There are plenty of the Debbie Downers who look at the exodus of women from the corporate ranks and see bad news. If your priority is getting women in to socially, politically and economically powerful positions, this IS bad news. But what if you just want to have a life? Be happy? Be self-actualized? Discover what work-life balance might mean for YOU? More and more, women – especially in their 30’s - are swelling the self-employed marketplace, and it’s no wonder. Until companies make it easier for all employees – women and men – to juggle their increasingly demanding responsibilities in a WHOLE life, more women will be tempted out on their own. That’s the new work-life “balance” discussion this past summer was all about.
As someone who’s done this – jumped the ship – and then come back from time to time and is now back living without a net, I want to give those considering going out on their own some advice. After 10 years of full time self-employment, here are the three big lessons I’ve learned that I’d like to pass on to folks thinking about jumping ship.(BTW, if you believe this might be a possibility “someday” – do it now! The timing of my jump was not voluntary and yours may not be either.)
Build yourself a net. Even if your best friend went out on her own and immediately started making tons of money, stockpile some cash away and get stuff that requires the corporate paycheck (car and house loans, lines of credit, insurance) before you leap. I didn’t do this and to some extent I’m still paying for it. Regardless of the rosy forecasts for my business, there are always lulls in income. Always. It feels weird if you’ve been on a paycheck to save money so you can spend it when you’re not working, but just know this will happen and always have the stockpile, be using it while you’re in biz dev/recovery mode or be rebuilding it when the money comes in.
Think about your jump as an opportunity to set personal boundaries. Successfully working for yourself, even on contract, requires that you distance yourself from the office politics of your employer. You’re not trying to “move up” so the only reason for you to play politics is to maintain/grow your contract. So be selective and remember you can “fire” clients now by finding better ones. This feels weird at first, but you’ll be amazed at how powerful you feel when someone asks you to do something and you say, “Wish I could, but it’s not in my contract to do that.” To me, this was the best part of going out on my own the first time I did it. I had a chance for the first time in my life to say no (kindly) and to set my own boundaries where I wanted them at work. I learned later that you could do this without leaving the office, but getting free of the employee-status was the first step. Don’t wait to jump to start noticing where you could set your boundaries more clearly. This will give you practice for when you jump, but maybe it will be so successful, you decide you don’t have to!
Look at your new business – whatever it is – as an opportunity for deep self-exploration. Going out on your own – even with a net - is frightening for most of us. At first it’s just disorienting and then at some point – maybe in that first lull between contracts or when your employee salaries come due and the clients haven’t paid - you get this core fear like the floor just fell out from under you. Of course there are also times of sheer joy, too. My point is with the ups and downs of your business, many aspects of life become more volatile, too, and you need a really strong sense of self to navigate it well. The best part, which took me a long time to learn, is that working for yourself, you’re not hemmed in by the corporate brand. You have the freedom to really put yourself into your growing brand in new and wonderfully meaningful ways – ways that actually help you learn to be your best self and attract the work you love. It’s an exhilarating way to discover yourself – in the context of your business – and I recommend it highly.
I don’t write any of this to put you off going out on your own. Having gone back and forth, even at executive positions, I prefer self-employment – mostly because of the last point above. It’s made me a better, happier, person. I know plenty of people in corporate life who are equally good and happy, but this turned out to be my path and I have no regrets, because I keep learning more and more about myself every day.
Are you thinking of jumping ship? Why? Do you feel ready? What more do you have to do to be ready? Have you jumped? What’s your experience? Please share!
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