Friday, 30 June 2017

Why I Quit Freelancing (to Really Work for Myself)

Why I Quit Freelancing (to Really Work for Myself)

It’s been quite a week, friends. On Monday, I literally touched three states and one province, driving from Boise, through Oregon and Washington, all the way back home to Squamish. I got to catch up with a few good friends on Tuesday morning, then tried to get back into work mode. Admittedly, the anxiety and grief I’d been trying to ignore on my trip caught up with me, and I have since shed a lot of tears – and, as a result, did not get a lot of work done. But with the low’s, I can always find a high – and I did have one thing to celebrate this week.

Wednesday marked the beginning of my third year of self-employment! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and on the podcast, I never thought I would work for myself. It wasn’t part of the plan. When I got a job with the government in my early twenties, I thought I had made it. I was going to climb that career ladder until I retired and collected my pension. That was the plan. Quitting to work at a startup wasn’t part of the plan. And quitting the startup to become a full-time freelancer definitely wasn’t part of the plan. Then one day, it became an option.

My first day of “funemployment” was June 27, 2015. Looking back on that now, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. All I knew was that I had six months of freelance lined up, and a four-month buffer in savings I could use if I ever found myself without work. If I had to find a job after that, I told myself I’d never regret at least getting a taste of working for myself. The opportunity presented itself and the shopping ban taught me how little money I needed to live on. I had to at least see what would happen if I went out on my own.

After my first year of self-employment, I outlined most of the lessons I had learned in this post. You definitely need to be comfortable earning (and budgeting with) irregular income. Having savings in the bank is what will help you sleep at night. You should always save more than you think you’ll need for tax time (because not doing so could end your business). Hiring an accountant will be the best money you spend all year. And if you don’t feel like you’re being paid what you’re worth, you won’t enjoy doing the work.

All of those lessons still ring true for me today, but I learned another lesson in my first year that I wasn’t ready to share until now: I don’t actually love being a full-time freelancer. And by “freelancer,” I mean writing and doing other kinds of contract work for clients. When I quit my job, my goal wasn’t to do client work forever. My goal was to work for myself. I wanted to wake up in the morning and spend the first few hours of my day working on my blog. And for the first two years, I couldn’t, because I was always putting my clients first.

Blog posts were delayed. Some weren’t written at all. I have over 50 of them currently sitting in my drafts folder, right now, along with a list of ideas I’ve thought about working on. None of them have come to life yet because I always prioritized my clients’ goals and deadlines over my own.

This has been a running theme in all areas of my life: putting other people first. I didn’t actually realize that, until I started therapy in April and figured out a number of issues could be fixed by setting more boundaries in my life. On the personal side, that has meant communicating more of my thoughts and needs with the people I love (which has been both terrifying and liberating). And in my business, that has meant being honest with myself about what I want – and don’t want – and communicating that to my clients.

There are a number of reasons why I knew I wanted to quit freelancing one day:

  • I stopped feeling excited about the work.
  • I hated having to follow-up on late payments (this wasn’t an issue for me in 2015/16, but I feel like almost all of my clients were late to pay in 2017).
  • I started resenting the clients who paid late.
  • I then procrastinated the work.
  • And I wasn’t being the best freelancer I could be.

But I was still afraid to cut the cord. I first started freelancing on the side of my day job back in 2011, and it had done so many good things for me. It boosted my annual income, which helped me pay down my debt sooner. I then funnelled that money into my emergency fund, which helped me feel comfortable quitting my day job. And having enough client work lined up is the only reason I was able to quit my day job at all. For all those reasons and more, freelancing had been an incredible gift.

The problem with “gifts” like this is that I am the type of person who feels like she owes people things in return. I stayed at my last job for longer than I wanted to because deep down I felt like I owed my boss something. I felt like she had taken a chance on an island girl, brought her to the big city and made some of her dreams come true – and I owed her. The problem with quitting to work for multiple clients is that I then felt like I owed multiple people for the opportunity. I am grateful for it. But feeling like I was obligated to work felt – well, like an obligation. And pushing back my own goals for two more years felt like I was giving up on my dreams.

It wasn’t until a friend suggested I look up what percentage of my income has been from freelance work in 2017 that I realized I could potentially walk away from it. The answer: less than 10%. Last year, it was 31%. I needed that money. And I still need the 10% it’s given me this year, but I also know I could make up that 10% in other ways – ways that would involve me finally putting myself and my blog first. With these numbers in mind, I was one step closer to quitting. The day Lexie died, I made the decision and sent the emails to my clients.

Similar to my experiences with learning to communicate more of my thoughts and needs with loved ones, quitting has been liberating. Immediately, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted. And it’s opened up so much space for creativity and inspiration to pour into the work I’m doing.

But it’s also been terrifying. On top of always putting other people first and feeling like I owe them, something I am only just starting to talk about in therapy is the fact that I don’t feel like I am worthy of all the good that comes into my life. I don’t know where this belief comes from. I didn’t even know I had it, and I almost quit therapy when I realized I was going to have to dig deep and figure it out. But it’s there – hidden underneath every part of my life, including my work. I don’t want to feel this way anymore. It’s a recipe for a life of lost dreams.

So, here I am: at the beginning of my third-year of self-employment, and my first year of truly working for myself. I will never say a bad thing about freelancing. I didn’t quit because I hated it or hated my clients. I quit freelancing because quitting became an option, and I knew I would regret not seeing what would happen if I went out on my own. I also quit because I want to believe I am worthy of the opportunity.

Like so many of the changes I’ve made in my life, I don’t know how this is going to turn out. But losing both girls in nine days reminded me that life is short – too short to keep putting myself last. If I owe anyone anything, at this point, it’s me. And if I’m good to myself, I have to believe I’ll be a better version of myself for you too.

As always, thanks for your support. <3

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