Want To Get Rich? Quit Your Day Job

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"Don’t quit your day job."

How often have you heard that line when you did any kind of public performance? What about the blank stares that come when you propose a business idea to people? Rejection is a hard thing to deal with. I saw the founder of Rovio talking about the success of Angry Birds at a Google event last year, and I think he said that the first eighty-plus versions of Angry Birds were not all that good and failed.

  • How much effort and how much dedication do we really put against our big ideas?
  • How deeply do we believe in them?
  • How realistic is our thinking?
  • How far are we willing to go?

These are the deep questions that many of us kick around (day and night).

Inc. Magazine ran an article titled, How The Rich Got Rich, in June of this past year. The article was based on an annual report by the IRS that provided data on the 400 individual income tax returns reporting the largest adjusted gross incomes and it was written by Jeff Haden. In this article, he deciphers the "watching paint dry"-boringness of this data to uncover some interesting kernels…

  • Working for a salary won’t make you rich.
  • Neither will making only safe "income" investments.
  • Neither will investing only in large companies.
  • Owning a business or businesses, whether in part or partnership, could not only build a solid wealth foundation but could someday…
  • Generate a huge financial windfall.

Just remember, you are not everybody.

Odds are that these people are the exception and not the rule, so this type of data is sometimes very hard to swallow. It’s like trying to figure out if there are any central themes in the top one hundred rock albums sold of all time. What you quickly realize is that there is no universal theme: each and every single one of them are the exception to the rule and that, in small part, is some of the secret sauce to their success. So, looking at all of this corporate data doesn’t really provide any clear roadmap. That being said, it declares (beyond the shadow of doubt) that our understanding of what hard work brings is sometimes very far off from the gravity of earth. It also speaks to a trend that is, likely, not going to reverse course…

The future of business is small and entrepreneurial (don’t tell the MBAs and consultants).

The workplace has changed. Economics are funky. The security of a steady job in a big, corporate company has all but dissolved. We’ve spent the better part of two decades watching these monstrous organizations crumble (some because of corruption, while others failed to innovate at pace). At the same time, we’ve seen instances where a company like Instagram comes along, plays by their own rules and – whether we like it or not – is able to be sold for a billion dollars to Facebook with not much more than a hope of future growth, expansion and revenue.

It’s not all about the money.

I’ll be the first one to raise my hand in admission that money is not the only driver for success in business and life. Being healthy, happy and doing important stuff that helps us develop at work needs to trump the income for our personal well-being, but wealth is (whether we like it or not) a leading key indicator as well. So, is it time to quit your job? That’s your call. What I can tell you, as an entrepreneur, is that these five data points provided by Haden in the Inc. Magazine article are in-line with my reasoning for becoming an entrepreneur in the first place. I can best sum up my reasoning with this one line of thought: I wanted complete control and responsibility for my financial outcome in life. Was it easy? No. It’s still hard – each and every day. But, I know that I have more control over my financial fate than when I was an employee and hoping that the next quarter’s result would not have a negative impact on my employment status.

Safe investments. Large companies. Stable jobs. Who knew that those aren’t the key factors for success?


  1. Great post. I feel the same. Being your own boss or owning your own company seems to have become the only way not to get fired. Even the government’s employees loose their jobs in Canada these days. You better be on the side of what the current government favors: companies.

  2. I am stuck in the middle zone of not knowing what direction to go. I currently work for a company but am set to go back for my MBA in September. At the same time I do have a thirst for entrepreneurship and am currently working on a side project. The issue is that if this side project starts building some traction while I am in school, I will most likely have to put school on hold.
    It is definitely a difficult decision to make…hopefully I end up making the right choice ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Dangerously misguided advice Mitch. The article is fine, entrepreneurship and startups are a fulfilling and rewarding route. But the title is misleading.
    Everyone secretly wants to ‘quit their day job’. So the real test for a startup idea is not ‘Are you willing to quit your day job?’ Instead the real question is ‘Are you willing to work your day job 9 to 5 and work nights and weekends on your startup?’

  4. Keith, well put. Happiness & health is the vertue of all success. My heart is filled with gold when I see a smiling face. Money is not the key to life… a love of family is.

