Working for free. Why I’ve never been richer!

August 13, 2011 § 4 Comments

Inspired with a blog post of a friend about why to enjoy working for free I realized that even though I’ve  been “working” months for free: No salary, no compensations, no vacation payments (this one is easy if you consider I haven’t had vacations :), nothing! Nothing, cero, nada. Actually, I’ve been paying a lot for what I am doing right now.

Wondering why I consider myself richer?

1. Getting back to earth

My recent MBA year was without doubt the best year of my life. But fact is, we were treated as the next elite, the managers of tomorrow’s world, etc. Cut the crap, we were nothing. At least nothing yet. Most of the people I met had in fact the potential to become something big and I am sure they will. But been surrounded by amazing people make you think you deserve the world by default. I was wrong. You have to understand what you are and where you come from without all this glamour around, to really understand where you can actually get. Becoming a great manager is not owning the world nor means owning your destiny. Getting back to earth and starting from cero has been an eye opener.

2. Learning the basics

People I met during my MBA where really close to be marketing experts, financial gurus and consultant masters. We were all almost experts with net present value calculations, balance sheet readings and defining blue ocean strategies. But what about the basics? In the last weeks at my company I had to build up a stand, hang out flyers and gather potential customers emails at the SlowFood Fair. I´ve been a waiter for our TastyEvent and as a box packer for our TastyBox. I am now a learning graphic and web designer, creative artist, salesperson, film producer, photographer, accountant, just to mention some of them. Definitively none of the skills or areas learned at a top MBA program.

I am learning to do things from scratch now, which in my view is the only way to really understand your business and be able to lead and manage your future employees to do the job. The famous “I’ve been there” you get from your father applies also for the job you are supposed to lead. And this is the main flaw I saw in big corporations: Many managers trying to join the dots from A to B to C, without knowing, understanding nor wanting to know and understand what A, B or C really was. Everyone was somehow a manager and everybody just wanted to play politics.

3. Valuing relationships

Joining a paid job includes introduction, sometimes weeks or months of training and forced networking. So, even if you would like to, your will never be alone. Doing your own stuff in the other hand, is only you and your co-founders against the world and is up to you to decide which relationships to develop. This is not simply networking, but selling your idea, inspiring others to believe in you and in your project and making them help you…for free if possible, cause there is of course no money in the beginning.

Every relationship you gain is a milestone closer to success. It could be a business angel that believes in you after 5 minutes talking with you, a blogger that wants to write for you and is proactively promoting your idea and vision,  a photographer inspired taking pictures of your products without any downtime payment, or a food expert helping you to get the best food producers available. So, you really learn the value of a relationship, a business friend, a happy customer and the importance of every stockholder in the process.

4. Keeping focus

So, if launching a business is already almost a mission impossible, building up a family with a kid and baby on its way, can be quite challenging. Sometimes it’s so hard you even undermine you are in a foreign country with a foreign language and culture and a really shitty weather. You can only think what you have to do next. Because when resources are limited (or inexistence), when uncertainty (bankruptcy) is around the corner and when your business development and success depends directly from your everyday decisions and actions, you start to understand the importance of focusing. And this skill is the one I needed the most! I am still miles away from really focusing and getting things done as I wish, but I am getting everyday better.

So, if this 4 main lessons don’t make you richer, I don’t know what else can. Yes, money-wise I havent seen a dime yet, but working for free…I mean…paying to work is the best thing I have ever done. Whatever the outcome is, success or failure, I am already a richer man as I was before.

There is this mexican saying (maybe in other parts of the world also available) that “working is such a shitty thing to do, that you have to get paid for it”. So, working for free means that whatever you are doing is not that shitty.

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