One of Aesop’s Fables involves a dog and a wolf. Here is the story:
A gaunt Wolf was almost dead with hunger when he happened to meet a House-dog who was passing by. “Ah, Cousin,” said the Dog. “I knew how it would be; your irregular life will soon be the ruin of you. Why do you not work steadily as I do, and get your food regularly given to you?”
“I would have no objection,” said the Wolf, “if I could only get a place.”
“I will easily arrange that for you,” said the Dog; “come with me to my master and you shall share my work.”
So the Wolf and the Dog went towards the town together. On the way there the Wolf noticed that the hair on a certain part of the Dog’s neck was very much worn away, so he asked him how that had come about.
“Oh, it is nothing,” said the Dog. “That is only the place where the collar is put on at night to keep me chained up; it chafes a bit, but one soon gets used to it.”
“Is that all?” said the Wolf. “Then good-bye to you, Master Dog.”
Better starve free than be a fat slave.
The story always has relevance. We live in a world of wolves and dogs. There are those that choose the irregular life. It is a life of uncertainty, meritocracy, luck and entrepreneurship. There are no handouts. There is only the constitution of hard work and creativity.
The life of the dog often gets camouflaged. At the end of the day, it’s an agreement. It is a trade for labor and free will in exchange for compliance.
The two mindsets are completely different. Wolves and dogs look at life through different lenses. The former values freedom as the highest ideal. The latter values security as the highest ideal. People vote with their feet. Don’t listen to their words. Just see where they plant their feet and you can discern their core value.
Build Something For Yourself
Here’s the problem with being a dog. Everything you build is for someone else. The leash – money, recognition, amenities and job security – tugs to keep you closely aligned with this fact.
It’s not a bad thing to build for someone else. If everyone was for themselves, we could not build anything of scale. The truth is that many people are suited to be the dog. They would rather play to help someone else win.
However, if you are one who has some yearning of the wolf or does little things to delude yourself such as thinking you are a wolf when your paycheck shows your dog collar tags, the first thing to do is stop lying to yourself. You have made a business deal. You give your time, talent and passion for building something for someone else. It’s not bad. It just needs to be clear in your head. This is the deal.
Think about the dog’s nonchalant response in the story about his collar. He has accepted this reality. He doesn’t see any issue with it. The conditioning has numbed his perception. So goes the story of many dogs.
The wolf in you has to recognize reality first. Today, more than ever, work is either channeled to build something for someone else or for yourself. If you create software, did the revenue come through you or get distributed to you? If you write, are you building your own brand or someone else’s?
It’s easier now to live the irregular life. It’s hard to loose yourself from the collars you are accustomed to. It takes recognition of the reality and quick action to go in the direction of your freedom. Note the wolf’s speed and decisiveness. The trade-off is not worth it.
Here’s what makes the journey of the irregular life worth it: having something of lasting value. Is your name on it? Will people be using or consuming your work and recognize it as yours even five years from now?
Or did you get your reward? You got paid. It’s spent and you are looking for the next paycheck. So goes the cycle year to year with nothing to show for your work as yours.
I should be able to Google you and find something that is yours indefinitely of value. That tells me you have chosen the less traveled path. Building something means being irregular.