Chances are if you’ve been outside of a cave with reliable internet access for the past two years, you’ve picked up on the general “lifestyle design” buzz that has been telling us to quit your job, leave your cubicle and start your own business. Words like “freelancing,” “location independence,” “anti 9-5” and “cubicle renegade,” are thrown around as if to wake the sleeping masses with a gallant call to action to free the oppressed, the sheep employees of corporate life.
I had my own business and recently chose to leave freelancing in order to work in one of those “damned cubicles.” It’s the choice I needed to make and “going corporate” has been totally freeing.
Of course, with every craze- there are two sides to every coin. Many of my friends and colleagues have quit their traditional jobs and decided to strike it out on their own, to them, I have nothing but respect to convey. They’re forging new trails off the beaten path and are valuable resources for those who dream of doing the same but need some guidance. Some of my favorite bloggers have started their own businesses, but they made calculated moves and forged a plan.
What I will say though, is that beyond the wise trailblazers that have made big decisions and long term plans to shake up their careers, there are a dozen others who tout themselves as career renegade gurus or people that want to make a quick buck publishing books on the “passion craze” or are living off Google Adsense and affilate sales selling what people want to hear, not what they need to hear. “Quit your job and follow your passion” is much sexier and gets more attention than someone who touts a message of looking inward for fulfilling work in the life they already have. Apparently even when it comes to careers, the “Eat, Pray, Love,” idea of leaving it all behind and starting fresh seems so exotic, so enticing and it sells more career books than more traditional advice. Heck, it even sounds better than “work your way up the corporate ladder,” but what they fail to mention is that sometimes, when you start over, you start from the bottom..many career shifters aren’t prepared for that.
Many “get rich online” and “follow your passion” gurus are rich simply because they’re talking about getting rich online/quitting the cubicle, not because they will help you make a plan to build a successful business. Some (not all) “anti corporate” heroes make money because they sell you on an idea, not on a plan, and it’s a very profitable and popular idea.
I had a freelancing business for nearly two years and over time, I realized that while I loved the work, I didn’t love the lifestyle. While freelancing provides unique freedoms and there are plenty of resources for freelancers to succeed, it does not always afford autonomy over your own work, which is one of the biggest selling points that many of the “quit your job” passion-fuelers base their claims upon. If you want more control over your work, more freedom and more cool projects, trust me- freelancing isn’t the sexy catch all people claim it to be. It’s rewarding yes, but is it the only answer? Nope!
When it comes to starting your own business- the gurus seem to imply that having your own business is the ultimate freedom. While anyone would assume there’s a downside to working for yourself, it’s appealing to sell “hard work=freedom,” but shaky ground to tell potential business owners, Etsy sellers, potential nomads and possible freelancers that “sure, you can work from anywhere at whatever hours you want, but you’ll always be working!”
You start your own business to create more freedom- but it’s easy to feel as if you’re more tied to a desk and sometimes feels like you have even less control over the work you produce. If you’re not prepared for overdue invoices, clients that cancel work midstream (without pay) or have the savings in place to cover your tush during slow months, you’ll quickly see the dream evaporate. My experience with running my own business was at times challenging, but it was very rewarding for the bulk of it- but as I grew older and my life changed (for the better) my needs for what work would be changed…and I found I actually found the freelancing lifestyle less and less appealing both personally and professionally. Of course, that epiphany that I wasn’t satisfied was a very uncomfortable place to be- while everyone else seemed to be wanting to quit their traditional jobs, I wanted to find one.
I sensed over time that just because you’re passionate about your work, it doesn’t mean that creating your own business around it is the best way to create a career you love.
I recently read the book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport, Newport discusses the plight that impacts many people that “follow their passion.” Some hope that starting their own business will finally lead to fulfillment (because they’ve been told it will), but end up chasing a mirage. The problem isn’t the passion or the idea that their work doesn’t align with their passion, it’s a lack of other factors that make work truly rewarding- autonomy, value, freedom and a few other tangibles. Many employees feel powerless in their jobs and their lack of fulfillment isn’t a lack of passion, it’s a lack of control..sadly, many don’t realize that “striking it out on your own” doesn’t always lead to the types of control you want, nor will “passion” be enough to make you happy, pay your bills or fall in love with your work.
