Left Behind: Everyone else is light years ahead of me


            While I was congratulating myself on staying employed during the pandemic, moving up in my company from worker to team lead and then supervisor, some of my friends were leapfrogging salary rungs by job-hopping. Others were starting their own businesses.

Because I played it safe, I work in an office five days a week for far less money than others. I drag myself to work every day and envy my self-employed friends their ability to work from home.

I’ve never been a risk-taker, and my partner wants me to stay fully employed so we can keep the life and health insurance benefits we have. She reminds me it’s not the right time to make job changes given all the layoffs and “last hired, first fired.”

I’m forty-one and have always done “the right thing.” I’ve been stewing on this problem for a year and a half because starting a business at this age feels like jumping off the cliff. But I really want to have my own business and work from home. Would it be a mistake for me to try? Is it a myth that my friends are as happy as they say they are?


            If you drag yourself to work daily, it’s time to plan a new career future.

What holds you back is risk. When you face the choice between letting things stay as they are and the higher risk/greater reward alternative, you often imagine what might go wrong and let potential consequences stop you. By doing so, you take a greater risk, as the real risk lies in underestimating your abilities and selling yourself out. What happens when you fear risk too much to move forward? Fear erodes confidence and amplifies worry. When you allow fear into your brain, it not only moves in, it owns you.

Further, you don’t need to jump off the job cliff; instead, develop a solid foundation for your life as a self-employed individual, so you can create a soft landing. Explore the health and life insurance options available to self-employed people. Assess the skills and talents you have that might enable you to create viable self-employment. The Small Business Development Center, sba.gov, can provide you with assistance, counseling, and training to help you start and grow a business.

Here’s the reality of self-employment. Moneyzine.com recently surveyed 1000 self-employed and 1000 employed U.S. workers. They discovered that four out of ten self-employed individuals feel happy they chose self-employment. In contrast, one in every three employed individuals describes themselves as unhappy or very unhappy with their current employment.

Forty-five percent of the one thousand self-employed respondents feel satisfied with their work-life balance. Seventeen percent of them would “not change” their employment status “for anything. In contrast, ninety-five percent of the one thousand employed respondents would change to self-employment so they can gain a better work-life balance and increased job security. Self-employed individuals also report far higher levels of job satisfaction and lower stress. One in ten self-employed individuals report zero stress levels at work.

There are downsides. Small businesses can fail. Self-employed individuals earn less, on average, than do their traditionally employed counterparts. One out of every three self-employed individuals feel dissatisfied with their current income.

You have two options if you don’t feel prepared to launch a small business. You’ve proven yourself to your current employer through your years of hard work. Talk with your manager about allowing you to work remotely for at least part of the workweek—they may offer you that concession to keep you.

Alternatively, you can investigate the opportunities for higher salaries and remote work advertised on Indeed.com, LinkedIn and ZipRecruiter. Before you switch jobs, however, investigate the employer to make sure it can fare well in an uncertain economy.

            In short, don’t waste the next year and a half regretting the risks you don’t take. As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” Educate yourself on the risks and opportunities you might encounter if you start a small business. Assess the likelihood of every potential negative, and plan what you’ll do if the worst happens. By doing so, you shift the odds for success in your favor. If you want more help along this line, check out the detailed strategies in “Courage is your partner,” chapter 4 of Navigating Conflict, https://amzn.to/3rCKoWj.

            Finally, stop evaluating yourself against others and instead measure yourself using the dual yardstick, “what do I want?” and “what am I doing to get it?”

If you liked this post, you’ll like Navigating Conflict, particularly chapters 3 and 4, and other posts in the career section of this blog.

(c) 2023 Lynne Curry

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6 thoughts on “Left Behind: Everyone else is light years ahead of me

  1. I have only one other thing to add as someone who has been self-employed for 23 years. Make this a family operation. Your partner is now sharing the benefits of your no-risk but high personal stress job choice. Can she also work and provide support during down times? Would she be willing to relocate if a better opportunity presents itself? It’s not fair to put all the responsibility for famiy income on one person. In our household my husband is the artist and I’m the main financial provider. But he took the main responsiblity for our son when he was growing up and is now partnering with me in my business as well as earning money by performing. It’s been working for 41 years so far and we’re still happy.

    1. Wend, a great comment and congratulations on how you’ve navigating solid choices for yourself and your family.

  2. The grass is always greener… using the stats you used, 55% do NOT feel satisfied with work life balance, and 83% of self employed WOULD change… same stats, other side of the fence. There is a lot to be said for the security and price of mind of a regular job, particularly if non job time is valuable and benefits from the security of the job. So while I agree in principal with the options suggested, I’d start first with what’s on the other side of the work-life balance, the life. Is there room for the mental and financial stress of job AND business uncertainty including others that might depend on you for their dependable job, are there family and community projects that benefit from the current work? We only have a finite about of time, energy, and money is this work… it’s all a trade off. Yeah I’m biased, I’ve done both, and right now that regular job with predictable pay and benefits looks really green to me! That said, I’d suggest a talk with the boss and ask about new projects, skills, and opportunities to add some green, and perhaps some flexibility, recognition/rewards, compensation; and don’t worry about what others are doing, they are probably looking back across the fence at you. This is a lesson to all of us to keep the folks that just keep showing up every day from feeling ignored and left behind.

  3. It’s not all sweetness and light being self-employed or being an “entrepreneur.” Self-employment and owning your own business are the glib, largely unexamined solutions to difficulty in finding work, not liking your current job, having a bad boss or toxic work environment, and more. As the the results from the survey cited in the article show, having your own business is not universally satisfying, and often it means you don’t necessarily earn more. I can’t believe there is less stress in owning your own business–logically, I think it would have to be as much or more stressful than working in some sort of full-time job in the corporate or government sector. A friend of mine from almost 50 years ago started her own business perhaps 35-45 years ago. For a good portion of that time, she held onto a part-time to full-time position with a corporate or government employer so she had a predictable stream of money coming in. (BTW, she was married and her husband was a banker, so she wasn’t having to contend with being the main breadwinner.) Many people who own their own businesses, including people whose businesses may eventually become blockbusters, talk about not taking income for several years after starting their business–having savings and/or other sources of income seem necessary. Also, this person just talks about wanting to start a business. Anybody in the self-owned business world will tell you that if you’re going to own your own business, it needs to be a passion. What business does this person want to start?

    1. Terrific comments, Susan. As someone who once worked 90 hours a week on my small business (course I once did that when I ran a counseling center), I can vouch for the effort that self-employment can take. And the panic of not knowing when the next client paycheck comes.
      At the same time, the question writer seemed to longed for a change for a year and a half, and risk truly seemed to be getting in his way.

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