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Six reasons getting a job was the best thing I ever did for my business

In case you’re new around here, one week from today is the two monthaversary of me returning to self-employment/freelancing/whatever. I got super, super burned out on working for myself, got a “real job”, spent almost exactly six months (closer to 6.5 months) working at a real job, and then returned to self-employment for a myriad of reasons.

To my surprise, I found the break incredibly energizing and it was easily the best thing I’ve ever done for my business. I went back to my hustle to find things taking hold a lot faster than I expected.

I’m not the only one who’s had the that experience:

Chase Reeves has talked about it on the Fizzle podcast (which btw is absofreakinglutelyawesome) and Liam at FreelanceLift also had a similar journey. Based purely on anecdotal evidence, I’m guessing it’s way more popular than the “job = failure” mindset would let on.

I’m not sure how universal the reasons are, but here’s why I’m really grateful I decided to get a job:

#1. It forced me to ruthlessly prioritize

I struggled a lot with not only some of the aforementioned mental health issues (more on that in #2) but what I found out later was a severe vitamin D deficiency (I know, it’s funny, you can make all the D jokes you want!) until April-ish. Basically, it meant I was FUCKING EXHAUSTED all the time. I was sleeping 12+ hours a night and still so tired I could hardly focus. I remember more than one point of being so exhausted that I just wanted to sit down and cry out of sheer frustration, like a toddler or something. After dealing with an 8-9 hour workday and a sometimes 2 hour commute, I didn’t have anything left; I was lucky to get 15-30 minutes of work on my own stuff done.

After the deficiency started to get corrected, I still didn’t have a whole lot of time, even if I had more energy. I would do the typical “steal a few moments here and there” thing – work on the commute, typing the  newsletter on my iPhone in Evernote and then adding it to MailChimp during my lunch break, but still, I had mayyybe 90 minutes a day to work. So you bet your ass I did work that mattered and actively moved my goals forward. I was a lot more likely to set and stick to both systems and priorities when I already had most of my day taken up.

#2. It got me out of a rut I wouldn’t have got out of on my own

I am a very stubborn, very independent person. I like to do things on my own, I hate asking for help, and if I can manage to slog through something the long and hard way without anyone else ever knowing I’m struggling, I most certainly will, thankyouverymuch. But that wasn’t working this time, with this problem (facing the worst bout of depression I’ve ever had in my life), and I recognized that.

Because here’s the thing: you can’t bootstrap yourself out of depression. It’s like trying to beat yourself to death with arms you don’t have. And then you keep running into jackasses who give you a hammer and say, “Come on, you can fix things if you just use this hammer!” And you’re like, “I DON’T HAVE ANY FUCKING HANDS TO USE THE HAMMER WITH, BRO.”

Anyways. I was in a bad spot. Looking back, if I wasn’t a suicide risk, I was probably pretty close to it. (And I hate saying that in public. I really do. But I think we need to talk about this shit. So I’m saying it anyways.) I didn’t even realize how bad it was until the worst of it had passed (which I think is fairly standard in those situations).

Either way, I had to get very, very far removed from the clusterfuck of stress about my business and stress about my life and depression and anxiety and so on, before I could:

  • See how bad it was
  • Figure out what to do to fix it

If I had stuck with a business model/service set/etc. that was clearly not working very well for me out of some misguided sense of “getting a job means you’re a business failure, man,” then I don’t know what would have happened. I seriously might not  be here today.

I had the exact amount of energy and motivation it took to realize how bad the situation was and take action to remove myself from it, but it was 110% up to me to get out of it, I wouldn’t have. The job did that.

#3. It reconnected me to my motivation

This one is easy: when you’re in a work environment that is not motivated by the same things you are, it’s surprisingly motivating. You want to not be there any more, so you can do things that are aligned with your motivation. And you’re really clear on what you’re motivated by and how you want to run your business when you’re around the opposite. Ta da. 

#4. It gave me a whole new view on the disconnect between my what and my how

Shenee wrote an amazing post about this – running our businesses isn’t just about what we do, it’s how we want to live. This is one reason that I know that an actualfax speaking career (as in, a career that is solely speaking), is not for me, because y’all? I’m kind of a homebody. I mean, not really, but I don’t want to travel 2-3 weekends a month. I have a dog and now a kitty and I’d rather be watching Doctor Who with them and my boyfriend instead of sitting in an airport somewhere.

