Over the past 40 years of a reasonably successful span in the world of work, I’ve held hundreds of jobs; but only six of them have been salaried or, perhaps more accurately, indentured. Throughout, I demanded my freedom.
The first found me as a “copy-boy” for The Canadian Press, working the weekend graveyard shift amid hard-smoking deskers who knew more about the affairs of mid-1970s porn stars than they did about their own jobs, let alone the terror of the 15-year-old boy they sent to the local pool hall for 2 am supplies of instant coffee.
The second saw me as a Pepsi-sponsored “junior sports reporter” for a Dartmouth AM radio station, where the best salary among on-air talent was $14,000 a year, and the best digs anyone there could afford was a bachelor-basement apartment, replete with hot plate, on the Halifax side of the harbour.
The third elevated me to “box-boy” for a major women’s apparel retailer at the Halifax Shopping Centre, where for $3.55 an hour I unpacked garments, organized hangers, swept floors, vacuumed carpets, and otherwise ducked the grandmotherly purpose of the elderly ladies who peddled the merchandise I placed in their parchment-white hands to pinch my cheeks whenever they were on break.
The fourth brought me to Toronto, where I laboured (mostly happily) to become the best “trencher” (i.e., novice reporter) the Globe and Mail had ever seen. As it happened, that didn’t.
Still, I managed to keep the job, despite the fact that I knew virtually nothing about the businesses and politicians I was assigned to cover. As my boss said at the time: “Bruce, justice demands that all of us have our buckets of shit to carry every once in a while. Just make sure you’re not one of mine.”
My fifth is hardly worth mentioning, if a nest of vipers is hardly worth remembering.
My sixth was for this newspaper as a writer and editor (for about ten minutes) in the first decade of the current century. Unlike my earlier experiences in the salary mills of this industry, it was an almost uniformly enjoyable experience. Lots of license. Plenty of authority. A multitude of talented writers from which to draw. And a not-bad salary to boot.
So why, after three months, was I itching to get out from under that efficacious boulder?
The only answer I’ve been able to credit with any degree of verisimilitude is that I had been ruined by the 90 per cent of my working life spent in various degrees of productive entrepreneurship.
To be clear, this has not meant that I have invented anything, or improved a manufacturing process in any way, or even inspired another to follow in my footsteps. It has just meant that, on balance, I have been happier working for myself than anyone else.
Why this is, is anyone in my own family’s guess. Some there say I am an unreconstructed narcissist. Some believe that I am a lazy ox, unwilling to hold down a “real job” and pull the plough till death do us part. Others simply don’t care. Oddly enough, neither do I.
The essence of entrepreneurship is freedom. Freedom to succeed. Freedom to fail. Freedom to begin again, over and over, just as you did when you were ten years old, and the world was a boat you floated in an icy May bay on the south shore of Nova Scotia, as you looked for a good wind to take you to the far shore – somewhere you had seen, coveted and had never visited, until, of course, you did.
Make no mistake, the darkness is coming. The good jobs have all gone. The salaried positions are winnowing. We, in this place, in this fine and decent plain on the planet, must rebuild the entrepreneurial culture that made this country possible.
We are the true heroes of our futures in this roundly, friendly, lovely, exquisitely elegant community that is New Brunswick.
Let us all be entrepreneurs. Let us all scratch that itch to be free.