Random Thoughts on Ten years of Self-Employment
I completely forgot to mention it at the time, but last month marked the ten year anniversary of Terry and I starting our own business and becoming self-employed.
Ten years. It’s a long time. If our business was a baby, it would be almost ready to start high school by now. It would probably be listening to Justin Beiber and asking us to buy it a pony, and when your business is old enough to want a pony, you know you probably owe it a quick blog post, at the very least.
Ten years. When we started out, I didn’t even dare to dream we would still be doing this ten years later. (And by “this”, I just mean “running our own business”: back then I was doing a mixture of copyrighting and freelance journalism, and I REALLY didn’t dare to dream that one day I’d make a living out of blogging. I don’t think ANYONE did.) I mean, I HOPED it would be forever – I knew that, whatever happened next, I really, really didn’t want to ever go back into traditional employment – but it was such a struggle in those early days that I really didn’t have much time to think at all. I just somehow kept things ticking over from day-to-day, eking out every last penny we had, and when I couldn’t eke it out any further, selling most of my clothes on eBay to pay the bills. In some ways I think it was better that way: Terry was on dialysis at the time, and we knew there was a kidney transplant looming frighteningly in the future at some point, so although in many ways it must have seemed crazy to people that we’d choose THAT particular time to start a business, I think the fact that I had something so all-consuming to focus on might just have saved my sanity.
Self-employment saved my sanity in many other respects, too. By the time I quit my day job, I was very, very unhappy, and more stressed than I’d ever been in my life. Part of it was due to the circumstances of that particular job, but a lot of it was down to, well, ME, really. It’s strange, but all of the things people tell me they’d hate about self-employment are the things I hated about traditional employment. “Isn’t it awful, being stuck in the house all day?” they ask, and all I can think is that it isn’t HALF as awful as being stuck in that awful grey office block all day, with its constantly ringing phones, and always someone hovering over me, telling me what to do and when to do it. In fact, self-employment isn’t awful AT ALL in that respect, because I’m actually NOT stuck anywhere. I can get up and leave my house any time I want: I couldn’t do that in any of my previous jobs – I had to account for every second of my time, right down to logging how much time I spent in the bathroom (yes, really). I remember feeling totally trapped: looking out of my office window at the world going by, and feeling like I had absolutely no part of it, because I couldn’t leave that stuffy little box until the clock struck 5, and then I’d just go home and collapse on the sofa, worn out from stress and boredom, and filled with dread at the thought of having to do it all again the next day.
“Isn’t it lonely?” they always ask next. And, again, no, not even a little bit. I know working-from-home isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always been a loner, and I’ve never been much of a people-person, so the fact that I DON’T have to constantly deal with Others is a huge relief to me. And, of course, you DO still get to see people. When I tell people I work from home, a lot of them seem to instantly adopt this slightly strange belief that I am never allowed to LEAVE my home, and that I never, ever get to see people. Actually, the opposite is true: I see my friends and family more now than I did when I had a “proper” job, because my schedule is completely flexible, and I no longer spend my evenings and weekends either passed-out from the combined stress and exhaustion of doing something I hate all day, every day, or catching up on all of the chores I didn’t have time for during the week. You DO get to leave your home. You DO get to see other people: and the beauty of it is that you get to leave your home whenever you want to (as opposed to whenever your boss grants you permission), and to see the people you actually CHOOSE to see, rather than the ones you’re forced to see because you work with them. I always find it a bit strange that so many people seem to believe that work is the ONLY opportunity for social interaction, or the only option for “getting out of the house”: that wasn’t the case when I DID have a traditional job, and it’s definitely not the case now.
Our business has changed a lot since those early days, of course. When we started out, a lot of my time was spent on helping Terry find clients for his web development work, or hunting down freelance writing clients for myself. These days I TRULY work for myself: all of my time is spent on blogging, and it’s absolutely perfect for me. I have no clients to worry about (See ‘Not a People Person’), no deadlines, other than self-imposed ones, and, best of all, NO BOSS. Except myself, obviously, and, OK, Rubin. Would it suit everyone? Absolutely not. It suits me because of my very introverted personality type, and because of my tendency to get super-stressed over the tiniest things – a tendency which is mitigated by the low-stress job I’ve created for myself. In another time, I’d probably have been a hermit, living in a little hovel on a mountainside somewhere, and chasing away random passers-by with a big stick. Thankfully I live in the time of the internet: it’s possible to work for yourself and still remain connected to the rest of the world. I mean, some days I even shower and everything!
I love it, is what I’m trying to say. (The job, I mean, not the showering. Although the showering is nice, too, granted.) I am so grateful to be able to do this, and even although it’s still sometimes hard, and I live with the constant fear that it will one day end, and I’ll be sent back to that little grey box of an office (I have actual nightmares about it, at least once a week), I can honestly say I’ve never regretted it, not even for a moment.
Here’s to ten more years! (I hope…)[Edit: in the original version of this, I said that last YEAR marked the 10th anniversary… I actually meant last MONTH. D’oh!]