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Income: Starting Up vs. A Salary

Some more thoughts from Paul Graham. I have been reading quite a few of his essays recently and his start-up advice is really spot on. On a slightly more philosophical level this really struck me as an interesting way of thinking about something that drives all of our working lives: the requirement to earn our living.

Why do we work?

For some lucky people work is their calling and something they would probably be doing if they weren’t being paid at all. Lots of other people do work that they’re really passionate about. Ultimately however, the requirement to earn cash to survive and support yourself and your family underpins why a lot of people do what they do.

The thoughts below essentially say: life is extremely short and many people work mainly to support themselves and their families. Starting your own business (and hopefully being rewarded with the profits) is potentially a more efficient way of compressing the ‘tedious’ requirement to earn cash through your life.

Now this is not as clear cut as saying ‘start a business and earn more than you would via a yearly salary over 40 years’. Of course it’s not. And lots of businesses fail. However, it is an interesting way of assessing risk and the amount of time you invest in pursuit of money.

‘I couldn’t possibly start my own business, it’s too risky’

Some people would say risky is staying in a job that’s not right for you. The past few years have shown that corporate job security is an illusion.

A more challenging question is this: are you willing to work the middle 40 years of your life on something you’re not passionate about in order to support yourself? Or would you prefer to try and compact that into a shorter space of time, potentially earn more, and (if you don’t love your job) have a lot more fun doing it?!

As I said, it’s not an either or question. But it’s an interesting way to think about things…

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“Speed, not Money” – by Paul Graham

“The way I’ve described it, starting a startup sounds pretty stressful. It is. When I talk to the founders of the companies we’ve funded, they all say the same thing: I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t realize it would be this hard.

So why do it? It would be worth enduring a lot of pain and stress to do something grand or heroic, but just to make money? Is making money really that important?

No, not really. It seems ridiculous to me when people take business too seriously. I regard making money as a boring errand to be got out of the way as soon as possible. There is nothing grand or heroic about starting a startup per se.

So why do I spend so much time thinking about startups? I’ll tell you why. Economically, a startup is best seen not as a way to get rich, but as a way to work faster. You have to make a living, and a startup is a way to get that done quickly, instead of letting it drag on through your whole life.

We take it for granted most of the time, but human life is fairly miraculous. It is also palpably short. You’re given this marvellous thing, and then poof, it’s taken away. You can see why people invent gods to explain it. But even to people who don’t believe in gods, life commands respect. There are times in most of our lives when the days go by in a blur, and almost everyone has a sense, when this happens, of wasting something precious. As Ben Franklin said, if you love life, don’t waste time, because time is what life is made of.

So no, there’s nothing particularly grand about making money. That’s not what makes startups worth the trouble. What’s important about startups is the speed. By compressing the dull but necessary task of making a living into the smallest possible time, you show respect for life, and there is something grand about that.”

http://www.paulgraham.com/startuplessons.html