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The Moment I Knew I Never Wanted To Work For Anyone Ever Again

I’ve never told this story before. Not in a blog, or in one of my books, or to anyone really. I suppose I suppressed it. But I recently pulled it out of my memory bank because I was listening to a Chris Brogan podcast about why you should quit your job and it spurred this memory up and I wanted to share it with you.

I believe this moment has made me into the entrepreneur I am today. Read on if you’re curious.

This happened in 1996 or so. I was the fourth employee at a “new media company” here in Cleveland, Ohio. “New Media” was code for Internet company back in the day in case you were wondering what the heck that meant. I took the job without knowing one lick of html, or really anything about the Internet. The first day on the job they handed me an html book and said, “learn this”. So I did. Mind you, this was before html tables. Remember when all websites were linear and didn’t have columns? Yeah, I’m that old.

I took my graphic design abilities and learned how to make websites. The company grew from 4 of us to 20. Then to 30. Things were going great. I loved working for the guys that owned the company. They were fun and we had no rules. I could sit at my desk and smoke cigarettes, or/and get drunk if I wanted to. I had a great office with a balcony. And because I had no family yet, and the job was fun, I worked my ass off. Probably close to 14-hours a day, if not more. I basically lived at the office.

We started to get BIG clients like Ernst & Young and Sherwin Williams. I actually hand-coded and designed Ernst & Young’s first website ever, and their second. Back then coding and building websites was long, tedious work because you didn’t have the tools you did nowadays. Every little change took big effort. For example, if the site had 400 pages, and they made a change to the navigation, I’d have to go into every single html page by hand and replace the code. There was no such thing as find and replace back then.

Anyway, I’m getting to the point.

I worked my ass off those first years. I basically lived at the office and I loved it. But I assumed that because I was the fourth employee, and I was such a big part of the growth of the company, and that I worked so hard, that I would naturally see the financial benefits of my labor. I can’t remember exactly, but I think I made about $30,000 that year. Maybe less.

So things were good, and it was December and the business was booming. My wife had just gotten a sizeable Christmas bonus from her firm the weekend before and I had it in my mind that I would of course get one from my bosses as well. I mean, I was a big part of the company’s growth, and I was working my ass off, etc…

You see where this is going? Here’s how it went down.

A few days before Christmas I’m at the office, as usual, and I don’t see the two big bosses anywhere. Nobody knows where they are. We’re all about to break for the holiday and I’m wondering where the bosses are and when I’m getting my big Christmas bonus. I’m kinda freaking out about it because I was really expecting it.

So the big bosses/owners finally appear around 4 that day, thank God. They finally come down to the office to talk to us. They were super excited. I mean, they were bouncing off the walls in excitement. I figured they were excited to give us our bonus checks before we went home. I was wrong.

Turns out they decided to drive out to Ikea that morning and drop $18,000 on furniture for their offices. I repeat. $18,000 in Ikea furniture for just their offices upstairs. How you can spend $18k for two offices in Ikea, I’m not sure, but they were so proud to boast about how they did.

I figure, “whatever, give me my bonus check”. So they did. I eagerly opened the sealed envelope and dreamt about what amazing Christmas present I was going to buy my fiancee. Or about how I might use the money for a down payment on a new car. Or maybe I could buy an engagement ring with it! I was excited!

I opened the envelope and it read $400 bucks.

Not what I was expecting. Not even close. My mind started racing and calculating the numbers. 10% of my salary would be $3,000. Heck, 5% would be $1,500. Those are the kind of numbers I expected for giving so much of my life to this business.

And especially after hearing they dropped $18k at Ikea that very day.

But no. They gave me $400.

And here’s the moment I knew I never wanted to work for anyone ever again.

My stomach sank. I thought I was going to puke. I really felt ill. I looked up at them in contempt. I can’t imagine what my facial expression was. I must have given them some kind of stink-eye. I stood there in disbelief for a minute. Then I grabbed my keys and coat and walked out in disgust.

I got into my car and I was ready to cry. $400??? Really?

I thought to myself… “I’m a fool. I worked my ass off for this company for this?” I drove home and was too embarrassed to tell my fiancee right away. I had the check in my back pocket and the thought of it ruined my Christmas.

And that, my friends, was the story about when I realized I never wanted to work for anyone ever again.

This is the exact reason why I always tell my kids, “You don’t want to work in this restaurant, you want to own this restaurant.” YOU control your destiny. YOU control how much you get paid and what bonuses you have. YOU are the boss and you can do whatever you want.

Agree?

I suppose I should thank them. They are directly responsible for my entrepreneurship endeavors and the career and lifestyle I have this day.

I’m sure you have a similar story? I’d love to hear it. Share it with us.

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12 Awesome Comments So Far

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  1. Fly on the wall
    April 5, 2013 at 5:19 pm #

    WOW. Weird that I read this at this particular moment… I have a VEEERRRRY similar story… I'm too close to that actual event to vent about it online… so I'm going to wait until it's way back there in the rear view mirror… My epiphany is literally less than 2 weeks old.

    I know… late bloomer, but at least I bloomed… and I'm scared terdless, excited, freaked out and stoked all at the same time about the prospects of my unknown future. I really don't sleep at this point.
    Can anyone else out there add some comfort?

