How do self-employed people actually do it?
The successful ones? The ones that have good lives and make money without a corporation at their back?
That was a question I pondered for quite some time as I weighed up the decision to go it alone. In the end it took me at least a year to get up the courage to quit.
By that point I had complete clarity that it was the right way to go and had some immediate concrete steps that helped me transition from being on a payroll to managing my own payroll.
And things have taken their own path since then.
But from time to time it occurs to me to think that I wish I’d had a “me” alongside me then, sharing her experience. Here are some key things I’d tell her:
1. People May Doubt Your Sanity
In all my “should I/shouldn’t I?” deliberations, it did cross my mind to consider that some people might think I’d lost the plot to walk away from what was on the face of it a great job. But I wasn’t ready for how they’d share that or how it would impact me.
For example, my boss at the time thought I was having a nervous breakdown, and suggested I take a sabbatical and not do anything until I’d returned. That did cause me to wonder for a moment if he might be right.
Then, a headhunter I’d known called me up with some fantastic opportunity. He was shocked when I said no to it and told him why. In fact, he got a bit shitty with me, like I’d deliberately set out to upset him. That too made wonder whether people might be seeing things I wasn’t.
I guess till then everyone in my circle had seen me as a corporate ladder sort of person who would live out her career in bigger and bigger roles, and that when I chose not to see myself like that, it came as a bit of a surprise.
Looking back I can see that I was upsetting the status quo at the time and that people’s reactions just reflected that.
2. Disconnecting from office politics was easy
One of the things I found most difficult about working for a big company was the politics. No matter what anyone says, underneath all the rational stuff that gets attended to, there’s a ton of emotional stuff and outright power play.
I used to find myself in mind-numbing conversations about how to position this or that in order that someone in power would say yes to it. And endlessly reworking things, just because the guy at the top wanted it so.
I didn’t miss this for a second. But…
3. Disconnecting from the people was tough
On the other hand, it was much more difficult to disengage from my colleagues.
One of the great, positive things about corporations is that they are communities. They’re places where you can turn up day to day and feel part of something bigger than yourself.
I’d been part of a fabulous team and even though I still keep in touch with some of them socially, it was strange not to have them so present in my life.
For a while it was odd not to dial in automatically for voice messages, or jump online to get the latest stream of email.
But then a kind of peace decended and it was okay.
4. Sometimes you will feel lonely. But you’re not
I guess it depends on what you do after you quit. I spend, by choice, a large part of my week at home and coach mainly by Skype or phone these days.
There are days, especially if my other half is away and the children aren’t around, when I feel alone.
But I’m not.
Thanks to the internet and social media, I can connect with folks online when I want. I’m a member of several online communities and have virtual friends I rarely see in person but with whom I chat online.
I also make sure to do at least one in-person social thing a week, and to head off to my local coffee shop of a morning in the knowledge that some other *alternative* sorts are sure to be hanging out there too.
The important thing is that you have to work at creating your *colleagues* in a very different way.
5. You have to relearn how to spend your time
If you work for a corporation, the chances are that you are on some kind of contract that sets the context for how you spend your days. And you create habits and rituals around that. Get up. Travel (or not). Start work … All at certain times.
Even the content of what you do will be largely guided by the job you’re doing.
Working for yourself, it’s a whole new ball game. You yourself get to create it all: context, what and when.
Ah, the freedom!
But in the beginning, there were days when I felt a little adrift and disoriented. I guess I’d been so used to being in the system.
As time has gone by I’ve found my own rhythm. It has kind of emerged. I wished I’d knew from the outset that’s how it would be.
6. You have to rethink money
You know what it’s like. You have a salary and performance or bonus elements of one form or another, and maybe some benefits too. I know I did. There’s a kind of security around all of that.
This all goes when you work for yourself. You have to go back to basics in figuring out for yourself what you’re going to pay yourself and how.
And of course all of that assumes that your business venture makes money.
When I quit my consulting job at first, I started off freelancing, which was great. But it took a full three months of being self-employed and doing anything before any money started arriving in my bank account.
And a good year or so after that before I could get my head round managing the financial ebbs and flows and being okay with them.
There was anxiety for me in all of that then. Now, I’d tell myself that’s just the way it is.
7. You will impact other people
So, there are the doubters. But there will also be people who say “wow” and notice your move more than you’d imagine.
When I quit, a couple of my friends were soon after inspired to do the same. Not all of them have stayed the course – it’s not everyone’s bag and everyone has their own way of being at their best in work. But that’s not the point.
The point is: prepare to become a role model, and don’t play it down. In the beginning, I did. In fact, until a coach pointed out to me a few months ago that I was one of the best examples he knew of someone who had created work and life exactly on their terms, I had under-estimated the significance of my achievement.
8. It’s a huge change
The repercussions of you quitting may go on for years. Often good. But sometimes in challenging ways.
Sometimes more than others you have to work at being emotionally bouyant. If, on a down day, you catch wind of a former colleague landing a huge job, you might expect to feel a pang of jealousy.
Or to wish you’d stayed in a job and could collect a regular salary when the markets get quieter and your earnings are down.
You may have moments of insecurity that give rise to these feelings.
Now I remind myself of my decision and what I continue to love about it: the freedom of choice, and the excellent lifestyle, the ability to make money doing what I love.
9. The need for courage goes on and on
I suspect I imagined that the most bold thing I’d ever do was step off the corporate ladder and then it would be a breeze.
I could not have been more wrong. That bold step was just the first of many.
As a self-employed person, you have to find a certain courage almost daily to put yourself and your offerings out there and have people respond to them. For sure there are often more Hell No’s than Hell Yes’s.
I used to see that as rejection and feel wounded. Now I see that a yes or no – or even stoney silence – is just a piece of information.
10. You don’t have to get into self development. But you will
Given that I majored in Psychology at university, it’s amazing for me now to consider that, until I began thinking about working for myself, I had done very little personal development. Sure, the occasional leadership course. But no real depth work.
But I found myself drawn to the coaches and self-help writers when I began to get my head round just how I was going to quit.
And I’ve never stopped. Over the last years, I have spent tens of thousands of pounds on my own development in the form of coaching support, or training programmes I’ve attended.
I don’t regret a penny. Top class athletes wouldn’t compete without their support team. Why should you?
Quitting your job is one of life’s biggies. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The internet is full of false optimism masquerading as advice.
Which is not to say that it’s not rewarding. It is.
But if you quit, do it with your eyes open.
Over to you…
So, tell me, if you’re currently thinking of quitting, what does this raise for you? Or if you have already quit and are doing your own thing, what experiences of yours does this talk to? Do you have any personal “lessons learned” of your own? Jump onto the comments below and share!