I have always been a hard worker, turning up in the office early, leaving late, breaking plans to meet a deadline for a client who left the office hours before. It is an innate part of my makeup — I was in essence a workaholic. Then, one day, out of nowhere — life hit me.
I was in my early 30s and had been working in New York City for close to a decade. I’m English and had previously worked in London for most of my adult life so when New York was put on the table it was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was immediately and completely enamoured and enveloped by the lifestyle and of course the people. New Yorkers (City natives or not) are a unique law unto themselves, I adore them and lived and breathed the City. In my years there I saw it at its worst and at its best. I was working for a brilliant and growing agency, but over time I started to feel unfulfilled.
There's more to life
It wasn’t the money — I was being paid handsomely in return for all the hours I gave. It wasn’t the work either, I had managed to carve myself out a niche creating brands for healthcare and medical device products — a space that seemed boring and unattractive to most people in the industry which meant I didn’t have much competition, I was also fascinated by it. I got very attached to the products we helped to launch and market — these were life saving devices. I saw the results — real life people who’s lives were improved, and I felt a part of something. The clients all tended to be genuinely nice people too, which always helps.
One day I realised just how unhappy I was. My personal life had seen some change, I’d left a long-term relationship and was unhappy with where and how I was living, and I guess I just threw it all in.
Initially I took a side step from one agency to another. While my new gig was a satellite start-up, I was still employed and secure with health insurance, 401k, the lot. I found a couple of desks in a space at the heart of an incubator in the centre of SoHo and was suddenly surrounded by enthusiastic entrepreneurial ‘doers’. Little did I know then that the source of their enthusiasm was often driven by the desperation to make their business work. Talking animatedly and at length about their aspirations and goals in hope that one connection would mean the start of something great. But, regardless, the energy was infectious. I felt driven and rejuvenated — inspired. I was hooked on the life of the entrepreneur.
Finding an agency fit
It was at this time that my old boss, also a dear friend, approached and convinced me to join his new agency. But there was a ‘catch’ — I wouldn’t be employed, in fact no one in the agency was employed. We would be completely cloud based, each individual technically working as a consultant, taking responsibility for their growth and progression while moving together and servicing client business as any agency would. I was excited, driven by the energy of those around me and being a part of something new — industry changing even. And so I said yes.
That decision was to shape the next 4 years of my life, drastically. I had no real sense of what it meant to be self employed, completely in control of your destiny yet, equally, of your failures too. All I knew is that I had built up a sense of self confidence (maybe even a sense of self importance) that my skills and knowledge could be of value to brands all over the world.
The change to my every day was immediate. While I kept the desk space in SoHo I could now work from anywhere. That meant I was working from my home in NY, from the UK and from the Caribbean. I was no longer tied to my desk and didn’t have to be seen for people to believe I was working (but believe me, being self employed is a great way to keep focused on delivering great work efficiently)! I was suddenly blending life with work, not separating the two. I felt empowered.
A new lifestyle
Then life changing event number 2 happened, I became a Mother. This in itself is terrifying for a self employed person. There would be no paid maternity and no way to continue to maintain my client relationships if I decided to take any time off. Working remotely became my saving grace. I was able to continue working (and getting paid) while caring for my daughter 100% of the time. I was online and sending emails in the labour suite (with a lot of help from an epidural) and back in touch with clients just 2 weeks later with babe mostly attached to my breast. Yes, some days were more difficult than others and still remain so (she is only 2) but the flexibility and control that remote working affords me is invaluable. Control of where I work from, whether that be my home office or the local farm soft play. Control of when I work, around meal, bath and bed times or walking the dogs. And control of just how much work I can realistically take on while ensuring I can continue to provide for my daughter both emotionally and financially.
There is no doubt that shifting from full time to self employed remote work has greatly affected my finances (this does not have to be the case for everyone of course, it is simply my individual story) and time will tell if I get back to and surpass my previous salary. But what the move has done for me far out weighs the financial gains, for now at least.
Moving from full time to self employment takes guts. It also maybe takes a little naivety which keeps you protected from the harsh realities of going it alone. It’s not easy and it wont make you rich (not immediately anyway) but it will put you in control of you, and in my case has provided a self satisfaction I could never achieve working 80+ hour weeks for someone else.
(Originally published on Medium).
Read more about the UP way of working here.