The Way We Work

Editor’s Note: This post was written by oDesk client Austin Church, founder of Bright Newt and co-founder of 

I have no plans for retirement.

I don’t say that because I’m 31 years old and hopefully have many working years ahead of me, but because I don’t envision a life without work. Even in my silver years, I want to use my heart, mind, creativity, ingenuity, and body to make an impact for good in my community and the world at large.

But before we can move on to the real subject of this post, let me call out an elephant in the break room: most people don’t enjoy their work.

That is not the same as saying that they don’t enjoy working. They do.

They very much want to make a significant contribution to a product, project, or process that will stand the test of time. They want to see and celebrate the fruits of their labors. But their 9-to-5 job descriptions deny them that pleasure.

What exactly is retirement?

I was born in 1982 and turned 18 in 2000. My fellow ’82’ers and I are quintessential Millennials.

We inherited a world where the primacy of profitability usually went unchallenged. Believing in the marketability of college degrees, we put in our time with the education system. We submitted to the established pecking order and gratefully accepted entry-level positions.

We worked for the weekends and for a mirage called “Retirement.”

Retirement represented the end of clocking into jobs we disliked, or worse, ones that bored us. Retirement offered the freedom to spend our time however we liked. Retirement represented the welcome reappearance of choice.

Here’s how joining the workforce was supposed to look: we would faithfully work a job (or jobs) and in return, would reap financial security. We’d sock away money for a nest egg, and eventually, get to say sayonara. We’d stop setting alarms. We’d play more golf, maybe move to Florida.

What exactly is the problem?

The problem is, you can do everything right in a traditional 9-to-5 gig and still find yourself jobless. I know. It happened to me back in 2009. My boss shed tears and told me that I was “indispensable” right before laying me off.

Four and a half years of self-employment have taught me that there’s more financial security in creating my own livelihood than in relying on someone else to pay my salary.

Being a linchpin for that company didn’t prevent me from getting a pink slip. That was the day I stopped believing the promises of the Old Professionalism. Rather than go hunting for a job similar to the one I’d had—a type of job that was quickly disappearing—I started my own business.

Four and a half years of self-employment have taught me that there’s more financial security in creating my own livelihood than in relying on someone else to pay my salary.

I’ve been able to grow my net income year over year by at least 24%. Running a business forced me to develop certain habits, and those habits now provide more long-term stability for my family than busying myself making someone else rich.

Defining the “New Professionalism”

Those habits—which, ironically enough, aren’t new at all but rather old-fashioned—are the New Professionalism. They are the real subject of this post.

A salary can’t keep you safe from a volatile economy and uncertain future. Neither does serial entrepreneurship. From life season to life season, New Professionals will sometimes have more money and sometimes less.

But these habits, these practices, will help you create the kind of life that has no room for retirement.

You’ll never want to retire because you’ll be having too much fun working.

Gratitude & Humility

Humility and gratitude go hand in hand. They’re the peanut butter and jelly in your success sandwich.

Recognizing that you need help—and graciously accepting it when it comes—takes humility. Admitting that you didn’t (and couldn’t) do it alone takes humility. Saying thank you takes humility.

Humility and gratitude go hand in hand. They’re the peanut butter and jelly in your success sandwich. Pride and ego repel people. But gratitude and humility attract the right people—people who will be happy to contribute to your professional and financial well-being.

Do it: Write a thank you note to three people who have invested in your life.


Be the most helpful person anyone in your circle has ever met. Be a giver. Buy people lunch. Cover their coffee. Show up to help someone move. Give away all your trade secrets. (99% of people will do nothing with them anyway.)

The more you give, the more you will receive.

Can you think of a miser whom you admire? Does anyone hear the name Scrooge and think, “Bob Cratchit ain’t got nothin’ on Old Ebenezer!” Charles Dickens taught us something about human interactions: he who gives away the most away becomes the hero of the story.

We often fear to give because we’re afraid there won’t be enough left over for us.

Yet I can’t remember a time when I suffered for being generous. I doubt you can either. Give away what you want, and it will come back to you in delicious multiples. Turn helpfulness into a daily rhythm.

Do it: Who can you help today? Who needs an encouraging email? Which two people need an introduction? Identify a need and meet it.


Of course you’re afraid. I’m afraid too.

I don’t want to go bankrupt, lose my friends’ respect, or embarrass myself in the business realm. I don’t want to risk failure or fire bad clients who pay well or take the road less traveled (when bandits might be hiding around the corner). I don’t want to, and you can’t make me.

Nobody said business was easy. And nobody said life was safe. In fact, human existence is dangerous business, and the biggest gamble of all is squandering your precious time on work, relationships, causes, and mindsets you hate.

Don’t waste your precious life.

(Now I’m getting preachy.)

Do it: Write down a handful of your fears. Pick one that seems to jump out on the page. Now look up the phone number and schedule those tango lessons. And quit your 9-to-5.

Realistic Optimism 

I used to think that risk tolerance was what made certain people successful. Going into and staying in business requires all kinds of unknowns, so the ability to stomach the uncertainty must be what sets certain people apart, right?

Now I’m not so sure. I think the secret isn’t ignoring what could go wrong, but being honest about what could go right. I’ve started to ask, “Why not me?!” (rather than “Why me?”).

Most of the bad things that can happen never do. Many good things that I never foresaw do end up happening. Opening myself to the good things that can happen is thus more realistic than battening the hatches against all the bad things that probably won’t.

Do it: Before you go into the meeting, make that call, or walk up to the attractive stranger, ask yourself, “Why not me?”


If you go into business for yourself, you have to be scrappy. You need pluck. You gotta be Cool Hand Luke.

You don’t have the money to fly across the country to go to that conference? Sell some stuff on Craigslist. You can’t start your photography business until you have a better camera? Borrow money. Or auction off your right pinkie toe on eBay. Make some sacrifices for goodness sake.

You’ll never have any shortage of excuses if you go looking for them. Go looking for doors to kick in instead.

At Southland Summit 2013 in Nashville, I heard Gary Swart, the CEO of oDesk, say that making your startup successful requires a good idea, a big market, and the money to execute. If you’ve got the first two but lack the third, then how tenacious are you willing to be in scraping together the funds?

You’ll never have any shortage of excuses if you go looking for them. Go looking for doors to kick in instead. If two bicycle mechanics can build and fly a plane, then you can build and fly your early retirement—whatever that may look like.

Do it: Cling to the belief that plenty of money and resources await people who practice gratitude, generosity, courage, and realistic optimism. Make a list of the things you need to fly your dream. Start with #1.

I have no plans for retirement. I hope you’ll cancel yours.

Want more words of wisdom from Austin? Check out his chapter in the oDesk eBook: “Make It Work: Smart Advice from Real-Life oDesk Clients Who Found Success Using Online Work.