The Rōnin (浪人, or wanderer) describes a samurai with no lord during the feudal period of Japan which lasted till the 19th century. Some of you may have heard of the tale of the 47 Rōnin, or have visited the shrine museum at Sengaku-ji (泉岳寺). The Rōnin enjoyed no perks or fixed stipends, and had to fend for themselves. It would seem pointless to be a Rōnin, right? Not so fast.

I speak from experience. I have worked for Fortune 500 corporations and some really big names. I appreciate all the learning and field experiences I gained at those places, but I appreciate the freedom I enjoy now more than anything else.

There are many young career upstarts who would pester recruitment agencies or even seniors, for opportunities at really huge companies, or at least currently “hip” companies. I have often heard (or overheard) earnest requests like, “Hey, XYZ is a really cool company. Do you know how I can get a job there?”

The trouble with really big or hip companies is that you have to fight tooth and nail just to get in, where about one-third of the local population are college graduates, and man fighting for the few opportunities around.

If, and that’s a really BIG if, you do get a job at one of these big shops, you may not last long. I have observed a shift in the work attitude of the current generation compared to my generation, where those folks of my generation would obediently work long hours, without asking for returns. We were just happy we had jobs! These days, the younger generation demand more perks at the workplace, and place personal emphasis on this supposed “work-life balance”. Frankly, employers do not necessarily share the same view, as business is tough, and competition is menacing. So, if you expect to work very few hours, with easy tasks you can juggle with your eyes closed, and get a huge salary for it, keep dreaming. Someone else will quickly supplant you and you are out the doors of the company wondering. There is always a long line of hungry applicants willing to replace you.

I know, because I have worked at some very big names, and keeping my job at any of those places was never easy. I worked long hours, and bringing work home was not uncommon. To be fair, my bosses worked just as hard, if not harder. It was the very essence of working hard that kept these big companies – BIG. You can’t have a successful company if you only have overpaid, lazy, unmotivated people sitting around.

So, after working for 10 years for others (since 1984), having gained great industry experience and expertise, I went cold turkey into running my own small design and consulting business. For the first year, it was painful and scary, because getting rejected by prospects was common. All too often, I would have corporate executives telling me that they have never heard of my firm, and that I was not worth anything, or very much. Sure, it is the “special forces training ground” for my ego and pride, but at the end, it was all worth it. 30 years since 1984, I can now hold my own, and know my industry worth, and can defend it.

Let me categorically state that being an entrepreneur or running your own business is no walk in the park. It is not for everyone. It is for those who are driven, self-motivated, relentless in pursuing goals, eager learners, and most of all, secure and self-assured personalities. It is a tough enrollment, and those who wear the stripes wear them proudly. You will very often work insanely long hours, and are conjoined to your business even in your leisure and family time. “Work-life balance” you say? LOL.

So why do I still prefer to go through all these, with little corporate perks, and run my own small business? It sure isn’t about money. It is about freedom – the freedom to plan my work, the freedom to work with businesses and people I admire, the freedom to learn at my own pace and preferences without constraints, the freedom to create and innovate.

Life is short and unpredictable. If you have that streak of the Rōnin in you, you have to decide if developing that streak is important to you in the long run, or if you simply prefer to stay in the shadows of a large corporation. The choice is yours.