I have a friend named Melissa. (Yes, I have friends.)
Melissa doesn’t have a job.
She spent her twenties and thirties working for other people as a professional headhunter–(am I obligated to make a Headless Horseman joke here?)–before finally going back to school to pursue an advanced certification in Human Resources.
And then she waited. And she waited. And she waited. For years.
Every job interview she went on, she was either overqualified, or the role she wanted was already taken. (Usually by the person who was, ahem, doing the interviewing.) Over time, she managed to score a few big contracts with large pharmaceutical companies—some 6 months, some 8, some maybe a full year—always with the hope that once she got her foot in the door, they’d offer her a permanent position.
Except they never did.
Not because she wasn’t great. But because, as every person in HR knows best, in big business humans are often seen as a fungible resource—something that’s interchangeable. Like money. Because who doesn’t love talking about money? For example, I can change out one of your $20 bills for another $20 bill and they’re exactly the same in terms of their worth—and you probably won’t care which $20 bill you get. Same same. Yet, I cannot change out any one bottle of your wine for another because—let’s be honest—nobody wants to trade a $200 French for a bullshit bottle of Yellowtail.
Wine aside, Melissa recently went through a shitfuck of a break up.
A break up with a guy with whom she lived. In his house. Along with her three children.
So now you’ve got this professional, well-educated, gorgeous, (did I mention gorgeous?), woman with three children, no job, no savings, and no place to call home. So Melissa feels like she has no choice but to beg for mercy, take a job that’s well beneath her pay grade, and hope the rug won’t be pulled out from under her yet again. And she has no idea how she’s going to survive.
Over the years, I’ve talked to Melissa pretty frequently about starting her own business. She loves interior design, and she’s got a hell of a knack. And while she’s been interested, she’s never actually pulled the trigger.
Not because she isn’t capable, or because she doesn’t want to. It’s because of something else. Something I’ve coined a term for.
Chickenshititis: (n.) A severe condition from which the majority of the population suffers, often hindering sound career decision making practices and, if left untreated, resulting in anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, exhaustion, and very embarrassing instances of diarrhea in public places. (Go with it.)
I’ve found that most people don’t start their own businesses because they assume you have to be “business-minded.” “Business-like.” “Salesy.” And “good with numbers.” (I’m definitely out for the count, then. Get it? Out for the count? FINE, FORGET I EVEN MENTIONED IT. )
And in the past, that might have been true.
Take Joe Shmoe Shopkeeper. (That’s his actual name. Probably German.) When he opened a business, he had to rely on old-fashioned methods of marketing and sales and record-keeping.
His biggest limitation, of course, was that eventually he’d run out of buyers. There were only so many people in town. And as such, the demand was fatally limited. So even if later, he found ways to deliver to nearby towns, hire more manpower, work more hours, and build a god damn factory, he still faced the same problem of demand. There were only so many buyers.
Skip ahead a skosh, (and pretend I can nonchalantly pull of saying skosh), to when the Post Office got sophisticated enough to let Joe start taking mail orders, making direct mail marketing a thing. After all, you were no longer THE Baker to people who didn’t already know you. And so the challenge wasn’t about finding new buyers in a tiny town. It was about reaching strangers long enough to send ’em your catalog and take their orders.
And then later the internet showed up and changed everything. Websites were like storefronts that anyone could visit without having to even leave their living room, put on shoes, or change their shirt that was slathered in nacho cheese. (No judgement.) And as more and more people began using the internet, it solved the question of, “How do we reach these strangers,” and posed a new one: “How do we get the attention of these strangers?” And so internet marketing was born.
But then, something else changed. The internet didn’t stop there. It wasn’t just a fancy new way for businesses to do business; rather, the internet grew into a way for anyone to do business. Paypal. Shopping carts. Drag and drop.
Because now, everybody can become a baker.
Most people don’t know it yet.
They’re still thinking of business in terms of the old-fashioned bakery model, in its antiquated form, where you had to go out and hustle the streets, pay a lot of money to market yourself, and scrape your integrity together while secretly hating yourself inside.
They’re still thinking business is hard. Gritty. And for other people. Business people.
And so, The Middle Finger Project was born. The internet has made it possible to not only start a business, but create your own career. To stop relying on the gatekeepers to give you opportunities. And to find a way to make your own.
This is an open-call to the Melissas of the world.
I see you.
I know you aren’t sure. You aren’t certain. You have no idea how to start a business, much less market yourself online. I know this might not have been an option until now, and I know that you have no idea what you’re doing.
BUT SO WHAT.
Nobody puts Baby in a corner.
…Unless you put yourself there first.