decade in the job

Today is a milestone of sorts for me.

Ten years ago, 5th January 2005, I packed in my last normal job and went rogue, ie self-employed.

I had turned down the opportunity to make permanent my temporary office job, and didn’t feel compelled to get a new one immediately because at the time I was making enough from work on the side – an occasional bit of overpaid radio comedy, on top of a regular income from going to a rich businessman’s house every Saturday morning so he could dictate his memoirs to me. Plus in those halcyon days, my rent was only £50 a week. IN ZONE 2 LONDON. It would no doubt be far more challenging to try this now, when you need to be clearing £40K a year just to be able to sublet a beanbag in zone 6.

By the time the radio show was cancelled and the memoir-transcribing was on hiatus, frankly I was ruined for proper jobs. I was always terrible at getting them anyway, so being self-employed didn’t really feel like a choice – although I suppose it is, if the absence of an action counts as an action itself. Also, I think it was easier for me to default to this feckless ‘career’ ‘path’ because my father is a sculptor, and my brother is a comedian; I wasn’t taking a risk and breaking the mould, because that mould was already long broken.

Nonetheless, this past decade has been full of fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency hard graft, begging for work, monumental levels of procrastination, frequent feelings of failure, frequent feelings of smugness when I don’t have to get up on Monday morning to go to an office, stress about my lack of current and future financial/career/emotional security, and, above all, the absolute joy of getting to do pretty much what I wanted.

Self-employment is a pretty great way to live, if like me you favour variety, self-reliance and solitude over stability, structure and the company of colleagues.

But let’s not forget that fear. It’s not my ideal constant companion, but maybe I’ll get used to it after another ten years.

Are you in the same self-employment boat? I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you’re willing to share them in the comments.

PS More about freelancing in the October 2014 episode of Sound Women.

7 Comments to “decade in the job”

  1. Thanks for your lovely comments, everybody! And good luck. We’re all taking a risk, but it seems like less of a risk than NOT doing it, right?

  2. I am in my first week of self-employment so I’m very happy to have stumbled across this post! It also happens that my first day corresponds with your 10 year anniversary. I can already empathise with the fear, the smugness (have you seen how crap the weather was today?) and the love of solitude and one’s own postcode. Thanks for this.

  3. That is so true! I really like your feelings about being self employed..

  4. Hi Helen – i’m now 11 years into my self employment and feel the same fear and excitement. Fear as I never know where the next job is coming from but excitement when things work out. It keeps me on my toes! The best feeling is being able to stay in bed when its cold and wet outside or sitting in the garden on a sunny day instead of being chained to a not very well paid desk job.

  5. Congrats, Helen!

    March 1st will be my one year anniversary of self-employment. It’s scary as hell, and I ADORE it.

  6. Congratulations Helen. I’m in year 6 of freedom from corporate land myself and can highly recommend it! You’re an inspiration! Can’t wait for your new radiotopia show- when will it launch?

  7. I went to good universities, obtained several useful degrees, but have yet to feel any sort of occupational fulfillment. I’m 34 and have re-entered college with a new plan. It’s a gamble, but one that excites me. I am unsure if I will completely be self-employed, as my long term goals will require a bit of assistance from state agencies and social workers, but their interference and influence should be minimal.

    Congratulations on your milestone, Helen. Thanks for sharing your work and taking us along for the ride.

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