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Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Your Career Is an Enterprise

And You Are the Entrepreneur at its Helm

Economics distinguishes between workers and entrepreneurs in the market. These are often misconceived as mutually exclusive classes. Every individual wears many economic hats. Talking in terms of classes leads many people to pigeonhole themselves.

Those who don’t run a business often think of themselves as worker drones: as just another factor of production to be allocated by their entrepreneurial betters. They are the passive “employed” who, like land and capital goods, are inert matter to be put to use by their active “employers.”

From School Boy to Company Man

This mentality is imparted to us by school, where we are constantly “allocated” throughout our entire childhood and youth. We are earmarked and sorted into our classes, grade levels, and student “tracks.” We are assigned our classwork, our homework, our teachers. We are processed like unfinished goods through elementary, middle, and high school. This instills what Isaac Morehouse calls the conveyor belt mindset.

Even in the working world we flee the frightening unfamiliarity of freedom.

By the time we graduate from high school, we know of nothing else besides the conveyor belt. At that point, we are finally afforded some freedom and volition, but we are too institutionalized to take advantage of it. We are like the character Brooks in the film Shawshank Redemption who, after serving decades in prison, has no idea what to do with himself as a free man.

And so instead of freedom we choose voluntary re-commitment. We get back onto the conveyor belt and proceed to the next station, which according to received wisdom is college, then perhaps grad school, then some “safe” profession.

Even in the working world we flee the frightening unfamiliarity of freedom. We limit ourselves to conventional options in the job market. Once we land a job, and feel safe within a fold once again, we revert to blissful irresponsibility over our lives. We delegate the responsibility for our own value-creation to our employer. We treat our first job as if it was the 17th grade and our bosses like our new teachers. 

As in school, we passively await to be assigned tasks. We do not apply initiative and judgment to actively pursue value-creation. That just sounds like more work. And if school has taught us anything, it is that work is drudgery: something only to be done under compulsion. We trudge along the career path assigned to us, even if it kills us inside. We as “human resources” have been allocated by those who know better than us, and we must resign ourselves to our lot.

Universal Self-Employment

Stuff and nonsense. You are your own allocator, the ultimate employer of your own labor. Your value-creation, for yourself and for the market, is your own responsibility. Stop thinking of any firm you work with as just another involuntary institution that swallows you up and prescribes your every move. A job is partnership: a voluntary economic relationship based on free exchange. If the relationship is a good one, both sides will strive to create value for the other.

It is on you to seek out and develop mutually beneficial market relationships. And that requires treating your career as an enterprise, with you as the entrepreneur in charge.

Entrepreneurs pursue value for themselves by allocating the means of production in a way that provides value for others. Successful entrepreneurs anticipate the uncertain future wants of those they seek to serve. Such anticipation takes judgment and insight.

All free individuals have at least one means of production under their own ultimate disposal: their own labor. To truly be free, and to fully pursue value for yourself in your career, you must embrace the responsibility of allocating your own labor, as all entrepreneurs bear the responsibility of allocating the capital goods they own. 

Career success means anticipating and serving the wants of those you serve directly (the firm you work with and other partners in production), as well as those you serve indirectly (customers and consumers). It also means making big changes, even re-allocating your labor (quitting and finding different work), if you anticipate that you can create more value, for yourself and others, with different market partnerships.

As with all entrepreneurship, doing this takes judgment and insight. But since it is your own success on the line, and your own labor being allocated, it has to be your judgment, and your insight. You cannot outsource responsibility for your career and expect it to thrive.

The Entrepreneurial Barista

Anything you do in life is worth doing deliberately, with care, and with creativity.

All work benefits from an entrepreneurial mindset. If you are a coffeeshop barista, there is no reason you cannot adopt an entrepreneurial approach to your work. What can make your co-workers’ jobs easier? Is there a frustrating hang-up in the workflow that can be eliminated? What can make the customer experience more pleasant?

To come up with and implement answers to these questions, you need to apply the distinctive attributes of an entrepreneur: judgment, insight, initiative, and anticipation of needs. Engaging in such problem-solving will enhance the value-creation of your work. And if you are in a job worth having, such enhancement will make your work more fulfilling and remunerative.

Alternatively, as a barista you can be a timeserver and a routinist, doing nothing more than clocking in and out, and following the procedures prescribed in the company manual. That may be enough to hold down the job, but it won’t allow you to thrive at work. Thriving at a coffee shop may sound like a tall order. Maybe it’s just a job to pay the bills while you pursue more fulfilling work or study. But apathy in any area of your life will spill over and spread bleakness into other areas.

Anything you do in life is worth doing deliberately, with care, and with creativity. Even in an entry-level or transitional job, if you tackle your work with an entrepreneurial spirit, you will develop and grow as a proactive, opportunity seizing adult. And that expansion of soul will serve you well throughout your career.

As T.K. Coleman often says, you have the power to be the predominant creative force in your life. But you can only seize that power if you also accept the attendant responsibility. That means shaking off the “worker drone” and “conveyor belt” mindsets you imbibed at school. It means treating your life and career as the great enterprise it is, with you and you alone at the helm.

  • Dan Sanchez is an essayist, editor, and educator. His primary topics are liberty, economics, and educational philosophy. He is the Director of Content at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the editor-in-chief of He created the Hazlitt Project at FEE, launched the Mises Academy at the Mises Institute, and taught writing for Praxis. He has written hundreds of essays for venues including (see his author archive),,, and The Objective Standard. Follow him on Twitter and Substack.