  2. Cliff Dover
    April 5, 2013 at 5:32 pm #

    Hi, Jim. I agree. Working for someone else stinks! I try to tell my daughter, who's an animal lover, "Don't work in that pet shop…own the pet shop!" She hasn't gotten it yet. Hopefully, one day, she'll realize what I'm trying to get across to her. ~Cliff

  3. cipriangherghescu
    April 5, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you for sharing! I understand how you felt. I have a similar story. Let me tell you.

    When I came back to Europe from the United States back in 2008 I was all excited and pumped up to help everyone since I had so much knowledge from my experience of living in the US. I ended up becoming an International Executive Recruitment Consultant with Antal International in Malta.

    Cool! I loved my new job, helping people be discovered by key companies in their industry and companies discovering key people. i was going to work all dressed up in a suit and tie, with swimming shorts underneath my pants so that I can go swimming in my lunch break :). I had a nice office in Sliema. I loved it.

    At some point the Partners of the company told me that I can do whatever I want to promote my services as a professional in the field since I was being paid on commission, so I figured I would create a website and then do a lot of online networking..

    That was the first website I have created. It took me a whole month to learn how to do it and to make it somewhat decent.

    The tipping point for me was when after working one month in my free time to make this website one of the partners came up to me and asked me to delete it, because somehow making another website but theirs was not actually something I could do.

    I was furious! Can you imagine, so much work instead of just enjoying sunny Malta?! ..and now delete it just like that?

    I was happy to delete it and then leave Malta and start my marketing online and website creation company in Romania http://crearewebsite.info and one in Luxembourg http://big.lu

    Now I'm grateful for that and love what I do every single day.

    More so I now also help other people achieve their desire to create results oriented and beautiful websites using WordPress via my book on Amazon which you kindly helped me to publish http://wordpressbook.info and as a WPMU DEV Support Star working in flip-flops and pajamas from home at http://wpmudev.cipriangherghescu.com

  4. Greig Aitken
    April 5, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Yes, security IS working for yourself and being able to respond and serve clients is ANY situation. In 54 years of working, the first 11 were corporate and the next 43 as an entrepreneur. You will NEVER regret it – listen closely to what Jim has said and the impact it has had on his life. Get great business mentors who are older than yourself and have been "round the cup", read about other entrepreneurs and their trials and tribulations and successes, only "rub elbows" with those "without an agenda for themselves", pick the brains of guys like Jim and the many others out there. Remember ALL great companies started in "bad times" such as G.E., Microsoft, Walt Disney and MANY more. Watch for those who "Walk the Walk" and not Talk the Talk. Seek out your strong points, partner with those who are great for your weak points, share information, share your wealth (as there will be plenty). You are in the "Greatest Country in the World" (even in the poorest days). Good luck to you for making the right decision now. If I can ever help you, contact me, Greig Aitken, at http://www.historicjordansprings.com.

  5. The Franchise King®
    April 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    Jim,

    Never again.

    Ever.

    The Franchise King®

  6. Lori
    April 5, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

    A Christmas bonus is a gift unless you've been promised it based on certain and specific parameters. You were naive to think otherwise. Working for someone else may suck, but this story is a silly way to figure that out if everything else was the great job you describe. I don't buy it.

    • Jim Kukral
      April 6, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      I'm pretty sure you missed the point of this Lori, but thanks for commenting.

  7. Lynda Greening
    April 5, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    I remember way back about then as well, I was working in advertising sales at News Ltd and they raised the projector one day in the sales meeting and Rupert told us all (everyone in his offices in the world) that we all had to tighten our belts, they stripped out all that was nice about working there, rented plants, paintings etc so the offices became bare and barren, then told us we'd have to buy our own coffee, tea and milk in the lunchroom, nothing that was unnecessary would continue, and we all had to increase sales at least 20% for the company to survive, yadda, yadda, and then a few months down the track reading about the extraordinary profits News was making and how much more lavish Rupert's life had become. Same epiphany. So I thought, bugger that, and now 15 years on I have my own successful publishing business in Sydney competing with Rupert's lot, and treating my staff to all the luxuries in life as much as I can. Loved you last week at ICON13 btw.

  8. Scoobiedude
    April 28, 2013 at 11:51 am #

    Same story here except I got a $5000 bonus.

    Now I'm poor

  9. Jenn
    May 2, 2013 at 10:11 am #

    Jim, thanks for sharing! I am in my early 30's and have worked since age 16. I have had so many epiphanies over the past 8 years. I guess I just didn't have the confidence in myself to do it and/or the resources to get it done, but I know that I want to work for myself now. It's time. I need the encouragement, support, and knowledge of experienced individuals such as yourself to get started on the right track. And yes, Lori totally missed the point

  10. Ryan @ Manifest Income
    May 2, 2013 at 10:19 am #

    First off, I would like to start by thanking Jim for such an inspiring story. To Lori, the main point Jim is trying to make is to know your worth… Loyalty in businesses is hard to find, so, in other words only you can decide when the time you are investing is not being compensated properly and it’s time to shift direction. One thing we tell our students is you have to determine how bad you really want it, and then pursue it with an insatiable passion.

  11. @CraigMcBreen
    October 16, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    Hi Jim,

    My story happened around the same time. Our boss was fond of taking trips (Europe, Japan, etc.) and then calling a meeting so he could present a slide show of his trip to everyone. There was a certain attitude at that firm that came from the top down. A very toxic (and very low paying) place I was so glad to get out of.