This specifically relates to the day job because, for the last year at least, every time I do that “ideal day” exercise, it looks like writing, teaching, and speaking. Every. Single. Time. That’s what I want my day to consist of, in slightly different doses on slightly different days.

The way I had been focusing my business and money-making efforts, I was basically trying to subsidize the writing and speaking by doing project management and/or consulting work – which can be draining and is often a hard sell, since people know they need a project manager but they often ask for a high-level admin assistant instead and it’s certainly not as concrete of a set of tasks as being a writer. The idea being that eventually teaching and speaking would be the bulk of my income and I’d be able do away with the 1:1 services and write without worrying about making money.

My role at the day job was marketing focused and quite a lot of it was writing. One of the main reasons I was hired was because I’m a good writer. And of course, there’s always room for improvement, but I continued to get positive feedback both on the quality of my writing and on the speed of my turnaround time. Even though I knew that how I wanted to spend my day was writing and speaking and teaching, somehow I never thought – gasp – that I could like…get paid for the writing? With money? And basically have two sides to my business, the writing and the speaking/teaching?

Part of it is that ages ago when I first started freelancing, I did freelance writing, but I was working with not-great clients and content mills. I didn’t realize that I could write things I enjoyed writing and get paid to write themI probably wouldn’t have figured it out without the job.

#5. It reset to a lot of bad patterns

This basically falls into two categories:

Money. Having consistent income – “you show up and we pay you every two weeks” (what is this magic?!) – got me out of a lot of bad money habits. It also let me know what it feels like when I have consistent income. Which honestly, isn’t something I was very familiar with before. It gave me time to know what it feels like to be regularly pretty much caught up on bills and to not feel like I immediately have to buy something nice (or, you know, food) if I make money, because for all I know it’ll be the last payment I’ll get for three weeks.

It also gave me an ironclad sense of what I’m worth. I knew what the agency’s rates were, that people were paying those rates, and that I was contributing to that. When I left, I was offered a crazy raise (166%, seriously) and not only did I turn it down (which felt really good and affirming), but it just confirmed knowing that I can get paid what I’m worth. My realization was, if I bring enough to the table that a very savvy profit-conscious business owner is willing to pay me that much to stick around, there is absolutely no reason I can’t make an awesome living on my own.

The second category is work. I never realized before how much work I can get done in 4-6 concentrated hours until I worked at the job. When I had work at home days, it wasn’t unusual for me to knock out a full day’s worth of work (for the job) in 2-4 hours. The day job also got me back into the habit of actually tracking my time, which thus far, has been really useful, and I think will continue to be useful in measuring progress against goals, my hourly rate, how long I’m working, etc.

#6. I learned to shut up and take the money

This ties back into #4 but isn’t totally the same. It also sounds really super unethical, so let me explain:

When I realized that I did want to go back to full-time freelancing, I thought I’d probably go back to the PM/consulting/classes/products business model. I started looking at marketing oriented gigs – because I did love most of what I was doing at the agency, just not necessarily everything else that comes with having a full-time job – and came across some writing ones. And I pitched them. And I started getting them. And I was somehow surprised.

When I set up my portfolio site, I imagined that I’d be getting work that’d be split roughly 50/50 between marketing work that included writing, and pure writing gigs. Two months in, everything is writing. I wouldn’t be averse to marketing work but I’m probably going to retool my portfolio to focus almost exclusively on writing, with mentions of marketing work and speaking coming very secondarily.

And the thing is, I haven’t been applying to just writing gigs. I pitch myself for marketing gigs, too. But while I hear back on roughly 40-60% of the writing gigs I send in my info for, I hear back from maybe 10% of the marketing oriented gigs.

It’s interesting because even though the results are so obviously disproportionate, I still have some hardcore resistance to calling myself a freelance writer. I still really want to throw in “and content/social media marketer.” I didn’t want to be “just” a writer. Initially, I was like “ew that market is so saturated and it’s going to be so hard to find gigs” and blah blah blah and yet, my experience has been the opposite.

