Working For Myself: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

This lovely book is by Otegha Uwagba and the postcard holder is from Oliver Bonas. Instax pic is by yours truly.

As it’s nearly Halloween, let’s talk about something scary: the post-graduation fear of finding regular employment. I certainly had my fair share of nightmares in the months leading up to my dissertation hand-in, and many centred on how the heck I was going to find a company who wanted to employ someone who’s skillset was not even remotely connected to their degree. Social media content production for an African history project, anyone? Somehow in the months that followed, alongside regularly updating my LinkedIn and sending out my CV to as many people as possible, I was able to make my YouTube channel into a steady source of income. I couldn’t have asked for a more fulfilling job, however as with all graduate jobs, it has been a steep learning curve especially when it comes to working for myself. Today I thought I’d write about some of the things I’ve learned in my first year of self-employment – the good, the bad and the ugly.

Let’s start with the good – it shouldn’t take me to say it, but working on your own projects 24/7 is incredibly fulfilling and I couldn’t be more grateful to be spending my days working on my own content production. I get to make whatever videos I want, creatively challenge myself and learn new skills every month – it’s a dream. My other tasks include reading a book about sex each month and making brunch for a cool person and getting to speak to them about their career. I get to be in charge of where my career goes and I rarely feel like I have to fulfil someone else’s expectations.

However, this freedom does lead to a great deal of uncertainty, and that’s something I’ve really struggled with this past year. I don’t have any professional support; my agent is very hands-off and whilst my accountant is a blessing from heaven itself, it’s up to me to manage all of my business earnings. I have to set my own goals and it’s entirely my own fault if I don’t achieve them. I am my own boss, which means I have to have a strong handle on every aspect of my career, but it often feels like I’m spread thin and that too much of my energy goes into admin when my strength is creating. I’m definitely known for saying, “Here’s a thing I’m planning to do!” and never following through. I struggle a lot with organisation, often feeling as though I only just keep my head above water, and sometimes when I’m really busy I’ve been known to forget meetings as I didn’t set enough alarms in my calendar. It’s embarrassing, I wont lie, and the grovelling follow up apologies make me worried if the person will work with me again. With regard to long term plans, I can often feel directionless and fear that I lack the contacts or skills to be able to establish myself in other parts of my career. I’m a small, twenty-two year old fish in a very big sea and, unsurprisingly, the pressure can become really overwhelming.

Another thing I’ve learned about myself is that old habits die hard, and much of the routine I had during uni I still follow today. This has it’s blessings, as it does mean I get my work done when I set myself deadlines, but it does also mean pulling late nights, waking up late and hardly taking weekends. I could have done with having a regular nine-to-six for the first couple of years of work as I really struggle to create routine and could have done with some practise. For some bloggers and YouTubers, this kind of lifestyle really works however I crave the structure of a working week and find that I beat myself up when I continually fail to achieve it. I’m always setting myself the task of scheduling so I can have a weekend off (which I’m finally getting around to having this weekend, woo!), or sorting out my sleep schedule, but when you set 100% of your own parameters, things like finding a routine tend to stay on the back-burner.

Speaking of which, since working for myself I’ve also realised that my workload is limitless. You can do as much or as little as you want when you’re an influencer, so long as you’re putting out content on the regular. I know some people who just make one video a week and do nothing else, and although that’s definitely not the average workload, they can still get by doing the bare necessities. I know others who never stop working, getting as few as four hours sleep each night in order to have enough time for every project. I tend to fall into a happy medium, as you’d expect, but I do struggle with knowing that I could be working much harder to achieve my goals. I feel guilty every time I take a day off. There’s no formulaic career path when you’re self-employed and no promotions, so I have to create clear short term and long term goals in order to avoid feeling disillusioned and unmotivated. Whilst I want to create merchandise, write a book and pitch multiple documentary series in the final quarter of the year, I know that’s unrealistic and so I have to set my workload appropriately. I have to do a lot of planning, but it keeps me feeling fresh and driven. There’s nothing worse than working without a thorough to-do list, in my opinion.

