When I decided for the first time in the 1980s to go into business for myself, my father thought I was crazy. “Why would you want to work 12 hours a day for yourself when you can work 8 hours a day for somebody else?” he asked.
“Because they are the 12 hours I choose, Dad! I might work 12 hours today, but I can work just 4 tomorrow, or even take the day off… my choice! And – I get to do what *I* want to do.”
My response was intended to help Dad better understand the flexibility of being self-employed.
But he didn’t really get it. Not then anyway. And, it turns out, neither did I.
To many people, it seems like the working-person’s nirvana: the notion that when you are self-employed, you work for yourself, call all your own shots, and can be as flexible as you want to be. No boss to lord over you or to require you do things you would rather not do. No having to call in sick if you don’t feel well enough to work. No co-workers who drive you nuts. No having to work with nasty people. No having to justify knocking off early one day, or taking a long weekend – or not even working at all.
Freedom… flexibility…. the ultimate way to make a living!
But the truth is – that flexibility is often a crock. It’s a figment of the soon-to-be self-employed person’s imagination.
Turns out – Dad was at least partially right. Today I’ll share with you some important distinctions that neither of us realized then, but have become so very apparent since.
Since that conversation with Dad, I’ve been self employed on and off for about 21 years in service-related businesses (not advocacy, but the basics are the same); long enough to provide you with the real low-down on the flexibility misconceptions of self-employment – with the important addition that I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Let’s begin with that “No boss to require things from you that you don’t want to do”… In fact, when you are self-employed you have many bosses – your clients. If you are working with a half-dozen clients, then you have a half-dozen bosses. They don’t “require” you to do things in the way an employer does. No, instead, if you want to build a healthy practice, you will require yourself to perform those tasks you dislike – on top of the work required to improve outcomes for your clients. Want to keep being paid for your work? You’ll be marching to the tune of all your client-bosses.
In my case – APHA members are my bosses – all 600+ of you! I must stay on top of phone calls and email – because it’s YOU who must be happy with my performance.
And let’s not diminish the importance of that question, “Want to keep being paid for your work?” – because when you are self-employed, if you don’t work, you probably don’t get paid.
Next up – vacations. For many of us who are self-employed in service businesses (solos or partnerships) – it’s not easy to take time away! Even if you work with others who can pitch in when something comes up, you may still get calls or emails when a client needs you and can’t wait for your vacation to be over. My work is about running a membership site, supporting you, its members, being there when you need me (“I can’t get logged in!”). You don’t just need me when I’m flexibly available, you know?
Further – taking time off for appointments (dentist, or haircut, whatever)… The minute I step away from my desk, the phone begins to ring and the email begins to zing. As a self-employed person it’s easy to schedule those appointments, but not so easy to make up the calls and emails upon return. For an advocate, what if that’s the exact moment your client is rushed to the ER?
You might also be surprised at how often the office phone rings or email arrives in the evening or on weekends with an expectation the office is open 24/7. Do I need to respond? I often do.
So much for flexibility, right? The work needs to be done. No one is demanding it be done between 8 and 5. But it must still be done. And because it’s YOUR business, and you only get paid when YOU do it, you have to keep up with it.
However, I also want to point out the times when being self-employed makes the world and life much nicer, happier, and easier. It’s flexibility of a different sort.
- As my parents aged, 1,200 miles away from where I lived, I was able to travel back and forth, spending weeks at a time helping them out. Laptop in tow, I could work from anywhere. (Yup – you guessed it – Dad finally understood!) They have both passed since then, and I was there for them both.
- When I was writing my books, I could escape the daily grind for some peace and quiet writing time. (Four of my books have been written while “on vacation”!)
- When grandbabies were born… there I was.
- When my (adult) children moved – I could pitch in as needed.
- When my husband retired and wanted to move to Florida, my office could move, too.
- When the opportunity to travel arises, the laptop goes along – even if it’s vacation. As a result, I can take much more vacation than an regular employed person typically can. But it’s never 100% downtime.
So why do I bring all if this up today? Because today, as I write this post, I’m sitting on the porch, next to the lake, loving my surroundings, enjoying my work, my puppy dog by my side… and even though I’m working while on vacation – I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Flexibility – and self-employment – are the keys to a long, happy, and very fulfilled life.
Photo: Banjo enjoys keeping an eye on the lake, too.