Thursday, May 17, 2012

Can "Employees" Live Life Intentionally?

An entrepreneur friend of mine sent me an email recently after reading some of the posts here:
You and I are in the somewhat unique situation where we are owners of a small business where we are not simply drawing a salary as an employee with a direct boss and in the situation where we are just an employee and small piece of a much bigger business. As the owners of the business, with our financial obligations being met by the business, we can make our own rules and set the direction of how we can spend our time intentionally since we have the complete freedom to do this as owners. Most people that are employees that are not financially independent don’t have our level of luxury with our time. So I think it is much harder for these people to completely live intentionally as you discuss in your blog because of the additional real constraints they have on their lives vs you and I. 
Knowing what I know about you and I as owners, the thought that might be in many readers minds is, "yah, it is easy for him to live like that because he doesn’t have a boss telling him what he needs to do to remain employed, only 2 weeks vacation and bills very close to his monthly income…."
He encouraged me to discuss this topic here and as I started thinking about it, I started getting really fired up! This is something I'm super passionate about.

Can an "employee" live life on purpose or are they just a cog in a wheel, rolling on with no control?

You may think this is nit-picking, but before I dive into it, let's start with the word "employee." We don't use it. Dave Ramsey (who never wanted to have any employees, but now employs over 300) often says an employee is someone who shows up late, leaves early, and steals while they are there. In that company culture where I spent almost 4 years, they are adamant about not having employees, but instead having team members. Team members are there because they believe in the company mission and want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Can you work for someone else and still have the freedom to live your life according to a purpose and a plan? Absolutely!

Here is my email reply to my friend and fellow company owner:
I agree to some extent, but each one of our team members is living this way also. They are all contractors and they set their own hours. They can prioritize at any time and spend time with their family first. If an opportunity comes up, they jump on it. As an example, Adam, our tech support and front-end developer in Australia, is leaving this week to travel the entire continent. I think he'll be gone for about two months [edit: it will actually be more like six months]. He'll have sporadic WIFI and his level of input will certainly drop, but we're super excited for him! We're going miss him for sure, but we're bringing on someone else in a more full-time manner to make up for it. 
I think the age of large corporate offices and strict schedules is passing away. Life is more than the 8 hours we spend in our cubicals. I hope more bosses think this way, allow for flexible schedules, and encourage their team members to be team members and not just employees (Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership stuff has a lot on this subject). 
Some of my posts are directed at business owners, but I also hear from those with a regular job that are encouraged by them also. Just the other night I saw my friend [redacted] at the zoo who works for [redacted] and he told me how something is stirring in his heart about doing his own business on the side and part of that stirring is because of my blog and the tweets I send with pictures of me working outside on the deck. 
It's not for everyone, but I think for those who it is for, they need to go for it instead of living their life wondering what might have been. Jon Acuff, one of Dave's Speakers Group guys has a great book called Quitter that explains a lot of this really well. The first chapter is "Don't quit your day job". It then goes from there to explain what needs to be done to wisely follow your dreams and move beyond just a hobby to something that can support your family.
Literally right after sending that, I saw an email from Adam in my inbox with this photo:

He and his family were on a trial run over the weekend, getting prepared for their big trip.

That's what I'm talking about!

I believe you can live intentionally and on purpose if you're willing to put in the work and make it happen. If you have a plan for your life and are taking the right steps to get there, every moment has purpose. Does that mean you can pick up your family and go travel the world for a couple months? I think it should... but most employers just aren't there yet.

Pensions are already a thing of the past. I'm hoping cubical farms and big corporate offices will follow. We aren't meant to live our lives based on a time clock and a desk. You'll probably never hear a story of a father, lying on his deathbed who's last thoughts are, "I wish I had worked more."

It doesn't work for every profession, but when possible, I love the idea of working remotely, setting your own flexible hours, and still kicking butt to get stuff done.

Some may think, "Bah, work is work. That's why they call it work. Get over it, get it done, and go home." Fair enough. But what about life? Is life worth living on purpose? If the answer is yes, how much of your life is spent at work? If it's a big enough portion of your existence, why wouldn't you want it to matter? Even if you hate your current job, go read Quitter and figure out what steps you can take today to move closer to your dream.