I think the takeaway here is:

  • If people consistently compliment you on something
  • If something is easy to you
  • If you hear “you’re such a good _____”
  • If you do a couple of things but find that it’s a lot easier for you to get paid for one of them
  • If you’re surprised that something is such an easy sell

Just shut up and take the money for it. Stop fighting. Work doesn’t have to be difficult and draining for you to get paid for it. You don’t have to spend ages convincing people that you’re worth what you charge. Sometimes it really is as simple as saying “I’m a writer, here’s my samples, let’s talk” to get paying work.

All in all, I’m really glad I “gave up” and got a job.

I had to do that to get to where I am now. It wasn’t always fun or easy, but it was definitely worth it. I have no idea why but I’m having a really hard time closing this post and I want to go eat dinner, so here’s a Teen Wolf gif to celebrate its return to TV:

stiles

MICHELLE OUT.

16 Comments

  1. WOW. What can I say – this is divine timing because I’m exactly at that point you were at. Burned out, in poverty and struggling, considering getting a JOB eeeeeek! (OMG I’m a failure!)
    The mental health issues in entrepreneurs and the self employed can’t be stressed enough because we rarely get any support, and it’s not like we can take time off and get sick pay!
    Thank you so much for sharing your positive and affirming story with us. It’s one of those taboo subjects we barely dare to mention due to the feeling of failure and embarassment.
    But sometimes we need a break and making a change and getting paid for it is always a good one.
    I feel a whole lot better now, thank you 🙂

    Reply

    • Thank you Helen!! <3 SO TRUE ABOUT THE SUPPORT. That has been my biggest thing going back into this - knowing that I HAVE to have that support. That means doing coworking dates, etc. Absolutely a must. I'm so glad you liked the post, thank you for reading!

      Reply

    • I hear you ladies. I’m in that very same spot. I teach other women how to make a living at home and I’m running out of money and considering going back to work at a ‘real’ job, a 9-5, like a rat on a wheel, in a coffin (I mean cubicle). Ok enough analogies. I like my freedom and I value that over money, I also love having creative freedom which I also value more than money. But I’m considering going back for only about 6 months to reach some business goals, like setting up passive income streams with ecourses and printables. Any advice? I am also struggling with some health problems which makes me super tired. Diagnosed with CFS and fibromyalgia which causes pain and fatigue. So I hear you and I know what it means to be that tired. I’m actually the most productive at night between 10pm-and 2am when my kids are asleep. I can get so much done. I don’t know how I’m going to adjust if I go back to a full time job. I may only last a few months.?

      Reply

  2. Michelle you hit the nail right on the head with that one. I am still freelancing but taking admin / strategy work because I’m really good at it, it pays my bills and *oh sweet relief* and now that I’ve been doing this for three months, it reaffirms what I really REALLY want to do and the lifestyle I want to live.

    LOVE what you said about “Shut up and take the money” 😀

    Reply

    • Thanks Emma! I’m glad you liked it and that I could reaffirm that for you. Also glad you liked the “shut up and take the money” bit, that was probably my favorite 😉

      Reply

  3. This is a fantastic reminder of this. It seems like a lot of these themes are reoccurring in my life right now. I need to figure out what I’m good at, what people ask me about the most, and then how to turn that into a career.

    Reply

  4. This is awesomeness, every word of it. I was so interested when you did head back to the grind and respect how you honor your introversion and nature. I’m in that boat and love it…but explaining it all the time is a pain. I just read an article on Bill Watterson (Calvin & Hobbes) and how he was extremely protective over his environment-so many brilliant people in this world thrive in spite of pressure to be something else. Cheers to the happy cave dwellers who make this world a better place with their work. Plus don’t you love how different commenters find different nuggets in your posts?

    Reply

    • Thank you Cindi – I do try to honor my nature! (Not that I have much choice, because every time I don’t, I get bitch-slapped into some kind of a disaster 😛 ) AND if I got a job offer at a place that was totally amazing where I could work at 110% on my terms? I’d totally take it. I’m not actively looking, but every now and then I do see a job that looks awesome, and I apply for it (and I’m in the running for a couple of remote work jobs right now, actually *knock on wood* and I’m totally okay with that, although some of them are P/T so there would still be time to work on my own shiz).

