by Toffler



Dreaming Big v. Staying Secure, At a job: Is this it?

December 4, 2006, by TofflerN, category Entrepreneurship & Business, Knowledge and Experiences, Uncategorized

As I sit at my job, I think it’s all right. The job itself is actually pretty good, yet I can’t help but wonder, is this it? I know I’m doing it for the pay and the experience now, because I know I’m young and have many opportunities ahead of me and I just need the experience first, before I can move on. Then I look at my colleagues, some of whom are the same age as me, but most of whom are older, have worked here for a longtime, maybe have kids or are about to have kids and I wonder what they think. I don’t see passion in their faces or hear it in their voices; many of them work 6 or 7 long days every week and I wonder why they do it, especially when they seem so listless. They clearly aren’t here for the experience, so I wonder if they are ok with the situation or if they’re (secretly) hoping for something better, or is it simply part of their mindset (rooted in Chinese culture) to just suffer through their boring jobs to provide a better future for their children.

In the past few months here, I’ve started exploring the attitudes toward work, entrepreneurship, and employment situations across cultures. What keeps people forcing themselves to get up and go to the same dreaded job every morning?

For example, my Dutch friend, Maarten, works in a large, well-respected Dutch company in Shanghai. He has commented to me that the Chinese employees that he works with are about as listless as my colleagues, but yet, in the mindset of many Chinese, having a secure, well-paid job at a big foreign company like that is the career goal in life. Despite the fact that these employees have attained the perhaps ultimate goal, they seem as bored in their jobs as anyone else. In fact, many of them (as reported to me) waste most of the day chatting on the Internet. Likewise, if we had Internet, I believe my colleagues would likely do the same thing. If you’re that bored with your job, is it really worth the security? Shouldn’t work challenge you, interest you, and make you believe you’re working toward a larger goal?

In Europe, much as Maarten described the goal being in China, people seek an employment contract with a big European company. This situation provides security because European employment contracts are hard to cancel. It also offers good pay and the possibility for advancement. If you have a good job, with the security in Europe, and are possibly on the management track, you have no reason to seek an alternative. You have the rest of your working career, including nearly 3months of paid holiday per year, already planned out for you. You have attained the ideal situation. There’s no reason to look further.

In the US, on the other hand, even if someone has a well-paid job, though by no means nearly as secure as those in Europe, nor with nearly as much vacation time, they often do wonder, is this it? They may look for a new job, with a better position, a higher salary, more responsibility. They wouldn’t be content to be just secure. Or, as is the American ideal, they may consider entrepreneurship. They may decide to take their skills and knowledge and experiences and go out on their own, to start their own venture. Entrepreneurship is the driving force of the American economy and small businesses are also the country’s largest employer. In this regard, the US is very different from Europe, with its risk-taking, pioneering, and entrepreneurial spirit.

Now back to China…where, between these two extremes, is China? In my experience, China is far more entrepreneurial than Europe. Some people start businesses at a young age and others, like many Americans, also get bored in their jobs and after saving enough opt, too, for the entrepreneurial route. I’m not sure that China is quite as driven by the appeal of starting your own business as Americans, but nonetheless the interest is certainly there.

So, then, what has happened to my colleagues and to Maarten’s colleagues? Are they too much a product of the Cultural Revolution, where they fear any success may be instantly stripped from them? But then, how has China produced so many extremely successful entrepreneurs in the last 15years, including the world’s wealthiest woman? It’s more likely they haven’t been exposed to the concept enough to consider it a possibility. And also possibly, that they’re willing to tolerate boredom 8hours a day in exchange for security, or in the case of the managers, long hours and hard work just for the sake of providing a secure life and steady income. And for some, they may not have the resources and capabilities to take a risk and go out on their own. It’s not a simple question to answer. Perhaps it’s the same thing that keeps many Americans stuck in boring jobs with mediocre pay…but what is it?

As for me, I certainly don’t plan to be ‘stuck in a boring job with mediocre pay’ my whole life. There’s far too much life to live and world to see for me to be willing to spend 8+ hours a day working for someone else. I just hope my own businesses will make progress fast so that I can be working for myself sooner rather than later. On that note, its time to put some effort into China Resources ASAP…


  1. Luke |

    When you announced that you were taking a stable, salaried job, a little part of me withered, fell off and died.

  2. mjbphx |

    Many people throughout the world consider family stability and lifestyle to be there #1 priority. Having a steady job that pays for a roof over your head, food in yours (and your children’s) mouth(s), and clothing on your back goes a long way to creating stability. Many times there is no additional money with which to take risk, i.e. starting a business, transferring to a job that is unknown. And human beings inherently do not welcome change.

    Then, too, around the world many employers and governments have established ‘golden handcuffs’ to keep people from changing jobs, e.g. loss of retirement funds, loss of insurance, probation periods in new jobs, etc. Even in the U.S., one of the biggest deterrents to starting a new business is the lack of affordable health insurance.

  3. Luke |

    Here’s something else:

    Many people who advocate employment are over 40 years old and have families and a mortgage or two. You don’t. You could start a business, go bankrupt, wait seven years, start another business, go bankrupt again, wait another seven years, start another business… and you’d STILL have half your life ahead of you.

    If you’re going to take a calculated risk, the time to do it is now.

    By the way, I have a friend who’s literally your age and he’s going to be in Shanghai in a few months to source his line of hip-hop clothing. He’s already talking to a few manufacturers, but he’s on the lookout for new opportunities and I think you two should meet and talk.

So, what do you think ?