She may not have a regular income, but no amount of money can buy what Denise Li has gained through being an entrepreneur.
When you read articles about entrepreneurs, they often talk about the hardships faced by first-time business owners:
1. Not having boundaries when it comes to work. There is often so much to do that entrepreneurs find themselves working late into the night and through weekends.
2. Not having a stable income, at least in the initial stages of setting up the business.
3. Personal relationships being affected as a result of point 1 and 2.
My partners and I have been through all of that, and more. In fact, there were times when it felt so dry, money-wise, that I often toyed with the idea of throwing in the towel and going back to working a regular job just so that I could have a steady income.
But things have gotten better. We have now established long-standing working relationships with a few clients, so we have some regular work every month. Our incomes are still irregular (we don’t make the same amount every month), but we get by, and even have enough left over for some new clothes and dinner at a nice restaurant every now and then.
Truth is, there are so many awesome upsides to being your own boss that money just can’t buy. Now, if you asked me if I would trade it all in for a regular job and monthly income, I’d say, “No”. Or, at least, the money has to be FRICKING AMAZING for me to consider it. Why do I love being a co-founder? Let me count the ways.
(Though I must add that everyone’s entrepreneurship experience is different. People who start up retail or F&B businesses might not have the same sort of flexibility as we do.)
1. I don’t need to arrive at work at 9am
Seriously, I think the quality of my life has improved by leaps and bounds because of this. I always said before that the rush-hour commute to work was the first battle of every day. Now that we allow ourselves to come into the office at 10 or 11am, I feel that it’s been one major stressor removed from my life.
2. We feel justified when we have to work overtime
When I worked in magazines, the workload could vary greatly. 14-hour days were common but, a couple of days a month after we closed the issue, I’d find myself twiddling my thumbs and watching the clock till 6pm came. I had to show up in the office regardless of whether I had something to do. It was excruciating. Now, though we work as many hours as we used to or possibly more, it feels like we have better ownership of our time. I can zip out for workouts or even a massage whenever I want, knowing that I can make my way back to my office after that to finish my work. I don’t mind working long hours because I can take breaks as and when I want to. Being an entrepreneur suits those who are goal-orientated, who finds meaning in little victories (as I do). Essentially, my days at Material World comprise of working steadily to complete a series of goals I set for myself at the beginning of each day. As soon as I finish them, I am free to do whatever I want. Sometimes, I’m only able to finish it all at midnight. Sometimes, I’m done at 3pm. Regardless of how the day pans out, I am the master of my own time.
3. Workplace politics are no longer an issue
Deborah said something the other day that really struck a chord with me: “When I was in magazines, a lot of my time was spent sending emails.” It’s true. That’s what happens when you have not just bosses to answer to, but also other departments to liaise with. Every department has their own agenda. Editorial departments’ commitment is to their readers; sales is to their clients. Needless to say, there were always a clash of interests that required not just TIME but also ENERGY to sort out. And if you’re hoping for career progression, you really have no choice but to play the game. But when you’re your own boss within a small company framework, it’s so much easier and quicker to sort things out. And there is none of that stress that comes from in-fighting, bitching, and knowing that someone is talking shit about you behind your back. When you’re one of the bosses of a small company, YOU play a part in shaping the company culture, and I like the one we have now: Casual, open, and fun.
Honestly, I sometimes still wish that I had a regular income, if only to make financial planning less daunting, but when I take stock of all that I’ve gotten back what a 9-to-5 job has taken away from me: My freedom, ownership of my time, my sanity, I know that I’m on this entrepreneurship journey for the long haul. I actually LOOK FORWARD to coming into work every day … and you just can’t put a price on that.
About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.