And finally, I’ve discovered that that your work environment is everything. I wont lie to you, I spend about 80% of my week in my bedroom and over the past couple of months it’s reached breaking point. The beauty of university is that there’s a library, or perhaps multiple libraries, for you to go to, and I wish I still had those to take advantage of. Fortunately I’ll be starting a membership at a co-working space soon – shout out to The Office Group – but again, that’s an advantage of living in London and being real, co-working spaces don’t come cheap. But when it comes down to what will help your mental health, sometimes the cost is worth it just to create some distance between your work and your life. I’m happy with the boundaries being a little blurred but I’m in no doubt a change of environment will do me the world of good.

So overall, this year has been a steep learning curve for me. It feels kind of meta, to be learning how to do your job whilst doing it already, but I feel like I’ve been learning two skillsets in parallel for the past sixteen months and slowly I am improving at both. Managing myself is a skill I didn’t think I’ve have to develop beyond university but here we are, and I can honestly say whilst this year has been tough, it has been incredibly rewarding. I feel so much stronger for it and although I do have a way to go, it’s been a pretty good start to my career.

Would you ever consider working for yourself? Do you do it already? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter, I’m always curious to hear about other people’s experiences.

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15 Comments

  1. October 30, 2017 / 8:14 am

    Great post once again. I’m in my second year at uni and am starting to think about jobs, and I personally would not want to be self employed. I’d much rather the security of job and even though I love blogging I’m not sure if I have it in me to make a living from it. However I’m sure you’ll continue to do amazing as always and I hope you achieve your goals, especially the merchandise because that would be lovely. Stay glorious as always x

  2. October 30, 2017 / 9:21 am

    I am graduating in summer 2018, and after some stress and mental health issues that surrounded exactly what you said about finding a job with my skill set (I was specifically looking at a PhD) I decided I’m going to try working for myself for one, maybe two years.

    This blog post has come at a very good time for me and I relate to a lot of it, especially where you mention that you’re always coming up with projects but don’t always follow them through – same!! I am very grateful to be surrounded by some wonderful creative friends who are always inspiring me to do more, do better.

    Thanks for this post, I really appreciated your appraisal of working for yourself, and I found your previous post (Four things I wish brands and agencies knew about influencers) really helpful too, in the same regard.

    If you’d like to keep in touch, I’m @georgialharper on Twitter, my blog just has a different name! 🙂

  3. John Latten
    October 30, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    I’d be interested to hear about how you find working in a co working space in the future. I’m fortunate enough that I can just walk in and out of my old university’s library, but a co working space would obviously be better, because it would be filled with professionals who are at the same stage that I am at.

  4. Alannah
    October 30, 2017 / 7:40 pm

    I’m currently transitioning into working for myself full time as a photographer and reading this was so so nice. It’s terrifying me. I’m also thinking of going to college and uni to do a design degree because I have a huge interest in using design and photography together.

  5. Don't Delete The Kisses
    October 31, 2017 / 5:46 am

    I would like to get regular freelance writing gigs down the road, but that’s about it in terms of working for myself. What I’ve learned over the last few years is that I can’t be my own boss, I’m just not very productive without someone checking on me every few days or so.

    I watched a TED talk on YouTube about procrastination a few months ago. In the TED talk the presenter talked about short-term and long-term procrastination, the latter being the worst. I’m a sufferer of both, like most people are, but I have a severe case! :p It’s why I dropped out of university, if I’m being honest. Granted, I hated what I was studying. I would leave everything until the last minute. Sometimes I would not study at all for a test or an exam.

    I feel like I’m in a weird limbo where I’m not going anywhere. And terrified that I won’t accomplish anything in my life. That I’m just going to be an average, low income blob!

  6. October 31, 2017 / 7:11 am

    Key thing to realise if you work for yourself is that it is all your life, and that at any given point you could be working harder to get to ‘the next thing/level/plaudits ’, and sometimes that will be worth it, but that if you hypothetically work 20 hours a day 365 days a year to always get to ‘the next thing’, the next thing you will ultimately get to is .dead’. And you will not have enjoyed getting there either.

