Being your own boss

Every human being loves autonomy and needs security.

The interplay between autonomy and security has continually shaped our evolution. In the prehistoric past, we went from being autonomous hunter gatherers to safe agrarians. Today, we go from being entrepreneurs and free-lancers, to being employed by large organizations. In either case, there is a trade-off between the pleasure of autonomy and the pain of insecurity.

Every human is born inquisitive and autonomous – just look at toddlers. But as we grow up, we are disciplined out of our authentic selves and into the molds that our circumstances define. These molds would be very different for children of entrepreneurial parents in a developed country from ones whose parents are government employees in a poor country.

And as a consequence, we go from being self-driven, autonomous individuals to taking orders from our bosses, parents, friends, relatives or society at large. We love autonomy, but we fear insecurity. There is both frustration and comfort with having a boss that gives us explicit instructions. Such bosses curtail our freedom, but protect us from failure.

So how do you strike this balance in your own life?

As a means to test this, just think of your weekends – the 28% of your week where you are relatively free to make your own choices. How do you spend your weekends? Do you define them or do your circumstances define them for you?

Answering this question would be a good rule of thumb for thinking about whether you would enjoy a life of autonomy and risk. As author Daniel Pink quotes, ” I love having me as a boss; I hate having me as an employee.”

Recommended listening: A world without bosses – Adam Grant’s podcast

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