thoughts on self-employment

^ taken one beautiful morning on my way to work, which I thought was appropriate!

I’ve actually been wanting to write a post about this since basically starting the blog, but I’m glad I waited. Having been self-employed for about two and a half years now, and getting to a point where the I’ve really hit my stride and learnt a few things along the way, it feels like a good time to chat about being your own boss – especially as the world of entrepreneurship and creative careers is becoming more and more mainstream.

Although I won’t go into the exact details of what I do, I can tell you that it’s nothing blog or writing related, it’s a mix of different jobs/clients, and it requires a skill that I’ve been studying for over 20 years. I’m incredibly passionate about what I do, and although there are tough days and struggles as with any job, I wouldn’t change it for anything. I wake up every morning excited to get to work, and I’m extremely grateful for that.

So bearing that in mind, as something of a more unusual career path, I thought it might be interesting to note some of the trials, tribulations and triumphs of being a self-employed young professional. I know that a few of you expressed your interest in reading my thoughts, and I find reading about other people’s jobs and daily lives fascinating, so here’s my bit!

– It requires a lot of self-discipline.
Although I have employers for whom I work, a lot of my jobs are freelance and other projects I’m working and building towards are unpaid or have no specific deadline. Also, having a semi-flexible routine and not having a boss to answer to means setting up your own routine, and making sure you get things done without someone else telling you when and how to do them. I’ve never had too much problem with self-discipline when it comes to work, but I think it can always be better.

– Take advantage of being able to create your own schedule.
I have a fairly fixed schedule for each week (I pretty much work every day of the week – no real weekends), but they differ from day to day, which I really enjoy. It suits me to be kept on my toes and not get stuck in a rut of going to the same place and the same faces every day – I know that many people like this about having a more conventional job, and I’m sure there are great things having a work community. But as an introvert and someone who loves space and alone time, I’m pretty sure it would tire me out – most of my work requires intense communication with others, so it needs to be balanced with plenty of room for air!

I think that self-employed people often feel the need to stick to the “work week” attitude, and I also like to have a vague feeling of the weekend being more restful, but if I have time I can and want to take off during the week to balance out my working weekends, I do so. Especially since E is also self-employed, we’ve managed to align our schedules to go out for special occasion weekday lunches for example (when you can get the best deals, too!), or go out on a sunny weekday afternoon in exchange for working longer on a rainy Sunday. The flexibility is one of the very best things about not working a 9-5, and I think it’s worthwhile to take full advantage of it.

– Know your worth.
This one is so important, and probably something I struggle with the most. Not because I’m not confident with my abilities or dedication – I think I’m good at what I do, and I’m a hard worker – but I just find it difficult to remind myself of the value of my work and then to “sell” myself to others. Some of my income is set by the employer and is not within my control, but a large proportion is, meaning that I have to judge and set what I feel is a fair and competitive fee for my standard of work/experience/qualifications etc. I’ve definitely been prone to undercharging and have had gentle lectures from my husband (who knows the industry) and other colleagues, telling me to own what I do and know its value, to which I would always answer, “But am I really worth that much? I know I’m good at what I do, but what if they think it’s too much? What if I come across as arrogant and entitled?”

To talk about how this is probably partly a feminist issue would be to open a whole other can of worms, but I do think it has something to do with it. I’m gradually coming to terms with having to equate what I have to offer with how much that is worth, but it still doesn’t come naturally to me and it’ll probably always be work in progress.

– Make sure to switch off, even when you don’t think you need to.
It seems that many who are self-employed end up that way because they turn a (often creative) passion into a career. Which means that their work tends to be on their mind constantly – at least this is the case with me. I’ll be thinking about the things I did and said that day, what was great and fun and interesting, what could have been better, what I can do to help so and so. About what emails I have to write or what materials I need to get, when to arrange this or that appointment.

The thing is, when you love what you do, it feels ok to not properly switch off – I don’t mind thinking about work! Except that after a while, you get the inevitable burn out and then you want to sleep for five days straight. I use my travel time (I hop on the tube/train at least twice a day to/from/between jobs) to read, listen to podcasts and put my mind on other things, which I do with pleasure and which probably keeps me sane. I work in a field where many who stand at the very top probably don’t ever switch off, and don’t want to, and I admire that. But I know it’s not a healthy or productive way for me to be personally (and frankly, wouldn’t make me very happy), so I try to keep a balance of some kind.

– Have and build relationships with likeminded colleagues.
Although most of the work I do is by myself, I’ve grown up with and have close friendships and relationships with people who work in the same field. This may not be as easy for other jobs, and I know that if you work from home, it can get quite lonely and like you’re wading through it all on your own. If it’s possible to meet others who have similar careers or an interest in that field, it would allow you to chat about your work, discuss the ups and downs, and seek input or advise from people who understand what you do. I feel like I get the best of both worlds – I don’t see the same faces every day, but I have great colleagues who are a constant support network and always have an ear to lend.

I’m sure this is of no use or interest to most readers, but it’s something I love to appreciate and think about, so I hope it’s been at least a little insightful! I think it’s also important to remember that the grass is not always greener and although self-employment is growing in popularity by the day, it doesn’t suit everyone and it can be hugely challenging. But these are just my personal thoughts, and I’m someone who enjoys the challenge and the many rewarding aspects of it, so I count my lucky stars every day.

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