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.