The Virtues of Vice

Posted By on July 24, 2009

In my last post, I wrote about the dangers of dependency: the narcotic effects of a regular paycheck and the false sense of security that comes from working for a corporation. Many RMITs never allowed themselves to get cornered in a corner office, embarking on an independent career right out of school (or during, or before). The best way to kick the habit, of course, is never to start. I found that those RMITs who did spend time in a gilded cubicle, however, looked at the experience in one of two ways: Some saw a stint in corporate life as an apprenticeship (or sometimes as indentured servitude)—an opportunity to learn everything they could. Others hit bottom, and found they just couldn’t go on putting all of their ideas and energy toward someone else’s vision. Some of these, like Bernard Jacobs, who cofounded Home Depot after he was fired from his job with the Handy Dan hardware chain, were forced to go cold turkey. But all of these recovering salary junkies told me something unexpected. What I’m about to say will sound counterintuitive at best, plain crazy at worst: Addiction is a good thing.

A funny thing happens when you go into business for yourself: all of the drudgery of corporate droneship turns into pure pleasure. Roxanne Quimby, the richest woman in Portland, Maine, is no drone—she’s the queen bee who cofounded Burt’s Bees. She told me, “It sounds trite, but I know it to be true: Hard work is the only sure path to success. It simply can’t be avoided. Nor should it be, because work should be enjoyable.” And she’s right: when you’re your own boss, work provides a high unlike any other. Gary Tharaldson, the richest man in Fargo, North Dakota, explained it to me this way: “The height of your success will be proportionate to the depth of your self-belief.” That faith in yourself creates a “vicious” cycle of self-reinforcing satisfaction and accomplishment. The more you work, the more you succeed, and the more you—not the Man—reap the rewards. When you love what you do, when you’re really good at what you do, and when you do it for yourself, work is joy. It’s pursuing your passion and getting paid for it. And that’s a greater rush than winning Employee of the Month could ever provide.

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About The Author

W. Randall Jones is the author of The Richest Man in Town. Visit the About W. Randall Jones and About The Richest Man in Town pages to learn more.