Life is shorter than you think. Don't let it slip by without making the most of it.

I'm thinking this post will create some controversy. I'm OK with that. If you know me well, you know I'll actually enjoy it. So please, feel free to leave your comments below. Tell me why I'm wrong or what I'm missing. Help me grow. Thank you!

[Edit: the comments here have been so fantastic (thank you!). If you'd like to add yours as well, please do so. I also posted a followup post you may enjoy.]


Jon Wolski said...

Everyone has a boss and a customer. Dave Ramsey also talks about working for You, Inc. If you work for someone else, that boss is You, Inc.'s #1 customer. If you are at the top of the org chart, you have many bosses, as Jon Acuff talks about in Quitter: the phone company, the electric company, the the grocery store.

That said, you can live life unintentionally, working a 9-to-5, ambivalent to the work you do or the people you serve. Likewise, you can run a business simple because you saw an opportunity years ago and decided you'd like the money. You can run your business 9-to5-or-9 ambivalent to the work you do, the people you serve, or the people who serve with you.

Conversely, you can live intentionally choosing to partner with others on your personal mission, whether your partner with them by employing them, working in their org chart, or working with them as vendors.

There's freedom to be embraced or neglected either way.

Gord Foster said...

As the orignator of this post content and fellow business owner, I like the word "team member" better than "employee" from a semantics standpoint, but if you are leading a team of properly hired employees or team members correctly, you should have very similar results and positive culture thriving.

I think identifying God given purpose is really important in this discussion because it is not necessarily a respector of job roles to live intentionally with passion. The reality is that not everyone can be the boss and we need idividuals to complete all levels of the work of the business they choose to join. The question is do they really find purpose in whatever role they have in a business. If so they will thrive, if not they will quietly exist and slowly lose thier thirst for a passionate life over time.

When i look back on my fellow co workers in past work, I think God uses the DNA and very different resulting personality types to enable people to work in very different roles and be either successful and fulfilled or very negative in the wrong roles, ie- Many are very risk averse and thrive in less risky slower changing environments, others would be bored to tears in this environment. But is part of who their core is.

But what is interesting, is that i think everybody given the choice, would like to have an unrestricted use of their time to live exactly as they choose "in the moment" whether they like what they are doing or not, but as an employee/team member they simply can't like the boss. And here in lies the professional dilemma for me as the boss knowing this. Do I sound like a communist here?

I think when you live being led by the Spirit, over time you are drawn and directed to live according to both the desires of your heart and His bigger plan for the Kingdom. To the degree you are doing this in all areas of your life, you will live purposefully and feel contentment even if you are not the boss with complete control of your time.

Life is short, Live Real.


Luke Stokes said...

"Life is short, Live Real." <---- I LOVE this!

Great comment, Gordon. Thanks again for initiating this post. I completely agree that finding our purpose is super important and many other areas of our lives will either work (or not work) based on our intentionality there.

As to your point about team members not being able to live "in the moment" like the boss... Can you elaborate on why not? I think boss and team member alike ultimately have to report to the customer, but other than that, the hope is they have the freedom to work when and where they like as long as they can fulfill the commitments they've agreed to.

Thanks again, Gord. I'm loving this discussion.

Luke Stokes said...

Great point, Jon! I like how put this: "choosing to partner with others on your personal mission"

Ultimately, our work lives should fit in with our purpose. I think that's one of the main pieces of the argument here. Life is too short to just let it fly by and then later wonder what happened.

What I'm hoping is that more companies (including Dave Ramsey) will embrace structures that encourage more freedom. We're adults, let's be treated like such. If you get the job done, should it matter if you did it at home at midnight or from a cubical in an office at 8am? The important thing is serving the customer. If you can do that and still have freedom to be with your family and fully enjoy this thing we call life, why not?

Let's throw some gas on the fire of this movement to change the way companies think about efficiency and remote workers. :)

Luke Stokes said...

Also, related to this discussion: I've seen this before, but it was sent to me today and so I had to watch it again.

I love Simon Sinek's stuff. Watch the entire video, but about 19 minutes in particular, he defines job fulfillment as helping others. I love that. :)

tylerclark said...

Great post, Luke. This is an issue that I frequently wrestle with.

