This Friday marks one year since I walked away from my career to become self-employed. I can’t believe it – it seems like it’s only been a few months! I’m taking some time this week to reflect on where I came from, where I am now, and where I hope to go from here.
I’ll never forget the day I decided to quit my job. Sure, I’d been thinking about it for months, but there was always some reason I stayed – the steady income, the need to be “successful” in my chosen career, the desire to make a difference, the fear of failure. Every time I thought I couldn’t take any more, I would convince myself to hold out just a little longer. And then one day I broke.
It was November 14, 2011. I spent the morning at a rural high school where I provided therapy to students, then drove to the clinic for an afternoon treating adults. As far as workdays go, it was pretty typical. But when I arrived at the clinic, one of my coworkers pulled me into her office.
“Did you see the memo from [main clinic]? They’re taking our benefits next May.”
“I guess they’re trying to get rid of some of us. You know how shitty revenue has been since the switch to managed care.”
I went to my office and shut the door. Took a deep breath and tried not to scream. Could this job be any worse? I had just started the position four months prior, leaving another role with the company for what I thought was a miracle job. In those four months, I had experienced a complete lack of guidance from my supervisor, the most messed up payroll system ever, problems with the staff at the high school (who seemed to think I was theirs to boss around instead of a contract worker), and a huge cut in the hours I could bill for therapy thanks to Kentucky’s change to privatized Medicaid. Oh, and let’s not forget the pressure I was under to commit fraud to cover someone else’s screwup. And now I was going to lose my benefits on top of it?
The Turning Point
My parents had grown used to my frantic phone calls about my misery at work. Lowering my voice so my coworkers wouldn’t hear, I filled my dad in on the latest development in the saga. I remember trying (unsuccessfully) to keep from crying as I told him, yet again, that I just couldn’t do it anymore.
“Get out of there,” Dad told me. “Just get the hell out. It’s not going to get any better.”
It was the first time he had openly encouraged me to quit my job. My parents are big on listening but not on giving advice; they don’t want to feel responsible if things don’t go well. So I knew it had to be pretty hopeless for him to say something like that. And I think a part of me was waiting for permission – I desperately needed someone to say it was okay.
I hung up the phone, then emailed my boss and her assistant to give my 30-day notice. The assistant called after she got the email, but she wasn’t calling to ask questions or wish me well. Instead, she barked out a list of things that would need to be taken care of before my last day. Listening to her drone on about closing charts and transferring my caseload, I never felt so insignificant (especially after working at the agency for 3 years). But I also never felt so relieved to be leaving a job.
When I started this blog nearly two years ago, becoming self-employed was nowhere on my radar. I just wanted to improve my finances and hold myself accountable. I was shocked when I learned that people made money from blogging and that some of them even made enough to quit their jobs! It was totally different from the small blogging community that existed when I’d had my last website in 1998 or so.
Over time, I started making money here and there. I was recognized in some pretty cool ways, like the blog post that was published in Reader’s Digest. It was impossible not to have that thought in the back of my mind, Wow, maybe someday I could quit my job and work for myself!
During my employment crisis (with its insanely low paychecks), the money I earned from blogging and freelance writing paid my bills. Without that income, I guess I would have ended up mooching off my parents once my savings ran out. Throughout my notice period, I looked for jobs, but I also spent that time getting used to the idea of working for myself. Which turned out to be a good thing because there were no jobs to be found.
On December 14, 2011, I walked out of the mental health clinic for the last time. No one brought a cake or threw me a party or even looked up when I left – they were all too busy dealing with the same headaches I was escaping. Honestly, I think some of my coworkers were a little jealous of my ability to walk away, especially since I didn’t have a “real job” lined up.
I planned to earn money through blogging and freelancing, but I also had a bigger idea bouncing around in my brain. I had been creating and designing my own websites since I was 13 years old; maybe if money got tight I could offer some design services as well. Little did I know that writing would soon take a backseat as my self-employment experiment turned out to be NOTHING like I imagined…