They say even a kick in the rear is a step forward, and I tend to agree. As of September 1st I no longer have a day job, and it’s just the kick in the right direction I needed.
If you’re wondering how this came to be, read on. I could potentially sum it up in a paragraph, but where’s the fun in that?
Hint: it’s not very romantic
I’d love to tell you how I weighted the options, decided to make the leap and gracefully started on my new life path.
I’d love to tell you how I made a master plan that worked out as expected.
I’d love to tell you how I single-mindedly pursued my goals until they came true.
I’d love to tell you how I followed my heart without compromise and it resulted in a life beyond my wildest dreams.
I’d love to tell you a story of my courage.
However, today is not a day to tell that story. Maybe someday I will — but today, I’ll tell you a story of how I didn’t do any of that, and ended up in a situation where I didn’t have much choice left.
The 5 year plan that wasn’t
I was freelancing as a web designer for a few years during my university studies, and landed occasional illustration jobs. I was offered permanent positions left and right, but I didn’t want them — I loved the freedom to choose projects and take as much time off as I wanted, which I could do because I was still living with my parents. But in the summer of 2008 I ran out of money because I had to pay for expensive driving lessons.
One day, a guy I’ve worked with before on one project called up and asked if I was interested in a web designer position at the agency he worked in. Desperate for money, I said yes and went to the interview.
My first workday was September 1st 2008 (quite symbolic, no?). I started part time because I still had lectures in college, and gradually moved onto full time. The job had its share of good and bad sides, but after several months spent there I realized one thing — I don’t want to be doing this my whole life.
After a while, it became my mantra. Whenever things got difficult, I consoled myself with the fact I won’t be there forever.
I gave myself 5 years to transition. I told myself I’ll be practising drawing and building my portfolio, and once my illustration career picks up I won’t have to do only web design anymore.
I was naive and knew nothing about planning. I didn’t put any tracking system in place to make sure I was on the right path. I just continued with my regular life, thinking every now and then about the career I will have in 5 years.
And the years flew by.
Fast forward, Best Job I Ever Had
My ex colleagues from my first agency job invited me to work in their startup. The pay was good, the team was great, I got to design stuff — seemingly I had everything I wanted in a job.
But the worm kept nagging.
After a year and a half into this idyllic job, the troubles started. About a year ago the startup had some financial problems (translation: a client owed us a lot of money), so I had no income for several months. To say it was a challenging time for all of us would be a huge understatement. The situation was pushing all my buttons.
The reason I even had a job was to have financial security, and now I realized I wasn’t safe here, either. Boy, that was a slap in the face.
I wasn’t just worried. I was in a constant state of anxiety for 5 months. My worst fears were coming true before my eyes. I was forced to ask my parents to lend me money so I could stay in my apartment until my belated paycheck arrives. I took on design and illustration freelance gigs to make ends meet.
All the while I kept on the mask of stability and optimism because I didn’t want to contribute to the depressing stories that were already the norm in my country. People with university degrees who can’t find jobs for 3 years. People who have jobs, but aren’t getting paid. Small business owners whose clients don’t pay in time or at all, so they in turn owe money to their workers.
And frankly, it was a bit embarrassing to admit as well.
I was supposed to be “successful”. I was supposed to be the one who thrives, even though the rest of the country is in ruins. I took pride in having a good job despite being a college dropout.
After a while things at work started picking up, and the atmosphere was brighter as the worst was behind us. But this experience pushed me toward the edge.
Happy birthday, loser
I have a habit of reviewing my life on birthdays. Sometimes it’s depressing. On my 27th birthday I was truly disappointed with myself (I wrote about this in my post 2012 review and plans for 2013).
The 5-year alarm started ticking louder and louder.
The dreaded 30th birthday was approaching fast.
I started panicking.
The possibility of me never realizing my dreams became more real than ever, and it terrified me.
What if one day I look back on my life and realize that this was my chance to be brave and take my life into my own hands, and I’ve let it pass?