I'm all about living intention and purpose, but that can manifest itself very differently when it comes to career.

My dad grew up without money. He knew that his parents would never be able to truly retire on their own, and he also wanted his kids to have opportunities that he never had. For 40 years, he's busted his ass (and found tremendous success) at a career that he doesn't really like, but it has allowed him to do what he's passionate about. He provided for parents. He paid in-full for all of his kids' college educations. He is able to travel. He gives a lot of money to causes that he cares about. For him, his paycheck is a means to a end.

Maybe you work a dull office job, but it allows you to live in the city that you want to live in. Maybe you aren't passionate about your job, but it allows you to fully turn off at 5:30 p.m. so that you can be fully invested in the things (and people) you are passionate about. It looks different for everybody.

These kind of existential crises are a problem of the privileged. The single-mom driving a city bus isn't concerned about whether her job "makes her come alive". The laid-off factory worker isn't holding out for something that "fulfills his passion". I want to live intentionally, but I also want to be grateful for simply being in a position in which "living intentionally" is even a factor in my decision-making.

I love that you're giving your team members flexibility with their schedules, but the traditional 9-to-5 will ALWAYS dominate. I work in a large office, and I wouldn't trust 60% of these knuckleheads to get the job done outside of the office. Some people can handle freedom. Others can't. The larger the company (and the lower the caliber of the average employee), the harder it is to offer flexibility.

Everybody can't be rock stars. Somebody has to drive the tour bus.

Luke Stokes said...

I love it! Thanks so much, Tyler. Great comment.

First off, your dad is a hero. He's a man that put others before himself, served his family, and made a difference. My hope for heroes like him is they don't close themselves off to other opportunities and dreams while busting their ass. I don't know if your dad had a dream that he abandoned, but if he did, the world lost out. My hope is that everyone, including those in careers they hate, can take steps to have the same 40-year hero story while moving closer to a career along the way that not only provides, but also fulfills deeper needs we all have as humans. I believe happy, purpose-driven people do more creative work.

Your dad sounds like a great man and I commend his diligence and perseverance.

And yes, on some level, this "I want my job to matter" question is a luxury of those who have multiple job opportunities. And... I believe the same intrinsic desire to matter can and does exist everywhere. Take, for example, Faith Kunihura who is an affiliate for in Uganda. She had a great job but left it all to go back to her village and change it forever. The jobs she creates for the women there do have purpose.

The traditional 9-to-5 may always dominate... but I'm enough an irrational idealist to believe I can at least shift the pendulum the other direction a little bit. :)

As for large corporations with people filling seats instead of kicking butt... my hope is those companies won't be the norm in the next 50-100 years. Small, nimble teams empowered by technology and a shared purpose may one day be able to take on the big boys and out-perform them. That certainly doesn't help right now though. Being stuck in a job like that would kill me, but as you said, it looks different for everybody.

As for the rock star comment... I've seen some AMAZING tour bus drivers. Take Southwest team members, as an example. They've turned what might be considered a mediocre job into an experience people want to be a part of. We can all be rock stars at the very thing we were made to be. We're the only ones in the world, in fact, who can fill that role.

Thanks again, Tyler. Love your insight here.

KacyTheDude said...

Not to turn this into a religious debate by any means but I would like to put the example of Paul the Apostle up for consideration. When we speak of living a fulfilled life or with purpose I think we might be a little remiss if we say that this has to mean that your passion has to also be your vocation. If we look at Paul, he was an apostle and helped found the early church...but he made tents for a living. Do you think he was passionate about tents? I highly doubt that he woke up each morning and thought 'I can't wait to make some tents today!' Maybe he did...who knows.

With all the books out there like Rework or Quitter, the person striking out on their own is positioned as the optimal way to have a fulfilled life and that working in a job that one is not passionate about is simply settling. I just do not agree that is true for everyone.

I like what I do. I don't love it. Does that mean I've settled? I don't think so. Can I pick up an go work remotely from the Congo tomorrow? Doubtful. Does that mean I don't feel fulfilled? Absolutely not!

I have a job that I don't mind that allows me to provide for my family, own a home and cars and allows my wife to stay at home with the kids. While I may not be passionate or feel fulfilled by this role, I have many other things that do this for me: husband, father, brother, friend, drawing, goes on.

