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Oct. 19 2009 - 4:25 pm | 102 views | 1 recommendation | 7 comments

Self-employed? Take care of your best employee

Saturday morning I got a call from someone dear to me, who for days had been assaulted by fears about the economy and his future.    He works in a creative field, but with the economy tight, his bookings are down for the next half year.  In the meantime, college looms for his eldest, his taxes and insurance are headed way up, and everyone else in his ritzy, newly gentrified suburb has acted like everything would’ve been okay if he’d only studied law 30 years ago like everyone else they know.

Money’s tight, but he isn’t destitute, and he has plenty of friends and family.  What put the quake in his voice was, he was feeling very very alone. He needed someone to talk with who understands what it’s like to work in a creative field, on your own, and the added pressures it carries.

I tried to help him with suggestions about what he could do near-term and long-term, what was worth worrying about and what was out of his hands.  It made me realize that, aside from the basic monetary questions that self-employed and creative people face, there are many social and emotional realities about the freelance life that wear us down.  We often soldier on, but in hard times, that becomes harder, and we need to remind ourselves of where we are, who we are, and why we love what we do.

So I’d like to set out a list of some things we self-employed types need to remember about ourselves.  If all we do is panic about this recession, we won’t be able to do the work we were put on this earth to do.  If you have any ideas to add to the list that have helped you, please share with us all.

Don’t envy people in 9-to-5 jobs. One of the biggest headaches of being self-employed is you can’t coast.  The time spent not working is taken up by bookkeeping, marketing, planning, and education—and there’s no one to pass the buck to.  It’s tempting to envy people in “regular” jobs because it would be nice to have close colleagues and the assurance that doing well in Job A will allow you to move up to Job B.  This is basic human nature, but it’s an illusion.  Workplace loyalty is disappearing if not already gone, and there’s no guarantee that hard work results in fair treatment, or even that a company will be in existence next week.

There’s a reason you are working on your own, and that is because you’re good at it.  Especially if you are in a creative field, take some consolation in the fact that your skills are unique and are a wondrous gift.  It was true when you were young, idealistic and naïve, and it’s still true.

Many times, you are the envy of the people who feel stuck in their “regular” jobs. Remember that stifling, dead-end-job feeling before you went out on your own?  Sometimes it looks a lot better than the low-level panic you’re always feeling, but believe me, it’s not.

Don’t blame yourself for things that are out of your control. Wall Street bankers and bankruptcy lawyers might be raking it in, but until Congress actually fixes our financial regulation system, it’s out of your hands.  They will get their comeuppance someday.  In the meantime, rest easy in the knowledge that small children and dogs can sense their evil and will try and bite them when close.

Don’t fret about things that may not turn out to be a problem. College tuition, for example, is a frightening expense, but there are lots of good schools out there who want good students.  Before you panic about the perfect school for your kid, look into need-based grants and scholarships.  Times are tough all over, which can work to your benefit in this instance.

Get some exercise, any exercise. It reduces stress and helps you sleep better at night.  Your schedule is probably flexible, so take advantage of it.  If you get the phone call that changes your life in the next 30 minutes, the answering machine can take it.

Reach out to people who understand your situation. Pity parties are fine in moderation.  It’s also good to know you’re not alone.  You’ll discover new opportunities for both personal and professional growth, ways to share resources, and innovative ideas you didn’t know you had until you articulated them.

When something seems insurmountable, break it down into manageable pieces. This is the same advice we give our kids in school when a science fair project comes due. It still works.

Look how far you’ve come. My my, pretty inspiring view, isn’t it? It hasn’t been easy, and not everyone could’ve done it, so pat yourself on the back once in a while.

Have some faith. Because this too shall pass.


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  1. collapse expand

    Thanks for posting this…all points really important to remember. I have also talked about this publicly, as I ended up in the hospital for three days with pneumonia from overwork while working freelance. Since then, I have seriously re-thought how, when, where and why I work freelance. I grew up in a family of all creative freelancers, so learned these lessons early and daily, for which I am grateful.

    Anyone working without a corporate net needs to save a ton of money, safeguard their physical, emotional and spiritual health and ignore all sorts of toxic social pressure. It’s do-able but you need a chorus of supportive and knowledgable voices.

  2. collapse expand

    I will add my thanks, Jim, for posting this. The exercise bit is too, too true.

  3. collapse expand

    I needed to see this, especially today. I would add ‘Make Lists’ to your list of things to do right after ‘Exercise’. It’s what keeps me focused ~ when I remember to do it!

  4. collapse expand

    Ah, the low-level panic. It’s comforting to know others feel it too.

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    About Me

    I'm a writer and performer in Chicago. My most famous book is Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, which was an international best seller. I'm also the author of its two sequels, Once Upon a More Enlightened Time and Politically Correct Holiday Stories, as well as Apocalypse WOW! and Recut Madness: Classic Movies Retold for Your Partisan Pleasure. I'm also in charge of the baseball poetry website, Bardball.com.

    As a native of Detroit and a current resident of Chicago, I have never lived more than 45 minutes from one of the Great Lakes. I embody most of the traits that the provincial coastal elites attribute to the Midwest: slow-talking, resistant to change, methodical, in love with a good Italian beef sandwich, keep socks on during intimate moments. Rather than hindrances, I’ve found these to be valuable tools for getting through life, especially when dealing with provincial coastal elites.

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