Flying solo: self-employment will change you – but not in the ways you think | Life and style
Feeling unappreciated by your employer? Struggling to muster enthusiasm for the work piling up on your desk and flooding your inbox?
Perhaps it’s time to make a change, and join the numerous other disgruntled employees who, as jobs site Indeed notes, mark the early parts of the year with a new determination to find a more fulfilling career.
Maybe you’re looking to jump ship, or maybe this is the year that you will finally “go out on your own” and row solo.
That’s right. You’re tossing that lanyard/millstone in the bin and taking a stand against office life. No more cancelled trains, stifled dreams, or those inane fire drills. You’re bidding farewell to passive-aggressive signs in the staff kitchen about food hygiene, and tearing up those time-consuming expense forms. Who’s coming with you?
No one is coming with you. These are sensible people with mortgages and childcare costs, and, as your co-workers remind you in the weeks prior to your departure, working for yourself is full of tedious chores, such as setting aside money for super, paying quarterly tax and, most crucially, letting go of the safety blanket that keeps most people sated and sane.
But you know all of this. You’re self-motivated, enjoy your own company, and can calculate percentages quickly in your head, which is handy come tax time.
What is harder to prepare for are the less obvious and yet profound ways your life changes when you head into the dense hinterland of self-employment.
Here are but a few I have discovered during my six years of freelance life.
You spend every spare minute asking for “recommendations” for a good physiotherapist, accountant, acupuncturist, GP, etc. Once you are self-employed, you realise that the real reason people go into the office each day is for referrals, so other people can stay in work. Now that you are cut off from this invisible referral platform, you become that person on Facebook who is “looking for a really good myotherapist who dry-needles …”
You start talking to yourself. I have always walked around the house mumbling to myself but after I went freelance, the verbal monologues went up a notch. Partner not home? No problem. You will talk to your dog, your cat, the plants, the mail — you’re not fussy. Is it loneliness? No, nothing that serious. And yet …
You will try a number of co-working spaces/entrepreneurial “incubator hubs” for some like-minded company. Most are full of lovely people but some are stacked with tech bros and narcissists droning on about apps that you never asked them about. Other spaces seem infected with an inner-city groupthink that you find genuinely perplexing. The women all wear Gorman jumpsuits and will only “take on ethical clients”; men run their own design studios and strictly drink craft beer. They all celebrate diversity, and yet everyone looks the same and holds the exact same opinions. You don’t go back.
You will become obsessed with LinkedIn as it represents material proof that you are an ambitious professional and not, in fact, technically unemployed. Of course, logically you know that you are not unemployed because — look — your inbox is full and your bank balance is healthy. And yet there you are, in your pyjamas at 10am, wondering whether it’s too early for lunch. When this feeling hits, head over to LinkedIn and add a couple of skills. You’ve earned it!
People will approach you for advice on quitting to become self-employed, take up vast amounts of your time, and then never do it.
You will spend a lot of time at Officeworks buying pointless stationery and storage tubs because you’re a serious professional. You buy a printer you never use; you have a highlighter in every colour. You also spend an unhealthy amount of time on your email signature (to bold or not to bold, and when?)
You realise you exist in sort of existential self-employed bind: somewhat liberated but not wholly free. At first, you love the feeling of making your own money from scratch, and you wonder how you would ever take orders again. Then you realise you do take orders — it’s just that now your bosses are farther away and have multiplied.
You save a fortune on clothes, and you get to say it’s because you’re shunning fast fashion.
You are projected upon more times than a multiplex. Nothing reveals a person’s risk profile quite like their reaction to you going out on your own. Some friends won’t bat an eye-lid. Other people will be horrified, ask how you are going to survive, what will you do for money? This will happen many, many times and what you begin to realise is that the biggest risk you face working for yourself isn’t the provenance of your next pay cheque. It’s taking on other people’s fears to such a degree that it hobbles you, rattles your confidence, and throws you into a panic about the fact that you’re not panicking. Should you be panicking? Everyone else is. But everyone else isn’t you, and it will take you years to realise that most people, even the well-intentioned ones, areprojecting their own anxieties. They don’t belong to you and most things aren’t about you. Once you realise this, nothing will hold you back.