Beware!... if you work for yourself, this may happen to you too.
"Why Don't You Do Some Work!?"
I’ve gotta tell ya… I’m getting pretty tired of hearing that.
A friend called me the other day and we were having a conversation. He asked me where I was, and I told him. I had just finished body surfing and was now standing in ankle deep water watching my 3 year old playing in the ocean surf.
“The BEACH?! What a tough life! Will you please do some work?!” he shot back. It was around 3PM. He didn’t know that I’d already painted two murals that morning, met with the customer’s neighbor who wanted to talk with me about painting one at his house, talked with and answered the questions of two new potential mural customers, did an interview with a magazine for an upcoming article, and also closed a deal to paint a couple of murals later this month. All of that, except for the two murals that I painted, were done while at the beach. Not bad for someone who, according to my friend, had to be nagged to “do some work.”
It’s not the first time I’ve heard that from him, or for that matter, from countless other people. In the past, I’ve heard virtually identical comments resulting from Facebook and Twitter updates that have included “Driving from Savannah to Nashville, stopped to get gas in Atlanta and decided to take in a Braves game,” or “Sitting in bleachers in front of Mt. Rushmore, munching on a bagel… feeling very patriotic right now,” or “In TEXAS today–> enjoying the best BBQ brisket on planet earth here at ‘Rudy’s Country Store and BBQ’… Anyone want a bottle of their Sissy Sauce or regular BBQ sauce?” or “Sitting on the hood of my rental car, watching the sink into the ocean here in Big Sur, CA” and of course, “Waiting for Batting Practice to finish up here in Dodger Stadium so I can go and get a Dodger Dog and Large Sprite,” which of course, is code for “handling a client’s scheduling issue on the phone, with my glove in hand, hoping that I can finish the call before the next deep-drive fly ball sails over the fence and out here to the seats in the deep left field.”
To my detractors (who I should say, I don’t believe are saying “Do Some Work!” to be mean,) I respond simply with “On any given day I’m working twice as hard as you, if not more so, and if you’re hating your job, then you’re simply not as adept at playing the game.” And I mean that with absolute respect, and no insult intended.
Look, I talk all the time about how I have ADHD, and how I use it to my advantage, blah, blah, blah, but let’s seriously consider this for a second: What does that actually mean?
I don’t do well in offices, I don’t do well in a structured environment, I sure as heck don’t do well in a cubicle… and the last time I had a “job” with a “boss,” I quit within one year of starting. I’m very fortunate to have realized it as early as I did, because what it tells me is that I’m simply not designed for working the way you work, but I’ve been smart enough to learn from it, and adapt my lifestyle to not only meet my needs, but exceed them, all while having fun.
I can work from anywhere. With the technology available to me, I’ve worked from the desert, the redwood forest (as I’m doing right this very minute), an airplane, the back of a Taxi, or standing in the surf on the beach in California. I’ve answered phone calls and emails while waiting to board a plane, and poolside where I was resting from a home show I was doing in Dallas.
I’ve also closed deals while pheasant hunting, baiting my hook while trout fishing , or while running down an old country road..
Best part? One of my greatest accomplishments is that I have NEVER, EVER had a client say I wasn’t paying enough attention to them, or that I wasn’t focused. In fact, 90% of the time, I don’t tell people where I am, and they naturally assume I’m in an office... at my desk. Good! That’s what they should be thinking!
But before you tell me to screw-off, as you read this from your desk, know that it’s not anywhere near as free-and-clear as it might seem. With this freedom, comes the inevitable other side of the coin. And this flip-side is for my friends who shout “do some work” in all caps in the window of an IM.
Sure, I might try and tack on a half-day of fishing or a few hours of beach time during a business trip before flying home, but the last time I took an honest-to-goodness vacation, without a laptop or cell phone was... July of 1999. Last time you did? Probably a few months ago, if not sooner. Every year, I’m sent emails full of photos from my friends, as they come back from Africa, or Australia, or some other wonderful place, where they’ve toured for the previous two weeks, totally off the grid.
While I try to explore at least one new place every time I travel, the concept of “off the grid” is virtually foreign to me. I never know where the next deal is going to come from, or who’s going to refer it to me. Maybe it'll be from my plane seat-mate? (Who on this flight, is a new mother trying to get her one year old to stop crying. Tip - Always stick a bottle in their mouths on take-offs and landings) Not this trip, but next time, maybe. - At the supermarket? I always carry a business card or two, just keep a few in every pocket… you never know. It’s happened. Watching the Dodgers? Who knows what the guy next to me does for a living when he’s not trash-talking the Giants?
Remember the scene in Beverly Hills Cop II, (I doubt you would, normal people wouldn’t, it’s just how my brain works) where Eddie Murphy, undercover, says to the guy with the fake credit cards, “If you can’t handle this, I’ll just go to someone else. I’m a bizness man. I’m doin’ bizness. I’m makin’ moves. I’m movin!’” He’s snapping all around, moving in a million different directions to make his point. That’s how I live - Spinning ten plates at any given time - and thoroughly enjoying it! And that’s the key - when you enjoy what you do, it’s not work. That’s why the part about not going off the grid or taking a vacation isn’t a plea for sympathy - quite the opposite, it’s saying “hey, if you want this, can you handle doing things a lot differently than what you’re used to?”
