The Renegade Employee: Coming Alive with a J-O-B

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Ever wonder if you could truly come alive while working for someone else?

By the time I finished writing Career Renegade, the book ended up with a decidedly entrepreneurial bent. But, truth is, it didn’t start out that way. In fact, there was an entire section on going renegade under someone else’s roof that ended up on the cutting room floor.

And, more recently, as I’ve been culling and refining my own quest to play a smaller number of bigger games, I’ve been revisiting that very question. No doubt, going renegade most often taken the form of entrepreneurship, but I’m increasingly wondering if it really has to be that way. Because, in the end…

Going renegade is less about running the kingdom and more about delivering yourself into a place where the qualities and quests that allow you to come alive are ever-present.

You can create that scenario through entrepreneurship as I’ve often done, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility of also finding the necessary qualities under someone else’s roof.

For me, the 8 Critical Renegade Qualities include:

  • Mission – Is the mission/vision closely aligned with my own personal mission and desire to create a powerful, lasting impact on peoples’ lives
  • People – Are the people within an organization “my people?” Are they like-minded, do they buy into a similar vision, lead with respect, transparency, impact and truth over politics and value similar qualities?
  • Culture – Is the overall culture, pace, level of formality, layers of oversight, directness of interactivity, lightness/heaviness, sense of joy and mutual respect and emphasis on collaboration and contribution to a collective vision in sync with the type of culture that allows me to thrive. Is it fast-paced and innovative or locked into established systems (that often bear little relevance to the concerns that gave rise to them). Will people understand that my most powerful innovations often come while noodling away on an electric guitar with headphones in the middle of the day?
  • Setting – Is the physical setting one that resonates and supports my quest for innovation and impact, from the nature of the office layout to the geographic location?
  • Content – Barring a smallish percentage of admin that comes with any position (even entrepreneurship), is the content largely intrinsically rewarding? Would I do it for free simply because I love to do it? Do I wake up thinking about ways to do it more, better, cooler?
  • Process – Are the processes and procedures in sync with the the processes and procedures that allow me to do my best work?
  • Control & Accountability – Am I given enough control over the means to be able to effectively deliver on the results I would be held accountable for? Hold my feet to the fire, but give me the matches, the wood and, if needed, an axe.
  • Energy – Every organization has an energetic subtext, a visceral pulse that inevitably runs from the top down. On an intuitive level, does my heart beat along with that same pulse?

If the answer to these questions is a strong yes, you might want to go for it.

But, there are a few wild cards…

And, lack of ultimate control is one. When you’re not the final word, you never have the same level of control over your own personal journey or the course of the greater entity that you’d have as the head of your own vision. You may play a considerable role, but you don’t get to set the tone for all the qualities listed above. And, that’s something very serious to weigh. All too often, though, peoples’ quest for control isn’t built around the desire to define the above qualities, but rather the mad dash for security.

People equate control with security and, truth be told, they’re not the same.

Control may get you one step closer, but in the end, the closest you can ever come to the near-fiction of security is extraordinary competence. And, that follows you wherever you go, whether you run your own venture or bring it to life in the context of another’s.

Plus, the entrepreneurial route may also compel you to trade off certain extraordinary experiences.

These often include:

  • The resources and support of a larger, better funded organization that would allow you to accelerate and magnify the impact you can have on other peoples’ lives. And,
  • The opportunity to work with and learn from extraordinary individuals and mentors, on a day-to-day, face-to-face level.

Right now, 80% of all small businesses in the U.S. are 1-person business. And, according to a recent Business Week article, more than 50% of those are home-based, dropping tens of millions of entrepreneurs into a never-ending quest to find a small collective of trusted Rabbis, mentors and compatriots in an effort to continue to learn and grow and have a group of trusted advisers.

Establishing your own renegade think tank can be massively helpful in moving your vision forward. I’ve done this myself and supplemented it by reading voraciously, attending events and leveraging my platform to interview many of the people I seek to learn from. That’s a very different level of experience, interaction, learning and growth, though, than working with genuine thought-leaders and mentors, face-to-face, day-in, day-out over a period of years.

In the end, there’s no one-size-fits-all renegade solution.

And, as much as I believed for a long time that some people are just cut out to be entrepreneurs and others to be employees, I have to confess to seeing a very real muddying of those waters. Because, to me, going renegade or “coming alive” in the way you earn your living is less about choosing between entrepreneurship and employment and more about:

  • Revisiting the 8 qualities above,
  • Defining who and what makes you come alive under each category, then
  • Building or finding the path and income you need to live well in the world, that aligns most closely around those qualities and that allows you to build your living around the greater lifestyle you seek to manifest.

Either way, the beautiful thing is…we have a choice.

Question is…how will you make yours? WILL you make yours?

As always, just thinking out loud.

What do YOU think?

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27 responses

27 responses to “The Renegade Employee: Coming Alive with a J-O-B”

  1. You know I have never taken the time to think of this. I used to work in the corporate world, and never got excited about my work. I did a good job, was well respected for my work ethic but never felt pride, and passion for what I did until i started my own business.

