So I jumped off the cliff, and I didn’t fall on my ass. In fact, I landed pretty damn softly on my feet.
See, it was one year ago this week that I walked out of the corporate world and into the ranks of the self-employed. One whole year of no one telling me where to be or what to do. One full, blissful year of crafting a career on my own terms.
Best. Decision. Ever. I hope I never have to get a real job again.
You can read about my journey here and here. To sum up, I had been freelancing on the side for the prior six months, during which time I worked hard to lay the groundwork for a successful leap from a steady paycheck to sporadic income. I had created an LLC, launched this website, and built a referral network and nominal book of business to get my own little entrepreneurial ball rolling.
When I quit my full-time gig, my economic scenario was not optimal to start a business. But it was decent, and I found myself at the crossroads of Piss Avenue and Get Off The Pot Drive. I had gotten too busy to do two jobs well, so I closed my eyes, crossed my fingers and threw myself off the ledge.
I am SO grateful that I didn’t go “splat.”
Despite all the risks, despite a recurring fear of failure and despite the irregularity of incoming projects and cash flow, this has been — by far — the best year of my professional life.
For most of my career, I was perfectly content to work for The Man. It did not dawn on me that I possessed the chutzpah to be my own boss until about two years ago, when I noticed that several job changes in the corporate world had not eased the nagging discomfort I had been feeling in my career since the mid-2000s.
After a few grueling years of searching for my bliss, I have finally found it. Yes, this … THIS is what I was meant to do, people. Wheeeeeeeeee!
What I love most about working for myself is the freedom it brings. The freedom to set my own hours, to choose the clients I want and refuse the ones I don’t. The freedom to play with my dogs in a lull between projects or eat a popsicle in the middle of my backyard at 2:30 on a Tuesday. The freedom to wear whatever I want (no more suits!), and — as cheesy as it sounds — the freedom to just be ME.
That being said, as much as I love having the aforementioned freedom to screw around, I don’t want to. In fact, I am not fulfilled unless I am being productive. My natural state of being is hyper-organized, regimented and a tad OCD.
Because of these qualities, I am pretty rigid about working normal business hours. That may be 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. one day, then 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. the next. I always put work before play, but I give myself ample downtime. I do not work on the weekends unless I am promoting an event to the media.
But I will tell you what — unlike in the corporate world — I am not resentful during the rare occasions when work encroaches on my personal time, even if that just means I start thinking about a project on Sunday before I go to bed. I have kept solid boundaries, so the occasional breach is fine. I think I am OK with it because it's MY choice and not mandated by a workaholic boss who doesn’t understand work-life balance.
I get up every morning and make my bed, put on clothes at some point before noon and eat lunch at lunchtime. I save my household chores for the weekends, though I will mow my yard during a summer workday … because it’s the size of a postage stamp and provides a short, welcome mental respite from staring at the computer screen.
Speaking of that, if you picture a freelance writer who works from home as a frazzled, chain-smoking, pasty, socially inept nutcase typing away in the bowels of her dusty basement, that ain’t me. At least not yet.
I have managed to achieve a good balance of time in the office and out in the world. In fact, networking events, face-to-face client appointments and business development meetings take up a good chunk of my week. (And FYI, my office is in the middle of my house, surrounded by tons of windows.)
Anyhoo … it truly has been a friggin’ fantastic year. I’ve met lots of new people, reconnected with old contacts, had plenty of work to pay the bills and just enjoyed the hell out of every word I have written, edited or pitched to the media during the past 365+ days.
Looking ahead, I've got some clear goals for Year 2. I am working toward a retainer business model, instead of one where I get paid for hours worked at the end of a project.
Ideally, I would like to have four to six clients on the books, billing each one of them ahead for a static 20 or so hours a month. I have tons of health care experience, so I would like a couple of those retainer clients to be doctors' offices and other medical-related businesses.
The only thing I miss about being in the corporate world is the chance to learn tips and tricks of my trade from colleagues on a daily basis. Because marketing and PR are moving targets, I need to seek out as many training and development opportunities as possible. I recently ran across a great webinar on how to maximize Twitter ads, and I am looking for one on how to optimize a LinkedIn company page.
On a more personal note, one thing I still need to figure out is how to take a short vacation and completely unplug from work for more than just a weekend. I’m sure if I give my clients enough notice, I can pull it off. I will just have to make peace with the fact that I'll have to put off or turn down work that rolls in when I'm basking on the beach.
Vacation or not, I fully expect Year 2 to be even better than Year 1. But if it isn’t, the status quo is just fine. Hell, if the second year falls short for some reason, it will still be more awesome than any year I ever spent in a “real” job.
There’s a song by Pharrell Williams, called “Happy,” that I have decided to adopt as my theme song for 2014 because it embodies precisely how I feel about my work life, and well, everything these days.
“Because I’m happy /
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth /
Because I’m happy /
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.”
I’m clapping, Pharrell. Loud and proud. The first year of being out on my own definitely deserves some applause!
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After 10 years, she's still just saying.