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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Aspects of Working for Yourself That Are Unique and Off to See My Lawyer

Yesterday, I did not write a post because it was Steph's turn to have the computer for the day. Every two weeks, she is allowed the pleasure of doing her job from the home office. So I vacate it for the day and usually schedule a day of sorting inventory at the dining table, or some other such activity that does not require me to be online. It is rather nice to be able to spend your lunch hour with your spouse, I find. All we have to do is meet downstairs and eat together. We actually wound up going to the gym together just accross the road to do our workout yesterday, but lunch is our usual thing.

Not having the computer gave me some time to reflect about what I would like to talk about in my next post, and it is generally about what I have observed is different about being self employed, from an emotional point of view.

When I was a partner, my greatest fear was being judged negatively by my other partners - not for doing poor work, but simply for not juggling my many responsibilities adequately enough to make a contribution that they considered to be commensurate with my monthly draw. I was confident in my abilities to do good work and service my clients very well, so why did I struggle with this fear? I think that lack of control and unrealistic expectations in a corporate environment are to blame. Let me explain what I mean.

When you work on your own, and you simplify your day by streamlining your work and eliminating all distractions, it gives you a chance to see how much work a motivated, dedicated person can produce in a day. I start work at 9am and end at 4:30, taking only 15 min or so to eat lunch (because I am reheating last nights leftovers). So I work just over 7 hours a day. That is less than the official posted hours at a typical office, but I have absolutely NO distractions. No employees, no meetings, no bosses to answer to, no e-mails, no telephone calls - nothing that I cannot respond to when it suits me. I have complete control over all my time in a day. To some extent that will change eventually, but for now that is my reality. My work routine is also very simple - I am listing stamps on E-bay and scanning the stamps I intend to list for the next day as I am listing today's stamps. Fairly simple right?

In a typical day, I am lucky to get 25 stamps listed and about the same amount of scanning done. That doesn't sound like a lot of accomplishment. However, I know that it must be, because I am working as efficiently as one possibly can, and I don't have any distractions. So I must replace the external benchmarks that other people have devised to tell me whether or not I am productive with my own confidence in my abilities and in my productivity.

In a corporate enviroinment, the concept of what is realistic to expect of an employee gets distorted greatly to the point of perversion. When people's time is taken for cheap and there is this idea that a company is free to impose upon their people after 5pm, then there is no incentive, whatsoever, to work efficiently. This is the reason for the countless meetings, and other distractions that waste so much time in a typical person's day. The thing is, most of the time it only feels like productivity because of the amount of stimulation that you get from interacting with so many people. But in reality, if I compare what I actually got done on a typical day as a partner, it was much less than now. So what I am saying is that in all the corporate environments I have worked in I have always internalized the expectations of my superiors to constantly produce more and take on more responsibility, even when it became abundantly clear that it was not possible to do this without lowering my quality of life in some area, whether it be my marriage, my mental health or my physical health. This caused me to live in almost constant fear of letting my people down.

I wonder quite often if I was not alone in this. Is this how all executives and professionals feel as they function in their roles on a daily basis?  Is this any way to live?

This brings me to what I have noticed is the fundamental difference between being an employee and being self-employed: no fear of external judgement and no external benchmarks dictating performance, or at least none that cannot easily be met. Sure, my customers will still leave me feedback on the quality of my product and service. But the quality of my product and quality of my service are all within my complete control, and while there can be the occasional unfair customer review, I know that on balance, it is completely possible to meet the expectations of my customers. What I don't have to deal with anymore is the conversation of: "Yes Mr. McFetridge, we know that you have provided excellent service to the clients, and you do excellent file work, but we had expected you to bring in more business this year". In all fairness to my former partners, that conversation never happened with them, but it did happen in my previous jobs and so I was always fearful of having it again at some point in the future with them. Also there is no "up or out" philosophy to contend with. If I decide in another year that I am fine just making enough money to pay the bills and that I don't want to continue expanding the business beyond satisfying my current investors that is fine - I am not getting fired for lack of ambition.

That lack of external locus is a bit unsettling at times, as I am used to having budgets, benchmarks, deadlines and other things to measure my performance against. Because I don't have that now, I am at times uneasy about whether or not I am doing enough and whether or not I should be working more than 7 hours a day. I deal with this by reminding myself that this business is not more important than my health and my relationship with Steph and my family and friends. Once I ground myself with that thought, then it becomes easy: I'm doing all that I can. The only thing I have to do is remain alert about opportunities to be more efficient with the time I am working.

I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts about this, particularly what your concerns are on a day to day basis as it concerns your job.

Anyway, today my goal is to finish listing the Large Queens, which I should be able to do as all the 15c values are scanned (24 stamps). Then tomorrow it is off to see my new lawyer to try and get all the corporate paperwork done for my investors. That will bring me to the end of week 5 and week 6 will start with the Small Queens of Canada.


  1. Wonderful post. I think your thoughts resonate greatly amongst our peers in this profession. I think when a firm starts judging humanity by time cost is when this perversion that has so deep rooted in this profession kicks in.

    Keep up the good work and enjoy your new found freedom.

  2. I agree. I have thought about writing posts specifically directed at this aspect of the profession, but I have not so far, as I am reluctant to completely alienate many of my fellow accountants. However, you may wish to share this blog with your peersm as I believe that there really is life after public accounting.