    Ambition & drive aren’t ends in themselves, they are means to an end. Dial it down a notch & make sure that you enjoy the journey enough that if the destination turns out to be a disappointment you still don’t regret taking the trip…

    • November 24, 2017 / 12:17 pm

      Nicely put! Always reminding myself to ‘enjoy the journey’.

  7. October 31, 2017 / 8:11 pm

    I want to work for myself. I’m a 21 y/o mom and I honestly like being at home and taking care of my child (7months ) and my baby sister (1y/o). Thats my job. I would love to be able of doing that as long as it’s needed. But I also want a job I can do from home. Something od my own. I’ve started selling clothes on Instagram but I stopped cause of social anxiety… I want to start again. I really wish my website/blog took off, I’m also thinking of doing videos (I genuine enjoy that). There’s a lot of things I want to do, but any of those are “normal jobs”, so I could do it from home…
    Well, I guess I have to start somewhere…

  8. November 4, 2017 / 11:27 am

    I’m currently trying to work for myself as a musician, but I have no idea what I’m doing to be honest! So much so I’ve had to take a part time job to pay the bills, but I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to make enough with my music to have a sustainable income, but that’s the dream isn’t it? I’ve just graduated from a psychology degree so I do have options once I move again to possibly be a support worker or a therapist which is exciting, but I don’t know if I feel ready for that yet. I just wanted a few months to be selfish and work on my music before I decide to help others for a living.

    You seem to be getting the hang of things now and everything’s a learning curve. I think all us 22 year old’s are in the same boat honestly, the world is scary!

  9. November 5, 2017 / 6:56 pm

    This was such a lovely piece to read. Working for myself is the ultimate goal but it is terrifying to make the jump. Thank you for writing this. Stay awesome!

  10. foo
    November 6, 2017 / 7:11 am

    I’ve had a full-time-part-time “volunteer” situation where I eventually got them to pay me, then a regular 9-5, and now I’m working from home. Yeah I’m curious about the co-working space and how it works out for you, because although (I think) I prefer working from home, it doesn’t seem to help me stay focused and organized. There are ways to justify working from home (Why would I pay for coffee and wifi? The “commute”? Wearing real clothes? I can do laundry while I work? etc.) but I’m looking to establish physically separate environments for life and work.

    By the way I’ve been enjoying your content lately (168 hours as usual, your blog, the Sunday Social especially), not that I haven’t been enjoying your stuff all along, but…I don’t know how to put it, you seem inspired and driven, which in turn inspires and motivates me. So thank you!

  11. November 16, 2017 / 7:40 pm

    I am so hungry to just up and quit my job and work for myself as a musician/blogger/influencer, but a lot is holding me back… mostly the fact that I also live in London and the prospect of not having an income is terrifying. I’m currently working on building an audience (i’m getting considerable traction on my bullet journal instagram, @inkajournal in case you’re interested!) and then getting out of my own ass far enough to finish my first EP. Honestly I’m a bit envious you’ve thrown yourself straight into self-employment, but I know it hasn’t come about overnight, you’ve been working on creating content online for a looooong time. It might be a bit stressful but you are living my dream, girl, so go out and get it!

    • November 20, 2017 / 11:51 am

      Legit, I just read your comment and got scared that i’d already posted! (but then I read you were living in London. I definitely don’t live there). You’ll make it one day! from what I’ve seen there are two ways to end up living the dream: have a ton of money or sticking it out long enough! (I’m taking the latter, and guess you are too) Goodluck 🙂

  12. November 20, 2017 / 11:52 am

    I’m working towards working for myself as a musician. I finally feel like I’m on the right track, but it will take me a while to build up my clients and repertoire. Congrats for living the dream 🙂

  13. November 24, 2017 / 12:16 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m in my first year of pursuing illustration (after achieving a degree in architecture and deciding the job wasn’t for me) and totally relate to the uncertainty and ‘limitless workload’ – if I could always be working and growing, shouldn’t I be? Your post reminded me to keep finding that balance.

    Thanks! And looking forward to more Sunday Socials!

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