The Freedom to Be My Own Boss

It’s the Fourth of July—a good day to talk about freedom, hope, and responsibility.

The big news in my life is that my two-year gig at MIT ended a few days ago, on June 30. For the first time since 2007, I don’t have a boss to report to, other than myself.

Those last three words are important. At MIT, I was sort of my own boss, in that I was running the Knight Science Journalism fellowship program, which is part of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and then I was running a giant conference, and then I was working independently on a proposed STS initiative. But throughout that time, I still reported to the program head.

Now I’m my own boss, for real. There’s no one else who can hire, fire, or evaluate me. There’s no one overseeing me, and no one to look after me, except me.

That situation can be both exhilarating and lonely. I’ve freelanced before, for a few months at a time, and I’ve worked with plenty of freelance journalists. So I know that most solo entrepreneurs are haunted by the scary thoughts once in a while. In choosing the freelance life, you’ve stepped outside the structures that keep other people secure, which can leave you feeling completely untethered and unprotected.

But the other night I was out on my balcony, appreciating the view I have of the Charles River and the Boston skyline, when it hit me: I’m not scared this time.

I’m finally ready to be my own boss. I don’t know if it’s age, maturity, experience, having a bit of money saved up, the existence of Obamacare, or what. But I said to myself: "It’s not that you don’t have a boss now. It’s that you’re truly working for yourself. You’ve been a decent boss to other people. You don’t mistreat your employees. You won’t this time."

Being a good boss is a job in itself. You’ve got to make sure your employees are fairly compensated, that they’re shielded from too much administrative crap, that they’re taking enough vacation time, and that they have room to learn and advance in their careers. You have to make sure the business that supports them is sound, that there’s revenue coming in, that the taxes and paperwork are taken care of, and all the other stuff.

Being self-employed doesn’t mean there’s no one to protect you in these ways. It means you have to do it, operating from some separate partition of your brain. Because I’ve done all this for other people, I now know that I can do it for myself. That’s a reassuring feeling.

So, on our nation’s 240th birthday, even as the world’s future is looking more tumultuous—full of crazy elections, terrorist madness, and rising seas—I’m feeling calm and hopeful about my own prospects.

I have nothing against my old bosses. I’ve learned a lot from each of them. But I’m already enjoying working for the new one.

Photo by Mike Halsall, Flickr Creative Commons

Wade Roush

Science and technology journalist