Call me anything but boss

William reading the comics

William reading the comics, 1998

When my former husband and I moved to southern Indiana in 1988, we became friends with a carpenter named Joe who possessed an endearing confidence that everything he thought and said was right. He and his wife were literal about the biblical injunction to go forth and multiply. By the time we met, they were well on their way to having a chief for each of their own twelve tribes. My husband and I, on the other hand, had decided not to reproduce, convinced that our species was already consuming such a disproportionate percentage of the earth’s resources that we had a moral duty not to make things worse.

One day Joe brought up the subject of our not having kids. “People who don’t have children are just selfish,” he began. “Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you two are bad people. But you think only of yourselves: your work, what you’re going to cook for dinner, where you’d like to go on vacation. Now, none of this stuff is unimportant! But when you have children, you’re forced to think about others. Instead of keeping everything for yourself, you’re forced to share. It makes you a better person.”

Those of us who have a business but no employees occasionally find ourselves faced with a similar kind of judgment. Some people see the mere fact of having a business as evidence that you’re privy to a certain largesse that should be shared. If you don’t have employees, well, shame on you for keeping all that wealth for yourself. You ought to be a job creator, give something back.

You can find out where this opening leads in “Don’t Call Me Boss,” one of the stories in Making Things Work

About nrhiller

cabinetmaker and author
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7 Responses to Call me anything but boss

  1. jonfiant says:

    That’s because we sole proprietors usually cannot afford an employee that’s worth their salt, because we work very hard at being competitive, which means we can’t charge our customers whatever we want. Yes Nancy, I’m going to get your book and probably find myself saying a hearty “Amen” after every paragraph. Thanks for posting, I love what you have to say, and the way you say it!
    All the best,

  2. mnrwoods says:

    Not that many generations ago, large families were the rule rather than the exception, especially in rural America. It is true that raising children requires a lot of self sacrifice on the part of parents, although I think most would say that the sacrifices are worth it.

    Each of us takes his own course in life. Whether we hire employees or not, whether we raise children or not, we ought to keep our mouths shut about another’s choices unless we are asked for our opinion, obviously harmful choices being an exception.

    Neither woodworkers nor parents of many children usually have great wealth. Perhaps both groups are making many self sacrifices?


  3. npirollo says:

    As a sole proprietor of my small business ( really small) I can’t even afford to keep myself employed. This is almost the truth. People ask if I earn money in the business, my stock answer is that if I shut it down I would actually make money. On the subject of having children, my wife and I could not have any due to a medical condition. Nonetheless, although no one has claimed we are selfish without knowing about the condition, I feel sometimes we are viewed in this light. If they would only ask…

  4. SSteve says:

    My wife and I didn’t have children. (We tried for a while but nothing came of it.) I’ve been lucky to not get close enough to that type of person to get the “selfish” lecture but I have childless friends who’ve heard it.

    We do have employees, though, at our vet clinic. My wife is the vet. I have an outside full-time job as a software developer in order to help support the vet clinic. A number of our employees tend to be younger people still getting started in life. Besides being a great vet (and counselor, which comes with the job), my wife is tremendous at inspiring her employees and encouraging them to pursue their life goal whether or not it’s in the veterinary field. A couple years ago, a woman who started working for us when she was 19 left to go to human radiology school. A few months ago, a young man left so he and his fiancée could become full-time farmers. At their sending-off parties, they both tearfully thanked my wife for helping them become the people they were.

    So, do we like the financial burden and responsibility of being employers? Heck no! But sometimes it has its rewards.

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