Make it a cog in YOUR machine

- work startups

In your work, you must either be a visionary, mercenary, apprentice, craftsman, explorer. You can’t be more than one of these at any given time - at least within one context. And you must know which one you are in each context. If you’re not the one you thought you’d be in a particular context, you’ll find yourself frustrated or stuck.

Visionary: You’re working towards an end of your own design and selection. Especially one that doesn’t yet have a clear paying customer.

Mercenary: The job is an efficient way to acquire resources to support or advance big priorities that don’t pay you (taking care of and supporting family; getting a specific job, credential or grad school with hard prerequisites; hobbies that mean the world to you; building community and social fabric; taking care of your health; volunteering and public service; etc).

Apprentice: You’re training a set of skills, qualities, and/or expertise under a master of that domain. And you’re actually doing the thing - not just supporting the master on their non-core activities. And you’re getting regular, constructive feedback from someone who’s already a master in the relevant domain.

Craftsman: You’re doing work that you enjoy. Just getting to do the work is its own end. It’s an infinite game inside of the infinite game of life.

Explorer: You don’t know which type you are! You know this, you’re aware of it, you’re leaning into it, you’re actively experimental and opportunistic. This is the most unstable of roles, and ought to resolve into one of the four aforementioned roles.

What prompted these reflections was a recent conversation with a friend of mine. Discussing my own next steps, I cast aspersion on the notion of having or getting a job as a worthy goal in life. But even CEO’s have W2’s, my friend contended.

In hindsight, I think we had different definitions of the word “job.” What I was really reacting against, and am highly allergic to, is any money-making context in which you do not feel aligned with the role you’re playing. I’ve found myself in contexts where I wanted to be a visionary or apprentice, and couldn’t, and didn’t feel the need to be a mercenary.

This leads to the general “condition” of feeling employed. Work feels like a job. We know this is just another way of saying it feels burdensome, I feel used for a purpose that’s not my own. You’re resisting what you’re doing and suspect, still unconsciously, that there’s a better way for you to be using your time and energy. You’re in no-man’s land.

A coherent mercenary could be in the same W-2 contract but not feel this resistance. They’ve set up the job as a cog in their machine of life overall, the same way way they may be a cog in someone else’s machine within the strict confines of the organization in which they work. They’ve figured out a role to play that 1) they want and 2) suits the environment. They might technically be employed by someone else, but spiritually remain self-employed.

It’s only a “job” if you’re not all for the whole package.

So, saying that you “just have a job,” is not to cast aspersions on being a big-corp middle manager, or a barista, or any other occupation. But it is to cast aspersions on plugging into someone else’s system of values (and value creation) without having first plugged that same employment contract into your own system of values and value creation. Do you want to drive, or be in the back seat?

I suspect that there are many people working in large companies that expected to be visionaries at work, but find this impossible. If that’s been your experience, one litmus test for whether that shiny new job opportunity is a real part of your vision, or “just another job” is: what happens if/when you are rejected? Do you continue pursuing and exploring that same territory? If not, then you weren’t a visionary in that context. Becoming a proud mercenary is another option, too!

You want to have the job, and not let the job have you.


I considered adding another category: artist. But I think we all need to be artists where we’re at, no matter where we’re at.

Room for being a visionary roughly follows the ownership distribution in a company. If you want to be a visionary, don’t expect working for a visionary to be much use to you. Visionaries may only need mercenaries and craftsmen, or perhaps other visionaries as collaborators.

Further reading / inspiration: - this is the perfect example of someone in no man’s land.