So I think we need to be careful when we connect making money with living lives of purpose.

Luke Stokes said...

Thanks Kacy! So glad you commented because I know you have different views than my own on this topic which is the only way I can grow.

To your first point, my opinion would be, yes, he was passionate about building tents.

> Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.
Colossians 3:23

I think an argument can be made from Paul's writings that he understood how building tents was part of his purpose. It fit into the greater plan, therefore, I believe, it was fulfilling for him.

An important point that should be made (and probably isn't made often enough) is the person being encouraged to strike out on their own is usually the person who _knows_ they are supposed to do their own thing but, for whatever reason (fear, insecurity, etc), they decide to play it safe and stay miserable. For them, it is miserable because they know deep down they were meant for something else.

When I worked for Dave Ramsey, I wasn't missing my calling or living unfulfilled because I worked for someone else. On the contrary, it was the greatest job of my life and one of the key steps in my personal development. I loved it!

Providing for your family, owning a home and cars, your wife staying home with the kids... all of those things are awesome and worthy to be celebrated! You don't define yourself by your profession, I and I get that. I commend you for it!

We are certainly more than our jobs or the money we make. I think the argument I'm trying to present here is... what if?

What if you had everything you described AND you completely loved every aspect of your job? What if every Sunday night, you couldn't wait to go to work the next day? What if everything that makes you, YOU would be enhanced by a job that challenges, encourages, and inspires you?

We spend so much of our lives "at work," I'm just hoping people can find work that enhances their life instead of being something that have to get through. Dave Ramsey talks often about how life shouldn't be "thank God it's Friday" and "Oh, my, it's Monday." Dan Miller and others have a lot of great books on this concept.

Again though, you make a very valid, important point: It's not for everyone. If you're comfortable making tents because you see how that fits into the bigger plan, then make tents! But, if you really know you should be making sails for ships instead, why not give it a try?

Much love, Kacy. Again, I really appreciate your insight and opinion. Thank you for sharing it here.

KacyTheDude said...

I appreciate you as well man. Glad to be friends.

I think your statement at the end of your comment sums up what I feel is missing from the commentary out there on that subject. That a job working for someone else may be the right fit for some. I am all for people who feel called to strike out on their own, I just don't like when those who do insinuate that is the only way to be fulfilled.

The whole 'what if' argument is tough for me though...because can't you always say that? I don't want to live my life like that because I will always be wondering 'what if.' I absolutely love my job...but what if I did this would I love it even more? There is a fine line between being satisfied and settling.

Sidenote: I need to get some fulfillment playing disc golf one more time with you before you head out...let's pick a day.

Brian Reese said...

Luke, you've inspired me to write my own blog entry:

I think living life intentionally is a key to our happiness. One may not be working in a job their passionate about but, if it enables them to do something they are more passionate about, they are certainly living intentionally.

Luke Stokes said...

Thanks, Brian! I enjoyed your post, especially this part: "I’ve found that if you follow someone’s time and money, you find their priorities and in their priorities, you find their purpose."

adam woloszyn said...

My dad has said the same thing to me about working, in reference to your "I wish I had worked more.". He wasn't on his death bed (thankfully!) but it was in reference to me working too many hours! I try to think about that when I'm working too much. I think the definition of an employee as you put it is extremely true and it is rare that anyone really gives a hoot about their job. Really its about putting the time in and then getting the paycheck.

I've personally found it harder to do things for myself owning a business as opposed to being an employee for a corporate office. Sure, 9-5 kinda sucked, but in the end, I did my job well (wasn't coming in late and such) but I got to leave and do my own thing after that. I even got paid time off, a decent chunk too! I was able to pay my bills (never really worry about them since I was on payroll and expected my salary every week) and I could spend enough time with friends/family. The sad truth is that ever since owning a business, all of those things have become a problem for me and it typically comes down to helping out that incredibly needy client or taking that job out of necessity to pay your rent. Things have come a long way, but I think that someone who wants to start their own company could get the wrong impression of how many years it actually takes until you get where you want to be. We're on year 3 or 4 and it's still a work in progress.

