Chapter 4: A Futile Chore
Footnote: Barriers: Prior Self-Employed Status
Prior to my current 9+ years of unemployment, I was self employed for 15 years. This means that I have not been in permanent employment for over 24 years. My last employer closed down almost 12 years ago. This does not make me an attractive candidate for re-employment.
Consequently I have no means of obtaining a reference from my previous employer. For practically all job applications this is an insurmountable barrier. The only other option allowed is a reference from one's former college, but this option is for students who are just starting work. Besides, I left college well over 30 years ago. They would have no idea who I was.
Customers of my former business for whom I supplied and installed software knew me mainly as the 'salesman' representing my business. They did not know that it was I who had written the software which I supplied. As far as they were concerned I could have bought-in the software or had a team of programmers writing it. I never tried to dispel this illusion since with them it lent credibility to what I was selling. None of my former customers can therefore supply me with a reference as to my technical competence.
No one customer ever saw enough of me to be expected reasonably to form a view as to my character. I simply installed their systems and thereafter spoke to them once or twice a year by telephone. Neither therefore would they be able to provide me with a character reference which would be acceptable to a prospective employer.
Prospective employers do not accept either technical references or character references from members of one's family. This leaves only individuals who are not related to me who know me sufficiently well. Nevertheless, what such people could provide would at best be accepted only as character references. Employers do not accept technical references from other than corporate sources.
Unemployment reduces one to poverty. Poverty renders one unable to meet the cost of keeping in touch with friends, colleagues and professional peers. Relationships quickly evaporate. Contact is lost. One rapidly becomes socially and economically isolated. Those non-family-members who could possibly provide references quickly disappear.
One necessary quality of my future employer is therefore that he require no references.
In the early part of my career I fitted well into the employee mould. I was obedient. I was hard-working. I was single-minded. I had a single technical job function. I was productive. I was content with what I did. I did not pester. I never complained.
Self-employment changed me. I suddenly had to do everything. I could no longer hide within my narrow comfortable technical role. I now also had to be a manager, a market researcher, a salesman, a negotiator, a buyer, an installer, a maintenance and support technician, an accounts clerk and more. I had to perform every function necessary to running a complete business, including being the boss. This broadened my outlook. It transformed me from the narrow obedient employee into a self-starting, self-motivated, self-disciplined, self-managing, highly independent professional.
The problem with being forced back into corporate employment is that my experience profile is now wrong. It is both too broad and too deep to fit the brief of a permanent job. Having run all aspects of an entire business for 15 years, a permanent job would be too narrow, unfulfilling and, above all, supremely boring. And no matter how well I may try to conceal or gloss over this truism, all employers know it!
Not a Team Player
Forcing me to take on all the roles of a business, self-employment made me become every member of my business 'team'. This was hard work. To lighten the load I used my greatest strength. I gradually delegated each general business role in turn to special software which I wrote myself. I wrote programs to handle market research, contact management, budgeting and accounting, document and word processing, project management, technical information archiving and others many years before such items became available as commercial packages. My management, production and sales teams were thus composed not of people but of computer programs. They evolved from small aids running on a Sharp programmable calculator, then became formative programs running on an Apple II, and then on to quite large packages running on PCs.
One great thing about computer programs is that they do not present you with 'people problems'. On the other hand they do not provide you with the collegiate atmosphere and companionship of a human team. Having no further need of the skills which enable one to function in a human team, the skills of this kind which I had soon faded away. I became essentially a self-sufficient loner. I can therefore in no way now be described as a 'team player' - the very thing deemed essential to modern corporate employment.
A Resentful Attitude
I always found the corporate environment to be what I would describe as political. The people who got on well were those who seemed to be far more interested in being seen to be doing their jobs and taking credit than in actually doing their jobs. The result was that inept and inappropriate people ended up being in charge. It was they who always reaped the rewards of salary, position, perk and privilege. I obeyed these people as I was contractually obliged to do. But however hard I tried, I could never respect them.
And they knew it. I could not hide it. I do not suffer the devious political mind gladly. I resent inappropriate authority. That is the way I am. I cannot change it. To try would be to deny what I am and the principles I stand for. The principles I was taught from early childhood. The principles I have challenged and tested. The principles I have accepted.
During my formative years of corporate employment I naively accepted the omnipresent self-seeking political mentality of the corporate world. But now, 22 years after having left it all behind, my vision of it has crystallised. I now have a clear outsider's view of market prices, profits and pay. I see how genuine hard-working productive employees are exploited and used by politically motivated peers and superiors. The upshot is that, like it or not, my formative experience etched firmly within my mind an unsuppressable resentment towards the whole insidious system of corporate employment.
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©May 1998 Robert John Morton