When I graduated with a degree in French and Spanish and a smattering of digital marketing experience on my CV (without really knowing how it got there), and stumbled into my first “real job”, I perhaps shouldn’t have been surprised when it left me feeling uninspired and wondering if this was really what adult life was all about. Sitting at a desk (in a freezing cold, makeshift office in a warehouse, might I add – no grad scheme beer fridges here) for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week appeared to be the destination I had been herded through the education system to reach, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that was it. Is that really what we all do with our precious little time on earth?
Circumstances at work started to go downhill quickly and my unhappiness at the office was spilling into all corners of my life. When coming home and sobbing on my long-suffering boyfriend every night was becoming the norm, I started to actively question if this was what I wanted to get out of my life. That year I had lost a very good friend my age in a car crash and my brother was still fighting for his life against cancer too, and as I’m sure is the case for lots of people in those situations, it made me ask that morbid but important question “If I died tomorrow, would I be happy with the way I’d spent my life?” It was a resounding no.
My life was work and my work was sucking the joy out of me, one day at a time. My confidence was at rock-bottom and I didn’t have the energy to do the things that make me happy, like spending time with my friends and family and being creative. The day I handed my notice in I knew I’d taken a step in the right direction, towards reclaiming my life and myself. The day I walked out of the office for the last time? I can’t even describe the feeling. It was like a 10-tonne weight had been lifted from my chest. I practically danced across the car park and squealed to myself all the way home, with several sighs of relief mixed in too.
The next few weeks (actually, probably only days) were spent trawling job sites in search of something new that might be less soul-destroying, to no avail. I felt unemployable, in a good way. I got the itch to do my own thing (this song played in my head a lot that week and still makes me smile every time I think about it and how much I love not having a boss!) and I went with it. I am a photographer, I thought. I could BE a photographer, like, as my job. So I did that! I put the wheels in motion (made a website and signed up to every networking event under the sun) and started this crazy journey. I cannot tell you how glad I am that I did.
Working for myself has been (and will continue to be, no doubt) the most exciting, terrifying, exhilarating, empowering, wonderful learning curve and it has led me to meet people I’d never have met and do things I’d never have done if I’d have stayed where I was. It’s changed the whole course of my life and allowed me to fill it with the things that I love. I see more of my family now than I had since leaving home in 2011, I have more friends than I’ve ever had, I sleep better, I feel healthy, I wake up every day and feel optimistic about what the day holds. More so than that, I look forward to what the year holds – admittedly without having a clue what it will actually involve, but that’s all part of the fun of it!
I feel present, content and, more than anything, grateful. I am grateful for the privilege that I was born with that’s put me in the position to be able to take the risk of leaving a stable job to follow my dream. I am endlessly grateful that I’ve always had a safe, warm place to live and that I have loving parents who support me 100% in what I want to do, and helped me stay on my feet in the first few months of freelancing. I am grateful to live in Bristol where my business can flourish, and to live in a cosy flat with my boyfriend who believes in me every step of the way and that I’ve found friends who inspire me and enrich my life. I am thankful for the role models that I’m surrounded by and the people who made me realise that being a “grown-up” doesn’t equal working a job you hate for a pathetic wage by default; the people who showed me that I have a choice in the matter.
I started this blog post with the intention of sharing the lessons I’ve learnt since going full-time self-employed, but now that I’ve rambled on this long I think I’d better save that for another day. Now, I don’t want to be held responsible for anyone making any rash decisions, but I feel compelled to say this much. If you are unhappy, if your boss makes you feel small and stupid on a daily basis, if you wake up feeling empty and come home again feeling even more unfulfilled; don’t let it happen to you. Firstly because you don’t deserve it and secondly because you are in charge. You are the boss of you. Make the decision to change the path of your life now, it’s never too late. You don’t need to have it all figured out now, you don’t even need to know what you’re going to do instead, you just have to take a small step in the direction of something that feels right for you. If it’s right, and you are committed to working really hard for a long time, everything will fall into place. “If you can dream it, you can do it”, but you have to actually do it.
Disclaimer: Of course, working for yourself isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s late nights, early mornings, working weekends, being late for rent some months, making more money than you’ve ever made some months, it’s getting comfortable with being uncomfortable, saying yes to work so much that you make yourself ill, then having the freedom to say no and never let that happen again. It is also sometimes a walk in the park, literally. Proceed with caution.