I guess my whole point for writing my comment above is because I'd be really interested in seeing you blog about how you manage your time. Things like when you say "no" to a client request (or really just say "wait a sec") and all that good stuff. I've tried numerous ways to get more efficiency out of my day, but I feel like I'm capped most times and the sheer amount of clients we work with is what still dictates how I live my life. I dig your blog post though and I'm glad you wrote it! Thanks!

Luke Stokes said...

Great comment, Adam! Thank you.

You make a really good point about how "working for yourself" isn't always the dream utopia many make it out to be. For those who are supposed to be doing it, it's awesome. At the same time, for those who are supposed to be working for someone else on a team, that too can (and should) be just as awesome. The key is not wasting large portions of our lives "working" (either for ourselves or others) at something we hate. It's possible we hate it because we weren't meant to be doing it and there just might be something else out there we're born to do! My hope with this post is that people will at least ask the question about what life could be instead of regretting what life was years from now.

I love the points you make about the safety and security a normal job brings. Self-employment is certainly not for everyone and it does take a lot of focus and discipline. Saying no is a big part of it. I've been building our business since 2005/2006 and it's been less than a year that I've been on my own with it full time. If I had tried to do it too early, I would have been really stressed out. Worth noting, however, is that nothing is a sure thing. Even a steady job may not last forever.

As for time management, you might enjoy this post: It's number two in a three part series on my first impressions working for myself. I should probably post something else and expand on that in terms of having boundaries for yourself and your family.

Luke Stokes said...

My hope with this post was to tell people, "YES! You can have purpose, fulfillment and intentionality with a normal job!" I'm also wanting to shift (in some small way) what we call a "normal" job. Remote workers, FTW! :)

I love how your comments have helped to clarify my thoughts here. Often, when people finally stop fighting what they know is true, they suddenly say, "Everyone should be doing this!" More often than not, they are just experiencing the thrill of fulfillment. Each person has a unique plan and it's not a one-size-fits all world.

Another great point. Never being satisfied is definitely not a recipe for fulfillment. The "what if" question is probably more useful for those who, well, basically already know the answer. They may feel stuck and need a little push to imagine bigger and start asking new questions.

And yes, already texting you about that one. Let's try 7 oaks. I've been enjoying the shade there.

Sami Fiaz said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Luke.
Being of part of a culture where entrepreneurship is relatively new concept, I always try to learn about it.
That freedom of having your own business where you can work and give time to yourself and family, set your own priorities (adjust them when required), enjoy your work, doing what you love to do usually comes from being entrepreneur.... right? Does that really mean that one should _own_ a business/product to become such entrepreneur ? ...Can you be "entrepreneur" if you are working for/with people who share same believes and ideas ? I mean, I work for FoxyCart, I set my own working hours, can change them when required, enjoy with family, work late night (if needed). Like Adam, we can enjoy our time like our leaders, have joys of remote work and have fun working with a fun business/product. Does it also fall in "entrepreneurship" category ?

Sami Fiaz said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Luke.

Being of part of a culture where entrepreneurship is relatively new concept, I always try to learn about it.
That freedom of having your own business where you can work and give time to yourself and family, set your own priorities (adjust them when required), enjoy your work, doing what you love to do usually comes from being entrepreneur.... right? Does that really mean that one should _own_ a business/product to become such entrepreneur ? ...

Can you be "entrepreneur" if you are working for/with people who share same believes and ideas ? I mean, I work for FoxyCart, I set my own working hours, can change them when required, enjoy with family, work late night (if needed). Like Adam, we can enjoy our time like our leaders, have joys of remote work and have fun working with a fun business/product. Does it also fall in "entrepreneurship" category ?

Luke Stokes said...

Great question, Sami. The definition I find online for entrepreneur is: "A person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on financial risk to do so."

So, I guess, from that perspective you wouldn't be an entrepreneur. But, an argument can be made that you are self-employed. When I worked at Dave Ramsey's organization, he used to say that all time: "You are self-employed!" Not everyone agreed, but I think the point he was making is that, even as a team member, you are in control of your employment. As he put it, you are the CEO of "You, Incorporated." You are in control of the success (or failure) of your life and your employment by the work you do. Just like an owner, you have to meet the needs of your customers to stay in business. The only difference is, your customers are often your fellow team members and those who employ you.