An Accidental Manifesto: The Truth About Working for Oneself

Aerial Ardour Illustration of El-Be

Aerial Ardour created this beautiful illustration of me; Aireen is a fellow entrepreneur who rocks it out daily with her graphic design and illustration work.

I’ve felt compelled to dispel some complete lies about working for yourself for some time now, but unfortunately I just haven’t had the time. (A little meta joke, I guess.) At any rate, I feel that there are a lot of pretty major misconceptions about what it means to work for yourself, and I think that two years ago I was guilty of espousing these beliefs as well. I can say with complete honesty though today that working for yourself is not the amazing, twinkling, unicorn-laden heaven that people think it is. It’s pretty great, but it’s harder work than a lot of people realize. And sometimes, it really, really, really sucks.

The pros:
I love my job. I love that I get to work with small businesses to help them with their marketing. For me this means that I usually get to work directly with the owner, which means that work can get done very, very quickly. This is great. I love being able to see the direct impact of my work, which was a big complaint I had when I worked for larger companies in Chicago. I feel like I am honestly making a difference, and while that sounds dorky, that really does mean the world to me. I love that my job has taught me new skills and still continues to do so. I love that working for myself has taught me what the entrepreneurs and business owners that I work with are hoping for when they hire marketing help. And I love that I’ve finally found a niche for myself where I can marry my many interests (writing! history! math! science! etc etc!) into one heaping stew of a job. And for the most part, it’s a wonderful experience, but…

The cons:
I am never off of work. And if I am off, I feel guilty. Like really guilty. There’s always something that I can be doing to make my clients, my business or myself better. Even as I’m going into this weekend with enough time to write a blog post (!) I feel guilty that I don’t have more than an hour or two of work planned for tomorrow. I get phone calls, emails and texts from clients all hours of the night wanting immediate help. With the advent of smartphones, we’re always connected, which is great! But with the advent of smartphones, we’re always connected…which can be an awful, awful, awful drain on my soul.

If I’m not working, I’m also not making money, which means I’m also not paying my bills. Even when I knock out 70-hour work weeks, there’s a decent chance that I’m still laying awake at night worrying about paying my bills. Because if I’m awake, shouldn’t I be working? I probably should. Then I lay there, wondering if it’s OK that I’m trying to sleep. Ah, the life and loves of an anxiety-ridden-perfectionist entrepreneur.

Every month I seem to learn a new lesson. The issue with overextending oneself and the absolute draining effect it can have. The problem with assuming that because an owner likes me and is my friend that his/her manager is willing to give me the time of day. The importance of not allowing myself to be severely taken advantage of. (I have yet to learn this one, but it’s on my docket.) The list will likely go on forever. Which is good, because I honestly do think that the day that I feel I’ve stopped learning is likely the day I’ve died, but it can be painful and hurtful sometimes to learn these lessons, especially when they’re stacked on top of each other all day long.

I also have a hard time getting people to believe that I work. This one doesn’t bother me as much as it used to, because I don’t get as many texts, emails and phone calls from friends asking me to grab a daytime beer. “You work from home, what else are you doing??” Working. It’s just from home, not from an office.

And the biggest thing: Working for yourself is a TON of pressure. I realize that for me a lot of it is self-induced, but it’s heavy pressure. Constant, not-sleeping-at-night-or-thinking-clearly pressure. I want to succeed at my business, and I am, but I always wonder what I could and should be doing better. And how can I be better for my clients? Even a short email with a slightly negative comment from a client gets my heart pumping at an all-too-fast rate. Heck, even an email with a neutral instead of incredibly complimentary comment gets me super worried. I want to be perfect for each and every one of my clients, and it’s hard to accept that sometimes it takes a bit more time with some people to achieve their idea of perfection.

It’s a maddening existence to be in a constant cycle of keeping up with current business, which I am truly blessed has gotten to be a difficult thing to stay on top of, as well as to continue cultivating new business. And trust me, it is so, so rewarding when I reach that balance of having clients that are happy, having more work come in and having a chance to take a deep breath and feel good about what I do. But it is so easy to allow myself to get wrapped up in the personal pressure of it all.

I guess the moral of this (way long) story is that working from home can be incredibly rewarding. But I want people to know there’s a lot of pressure and sometimes negativity involved. You have to be your own salesperson, accountant, marketer, CEO, etc. And I hate to say it, but even with my obnoxiously large head, it’s a lot of hats to wear. So if you’re thinking of starting your own business, go for it! But please, keep in mind all of the free services that exist to help you along the way. And feel free to ask people such as myself (not that I’m an authority) for advice. People will likely be very glad to help you out, because they know what you’re about to face. Which is a scary yet hopefully a super-rewarding experience.

But seriously, guys, I love my job. And I’m thankful every day that I decided to dive headfirst into it.