The other week, I wrote briefly about why one specific type of job is not necessarily more important than another. Let me follow through with a related observation and say I really don’t like the over-glorification surrounding startups today, particularly technology startups.
Being part of a small team, working with less bureaucracies, and pursuing a big mission are certainly great things usually associated with the startup scene. But startup work is not the only work that matters.
It manifests itself in many different ways, but startup pride usually sounds like this (and I’ve heard it plenty of times): “I like working at a startup because I just don’t see myself working my butt off just to sell shampoo.” It’s a remark that’s obviously a jab at those working in bigger enterprises, usually a multinational FMCG company.
As someone who works at a tech startup, I know this is nothing but hubris. This belittling of other non-startup work is not just ignorant, it’s also very dangerous.
Here are a few words for two groups of people:
If you work at a startup — good for you! I work in one too. As you might already know, it’s fast-paced but amibiguous, rewarding but stressful, and oftentimes frustrating. But if your set of skills, career goals, and personal mission best align with an environment of this kind, then you know how exciting it is to be part of something that’s small now but has the potential (though not the guarantee) to be big in the future.
But to think that this is the only work that counts is wrong. To think that people who work elsewhere are not as smart, ambitious, persistent, or skilled is worse.
The thing about this wrong thinking is it’s a slow creeper. It can grow in you without you realizing. I know this because I’m susceptible to it too. And it doesn’t help that every news outlet is quick to overglorify startups, jumping on what might be a good story. Remember what everyone thought of Theranos before it all came crashing down?
If you don’t work at a startup — good for you! I know many great and intelligent people who work best in big companies, others in their own small businesses, and others in their own freelance gig. And the world is better for it.
It is not an easy thing to navigate oneself in a fast changing world, to stay skilled and relevant in a very competitive environment, all to provide everyday people with good and often taken for granted products and services—like shampoo, a good delivery service, delicious restaurant food, or electricity at home.
Disruption and innovation are certainly not exclusive to startups, Even “cushy jobs” can have big world-changing missions.
(The truth is, many startup folks are probably just jealous they don’t have the same benefits as you do. And it might be that it helps them sleep a little better at night to belittle the work you do. Don’t buy it.)