That was the worst thing that could ever happen to me.
Worse than not having any money.
Worse than having to move back in with my parents.
Worse than being laughed at behind my back by people who think my dreams are stupid and I’m being unreasonable for not wanting to settle.
I chose my word for the year 2013: Courage. I made a card that I keep in my wallet to remind me.
That was what I needed, and it took me a long time and self-therapy to find an inkling of it.
I really wanted to decrease my working hours gradually as my freelance career gets traction. The only problem — I didn’t dare to ask for it. I was worried that my bosses wouldn’t like my suggestion, so I didn’t even bring up the topic. In retrospect, they would have probably embraced the opportunity.
Since I didn’t do it (says she, banging her head against the wall), I continued freelancing alongside of a full-time job, and soon enough I was on a fast lane to Burnoutville. I became chronically tired and depressed. Nothing made sense anymore, and nothing brought joy to me — not even drawing and painting. I was losing my creative mojo and because of it I questioned whether my life made sense at all.
I know it probably sounds stupid if you haven’t experienced it. I assure you, it was very real to me.
You know when someone is preparing to jump into the sea or pool for ages, until someone behind them finally pushes them?
That’s what happened to me.
It was in the air for a while.
I was getting distant. I didn’t join guys during the lunch break coffees anymore (I ran errands instead). I had other meetings when they went for drinks after work. I wasn’t as excited about successes, and as angry or sad about the bad stuff.
I wasn’t fully a part of the startup team — I was an employee.
The majority of my work was tending to tasks that anyone else with a fraction of my experience could do, and I rarely got a project where I could truly shine.
This was frustrating for everyone — I felt underused, and they felt I was overpaid.
It was a matter of time and who’s going to bring up the subject first.
Since I was too much of a chicken, they did.
(That one made into my post Top 5 Mistakes I Made When Transitioning Into Self-Employment (And What To Do Instead))
The company was changing its course and leaving the agency model completely behind. I wasn’t specialized in what they needed so I dropped out from the vision of the startup’s future — which was fine by me, because I wasn’t planning to stick around anyway.
We had a conversation where I was informed that having me on the payroll wasn’t viable for them anymore. I was given a 3 months heads-up, and after that I would probably have to go. Most companies don’t do that, so I am grateful for it.
Still, it was a difficult thing for me to process because it brought up another wave of fears and worries.
Am I ready to make it on my own? Will I ever be ready?
What about my health care benefits?
What if things turn so bad I have to get a day job again?
And worst of all: what will I say to my parents? They’ll worry to death!
I was constantly harassed by an endless stream of thoughts that made me feel terrible about myself and the situation I brought myself into.
After the initial shock passed, I managed to pacify them by thinking about all the good stuff that was awaiting me.
I’ll be able to work on my art first thing in the morning and I’ll spend more time on my art than ever before!
I’ll have a work schedule that suits my needs for rest, food and moving my body better than any 9-to-5 job could.
No more rushing anywhere, since I’ll work from home.
Sure, it won’t be all sunshine and roses.
I’ll be juggling clients, but I’ve been through that before (juggling full time work and freelance clients ain’t easy).
I might be chasing late payments, but at least I’ll have several streams to fall back on, not one company that I rely on entirely.
I’ll have to do my own sales, but I’m optimistic because my website always worked so well that clients have always found me.
I’ll have to work consistently. I’ll have to be accountable. I’ll have to keep focus on my end goal and make sure I’m on track at every waking moment. I’ll have to turn down everything that doesn’t bring me toward my goal. I’ll have to hustle and network and everything that was reserved for “the enterpreneurs”.
But I’ll have the flexibility to do the kind of work I want, and allow my career to grow as I grow as a person. I won’t be confined to a job description that never really suited me in the first place.
As my now ex boss said, “I see you as an artist, not as a person who will sit in the office for 8 hours a day.”
I replied, “I’m glad you do, because that’s how I see myself as well”.
It’s time for me to live up to that image.
About Nela Dunato
Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.
On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...
Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.