I had been struggling with the decision to get a “job” for a long time (nearly a year) and had doubted my decision to throw it the towel on my freelancing business to work for an employer. At times, I felt like a fluke, like a quitter, that this magic elixir of being self-employed didn’t do what it was supposed to do- lead to full-time bliss for part-time work. I began to realize that people with a traditional job could be happy, they could be fulfilled and they didn’t have to strike it out on their own if they knew what to look for, what to demand of themselves and if they put in the time to find an employer who resonated with their values.
After months of stomach aches, indecision and feeling like a “passion failure,” I finally, and excitedly, accepted a job offer to do social media freelancing for one client (an employer) instead of keeping up the juggling act of several. I realized I loved the work but needed it in a different context- the “freedom” of freelancing began to feel claustrophobic, as I became a hermit tied to my computer all day… not at coffee shops, not at bookstores, by myself, in my home office. I wasn’t meeting new people, I was working all the time and I found that there was a disconnect between how I viewed my work and what my clients wanted (or heck, were willing to pay). I was growing weary of invoices months overdue (whereas credit cards and car payments always arrive on time) and my skills and abilities in the social media field began to feel stagnate as I began doing whatever would pay the bills, not what would advance my career.
Freelancing isn’t bad- it’s just not the magic pill everyone expects it to be. Following you passion or hating your current job isn’t enough to be successful in your work. Passion fades but commitment to a craft does not. You may find that the way you execute you work (like the company you work for or the position you have) diminishes over time, but your love, or your calling for the work itself stays strong. Be wise about what you quit on- be sure if you love the work, not the job, you’re making a solid choice on how to carry out that work, not just blindly “hate jobs.” There may may be consequences you don’t intend (like becoming a hermit) or you may find it’s helpful for a time, but not a permanent lifestyle. It helped me get through graduate school and even lead me to snag the job I have now, but as with anything- it has a time and a place.
Before you go all in and quit your job, make sure you’ve done your research, saved up an emergency fund, built a solid client base and you have the heart and hustle to make it work. I’d also recommend you do a serious assessment of your current career and your actual job to see why it lacks and if the things you’re missing from your daily work would actually be solved by flying solo. If you’re valuable enough to your company, they may be willing to work with you- if not, be brave and find a company that will let you do work you love in a context that addresses your needs.
I don’t have any beef with freelancing, but I do worry about people that chase the freelancing mirage hoping it will somehow fulfill a void in their life. When I was a broke and overbooked college student, it was perfect for me. I could work from class (yep, did that!) or late at night, from my phone or from NYC if I so chose (and did). A year after graduating though, I realized that personally and professionally, I wasn’t able to run a business and advocate for the intangibles you can get from the right workplace- colleagues, benefits, a steady paycheck, professional growth, work you love and a cause you believe in.
So, after running a solid freelancing business for nearly 2 years that I should have loved, I got a day job and I LOVE it. I struggled with the idea that I was “quitting the dream” for over 6 months, but now feel solid in my decision and proud I could own up to what I really wanted, not what I thought I should want.
Sometimes, walking in your truth means you’re an iconoclast among iconoclasts- take ownership of your choices, and do work that you love, even if people don’t get it.
Love from the 9-5,
P.S. Lots of love to all of my freelancing friends that supported my decision and helped talk me through it without judgement or calling me a “cubicle slave,” (ha!) you all are amazing and I wish you the best of luck as you build your own successful businesses. To the people that didn’t understand my choice, good luck to you too! haha!
P.P.S. This blog (and BeautifulGiveaways.com) will still get all the love and attention it deserves and I will still offer Rockstar Blogger Coaching– but the bulk of my freelancing work via Cake Mix Media has been phased out to refocus on blogging, social media management in my new role & coaching.