In the classic book The 80/20 Principle, author Richard Koch lays out his 10 Golden Rules of Success, applicable to both business and to life in general. I have my own particular take on them, which is a little different than Koch’s, and are more specific to the creative lifestyle.
This is one that I have some issues with. If you aspire to be a teacher, a nurse, a firefighter, a law enforcement officer, you’re never going to be self-employed. What I will say is this: learn as much as you can, as quickly as you can. Gain as much practical experience as you can pack in early in your life to make yourself the most valuable employee that you can be. Then, whether you choose to be self-employed or not, you will be in a better position to set the terms of your employment. You will have a wider selection of employers to choose from. If you look at what many people who wish to be self-employed are actually after, it’s more control over the terms of their employment and more freedom to do the things they want to do. You can still achieve that working for other people.
The other implication to becoming self-employed is that you know what you want to do with your life early in your career. When I was in high school, everyone knew what they were going to do after graduation. That basically amounted to going to college or trade school for a specific career, or going to work at the same factory your father, your uncles, and your brothers worked at. This is a different world. Even if you know what you want to do, the job you do today might not exist in 10 years. You may have several careers throughout your life. What do you do then?
My recommendation is to have strong foundational skills. Be flexible and be creative. Read. Read a lot. Learn to be personable and get along with people. Don’t be shy about speaking in public. Learn to be good with money. Say please. Say thank you. Have a sincere smile and a firm handshake. These things will serve you well regardless of your career choices.
Understand that even if you’re self-employed, you’re never really self-employed. You are always beholden to customers and clients and the people who pay you money. “Self-employed” is merely a matter of how many filters exist between you and the stakeholders, and you and the decision makers.
But here’s the dirty secret that I consider to be the real golden rule: On some level, you’re always self-employed. You are a company of one, who makes the decisions about your education, your work environment, your clients, and your life. Your employer does not own you. You work there by choice. You have subcontracted your services to them. If you’re not happy, if you change your mind, if the world changes around you, you’re free to leave. You can quit and go find work elsewhere. Your employment situation, ultimately, is in your hands.