5 Lessons of Self Employment that Nobody Tells You

This post was last updated on February 16th, 2021

clouds above cotton field filled with flowers - 5 Lessons of Self Employment that Nobody Tells You

And just like that, I left the salaried workforce and dove straight into self-employment. I spent the first few days comparing my new (somewhat more carefree) life to my friends and former colleagues who were still in the workforce.  No more rushed commutes and jam-packed subways for me, I thought.  Life seemed to slow down a little.  All the office politics and gossip were now gone.  The ability to get up each morning and pursue my passion project was an inviting prospect.

Although I’d always felt entrepreneurial and wanted to do something more creative, I’d always embraced office life as my “normal”.  Having been brought up in a time when that’s what you did – get a steady job, this was ingrained in me.  A solid company career being the defining path back then.  At the time, I thought that the world of finance was my path.  Yes, I was good at finance and it paid well enough but I never truly had a passion for it.

Nobody told me that there would be a period of profound adjustment after leaving the traditional workforce.  For some reason, I was always thinking of my friends and former colleagues starting their working day. Why did it now matter to me? I often asked myself.  I’m in a new place of freedom now, where I can work the hours that I want to. 

This was where cold hard reality met expectation and I found that I needed to adjust.

Salaried Work is becoming Less Attractive

Collectively, our working lives are changing, and at a rapid rate.  The quality of office spaces have been declining since the introduction of open-plan seating (already an assault to our senses and concentration) to the novel concept of “hot-desking”.  

If you haven’t come across the term “hot-desking”, it involves desks being allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis each day.  So you have no idea who you’ll be sitting next to.  Ad-hoc team meetings take longer to organise and your daily interactions could be with anyone from marketing to HR.  Not that this is bad per-se, but it’s more difficult to build cohesion with your team if you don’t see them regularly.

Outsourcing and AI are Fundamentally Changing Traditional Employment

Our tasks are now being outsourced and we’re transforming ourselves into managers of remote resources, rather than performing our traditional professions.  Accordingly, I found in my former position, that this usually involved navigating communication difficulties in daily video calls with someone on the other side of the world.  We are coaching others remotely to do the tasks that we previously took pride in.  

Many of us never signed up or wanted to be a coordinator of remote resources.  It’s not why we went to university.

At the same time, the continual slew of cost cutting – clothed in the corporate-speak of “rationalisation” rolls on around us.  We see our colleagues drift away as we’re told that one person in south-east Asia can now magically do the job that was previously done by three with the help of Artificial Intelligence (AI).  

artificial intelligence typed on piece of paper in typewriter

If we query how these overseas workers will fully engage with company news, we are often told this will be via regular video calls.  I brought this up in numerous meetings, but the reality is that there is no easy answer to cohesion with off-shore teams.  My feeling was that there were costs to be cut and the nuances of workday connections weren’t going to get in the way of my employer’s plans.

Career Adjustment is Real

Personally, my new found freedom only sparked uncertainty.  It’s much like the feeling I had the first time I visited a fancy grocery store on my inaugural overseas trip to London, UK as a 20 year old. As I found with the incredible treasure of a grocery selection from around the world, so much choice with your time can paralyse your decision making.  

I couldn’t decide how to best allocate my time between competing ambitions.  These were my waking thought patterns in my post nine-to-six worklife.

There’s a power to be found in routine.  You don’t always know it when you’re in it, but you miss it when it’s gone.  It can take time to adjust to the boundless new-found freedoms.  A kind of existential adjustment, some might call it.  Others might say that I had a mid-career crisis.  However you cut it, a profound change was occurring and I needed  to jump aboard it.

Embarking on a new chapter in life can be scary.  I’d long heard stories of others losing direction after leaving a career job.  Accordingly, it takes time to get used to working for yourself. Psychologists might label it as Adjustment Disorder, but however you dress it, your headspace is going through tectonic shifts.  Whether you’re pushed out or leave the salaried workforce by your own accord, the acclimatisation to your new “normal” will often have the same profound effect. 

two people walking on beach - freedom - 5 Lessons of Self Employment that Nobody Tells You

Light at the end of the Tunnel

But then something magical happens.  You stop thinking about what your former colleagues are doing at work.  Your former worklife and all of the banalities of working hours, meeting times and deliverables fade into the background and you’re left with a profound sense of grounded direction.  This is particularly true if you’re doing something that you love or are passionate about.

How do you know what you love doing?  The answer is easy.  Look at those passions, hobbies and artistic endeavours that make you lose track of time, otherwise called a state of flow.  Then, do those things, it’s that simple!

If you can see a forward path in that passion, that’s even better.  This is because a vision will be the fuel which will keep you going when many others would give up.  Keep updating that inspiration as you go. 

1. Corporate Workplaces vs Creative Pursuits

Corporate culture isn’t good for us creatives.  The topic of many conversations with former colleagues would often consist of who was going for this or that position, speculation on salaries or upcoming layoffs.

I found these salary comparisons to be banal and the biggest assassin of my entrepreneurial mind.  I knew that there wouldn’t be much money coming in at the beginning of self-employment.  So I found this salary comparison gossip to be a huge hindrance.

That’s the thing, we can see the path to a much more satisfying life with higher earnings, but we get stuck in the short-term rut of comparing the here and now.  The corporatised collective life doesn’t nurture our visionary pursuits.  We need solitude and encouraging support from like minded people to achieve our dreams.

