The joys of startup life
Startups can be fun and dynamic environments to work in, but also wildly draining and unpredictable. They don’t become economically sustainable overnight. Therefore, you are neither safe if you work there. Such companies require investments of time, money and energy upfront. Maybe for years before any return on these investments is seen.
Throughout the years I’ve worked at my fair share of startups. The often chaotic, unstructured workflows stand in stark contrast to established corps which have put systems in place to organise things up to the tiniest details.
My preference for a workplace probably goes out to mid-size startups. They typically have low hierarchies and access to everyone within. Changes are still implemented gradually, without these having to go through months-long approval processes.
Brand new companies feel very volatile. No day is the same and you don’t know what could happen tomorrow. It is nice though to be able to contribute to a company’s growth from the ground up.
“Not your business”
The business owners or management, they have the vision that pulls a company forward. They are indispensable, at least at first. As an employee or similar, you are hired to perform a certain job. If you perform it well, it helps the company and hereby your own career flourish. But you as a worker will never be as worried about the business as its owners are.
Ultimately, you are “just” an employee and fully replaceable. It’s not your business. Your butt is not on the line.
A product of the traditional education system, I used to believe that the only way to thrive, was to:
- Go to school and get good grades
- Go to university and get a degree
- Get a job and live happily ever after
- The end.
“If you perform well, you will get noticed.”
“If you make a great effort, eventually you will get promoted.”
“If you work hard at your job, you will live in riches.”
Well, I’ve worked hard at my many side jobs in university, during internships and later at more serious jobs.
More than once I made the mistake to give my job all my energy and dedication and neglect every other aspect of my life. It goes without saying that you should take care and do your assigned work tasks as well as possible, ideally overdelivering. I believe this shouldn’t go at the cost of all your waking hours and energy.
The prime example would be one startup in its very early stage where I encountered the following:
- Fun on the first days. First days are always a bit exciting and overwhelming. There’s new people, tools and processes to get to know and heaps of new information to take in. I let myself get talked into staying for an event that would take place afterwards on my first day. By the end of this day, my mental energy already was depleted. This start would set the tone.
- Getting told “Don’t take a break” and work tirelessly. I’m not a fan of toxic hustle culture.
- The always present threat of sudden layoffs.
- A colleague got praised for taking sales calls while sick in bed with a fever. As a manager, I would promote the opposite and grant my employees proper time off to recover when they need to.
- Overtime was more standard than exception.
Only two months in I nearly passed out in public as a result of work-related stress. But I stayed.
Reaching the end of the work day in one piece was a relief. Half a year in and I started dreaming about my job. It felt like standing at a never-ending production line. It was my life during the day, and at night, it didn’t end. On these days I didn’t wake up well-rested.
I held onto the hope of moving to a better position within the company for months. I gave the work my all. When I realised that it wouldn’t give me more than a salary, I started crafting an escape plan.
To first get out and get by, I’d need a buffer to pay for my most basic living expenses the months ahead. I didn’t have new jobs directly lined up.
Having zero savings, I started going ultra frugal, not spending one cent on anything unnecessary. Despite earning minimum wage, I was able to save a few hundred every single month. I bought nothing but food and essentials, and saved everything else. When I saved “enough” and hit the it’s-time-to-go mark, I made the figurative call.
The final weeks
When I finally sat down with my manager, they were unaware that I wanted to quit. I had been performing just fine and was playing a foundational role in the department I was in.
I informed them of my decision. Their faces changed from excited to disappointed, seemingly unhappy about my departure.
It was here that I was offered a range of possibilities.
“How about working part time?”
“What about switching departments? Maybe you can support colleague so and so?”
“How about a salary increase?”
No matter what I wanted, they were willing to give it to me.
I wondered why his offer came in now. I had already made up my mind and could not see any benefit in sticking around.
Looking back I could’ve taken the increase in pay. I wonder what they would’ve said if I’d been cocky and requested a crazy high increase.
Still I politely declined, since I knew it was not going to give me the satisfaction I was looking for. Who knows if I’d end up at the same department, doing the same work I was trying to get away from, but for just more money, while I was looking for something else.
Work satisfaction is determined by more than just a big fat paycheck. Keep this in mind when you try to sell your daytime.