      And yes…one of my favorite things is how y’all all find something different in the posts 🙂

      Reply

  5. I happen to find myself in a transitional period, and you manage to catch so many of the thoughts in my mind-storm (not as productive as a brainstorm) I’m not sure how I feel. I hope I just need to get past the five stages of grief (currently at 4, I think) before bouncing back.

    I’m glad you’ve found your way. Thanks for writing and sharing.

    Reply

    • Thanks Nando – I’m glad you liked it. I’m not sure I’ve found my way but maybe I’m closer, anyways 😉

      Reply

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  8. Hi Michelle,

    I was catching up on my fizzle shows and heard Barrett mention your post and I knew I had to check it out!

    I’ve been on my own for many years (almost ten). During this time, I’ve had some successes and a many more failures which is par for the entrepreneurial course. Before that, I was following the American dream myth of school, employment and retirement. Most of the jobs I held were non-creative in nature. By that I mean staff positions where we did what we were told. Maybe I’m selling myself short but that’s essentially what they were. I got downsized in 2005 and started selling on ebay within a year. After that, it’s been online niche marketing in one form or another. I’ve been very deliberate about learning all during this time. I love helping people and I know I would be a valuable member of any corporate team. I too, believe it would help me get much more serious about pursuing what I love while relieving the stress of regular income.

    Lately, I’ve had a strong desire to do like you’ve done and just go back to work for somebody. My main stumbling block is that while I know I could really help somebody get their business to the next level, how do I overcome the perceived stigma of not being a team player because I’ve worked for myself for so long?

    I’ve read and listened to people like Dan Miller (48 Days to the Work You Love) who say self-employment can be a real red flag to a potential employer. If you’re not familiar with Dan, he believes you should do what your best at whether it’s self-employment or entrepreneurship. He’s recommended changing your social media profiles to say “works at XX” rather than “owner at XX”.

    My big question is how are you going to talk about the company you supposedly work at (and not own) with a potential employer before they are going to see through the story? Do you have any suggestions on how to handle the transition?

    I’m sure this is just a mindset shift I need to make. I’m sure I can find companies, maybe startups, that value somebody who values a candidate with perseverance and fresh ideas. Getting to these people may be the real challenge.

    Any thoughts or suggestions you may have are eagerly welcomed!

    Jeff

    Reply

    • Hi Jeff!

      First off, thank you for reading! I’m glad you found and liked the post 🙂

      So, my experience may vary, because Austin is a very entrepreneurially friendly city, but I never had anyone act like my history of self-employment was a bad thing. People were usually intrigued by it, and I think it signifies several good things to a potential employer–go-getter qualities, leadership, intelligence, an ability to evolve and change as your work demands, etc.

      When people asked why I was looking at employment, I was always fairly honest–I was burned out on being alone all the time, I wanted to work on a team doing bigger projects, and I wanted to stretch myself and try new things.

      So that would be my recommendations. Emphasize all of the positive things that you learned and strengthened in your entrepreneurial exploits, and when people ask why you’re stopping with it, be honest. Someone who would find self-employment a major red flag and an insta-no-hire would probably not be very fun to work with anyways, IMO.

      Hope that helps some 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Reply

      • Hi Michelle,

        Let me first apologize for not getting back to you before now. I thought I had checked that I wanted to hear replies but I don’t see that option unless your newsletter will do that too?

        I agree that somebody who thinks that self-employment is a red flag would probably be a tool to work for anyway. It may be viewed more conservatively in less creative endeavors but who said I wanted to work for them anyway? LOL!

        I’m thinking that small companies or startups might be the sweet spot for an entrepreneur at heart. Do you agree?

        Your response to the question is almost exactly what I wanted to say: I’m burned out and tired of working alone and believe I have learned a ton which can help a team really create something special! I would also add that I have some passive income projects that are basically on auto pilot but that doesn’t mean I would tell them about them.

        What do you think of that?

        I’ll go ahead and check the “sign me up” box below because I can see some excellent content on this site and I have a little catching up to do : )

        So glad I’m in fizzle and really glad I found you and your site through them. I’ve added you as a friend in fizzle as well.

        Cheers,
        Jeff

        Reply

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