I’ve talked a bit before about how I came to be self-employed, but the long and the short of it is that it wasn’t so much a choice as that I was sort of herded towards it by my poor mental health and my subsequent inability to hold down a job. So, I started my self-employment journey from place of basically, sheer panic, at having bills to pay and no means to pay them. I didn’t write a business plan, I didn’t have savings, I didn’t even really have a concept of what the pros and cons of self-employment would look like for me, I just knew I had to try it, that I had to try SOMETHING.
Over the last 9 months or so that I’ve more or less been officially working for myself, there’s some things I’ve come to learn that I wish I had had some awareness or understanding of before I jumped down this rabbit hole, so I thought I’d share them here with you today.
1. It really is all on me!
I’m very fortunate in that I know quite a lot of people who freelance or run side hustles or have been altogether self-employed at some point or another. I’m lucky that these people will often listen to me prattle on at length about eBay pricing strategies, how much to invest in business cards or some other such decision that’s currently consuming me. But one thing I hadn’t realised until I was essentially running my own business, is that no matter how many people I talk to, blog posts I read or advice I receive – at the end of the day the responsibility of it all is all on me. I think I somehow thought that I could ask my dad – who was self-employed for 20 years – a business question and he would be able to give me an answer that clearly showed me what to do, but, erm…. no. Every industry is different, heck, every individual business is different and so at the end of the day, it’s up to me that make the decisions – and of course, the mistakes – that will shape my business into how I dream of it being *gulp*.
2. Turns out sitting on my butt at a PC is very different than working on my feet all day
Yes, “duh”, I hear you all saying, but this actually hadn’t really registered for me until one day I tried to get dressed (to actually leave the house, shock horror), and literally none of my jeans fit me – or at least, they didn’t fit in a way that I could trust y’know?
I had always worked retail or hospitality before and been on my feet throughout every shift, I also used to often walk the 2 miles or so to and from work, so, to go from this to walking the 20 steps to my laptop in the morning and then staying there for 10 hours… well, it’s taken its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about positivity and loving your body, but the reality is, the weight gain I’m experiencing is purely because I’ve been neglecting myself. I’ve been eating so much junk and not going for walks because I DON’T HAVE TIME, which, is kind of a ridiculous sentiment when you think about it. What it really means is I DON’T HAVE TIME… MANAGEMENT SKILLS. I need to accept that being self-employed, there is always work to be done, but, you know, not at the expense of my health.
3. People will not always understand or respect when I say “I have to work”
This is one that caught me so off guard! I don’t have a huge circle of friends and family, but I would say that I am pretty close with the people in my life and so when I started to encounter a lack of understanding about my work life, it was kind of hard to take. When I would say “I can’t Tuesday through the day, I have to work”, I would get “why? Can’t you do it at night? What are you doing?” or something similar in response and it would really hurt me. I took it as disrespectful and I took it personally, I interpreted it as meaning that MY work didn’t have value – but increasingly, I think it’s just down to a lack of understanding about what it takes to be self-employed. Sure, if I don’t show up to work tomorrow, in the short term, I won’t face the consequences that those working a 9-5 will, but this doesn’t mean there AREN’T consequences, and it doesn’t mean that I have to justify my work pattern to, well, anyone.
4. It’s OK to work non-conventional work hours and not feel ashamed about it
This sort of follows on from the point above, and again, this was a big stumbling point for me. As I talked about in the first paragraph, I fell into self-employment because I struggle with my mental health – and so what that means for me, is that some days I’m a #girlboss, and other days, I just need to look after myself. I’ve had to learn to accept that I actually do HAVE to look after my mental health – it’s not like a quirky life choice for me to sometimes sleep 14 hours a day, or watch Ru Pauls Drag Race for 5 hours, sometimes I actually need to, to stay above water.
So, some mornings I’m at my desk, working away by 8am – and other days? Cannot get out of bed until 11am. Some days, I’m confident and productive and motivated – other days? Depression is taking over, and I only manage a few hours work before needing to sleep again. When I’ve told people, “oh, I didn’t start until 10 today”, or, “I do a lighter work day on the first day of my period because it’s always really rough for me mentally”, I’ve definitely had a lot of eye rolls and snide sounding, “must be nice” type of remarks, and you know what? Yes, it is bloody nice to be able to look after my mental health while earning a living for the first time in my life. But you know what else would be nice? A steady income and career progression. There are pros and cons to both lifestyles and I’m finally learning to embrace the benefits of the life I’m living, and to not feel ashamed about it.
5. It’s difficult, and it’s stressful, but it is so incredibly addictive and rewarding
Yeah, I mean, just yeah. Self-employment has me looking an off-button in my ever-working-away-brain, it has me keeping spreadsheets and checking stats, actually having to respond to emails and yes, sometimes it has me in tears.
But honestly, I LOVE this life I’m building with each eBay sale and Redbubble sticker purchase (for the love of god, will someone by something that isn’t a sticker?!). Sometimes it’s easy to see failure around every corner when you’re self-employed – because, especially in the early days, I guess it could be. But the thing is, and I know its absurdly cliché, but all I can do is rock up and do my best and see how it goes. Sure, I could fail spectacularly, or I could learn, grow and succeed, and honestly, I’m becoming addicted to chipping away at the opportunities within my grasp and crafting a life that works for me – so I think, for me, this is the path I want to stay on – whether I succeed or fail in the long run.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post, I really appreciate it – I hope it gave you a bit of encouragement, or a laugh! I’d really love to connect with other freelancers or self-employed people – so please, share any of your experiences or thoughts on this topic down below in the comments!