Paying your dues can make you rich explains Molly Flatt
Do what you love! Follow your passion! Live your dream!
These are the sweet, sexy, beatbox-backed siren songs of our time, and they can be heard ringing through the coworking spaces of Old Street any day of the week; literally, because Monday to Friday and nine to five is for whey-faced desk-monkeys without the moxie to get paid to do something they love so much they’ll multitask it over Sunday brunch.
Work need no longer be the stuff of dutiful drudgery. Technology has liberated us from the commute, the career guidance officer and the corporate hierarchy.
Why waste your teenage summers slaving in a bar when you can earn your beer-money coding apps? Why schelp to the local estate agent when you can monetise your beauty blog?
Our parents lost the pensions that years of loyal but miserable service were supposed to bring. You don’t get to be Jobs by doing, well, jobs, right? So why crawl your way up a slippery ladder when you can astroturf your own East London Elysian Fields and skip through them with your mates?
Because doing stuff you don’t like with people you don’t like makes you better at what you want to do.
A sense of entitlement
Recently, I’ve encountered a few too many young freelancers who seem to resent the idea that you have to put your head down and work your ass off – yes, often on tasks that are menial, boring and creatively unfulfilling – before you can expect to get your hands on the juicy projects or reap the big rewards.
When I’ve mentioned this observation to others the reaction has been emphatic, to say the least.
One friend who heads up HR for a well-respected agency says that her new hires are pushing for promotions before their three month trial is up, already wrangling for job titles that will look sexy on LinkedIn.
Another recruiting for his startup complains that recent graduates are so attuned to the value of their personal brand that they seem incapable of teamwork; when they’re not trampling over their teammates to get a spot in the limelight, they’re taking every shortcut possible to buy more time for their own side-projects.
A third, an investor who started his career driving cabs in Glasgow, complains that the latest wave of entrepreneurs are pitching the same old pseudo-solutions to the same old pseudo-problems for the same old privileged middle class. He wishes they “would go and experience a bit of real bloody life first before they claim to improve it.”
Real life, for most people, not involving backpacking round the world.
Of course, none of us can or should be expected to take on work we hate just for the masochistic, tents-in-the-rain, character-building worthiness of it all. It must be depressing, seeing your peers giving TED Talks and raking in millions while you’re still trying to get your beta off the ground.
But it’s important not to be afraid, when you’re young, to graft at anything; to graft gratefully, and to learn. Because a moderate stint of enthusiastic servitude can do wonders for you if you plan on becoming your own boss.
Work in a legacy blue chip, and you can deconstruct what’s made the company endure – while understanding how to avoid their barnacle-encrusted processes. Learn to win over a bullying manager, and you not only hone your influencing skills but develop a marrow-deep instinct as to how you’re going to treat your own team.
Chipping away at the grubby coal face for a while helps mine the gold of humility, patience and resilience. But it’s also great for nurturing creativity. If you can manage to turn nine months worth of bottom-feeder paperwork into a list of potential seed-money contacts, or a season in a call centre into an experiment in emotional selling techniques, you understand the basic principle of the startup: how to make everything from nothing.
The genius in the back office
TS Eliot worked at Lloyds Bank from 1917-1925, during which he completed and published The Waste Land. Douglas Adams came up with Hitchhiker while working as a security guard at a London hotel. Stephen King pushed a broom as a high school caretaker. Each workplace is a mini-state with its own ecosystem, language and values and, just as great writers seek out different experiences that will being them authenticity, a dose of life outside the tech industry can be a boon for entrepreneurs.
As Eli Pariser’s brilliant book The Filter Bubble makes clear, social media encourages us to experience the world through a series of self-reinforcing echo-chambers. If you’ve never exposed yourself to a variety of professional contexts, it’ll be hard to truly innovate; unless, that is, you consider innovation to be another emoji-only network or coffee tasting app.
I feel incredibly lucky now to have a mixture of employed and freelance work that fulfils me on every level. But however exasperating, scary or boring it was at the time, I do not regret the time I spent in pubs, insurance companies, banks, environmental consultancies and law firms along the way (even when, on one memorable occasion, I found myself advertising a mobile network in Vienna by waltzing with three dwarves).
It doesn’t hurt to bank roll your passion until you’re actually good enough at it to merit getting paid – not just for a couple of early flash-in-the-pan ideas, but frequently enough to support a sustainable career.
So yes, have a game plan and yes, reach for the stars. But don’t despair if you find yourself grubbing for a few years in the gutter first.