Things that surprised me about being self-employed
So, as many of you know, for the last 6 months or so I’ve been spending all my time working full-time on books, meaning I’ve been effectively working from home for half a year. Despite what many people, myself included, think about this situation, it actually turns out to be a lot different than I anticipated. How? Well, for starters:
I still set an alarm clock
This was something I was unashamedly looking forward to, getting to chuck that damn alarm clock out the window and say “Never Again!” as it sailed through the air. No more arbitrary times to rise from peaceful slumber, no more interrupted dreams and desperately guzzled coffee. From now on I rise when I feel like it and do my work on my own schedule.
That system held up less than a month. Here’s why: I do much better work in the mornings. Post workout, pre-lunch, that’s my sweet spot where I can write the most, and, more importantly, the best. Don’t get me wrong, I still work in the afternoon, but once I’ve taken the down time to prep, cook, and eat a lunch, plus watch some television, my head is just not as in the game as it is beforehand. So by sleeping later, I was robbing myself of productive hours. That shit didn’t fly, not when it was my own job, company, and income on the line. So the alarm clock came back into the house. Oh, and speaking of hating loss of productive time:
Vacations have become stress-events
Right now, as I type this, I’m sitting in Charleston, South Carolina, on a mini-vacation while my friends go get breakfast. They are, thankfully, bringing something back for me, but I refused to go with them. Why? Because even though I’m on vacation, I can still feel the weight of my deadlines demanding I do something productive. Sure, I could blow it off, but this isn’t like back in the corporate world. There’s no one to cover for you on days off. Things you don’t do just sit there, waiting for you, piling up as more deadlines draw near.
Don’t take me wrong now, I love my job, writing is my favorite thing and the fact that I can do it all the time is a ridiculous blessing. That said, it can get stressful when you realize the job never truly turns off. Blog posts are scheduled, SP buffer gets eaten, and the longer I take to finish a side-novel the less income flows from book sales. As a guy who has always been very laid-back, it’s a surprising shift to be depending entirely on myself and my output for sustenance. As yes, speaking of losing my laid back ways:
My work habits are ridiculously better than before
I’m going to summarize every report a teacher ever sent home to my parents: “Drew is very smart* but he just doesn’t apply himself.” *I’m actually not that smart, but I am really good at basic memorization, which is all that school demands.* They could have really just boiled it down even more simply and said what they were really thinking: “Drew doesn’t give a fuck about school beyond the minimums set for him.” And I didn’t.
When I worked corporate, I saw no issue with going out to bar trivia with friends and drinking till 11, then getting up at 5:30 to go to work. Was I a little hungover and sleepy? Sure was. Did it stop me from doing it every Tuesday and some Thursdays? Not in the slightest. I could still do my job, albeit with a few more coffee breaks, so it was no big deal. As long as deadlines were met and goals hit, no in the corporate world cares that much.
Fast forward to now, when I’m in bed by most weeknights at 10, at the latest, and only drink a beer with dinner. Why? Because it’s hard for me to write when hungover, and that’s the job I want to do well. I also take very few breaks, because it messes up my flow. I have a gigantic thing of water by my desk that only requires refilling once every hour or so, allowing me to stay on task. It isn’t about meeting the minimum, it’s about doing my best all the time. Being self-employed has done what no other boss, teacher, or other authority figure in the course of my life could: it has made me try. And all this goes to show my ultimate point:
I give so many more fucks now
I did Super Powereds for years, and released two books, before I went full author. I thought I knew what I was getting into in terms of caring, but I really had no idea. Why? Because now everything feels like it matters so much more. With every new post, new project, new chapter, I’m taking steps closer to where I want to be. My time doesn’t go into the corporate sinkhole where it’s never seen again. Every action I take, or fail to take, has a direct, tangible impact on my life. That’s the sort of thing that sounds simple in theory, however once you’re living it the experience is different than you ever imagined. It lights a fire, fills you with energy, makes you burn to do more.
Working for yourself means you are the sole decision maker. If you want things to be good, you have to work to get them there. If you slack off and do nothing, you are the one who will suffer. I can’t say how this affects everyone, but for me it finally gave me incentive to go above and beyond, to genuinely care about the time I spent working. I’ve always cared about the writing, but now I care about the process as a whole. I schedule my projects, I set deadlines, I pull all-nighters to make them happen if I’m behind.
I suppose the thing that surprised me most about being self-employed was, well, me. I didn’t think I had it in me to be the guy to squeeze in work while on vacation. I believed all the performance reports and teacher assertions that I was bright, but lazy. As it turns out, all you need to make someone care is tangible motivation, and even if this experience ultimately ends in me having to go back to the corporate world, I’m still a lot better off for having done it.