Two months ago, I did the unthinkable.
I started a job.
I was a consultant and it was part-time but I got most of the perks I associate with being a full-time employee… the company email address, the work meetings, and a boss.
Feeling like an employee again led to a bit of an identity crisis. Which is rather ironic because half a decade ago, leaving a job and becoming an entrepreneur also led to an identity crisis.
My experience led me to consider the different professional identities we can have and how attached we can get to them.
Full-time employment or full-time entrepreneurship
Prior to taking on this part-time job while having a business, I wasn’t very used to complex professional identities.
If I had to narrow down the professional identities I was most familiar with, they would be full-time employment or full-time entrepreneurship. Both of these are simple modes because they have clear contours:
- help the company you work for or help your own company,
- have a boss or be your own boss,
- get paid or pay yourself.
What I experienced when I started a job while having a business was much, much more confusing. It brought up many questions:
- Can I be an entrepreneur and have a boss?
- Can I have a business and a company email address that’s not from my own business?
- Can I grow my own business and help grow someone else’s?
My husband, who listened to my unfolding identity crisis, clearly thought so: “You’re becoming a flexpreneur!” He equated my new identity to people who are mostly vegetarians but sometimes eat meat (flexitarians).
I scoffed, and not because I’m a strict vegan.
I scoffed because I had gotten so used to identifying myself as an entrepreneur that it hurt to lose that identity.
Why then, you might ask, did I start a job alongside my business?
Given that people generally take on jobs when they need the money, you might assume that’s my reason. It wasn’t my main reason. While it’s always nice to earn more, I didn’t need the additional income.
The main reason I started this particular job is that it was the direction of growth! You see, as much as I liked having my own business, there were things I missed about having a job.
I missed being part of a team — or having a team if you’re the one leading it. I missed the simplicity of having someone else be in charge. I missed being part of a mission that I didn’t create.
So when someone reached out to me about this job opportunity, I jumped at it. Given that my appreciation for the people and the mission, I was excited about joining.
The challenges with flexpreneurship: when it works and when it doesn’t
As we continued my onboarding process, I realized that flexpreneurship was more challenging than I had thought.
I felt like I couldn’t fully focus on my business because of all the new things I needed to learn in my new job. And when I focused more on my business, I worried about letting my new team down.
While life is complex and requires us to wear many different hats — friend, professional, customer, partner, mentor, etc. — I struggled with wearing two hats that felt so different.
I realized that it felt weird to be fully in charge in my business and then jump into being an employee in a work-meeting. Eventually, I talked to my boss (Cue my internal dialogue: “I have a boss? How did this happen?”) about it and shared what was going on.
Thankfully, they were very gracious and we decided to work together in a different way, one that wouldn’t require me to be an employee. As soon as we clarified this, I felt much better.
What this helped me realize is that flexpreneurship is great at certain times and not a good fit at others.
Flexpreneurship is great when you are already an employee. Your job gives you the chance to start your business on the side while gradually reducing your hours as an employee. In that situation, your job can give you an “interest-free business loan” (aka “income”) and provide an external structure.
When I first started my business after having moved to another continent, quit a career I had spent a decade building, and generally uprooted my entire life, I so would have appreciated this part-time job.
It would have given me some external stability and structure in the middle of intense change. It would have buffered the transition from being an employee to being an entrepreneur. However, after having fully made the shift to being an entrepreneur, it wasn’t the best fit for me.
While everyone is different, it’s generally easier to start with a job and then add a business on top of it than to do it the other way around.
When to go from full employment to flexpreneurship to full entrepreneurship, you gradually increase the level of commitment to your business instead of diluting it.
Being a flex-anything is great but if you really want to make your life easier, commit to a single path as much as you can. One thing that I learned from being a vegan is that in a world of too many choices, limitation can be liberation.
Unless you’re the Queen, you might be better off not wearing too many different hats in your professional life.
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