As Billie Eilish sings in “Growing Older,” “Things I once enjoyed, just keep me employed” — speaking to the sometimes reality of those who are young and self-employed. Although Gen Z tends to romanticize the “be your own boss” mentality, even turning it into an aspirational trend on popular social media platforms like TikTok, the internet fails to acknowledge the not-so-glamorous parts of working for yourself, such as increased burnout and lack of accountability.
Gen Z is the generation of side hustlers, small business owners, and risk-takers. During the Great Resignation since the pandemic began, over a third of the American labor force has worked freelance in some capacity, according to Marketplace. Gen Z is graduating college into the middle of this shift, and they’ve even changed what the typical workday looks like. What once was a wake-up, go to the office, and come back home lifestyle, has now morphed into a wake-up, open your computer, and navigate-the-day-how-you-like lifestyle.
Now more than ever, Gen Z is focusing on turning dreams into reality. They’re looking for jobs that tailor to their interests and passions, rather than what will make the most money. The outcome? Content creation as a livelihood and a surge in small business owners. Influencers have normalized the idea of pursuing creative aspirations as an effective livelihood and small business owners now have platforms to make their mark, such as Shopify and Squarespace. Those who are their own boss deserve credit where it’s due, because it takes hard work — however, self-employment as the model for success has become so normalized that passions and jobs are now considered interchangeable.
When you’re your own boss, you are in full control of your life, but how much freedom is too much?
The digital age has increased WFH jobs and e-commerce, increasing anyone’s ability to make a platform of their own on social media. The COVID-19 pandemic laid the foundation for a shift towards remote work and ditching the traditional 9-to-5 workday. Gen Z has gotten comfortable with work, school, and life being virtual. The pandemic has been a trial period for what remote life could look like, and it’s safe to say the workforce has eaten it up. In a 2020 Microsoft study, 71% of 2,285 employees and managers who are currently working remotely reported a desire to continue working from home post-pandemic.
This new love for working from home has translated to a new love for “being your own boss.” A Pew Research study found that in 2021, the number of self-employed workers rose to 14.9 million, the highest it has been since 14.8 million in 2019.
When you’re your own boss, you are in full control of your life, which can make it hard to navigate priorities. The internet hypes up this freedom, with TikTok videos by full-time entrepreneurs highlighting their extra vacation time, but how much freedom is too much? When work and life become synonymous, it becomes challenging to establish a clear boundary between set aside time for yourself and time just for your job. You are on-call at all times. According to Forbes, self-employed workers may end up working longer hours because of their increased responsibility, which can then affect vacations and weekends and make it difficult to unwind or disconnect.
Self-employment as the model for success has become so normalized that passions and jobs are now considered interchangeable.
This increased responsibility of managing your life is part of holding yourself accountable. Jenna Palek, the self-employed host of the Fun On Weekdays podcast, a podcast dedicated to pursuing passions and maximizing freetime on weekdays, tells Her Campus, “If you are slacking, no one is there to tell you to get your act together. If you have a timeline, no one is there to remind you. It takes a lot of self-discipline to be your own boss and I truly never understood until I became my own.”
You take on this responsibility for yourself, but also the employees that you manage. “You have to really understand and recognize your strengths and weaknesses as a business owner, and build out your team around that,” Emily Miethner, the self-employed founder of FindSpark and Travel Cat, tells Her Campus. Navigating this newfound responsibility of managing both yourself and others while also dealing with your own personal needs outside of work can become overwhelming.
Because you’re juggling all of these duties, you might have trouble switching off “work mode.” Burnout is very much a reality for those who are their own boss, especially because of this mental inability to shut down work. In a 2022 Capital One study, 42% of small business owners report “currently experiencing burnout” or having experienced it recently. If you’re dealing with a decrease in motivation, the emails flooding your inbox might seem to be never-ending, and you can find yourself drowning in the tasks you’ve assigned yourself.
When you turn your passion into a livelihood, work becomes intimate. Projects are directly related to you and hold weight. The reality is, you are a lot easier on other people than you are on yourself. When it comes to the work you put out, you are your toughest critic. “To know that your success and future is entirely dependent on yourself doesn’t allow you to make excuses,” Palek says. “For this reason, I also find myself being very hard on myself, doubting myself, and feeling a sense of imposter syndrome. I have this paranoia that any day I could wake up and this could all be gone.”
For those who are self-employed through the internet, their passion is monetized. On an even deeper level, you as an individual are monetized. Even successful influencers still have to reckon with this: Emma Chamberlain explains in her Anything Goes podcast episode titled “The Truth About Being Self-Employed” that being an influencer is toxic because you essentially are the “product.” Internet algorithms are also constantly changing, and you have to be able to adapt to ever-evolving trends. Additionally, the fluctuating income may cause challenges when mapping out your employment.
Although working 9-to-5 is being largely ditched by Gen Z, it is still the everyday reality for many people and comes with many benefits. A 9-to-5 has work-life boundaries already in place. Tasks that are assigned by a boss outside of yourself allow you to follow those orders and make a consistent routine for yourself, instead of the potential chaos that crafting your own schedule without outside input can create.
Passions don’t have to be linear, and if you lose motivation, whether you’re self-employed or not, that is normal.
While there are downsides to “being your own boss,” you also have the power to change them. If you find yourself putting your work before your personal health, take a step back and assess the situation. You can take a break, you can change timelines, and you can put yourself first. That is the beauty in the freedom of being self-employed.
The romanticization of being self-employed doesn’t showcase the downfalls that might come with “being your own boss.” It is not always going to be this glamorous, perfect lifestyle that lets you do whatever you want without having to put hard work in. However, no matter what your job is, it is never going to be perfect. Passions don’t have to be linear, and if you lose motivation, whether you’re self-employed or not, that is normal. Whether you choose to work a 9-to-5 or be your own boss, always remember to put yourself first. Your mental health will thank you for it.