2. Work Becomes Life in Self Employment

In my prior salaried  life, I often found that I needed a herculean mental effort just to get started.  I’d live in innate fear of what untold problems could exist in my email inbox.  These fears were of course, mostly unfounded, but they were always there.

When you love what you’re doing, there’s no distinction between life and work.  They both complement and improve each other. I found that I would spend more time on growing my business. Others mundane tasks could be delegated or outsourced.

In self-employment, you often love what you’re doing and can see the path before you.  Things that were difficult before now take on a new purpose. For example, I like to get up very early in the morning due to the peace and lack of distractions.  There’s a calmness and It’s the perfect time to get things done.  Accordingly, now, the one thing that pushes me to get out of bed is that I can see the path of my dreams. 

3. There’s Community Online – Good Community that’s Supportive

The finance community from my prior role, although supportive, never fully matched my aspirations.  For this reason, you need to find a tribe that supports you.  

If you’re heading down an artistic or entrepreneurial path, be aware that there are people out there who are on the same road as you who will support you.  Thankfully, technology has enabled such connections. We should be thankful to the gods that we live in a time where it’s easy to connect with like minded souls who are on the same journey as us.  

There is support out there, for whatever business or niche topic that interests you.  I found mastermind groups to be especially encouraging.  These groups can be found on social media channels including Youtube, Facebook and Instagram. 

two swans swimming

Often these collectives set accountability targets which will help you set the goals which you need to achieve by the next week’s meeting.  This improves your mindset so much and will mean that you’re much more likely to make progress.. 

Nobody likes to report to the group that they haven’t achieved their targets.  Much like weight-loss groups that set exercise goals, these psychological group-think sessions can really work. They’ve done so much for me.

4. Imposter Syndrome in Self Employment – Push Through It

At some stage during your self-employment journey, you’re likely to get some niggling feeling that you’re somewhat of a pretender and somehow not worthy.  I’ve felt it.  “Everyone can see that I’m an imposter”, you say to yourself. 

The truth is, you’re being too much of a perfectionist. You’ve worked hard and you know your stuff.  Give yourself credit.

Everyone feels some level of imposter syndrome when embarking on new endeavours.  At some stage, you’ll probably say to yourself “Who am I to be – fill in the blank”.  It’s normal.  We all go through it and it shows we are human.

The reality is that most people admire what you’re doing.  Although they might not say it, they respect that you’ve been bold enough to take action.  They may even wish that they had taken such action and look up to you.

My best advice is to just acknowledge it.  Say to yourself, “oh there is the imposter self-talk again”, push through it and move on.  You’ve got this.

 

5. You don’t need to be the Absolute Industry Expert

This is tied into imposter syndrome.  Being the absolute expert in your field is overrated and unnecessary.  What nobody tells you is that you don’t need to be the authority in order to help others and share your knowledge.

Say that you’re starting a photography teaching business.  It certainly helps if you’re an expert, but the main thing is that you have more knowledge than your students.  There’s always room for another voice and another view.  Even if you’ve only got mid-range experience with photography, you are likely to have more knowledge than your students.  

Also, here’s the important thing:  People are more attracted to your business story, your journey and your personality.  Your sense of humour is also your best friend.  It’s these things that build your personal brand and make people come back.

Outcome of My Lessons in Self Employment

The mind-shift needed to move out of corporate life takes time.  You need to give yourself space during this transition.  Be patient and gentle with yourself.

It’s especially important to look at your strengths.  I know everyone says this but it’s so true.  We all have amazing innate qualities which we need to study and build upon.  Most people never do this self-study but it can pay amazing dividends.  

Take time and look at what you do well.  Make notes and look for connections between your skills and personal strengths.  

From there, make a list of self-employment opportunities that you’d like to investigate.  It might be an online business such as a blog or an e-commerce business.  Otherwise it might be any sort of physical business.

Choose the best opportunity and start working on it every day.  Over time, you’ll start to see progress but it might take time.  The benefits of self-employment are many and varied.  

You need to be relentless to achieve your goals, so don’t give up!

Frequently Asked Questions – self employment

Can I start self employment if I’m an older person?

Absolutely you can. The great thing about being older is that you can play by your own rules.  Furthermore, your experience is worth a lot. Why not harness this experience and energy to build a fulfilling and profitable business, regardless of your age.

How can I beat imposter syndrome?

Believe in yourself.  Everyone suffers doubts from time to time when they’re starting a creative endeavour. The winners are those people that fight through the doubts.  The reality is that if you know more about a subject than others, you’re in a position to share that knowledge.  It’s almost a duty to release that advice into the world.

So fight through imposter syndrome. Just remember that it’s a passing phase.

How should I deal with social media haters?

This can be difficult to do, but it’s best to just ignore them. The reality is that anyone who has time to leave negative judgement on your endeavours is just coming from a place of envy. 

Your peers who are successful business owners don’t think in that mindset. They tend to be more supportive and are concentrated on moving their businesses forward.  They would never have time to leave hateful comments.  What I am saying is that the people who leave hateful comments are jealous and irrelevant to you.

What’s the most important thing you can do to grow your business?

Your revenue must be scalable in terms of its inputs.  With the requirement for more inputs, you will likely need more man hours.  So make sure to employ additional resources as soon as possible. This might include virtual assistance, new staff etc.  

How do I avoid overwork if I’m self employed?

It runs against common belief but many business owners work much harder than they would have a normal job. This is particularly true if they have a lot of drive and want to see quick results.

To avoid this you really need to give time for yourself to recuperate. Try to take a weekend off regularly to maintain a healthy work life balance.

Photos by D L on Unsplash

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