What’s the number one thing people say when they leave their jobs to become self-employed? “I want freedom!” (or some variation on that theme).
When I quit my job last December, I definitely had freedom in mind. All those cool stories about lazing on the beach with a laptop and a margarita? That was totally going to be my life. I would set my own hours, be my own boss, make my own rules. And while I technically do all those things, ten months of freelancing have not quite matched up with my pre-freelancing fantasies.
What I’ve Done Wrong
One of the best (and worst) parts about becoming self-employed is realizing that the sky’s the limit. At my old job, there were no opportunities to move up or make more money. At least not significantly more. We didn’t even get annual cost of living increases! There was zero incentive to work harder. But as a freelancer, I can literally choose how much I want to make.
Of course, I have to find enough work to go along with my income goal. But I can sit down, determine an annual or monthly amount I want to make, and figure out how many jobs (or hours) it will take to reach that goal. The only limiting factors are time, exposure/reach, and my need to sleep periodically.
The problem with that? For me, it was realizing early on that an hour I don’t work is an hour I don’t make any money. And following that realization with, Holy crap, if I don’t work, I won’t make any money! I have consistently worked 7 days a week, 15+ hours a day since I quit my job 10 months ago. As I’ve done so, I’ve watched my dreams of freedom and work/life balance fly out the window.
What I’ve Done Right
Before this post becomes whiny (it may be too late for that!), let me just say that I LOVE being a freelancer. I have never regretted the decision to leave my job and I have done everything in my power to ensure that I never have to go back. While 2012 has been far from perfect, there are also some things I’ve accomplished that remind me freedom is possible.
Small breaks. I haven’t made it to that cabin in the mountains or a beautiful beach just yet, but I’ve taken several small trips this year that wouldn’t have been possible in my former career. I got to attend my niece’s first birthday party. I saw my cousin graduate from basic training. I attended the Financial Blogger Conference – they’re nice enough to let me attend even though I’m probably the least financial blogger on the planet – and took an extra day on both ends to travel so I could enjoy the entire trip. Next month I’ll go to my nephew’s fourth birthday party, the first time I’ve ever been able to see him on his special day.
Time with Jayden. With few exceptions, I drop my son off and pick him up from school every single day. He gets to come home in the afternoon instead of bouncing between various sets of grandparents. I actually get to eat dinner with him instead of getting home from work just in time for him to go to bed. It has done wonders for him – his grades are higher, his mood has improved, and his stress level has gone down tremendously (as has mine).
Self-evaluation. This year has given me lots of time to really examine myself, my life, and my goals. I’ve always been kind of hesitant to set goals for fear of not meeting them, but I think I was also unsure what goals I needed to set. When you’re stuck in a dead-end job working 50-60 hours a week for peanuts and there is NO hope of moving ahead, what exactly is there to shoot for? Self-employment has forced me to become better acquainted with my strengths and weaknesses – I can’t afford to spin my wheels if I want more for myself.
Where I Hope to Improve
I left my job with one basic goal: Make enough money to remain self-employed for at least a year. I needed to know if I had what it takes to make it on my own. And so far (knock on wood) I’ve made it through 5/6 of the year with only a few bumps. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve learned and how many changes I have in mind for next year.
I’ve finally reached a level of comfort with how much work I need to do each month to pay my bills. In 2013, I’d like to double my freelance income. Not by raising my rates, necessarily, but by doing more work in a more efficient way. I’m also developing several extra income streams that don’t require quite as much time and energy; eventually I’d love for those to pay my bills so I can be more selective in the clients I take on.
I also want to spend more time doing other things I enjoy. I love what I do and sometimes it’s hard to stop even when I know I need a break. But next year I’d like to cut back on the number of hours I work. I want to eat my meals at the table instead of at my desk. I want to stop answering work-related emails on the weekends (one of the hardest habits I’ve tried to break so far). Most of all, I want to create time for ME.
I’ve already decided that I will write down five things in a notebook each day from now on:
- The work-related accomplishment I’m most proud of that day
- A work issue I need to improve on
- The personal accomplishment I’m most proud of that day
- One thing I did that was only possible because I’m self-employed (and staying in my pajamas all day doesn’t count)
- Something I’d like to learn, do, or work on (NOT work-related)
Hopefully being mindful of these things will help me seek out a life beyond my computer screen.
So, Work/Life Balance. Is it Possible?
As a freelancer, I have yet to reach the work/life balance I had in mind when I quit my job. However, I do still believe it’s possible to reach it. The thing is, I didn’t leave my career to work for a bigger slavedriver than I did before. Yet that’s what I’ve allowed to happen, and I’m the only one who can fix it.
If 2012 has been all about succeeding as my own boss (AKA not going back to a “real” job), 2013 is going to be about reclaiming some of the things I gave up to pursue this crazy dream of mine. I don’t know that I’ll ever get to work on the beach – how do people keep sand out of their laptops? – but I’m definitely going to take more time to enjoy life and relax a little.
If you’re self-employed, how do you achieve work/life balance? If you aren’t self-employed, do you think you’d become obsessed with work like I have, or would you struggle more with staying motivated?