Who do you work for?
Frustrated, I sat at my desk.
I was running a media department for a leadership development company.
Two of my bosses had taken me out to lunch and told me I was doing a great job. They gave me the biggest raise, percentage-wise, of my entire career.
Even though I received praise and more money, I felt the rumble of discontent starting to shake me.
Deep down, I knew what was wrong.
I just didn’t want to accept it yet.
Why Do We Work Ourselves To Death?
Filmmaker Robert Rodriguez tells a story about one of his first opportunities to make a movie. Rodriguez and his friend Carlos were presented with an opportunity to make a movie with a $30,000 budget. But it came with a caveat: they wouldn’t be paid, regardless of the movie’s success.
Many people would have jumped at the opportunity — it was a chance to get real-life experience making a film. But Rodriguez had a different perspective. He told Carlos that they both needed to think hard about the opportunity. If someone else could make a movie for $30,000, then the two of them could probably make a really cool movie for much less.
And then Robert Rodriguez asked the question that is similar to what I was afraid to ask myself:
“Why work ourselves to death for this guy for free, and not own the movie?”
I Do Not Want This Promotion
A similar scene plays out in one of my favorite movies, Guru, which is an indirect biopic of Indian entrepreneur Dhirubhai Ambani, who created one of the great fortunes of the last 100 years.
There is a powerful scene in the movie about a young entrepreneur, Guru, who receives a promotion. The scene depicts the choice that confronts each entrepreneur.
Guru’s supervisor is with him, and an executive tells his work impresses him. The executive tells Guru that he is being promoted to a sales supervisor. The executive then leaves, and the main character is left with his direct supervisor.
The supervisor tells him that it took him 13 years to become a sales supervisor. And Guru did it in seven. The supervisor is clearly proud.
But then Guru says to his supervisor: “I do not want this promotion.”
The supervisor is stunned, expecting an explanation.
Guru’s explanation was exactly what I was not yet willing to accept after my two supervisors took me out to lunch.
“If you like my work, and that man feels the same… then why should I work for him? I’ll work for myself.”
Robert Rodriguez made his choice. Instead of working on the $30,000 movie, he made a small, independent movie about a musician who accidentally has his guitar case switched for a guitar case full of guns. You may have heard of that small movie. It’s called El Mariachi. It is one of the most famous independent movies of all time. It cost $7,000 to make, and Rodriquez earned most of the money volunteering to take experimental drugs. The movie launched the cinematic career of Robert Rodriguez.
And it is a really good movie. It inspired me to want to tell stories.
A few months after I went out to lunch with my two bosses, I had a choice.
They liked my work. They wanted me to keep working for them. They gave me a raise.
But I knew that if they liked my work, then I could work for myself.
There is a choice every entrepreneur must make.
Do we work for someone else? Do we sweat, grind, work, bleed — for someone else — and let someone else own what we create?
Or do we sweat, grind, work, bleed — for ourselves?
This is the choice every entrepreneur must make.
You may not face it right now. But you will, at some point.
For me, the choice is simple.
What will you choose?
Thanks to Michael Thompson and Jordan Gross.