No, you do not Work for Yourself
Can we speak human again, please?
“Iam here to serve you,” states the only line in English on this Dutch website just above the author’s signature. I sit with this for a while. I am blown away by the humility and the courage of their statement, and it helps me discover another layer of a person I only recently met.
In late 2019, our narratives collided at random, bringing together our geographies, passions, and purpose. There was a spark of curiosity that went beyond the “You’d make a great human interest story” and generic friendship vibes on my side. We had a long and intense conversation, I jotted down their website, and that was that. We saw each other again a couple of times but never had much of a chance to chat.
I pore over their about section willing my very basic Dutch to embrace the challenge of comprehension; it is laborious. And then, just as I’m getting there, that one line in English hit me right in the feels. It is so disarmingly universal.
We all want to be useful to and for someone or something, ideally both, so human connections might add new colors to the canvas of our lives. Our connections to the world define who we are, how our intellect and emotions develop as we age.
Our connections to the world define our opportunities.
In a business context, our connections to the world define our worth.
The idea of working for yourself is as absurd as it is impossible. Extreme self-indulgence has never led anyone without a trust fund to success. We need people to need our services and products, the “self” part is only a legal business entity so why are we still taking it literally?
Freelancers are the new entrepreneurs, or so I keep reading on the internet. And income streams are the new clients as every day brings more bullshit jargon erasing all those who make any success possible. Self-styled spin doctors preach to the desperate corporate multitudes that they, too, can be self-made. And so we fall for this bizarre solipsistic business fantasy whereby being ourselves is our stock-in-trade. And that by servicing the self in multiple ways, we can achieve a lifestyle beyond our wildest imaginings.
This is what happens to language when you fuck with it.
This is the business version of romantic self-partnership; when did life become self-fertilizing on any level? What do you call a business without clients, a failure or a good idea? You can only find out if an idea is good by attempting to turn it into a proof of concept; ideas don’t exist in a vacuum, other people validate them.
This is language swallowing us into a self-referential rabbit hole of greed led by the likes of Trump, Isabel dos Santos, and anyone with a keyboard and a Wi-Fi password. How about figuring out how best to work together instead so that everyone might enjoy a modicum of flexibility, creativity, and joy in their professional lives?
By all means, launch a side gig or two or three, pursue a new project, but do not for a moment pretend you are going it alone. No one has a business without an audience and if your audience is the desperate and the exhausted and you’re selling them a lie then go tell your boss they’re an asshole. Please stop exploiting the human heart when it is at its weakest, especially if you have the gall to call yourself a “writer”, which isn’t kind to the real ones like, say, Margaret Atwood. Margaret never takes us for a ride, does she?
We are the custodians of language, all of us. When it’s part of our job then our duty of care is greater; our own survival hinges on the survival of language. And we are surrounded with so much garbage that means nothing that it’s hard not to fear our critical skills might eventually go numb.
If — before spinning more tall tales about the self as a boss — you had ever met an entrepreneur who wasn’t you, you probably didn’t even know they were.
Unless they told you.
And they probably didn’t as they were too busy focusing on establishing a connection with you on a deep human level. To them, entrepreneurship is service by any other name, a concept not self-serving or boastful enough for the individualistic hallucination our collective reality is turning into.
But it’s impactful all the same.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor now based in the Netherlands. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.