You weren't meant to have a boss by Paul Graham

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One of the things I am really enjoying about Twitter is quick access to really great stuff around the web.  Via following Hugh McLeod of Gaping Void, I found this gem by Paul Graham.  It is called You weren’t meant to have a boss and is thought-provoking, especially for programmers.

It is also perfect fodder for the first chapter of my book:  I have a fancy title, steady paycheck and good benefits.  Why am I so miserable?

12 Responses to “You weren't meant to have a boss by Paul Graham”

  1. Jim – I believe that “don’t want a boss telling you what to do” is shorthand for something else that IS a decent reason for going into business for yourself.

    In hierarchical organizations, there is an unspoken culture of social inequality. Reporting structures, pay scales, and customs all reflect this. Legitimate authority of office, i.e., the entitlement of the CEO to make decisions is accomplished in part by installing him as “the superior.”

    Many would be (or even reluctant) entrepreneurs are motivated by a strong clash with this value system. Even a screaming, abusive customer that I “need” for the time being to meet my financial goals is not a “superior” before whom I must “assume the position.”

    Ideally, a spouse is an EQUAL, a customer is an EQUAL, a supplier is an EQUAL — all connected by contracts that include a “meeting of the minds.” (In fact, a contract with no meeting of the minds can sometimes be voided.) Within an organization, the contract is essentially an agreement to henceforth be an inferior (subordinate.)

  2. Great article, altough I think Jay is right too.

  3. Having sucessfully started (and sold) many businesses across a number of countries, I can honestly say that goin into business because you “don’t want a boss telling you what to do” is probably the dumbest reason to go into business for yourself.

    If you don’t want anybody telling you what to do:

    1. Don’t get married

    2. Don’t sign up for a loan

    3. Don’t take on a contract

    4. Don’t have any customers

    … get it?

    5. Do start a business because it is still the greatest opportunity to make money that you will ever see!

  4. Jay says:

    Great article. His tree metaphor works for the large, research university I work for (40000+ employees), which is why I started my own company two years and am moving away from the big company. (all in due time!)

    Instead of miserable, I think of stifled and other action verbs like thwarted, minimized, etc., though miserable does work as a nice counterpoint to the notion that the paycheck and health care are supposed to make us not miserable.

    After reading Paul’s article I thought of your line and then thought, “I have a fancy title, steady paycheck and good benefits. Why is my brain turning to mush?”

  5. Andy says:

    I loved this article when I came across it. The comment about unskilled people causing bloat in your group because you need more of them to do a job rings especially true with me. And beurocracy … ugg, I just reviewed a project plan for a painfully simple enhancement to an existing system. The technical team needs 24 days to code the solution and 8 months to work through the rest of their beurocracy. I remember when I used to work for a start-up and we teased the hell out of a guy for taking 6 months to write a boot-loader (a project which is about a million times more involved than the 9 month project I reviewed today). I can’t wait to get back to the start-up environment.

  6. Nate says:

    Great article that seems to be right on point.

    I work for a relatively large organization and I can relate to what this article speaks to.

    Within a corporation there are many “groups” and a lot of times these groups work independently of each other to achieve their common goal, which may not be in line with the goals of other groups. Processes are created so that groups can work together, but this just creates frustration because it strips away freedom from groups and individuals. For example, I have to go through certain processes and actions in order to get something done, but this doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with it or like doing it. It’s just how the company operates. Some people are fine with this because it is how all companies operate, but I find it quite depressing.

  7. Marlon says:

    This blog got my attention as I’m a freelance programmer now. For years working as an employee for several companies I always wanted to freelance but didnt know how.

    I was single and free of any obligations, so I bought books on it and got started, and now I’m learning the very important side of running a software company, communication. Which for some technically-oriented / geeky people like me are deficient in. But I’m doing well now and enjoy it very much! It’s a pleasure. Thanks so much for your podcast it helped a lot.

    I’m contactable at techweb at for web development anybody requires.

    Take care and have a great Easter holidays.


  8. I read Paul Graham’s article yesterday and my first thought was: “Did he get his inspiration from Pamela Slim’s ‘How to go from Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur’?”

    Have a great Easter weekend!


  9. I always love your honesty, Pam –rushing to get the post up because the rest of your life calls … I’m a 56yr old female and can remember when the last thing I’d say to anyone was, “Oops – sorry I made a mistake. I was rushing because the kids were waiting!”

    That said, here’s a suggestin on the word “miserable”. What about asking, “What do I need to be more happy?” Not as pithy -but it puts the onus where it belongs. And seems to align with your beliefs about how people change.

    Rosalind aka

  10. Chris says:

    “Why aren’t I happy?”

    “Aren’t I???” …nails on chalkboard…

    I don’t think I’d include *that* particular grammar bomb in the first chapter of your book. 🙂

    You are so right — I actually wrote it incorrectly, as I was dashing off a blog post before going to a fair with my family. The correct grammar *and* title of the chapter (which I am now reading from my book proposal to make sure I get it right) is “I have a fancy title, steady paycheck and good benefits. Why am I so miserable?”

    Sorry for the “duh” moment — now corrected in the post.


  11. Dean Fuhrman says:

    This might be a large part of the answer to your question “why aren’t I happy?” And the critical part is to be able to do something rather than to learn behavior that is not conducive to happiness.

    “An obstacle downstream propagates upstream. If you’re not allowed to implement new ideas, you stop having them. And vice versa: when you can do whatever you want, you have more ideas about what to do. So working for yourself makes your brain more powerful in the same way a low-restriction exhaust system makes an engine more powerful.”

  12. Dale says:

    Enjoyed the article! I work at a very large company, and I can really relate to what it’s talking about.

    A company I interviewed for out of school, W.L. Gore, has the “sponge” structure that the article talks about.