There is a common dream that continues to be shared by so many Australians in relation to their working lives. Across the country, so many Australians desire to work for themselves, to be self-employed. It is about not being beholden to an employer or company and being masters of their time and solely rewarded for the efforts and initiatives.
This aspiration is found in people across all age groups. Many young people assume it to be part of their futures. They take cue from those lucky few start-up multi-millionaires, thinking up ideas that will take-off and make them wealthy and independent. For mums it is a means of finding work life balance without relying on the unrealistic expectations of employers. And for retirees a common dream is running a small consultancy or turning their passions into cottage industries.
Asked what they imagine it to be like working for themselves and the picture is an idealistic one. They will be sitting at home, probably by the beach, or at their local café, connected to the world via the net and dressed casually. They will structure their day as they wish and have plenty of time for the leisurely pursuits.
The greatest appeal is in independence and the sense of being masters of their own time. Not having to be at work at specific hours, not having to ask for time-off and structuring their working hours around family life. Choice and control are the key motivators.
Speaking to people who do work for themselves a very different picture emerges. The people in these studies were owners of very small or micro businesses, employing just themselves and up to several employees. They were consultants, tradespeople and small retailers.
It seems that, relative to their peers, they work much harder and longer hours. Many were overwhelmed by having to be responsible for virtually everything. Aside from their actual expertise, or core business, they are also financial directors, marketers, office managers, HR directors and all the myriad of other tasks involved in running a business. And the work seemed never ending with evenings and weekends a norm for most.
Many also spoke of earning less than many of their peers. That had they remained in full time employment or took up that option again they would be better off financially. The rewards are slow coming and the expenses of running the business many. The prospects that things will improve with time, however, and that they will grow and expand their businesses was motivating and most were optimistic.
Most interestingly, with all their challenges, they shared one common thought – despite the lengthy hours and limited earnings, and regardless of the stresses and worries, they were determined not go back to being employed. Freedom and control seemed paramount, priceless even. The only person that they are accountable to is themselves.
Along with so many others my conversation topics last weekend invariably included the royal wedding. Talking with a couple at a function, upon hearing the name Harry mentioned, their teenage girl piped in, all smiles, proclaiming her intention to marry him.
She is not alone. The fairy tale fantasy of a prince charming sweeping the girl off her feet is a common one shared by so many young women and teenage girls. After all, this is precisely what happened to Mary several years ago and now Kate. The former met her prince by going out for the night with girlfriends and the latter by attending university – very normal activities.