It’s been almost exactly a year since I left a salaried job and went independent. This is now the third time I’ve been an independent entrepreneur (not counting the times I’ve launched publications or products within existing corporations), and each time I’ve taken a different approach:
1999: seed-funded startup with one cofounder, attempted to raise venture capital (and failed)
2000-2003: solo business operator, primarily working as a freelance writer but with some contract editing jobs, stopped when I joined a new magazine
2015-present: Sole cofounder of a content agency, working primarily as a solo writer/editor to start but more and more with partners and contractors as the business has been growing.
There is a lot of literature on how to be an entrepreneur, how to think entrepreneurially, and how to create and run a business. There are also plenty of places you can read about the advantages of working as an independent contractor, with the flexibility to set your own schedule and take clients (or not) as you see fit.
But the most striking thing for me is the need — and opportunity — to discover your own motivation. Why do you get up in the morning and get to work? What is your purpose? Why are you doing this particular thing and not that other thing?
When you are creating a new business you have to ask yourself these questions every single day.
By contrast, when you work at a job, you could go weeks, months, or years without ever having to think about what truly motivates you. There is always a task to do, always someone to tell you what needs to be done, always some thing (or twelve) that needs your attention.
There is a level of reassurance to that: You always know what you need to do. But sooner or later, I think everyone who wants to live a meaningful life needs to face the question of purpose. What inspires you? What keeps you going? What do you really most need to be doing, right at this moment, and why?
So the entrepreneurial path is much less comfortable. Some days it’s not certain what is most important, or why. Occasionally it is hard to find that motivation. Some days are all confusion and self-doubt. But other days it’s incredibly fulfilling and life affirming, to be doing what you love and to be working toward a purpose that you feel good about.
And ultimately, being an entrepreneur forces you to find your own purpose. That, for me, has been the most valuable thing about the past year.