc.
  • Higher need gratifications produce more desirable subjective results, i.e., more profound happiness, serenity, and richness of the inner life.
  • Pursuit and gratification of higher needs represent a general healthward trend, a trend away from psychopathology.
  • A greater value is usually placed upon the higher need than upon the lower by those who have been gratified in both.
  • The pursuit and the gratification of the higher needs have desirable civic and social consequences.
  • The pursuit and gratification of the higher needs leads to greater, stronger, and truer individualism.
  • The lower needs are far more localized, more tangible, and more limited than are the higher needs. Hunger and thirst are much more obviously bodily than is love, which in turn is more so than respect. In addition, lower need satisfiers are much more tangible or observable than are higher need satisfactions. Furthermore, they are more limited in the sense that a smaller quantity of gratifiers is needed to still the need. Only so much food can be eaten, but love, respect and cognitive satisfactions are almost unlimited.

from Motivation and Personality by Abraham H. Maslow, p 98-100

You. Right There. Take a Bow

Taking responsibility for our own personal and financial condition is a tough job. The experts I respect tell us that it’s a job worth doing.

You’re doing it. Give yourself a big round of applause.

Check out Joel’s book on Amazon!


15 thoughts on “Why the Entrepreneur’s Life Makes Psychological Sense”

  1. Pingback: Virtual Book Tour for “You Don’t Want a Job” | Joel D Canfield

  2. Oh!! Joel – this is a big light bulb for me, thanks! I never thought of the need for meaningful work being tied into Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I always just thought it meant there was something wrong with me, despite people like Shanna who make me feel like slightly less of an anomaly. I think working a soul sucking job for 3 years has totally skewed my perspective on this… thanks for bringing me back. 🙂 Looking forward to reading the book.

    1.  @sarahemily Hey, don’t pretend I said there’s nothing wrong with us. I’m drum major in the freak parade.
      But these are needs. Sharing art, taking calculated risks, owning our future: needs. Not wants. Not craziness. Needs. It’s just the way we’re stalking them through the underbrush that’s a bubble off plumb, as the carpenters say.
      Sarah, if you haven’t read Csikszentmihalyi, get Creativity and Flow. He seems to be in a constant state of “how come this isn’t obvious? this should be obvious, shouldn’t it?” fascination with the whole concept.

      1.  @spinhead I’m starting to think it’s pretty sick how warped this concept is in society… I mean, the fact that I think there’s something wrong with me because I don’t want to sit at a desk for 40 hours a week working a job I hate…. crazy. Definitely going to check out Csikszentmihalyi… thanks!

        1.  @sarahemily I feel guilty that I don’t work weekends. What nonsense! It’s them, not us.
          I don’t suffer from insanity. I’m enjoying every minute of it.

        2.  @Shanna Mann  @sarahemily  @spinhead I love this entire conversation! I’m only just starting to discover there’s an alternative to soul-crushing work. I read Flow a while back but really need to revisit it. And the Maslow’s hierarchy makes a whole lot of sense. Thanks, Joel, fascinating!

        3.  @remadebyhand  @Shanna Mann  @sarahemily Honestly, I continue to be surprised by the number of people who haven’t seriously considered alternatives.
          And delighted when one more person does.

  3. Hey Joel,
    I like what you have to say here but I think your generalizations are a bit too sweeping. Everyone lives with fear and I know plenty of entrepreneurs who let it stop them. I don’t think entrepreneurs (including me, a recent one) are a special breed with talents that other people can’t or don’t possess. And I know lots of them do avoid those fears and don’t conquer themselves or their slice of the world.
    I’m much happier as an entrepreneur than I ever was – or probably could be – employed by someone else. I appreciate you giving us a collective pat on the back and expect there’s some good stuff in your new book. Just based on the title, I agree with its premise and probably your personal philosophy on work.

    1.  @joeyjoejoe Hulloo, Joe!
      You’ll love all the broad sweeping generalizations in my guest post next Monday at “Imagining Better.” 
      Seriously, I know this is a very high level view and leaves out lots of details. Even a 12,000-word book is just scratching the surface.
      But here’s the thing: it’s not a matter of choice. The age of the job is over. The beast doesn’t know it’s dead yet, the message hasn’t gotten to the brain, but it won’t be too many years before jobs as we know them know won’t exist.
      Those who accept the inevitable and prepare will be in a better position than those who try to wish the future out of existence.

  4. I’m all for entrepreneurship.  I was pretty much raised to be one.  So, I resonate with your message here, but you could have the same benefits when you’re not self-employed.  
    I also agree with Joel’s comment – lots of entrepreneurs let fear stop them.  
    And lots of entrepreneurs aren’t driven or passionate either.  
    And the truth is… nobody works for themselves.  Not really.  We’re all in the business of serving others – whether that be in a traditional job, working for someone else, or by creating a product or service that others can benefit from.    I think finding happiness in your work and feeling confident has less to do with entrepreneurship and more to do with what percentage of the time you’re using your greatest gifts / talents or engaging in tasks that you enjoy and that challenge you.

    1.  @deniseurena “what percentage of the time you’re using your greatest gifts / talents or engaging in tasks that you enjoy and that challenge you”
      Absolutely, Denise.
      My point is, the opportunity for those times, and control over it all, is exponentially greater for the self-employed than for a person with a job.
      Yes, I’ve known entrepreneurs who were unhappy. They were doing it wrong. They were, one and all, trying to emulate the old broken corporate business model.
      I’ll leave the “nobody works for themselves” for another time 😉

  5. This is great- it helps validate my decisions in the last few months to leave my full time job and go out on my own. But it really go me thinking. Why do SO many people follow a different path? Sure, some people aren’t cut out for entrepreneurship. But I think that we are taught to consume so much at such a young age, that our innate need to buy stuff ends up quashing the risk-loving adventurous entrepreneurs. So we trade a paycheck and the ability to consume a lot for the potential loss of happiness at work. 

    1.  @ethanwaldman Astute observation, Ethan. In the book I talk about “the hedonic treadmill,” that concept that what thrilled yesterday only pleases today and bores tomorrow. Wrote some of it in an earlier stop on my virtual book tour, at Mark McGuinness’ Lateral Action: http://lateralaction.com/articles/self-employment-risk/

  6. Pingback: Another Little Purple Book: “You Don’t Want a Job” Launches Friday | Someday Box

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *