This blog post started out called ‘Why you shouldn’t have to get a proper job’. It was going to be about working for yourself, how it’s ok if you feel stifled by the 9-5, and how we are funnelled from school in to work without necessarily realising that there’s another option. However, as I wrote it I realised it was taking another direction. I expect I’ll still write the original post at some point, but today it turns out there’s a little bit of my personal story that wants to come out…
I recently had reason to compile an employment history, going back ten years. After quite a lot of effort, I ended up with a list of seventeen different places I had worked during that time – and I’m not convinced that I got all of them! It might be fair to assume that I was temping, or that these were fairly unskilled, disposable sort of jobs. Perhaps I was no good and kept getting fired? And where is my career progression?
The truth is, I don’t have what most people would term a ‘proper job’. I have had them in the past; the seventeen I managed to list included teaching A levels, working as a research associate at a university, and mentoring vulnerable young people.
But here’s what it boils down to – the ‘normal’ sorts of jobs that I had been conditioned to aspire to just don’t suit me. Although I have almost always enjoyed the day-to-day work, I so often felt restricted, or like I couldn’t quite do what I wanted to with the role, or make it as good as I thought it could be. I got bored with doing the same stuff, day in day out, and could never spend more than a couple of years in a job before I started to feel stale. And really – I don’t like spending my time fulfilling someone else’s agenda.
Accepting that doing this sort of job was not working out for me was a challenge, and came along with a lot of guilt and uncertainty. ‘Get a proper job’ had been so ingrained in to my life plan from an early age I almost felt like I’d failed, or like there was something wrong with me because I felt so uncomfortable doing it. I spent a number of years working freelance on the side, trying to build up experience and contacts so I could ‘one day’ leave work and do what I actually wanted to do. Of course, I had to put my ‘real job’ first, so I was never able to spare enough time to get my own stuff to a stage where it was much more than a hobby.
Then ‘one day’, I just decided to do it. I had been working a few short-term contracts which were coming to an end, and I quite simply decided not to try and get them renewed, and not to look for anything else. It was wonderfully liberating, and utterly terrifying.
In case you are reading this assuming that I must have had a nice financial cushion to support me making this leap let me set the scene: I was a single mum, living in a flat on the outskirts of Oxford. I had a few thousand pounds in savings, which I’d managed to scrape together by working about five different jobs. I was on tax credits and housing benefit.
Looking back, I have no idea how I had the courage to take the leap. In actual fact I don’t remember that time of my life very clearly – I was living moment to moment just trying to get by, skirting round the edge of depression, and just focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. I was often up working until the early hours of the morning, as well as in any snatched moment that I could, just to make sure I fulfilled my contracted hours. Most weeks I would drop my daughter off at ballet on a Monday afternoon, and then sit on the floor in the entrance hall studying, making notes, or planning things for the next day – I couldn’t even justify taking time out for that half an hour. I wasn’t really living, just existing.
Naturally, my daughter suffered too. I was so exhausted from work I barely had the energy to play with her, not to mention the fact that it was hard to be truly in the moment with her while my mind wandered off to the huge pile of work that awaited as soon as she was in bed.
Giving up work was a massive leap of faith – I had no idea what was going to happen, or how I was going to survive. I had a bit of work lined up, and I had taken over the running of a local festival (on a voluntary basis) so my vague plan was to build that to the point where it provided me with a living. How I was going to do that, I didn’t have a clue, but I knew that I *had* to make it work.
It’s now nearly three years since I gave up employment, and I can honestly say that I’ve not regretted it for a second. I still work as hard as ever, and there are still times when it’s stressful and I feel like I’m being pulled in twenty different directions. However the single biggest difference is that I have total control over what I do and don’t do. If I don’t like the ethos of an individual or an organisation, I don’t work with them. I decide how much I’m worth paying, and charge my clients accordingly. I structure my working day to fit around my daughter so I pick her up from school every day – and when I take her to ballet I take a trashy novel to read!
So here’s what I would like to say to you today: so many people will tell you to face your fears, take the leap, push yourself, make that huge decision. For me, it wasn’t like that at all – it was simply realising that I was worth more than the life I had created for myself. I deserved better; my daughter deserved better. Taking the leap wasn’t a huge catastrophic thing, it was like a sigh of relief and a gift to myself all rolled in to one – albeit quite a scary one!
I was going to write that something about knowing I was going to make it work because I had no other option, but that’s not quite true; as a qualified teacher I always knew I had that to fall back on, if I got really desperate. To be honest, I could have got a job in Tesco if I got really desperate. The truth is I gave myself no other option, because I simply could not bear to let myself live that way again.
So, over to you. Is that vague feeling of unsatisfaction enough for you to make a change in your life? How bad will it need to get before you do something about it? Be honest with yourself – you may not be as miserable as I was, but are you worth more than the life you are living at the moment?
If so, I urge you to take the leap. You may just surprise yourself.