  5. So, I was listening to your podcast with Gini and Geoff and one of them mentioned that your agency is about 200 strong now. Congrats.
    You have to wonder how many of your staff are thinking what you are thinking. I guess when you go from entrepreneur to employer the same applies.

  6. There’s a new reality and, for me, this article highlighted it: entrepreneurship offers a new/different kind of lifestyle and it’s one that major corporations will be challenged to compete with. It used to be about job security for the mass population… no more.
    Apologies if you found the title too linkbait-y.

  7. We’re actually over the 100 person mark, to be clear. I’m hopeful that the people on our team and the people that you work with feel an entrepreneurial spirit and that they’re doing the work that they were meant to do. Not everyone will fall into that top 400, and we need people – from all walks of life – to do all sorts of work. I just found this article fascinating from a “job security” standpoint and how much that has changed.

  8. Not everyone will want to become an entrepreneur. You have to have certain type of character that is willing to deal with much greater risk than the risk of being fired from a governmental employee position. You need internal locus of control, tolerance for ambiguity, need for independance, strong self-motivation, etc. It’s a mindset not everyone can or want to embrace.
    I strongly doubt TwistImage will loose all of its employees because of this post, but it may trigger ideas for some others. If that is what it takes for them to achieve higher level of happiness, I say go for it.
    Also, I think that SMEs can mitigate the risk of loosing all (or some of…) their employees by being proactive and recognizing this entrepreneurial fact. Intrapreneurship is a good way to deal with that.

  9. Thanks Mitch. So good I wrote about your post today on my site. Daniel Pink wrote about this 10 years ago in Free Agent Nation and it’s more evident now than then. And this poor economy has become an incubator of sorts for entrepreneurship, hatching more one-man shops than ever before. Not necessarily the shops that create lots of jobs, but the sort that bring freedom and control to the owner like you wrote about.

  10. Liked this article when I saw it and love your commentary on it, Mitch.
    As long as you can pay your bills it’s really not about the money. It’s about fulfilling work that allows you to be who you are and share your POV and talents with the world.
    The future of careers is small and entrepreneurial – and I would add “online”, too.
    Thanks for this one.

  11. It’s helpful to redefine “rich” in terms of freedom to work as we see fit and on the projects we enjoy most. Money is rarely the best reward. The work is the reward.
    An interesting piece covering this topic from You Are Not So Smart: http://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/12/14/the-overjustification-effect/
    TL;DR: Intrinsic motivations (mastery, autonomy, purpose) keep up our drive. These rewards are centered on the process of the work. Extrinsic motivations (money, status) teach us that the work is a means to an end, not the end itself.
    Extreme financial wealth involves a lot of luck. Reports like the one cited here, by their nature, don’t focus on the people who followed this same formula, took the same level of risks, and failed miserably (in the financial sense).
    Financial stability couldn’t have been the core reason you became an entrepreneur, Mitch. My guess: you knew you wouldn’t enjoy the work, the life, to the same extent if you weren’t calling the shots and leading the innovation. You’ve flourished personally. The financial bit, that’s good too, but I suspect your true motivations were intrinsic. Otherwise you wouldn’t likely have come this far.

  12. I don’t think it’s linkbate-y or misguided.
    I give the readers a little more credit…If they went out and quit their job because of this article they’d probably be on their way to being fired for not thinking for themselves.
    There are a lot of unknown, intelligent and creative business people who just haven’t got over the fear of leaving their job.
    The world might be a better place if we had more entrepreneurs than employees.
    Thanks Mitch.

  13. I’m thinking there’s probably as many reason’s to start your own business as there are people starting them. There are probably just as many reasons not to start a business by those who forego the challenge and choose to work in another’s business, be that public, private, or some funky indie start-up. A conscious decision as long as it meets your personal and professional needs can be realized through a variety of work venues.
    Natural talent and affinities to certain skill-sets present their own challenges and perhaps those offerings are only available through specific venues. In the end, it’s probably a milieu of factors, and let’s not forget luck! It’s like the 60’s all over again: Just do your own thing, man! In the end, there are probably as many disruptive thinkers hacking work and busting the halls of corporations as there are those venturing out on their own. Do your own thing without regard to venue. The venue, has a funny way of finding you.

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