    I wonder how many people really go beyond feeling satisfaction.

    Great post now I think I have to read the book

    • Megan – don’t THINK about reading Jonathan’s book. Buy that sucker and DEVOUR IT ASAP! It’ll change your business, if not your life. Seriously.

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  3. Jonathan,

    That 80% of small business owners with 1 employee? Yup. Me. And #5, Content…also me. A friend of mine once asked me if I would continue to help people the way I do if money wasn’t an issue. My response? Without question I would continue to do it.

    This has something to do with passion. If you’re passionate about what you do, and if what you do helps people in a dynamic way, then its real easy to wake up in the morning, love what you do, and keep loving it long enough to make it less of a J-O-B and more of a life purpose.

  4. This is great. I’ve tried to consider myself an entrepreneuer, even if not in the traditional sense.

    I only have one client: the company I work for.

    Really, it’s not that different from owning your company and having to respond to hundreds of customers’ requests. Here I only have one customer to keep happy.

  5. Srinivas Rao says:

    Interesting ideas Jonathan. My long term goal is to have an internet business that generates income and also write a book. But I also think that going and working at a company and learning from experienced executives is a really great way to grow yourself.

  6. Daniel says:

    Heya Jon! Interesting to see a post such as this (of a less entrepreneurial kind), as I’m now hired earlier this month — making me an employee *gasp* — except … it’s paying about 3x better than my last job (before sudden unemployment in Sept), and having working hours that’s coveted (jokingly) by my peers.

    And the 8 points you’ve mentioned … glad to say that every stars happen to align with ’em here. 🙂

  7. The whole renegade thing, I love it! 🙂

    It’s a great way to stand out, impress and improve. But you can only use it if you also accept the risk of upsetting or loosing something you may value. Then again, one you realize you are not your job and you have your on mission to stick to, going renegade becomes easier.

    Eduard

  8. Hey Jon:

    Quite a refreshing attitude. Something that I was going to touch upon myself. It seems these days that people are classified ether into employees are entrepreneurs. Also, the ones labeled employees receive a very negative emotional connotation to them. That is not right.

    I believe, just like you said, that it is more important to follow what works for you and see if it aligns with what you want to do in life. There is never clear cut line between good or bad, black and white.

    Working for somebody has a ton of great benefits – you just have to find a place and people that fit. Corporations have tons of resources, exprienced people and a great network, which becomes yours after joining the company. So if you can come in and use that to learn and grow yourself, while being aware of your well-being, then great! No reason not to do it.

    Eventually, you might have learned enough, but if you are a conscious enough person, then you would just leave and do something else.

    You said that people have choices. Yes we do, but…some many of us forget.

    Once again thank you for a refreshing view. It helps me to stay hopeful that choosing any path is good, so long that the path accomplishes your life long goals.

    Best,
    Tomas

  9. Love it. In most cases, I break the requirements for a truly fulfilling career down to 1) does it play to my strengths? meaning, am I particularly good at the day to day challenges that I am asked to solve, and 2) does it play to my passions? This does not mean golf or ballet or college football – passion in a work context means do I really get energized about the types of challenges that are presented to me. Do they engage me?

    Get strengths and passions aligned with your daily activities, and much of the rest takes care of itself!

    Rick Smith

  10. Brad C says:

    While I definitely think that people can be very successful and implement some of the regenade qualities in their day jobs, I don’t think they will get the full effect of being a career renegade, since they don’t have power to make all of the decisions. They still need to answer to somebody. Being a career renegade is about making your own choices, without having anyone else to blame but yourself when things go wrong and anyone but yourself to praise when things go great. This is something that just cannot be achieved when you’re stuck working for someone else.

  11. Patricia says:

    I love this post. Early in my career a read an obscure book that advocated taking a “contractor” approach to your “job”, and although I’ve never been self employed, I’ve always taken my own “renegade” approach to my work as an employee. Through trial and error I’ve learned that I work best in a large organization where processes defined (so I know what I’m working around and where the landmines are!!), and there’s operational infrastructure to support me. Maybe someday I’ll be prepared to hang out my shingle and go it alone, but as long as I’m happy and growing, this works for me.

    I’d also suggest that in addition to those 8 “critical renegade qualities”, there’s an individual value system that needs to be applied – some of those qualities will be more important to some people than others. And maybe instead of a strong YES to all 8, if there’s a strong NO to any one of them that’s your warning sign to walk…

  12. m_featherson says:

    This article relates nicely with your previous post about “being indispensable”. I think that the way an employee contributes to the organization can have a significant influence on a few of the renegade qualities. For example, if you’re a creator, your employer is likely to afford you greater control over such things as setting, process, content and control. Good employers see the value in creators and often reward them with greater freedom as well as fatter paychecks.

  13. mr-crash says:

    … Can we see the part of your book that got cut out?

    This idea resonates with me quite a lot in some respects.

    I think primarily because like minded people tend to gravitate together and I don’t mind working passionately for an organisation that does something I feel positive about. Google seems to do a good job of this for plenty of computer science majors.