“Why don’t you do some work?” This IS work! This is what I do! I meet people, I paint murals, I teach other people how to paint murals, I work on new products, I make two and two equal five. I don’t sit behind a desk and create spreadsheets. I don’t move numbers from category A to category B. I don’t take phone calls asking where the “Late Report” is from a boss who hovers over me all the time. And I certainly don’t send out an email, go out for a donut, and then hope that when I get back to my desk, I’ll have a response. Wherever I am, that’s work. Whatever I’m doing, that’s work. And no, it’s not at a desk, and no, it’s not in a cubicle, and yes, I’m probably having a heck of a lot of fun doing it.
So Let’s translate “why don’t you do some work” into what it really is: “How come your job lets you fly all over the place, meeting really cool people in really cool places; and how come you get to work on fun new products… and why can’t mine? Your job certainly doesn’t seem like work, why does mine?”
My answer to them? Because you don’t want it badly enough. If you really did, you’d have it. You’d take the risk, and play the game. (In actuality, that’s all it ever is - one giant game.) Face it - Having a job where you’re not the boss is... well, safe. You might hate it, you might think you can do it better, and you might want to firebomb your cubicle, but in the end, it’s safe. Your direct deposit comes in every other Friday, and you know it’ll be there. When you or someone in your family gets sick, you can whip out your insurance card and go to the doctor. Going out on your own isn’t that simple. You’d worry every single day that this is the day you’re going to screw it all up, and lose it all. And when you go to bed at 4:30 AM the next morning, (not because you can’t sleep, but because sometimes it’s the only time you can get any kind of work done without kids wanting to go to the park and without emails and phone calls constantly interrupting you) you’d smile as your head hit the pillow. Why? Because you kept it going another day, and you actually look forward to working. Or, maybe you’ll get to bed on time but you’ll wake up early… and you’ll do so smiling, no matter how early it is. Whatever the case… you’d be scared on a regular basis. The paycheck wouldn’t be guaranteed, but the excitement darn well would be.
In the end, it comes down to boundaries, be they self-imposed or imposed by your own environment, either of which you feel you can’t fight. Boundaries that say “I have to work at a job and make a living so I can provide for my family and not be risky.” That’s fine! There’s nothing wrong with that. But that boundary comes at a cost, and it can be expensive at times, and I’m sorry, but those boundaries that lock you into your desk job aren’t my fault. See, I just never understood the boundaries. (Shoot, I never understood a lot of things.) I never got that there were these man-made boundaries between working and playing that said the two shouldn’t ever meet, and because I never understood them, I couldn’t understand how to respect them. Before and after college, I worked in several jobs early in my career, and they were always fun. When they weren’t, I simply left, and found something that was fun. And let’s not confuse “hard work” with fun - hard work, if you like the work, is fun. I’ve never left a job because the work was hard. I’ve left because I wasn’t enjoying it. And they're two different beasts, entirely. The best New Yorker Cartoon I ever saw showed a man on a beach on his laptop, talking to his wife. The caption read “I’m not a workaholic. I work to relax.”
As I said above, I absolutely LOVE what I do. I didn’t start painting incredibly real murals of the night sky because I thought it would be easy, or because I thought it was a party job. I honestly love the night sky and I love being able to give them to others, and I’ve been blessed with an ability to do it well.
The entrepreneurial aspect of all of it has come from, well, from not caring what other people thought, really. The same brain that got me in trouble all through school is finally able to express these talents that, shock of all shocks, are actually worth something! How cool is that?? If you go out and interview 10 entrepreneurs, I guarantee that almost every single one will say that they got teased as a kid, they were different, etc. And where are the kids who teased me? I’ve got no idea - but I’d be willing to bet they’re in a cubicle somewhere. And again, that’s cool - if they’re happy.
The problem though, comes when “do some work!” really translates into “I hate that you get to do that and I don’t.” Because if that’s the case, then don’t waste your time telling me to “do some work,” but rather, do some work on your own, and figure out why you’re unhappy. Once you figure that out, I guarantee, you won’t call it “work” a second longer.
Want to try it? I encourage it! Why wouldn’t you? Figure out what you do well, figure out how to do it on your own, and go to town! If you like the idea of painting the coolest murals of the night sky, as I do, but you don’t think that you could because you have no artistic talent… don’t worry, neither do I. But whatever it is that you want to do… just remember that working for yourself is not for everyone - no doubt - just like I can't handle a cubicle. There are people who can’t handle the doubt and fear that occasionally comes with doing it on your own. And that’s totally fine! That doesn’t make you any the less of anything! This isn’t a competition, which is what my “do some work!” friends don’t seem to get. The only people we have to compete with in this life are ourselves. If we’re happy with what we’ve done… then at the end of the day, whether that’s working for someone else, for ourselves, or somewhere in the middle, then I think we’ve won.
“Do some work?” This March 20th (2008) will be 23 years since I started my first company. For the past 8310 days… I’ve done nothing but work. But you know what? It’s never once felt like it.