We all have moments in our lives that help define who we are and how we view the world.  I have spent most of my working life self-employed for many different reasons; however, there is a specific experience that is one of those defining moments in my life that made me believe that I could never work for someone else, particularly, a large, impersonal corporation.

I took a year off from my law school studies and worked in the Boston office of a large, national financial institution preparing credit reports on small businesses.   There was a senior credit reporter who had been in that office for many years and appeared to be the most knowledgeable employee in the office.

He prepared the credit reports for the largest businesses and was the person everyone went to with questions and problems, including his boss.   That was the first thing that caught my attention.  This man appeared to be the most valuable person in the office, yet, he was not the boss.  It made me feel that knowledge and experience are not always properly rewarded.   By any rational standard, his value to the company should have put him in a position of power instead he was, in many ways, just another employee.

The clincher for me was when this man retired.   After many years of service, his retirement send off consisted of a brief ceremony in front of the other employees with his wife in attendance.  The boss spoke a few kind words, his wife was given some flowers, he was given the obligatory gold watch and then it was over in just a few minutes.

As I watched this unfold, I felt sadness for the man whose long career seemed to be marginalized by such a trite farewell and I was struck by the fact that he left with a gold watch but without the full measure of respect that I thought he deserved.   Perhaps, the reality of his retirement was much better than it appeared, but, that is how it seemed to me as an impressionable twenty four year old.

I look back on that day as one distinct moment when I realized that I would not spend my life in the service of someone else.  I soon left that job and went back to law school.  Now, as I am approaching retirement, I still believe that being self-employed was the best choice for me.