    Plenty of humanitarian organisations offer many people a brilliant work arrangement that I think would also fit these criteria quite well.

    But it’s hard sometimes too, because I think there’s quite a strong pull towards the roles that don’t mesh with your values and the kind of jobs that ask you to sell your soul for a little more gold 😉

  14. The main reason “Career Renegade” is my new bible is due to its entrepreneurial slant, so personally, I’m quite pleased it took that direction.

    As for jobs that possess the 8 Renegade Qualities, I ask this: Do they even exist!?! Especially in this economy!?

    IF they do (and that’s a pretty big IF), I think there would be FAR more completely satisfied employees out there.

    I’ve been both a well-payed employee AND a struggling entrepreneur. Call me crazy, but I far prefer the latter.

  15. Oleg Mokhov says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    Life isn’t black or white – it’s shades of grey.

    Taking it one step further from what you said on choosing whatever path is right for you (employee or entrepreneur): both paths can blend into one another.

    You can be an employee who’s also an entrepreneur, either within the organization or independent. You can build you business while partnering or utilizing with organizations that can provide you resources.

    You not only choose the path that’s right for you, you can also take the best bits of both paths to accomplish your goal even more effectively. Being an employee or entrepreneur isn’t all or nothing – we’re human beings, and we utilize resources around us, in whatever form and name they take.

    Here’s to not boxing yourself in, and utilizing choice to live our life and do our work more effectively,
    Oleg

  16. Joe Jacobi says:

    The mark of a great blogger is one who intuitively knows what to write at just the correct time 🙂

    As a proud Renegade who just leaped into the J-O-B world, this is post so spot on. I’ll only add two quick points:

    1. Jonathan mentions energy. I use this word constantly but in the context of energizing/fueling yourself. If I’m jumping into this J-O-B world, I’m going in with a critical awareness of the things that fuel my Renegade self – inspiring conversation with key people, time on my bike, time in kayak, my family, etc. Without the fuel, my organization doesn’t get my best work.

    2. My J-O-B is going to end well. No matter what. When it ends, I know what’s waiting for me. A pretty awesome and quieter existence with the people I care about most around the things I like to do most.

    But for now, all 8 in points are in order. I’m loving being where I never I though I would be just a few days ago.

    Rock on, Jonathan.

  17. Christine says:

    Hi Jonathan,

    I think the key thing is about choice, as you say at the end of your post. Sadly, a lot of the way we are educated to think about work surreptitiously invites us to hand power over to the corporate institutions who have most of the employed jobs. I think there’s a real challenge at large for a huge mindset shift when it comes to how we think about work. A key part of that is about us taking back our own sense of power, and exercising it positively.

    Also, as other people have said here, work doesn’t need to be an employed/self-employed, either/or dichotomy. That just sets up unnecessary splitting in a good versus bad sort of way. For me there’s a continuum. It depends what you really love and what you really want from life. I predict that, in the future, people may dance more between various forms of earning a living for themselves because they need different things for themselves at different stages. That demands a different kind of personal clarity than our current society by and large affords. Nevertheless I think people are hungry and there’s stuff out there now in alternative forms that will help things move in this direction.

  18. That Renegade qualities list is excellent! I am printing that out and putting it in my office. This post sold me on finding a copy of this book, it sounds like a great read.

  19. Bill Triffet says:

    Taking this concept to another level: What if the owner or senior manager of a company looking at prospective employees reviewed these 8 qualities during the open interview? What if companies were to look at their existing employees in this type of light? Perhaps begging the question: What do we need to change allow these qualities to exist here? Make it part of the companies mission.

    As one who’s changed employers more times than most, I can say you can get perhaps 5 of the 8. It takes a little enlightenment of the employer for the rest to happen. There’s still an amazing amount of, “We’ve been doing things this way since…” These 8 qualities would make a great round table company meeting!

  20. William Kerr says:

    I haven’t yet finished “career renegade” though I have alread gleaned some great advice out of the book. I found your post regarding working for someone else well balanced and have personally found that some of the drawbacks you list are, to me, advantages in that I learn how to deal with driving in the passenger seat once in a while.

    Working with clients in an entrepreneurial fashion does not always put one in the driver’s seat what with client demands, etc. and the “working for someone else,” mode can gives that discipline.

    As Paul Meyers once mentioned, it’s all about attitude.

    Thanks for the post.

    Bill

  21. Claudia says:

    I really like this post because most of teh time, in the entrepreneurial world, we the ones with jobs, are labelled as conformists and less than smart just because we don’t want to leave them and be all entrepreneurs.

    Well, not all people want to be an entrepreneur, what we can all do is to take charge of our careers instead of haning down the power to a corporation.

    Entrepreneurship advocates forget that some passions and professions can’t be hold outside of a corporation. Like a astronaut. How many would be without space agencies? Richard Branson and how many more? And he didn’t get to the moon yet.

    So, to me it’s just a matter of taking your career in your hands, whether if it’s flying solo or not.

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