How to Thrive in Self-Employment

Working for yourself is an exciting, fulfilling, and (at times) terrifying experience.

Most of us have spent careers working for someone else, which makes the transition to solo work difficult. Here’s what I’ve discovered so far to help me survive and thrive while running my consulting business. 

Schedule Everything

When you aren’t accountable to a time clock or a standard 9-to-5 day, it is easy to get sloppy with your time. To be as productive as possible, I plan my week on Sundays. I write a weekly to do list, and then block out my Google calendar.

My typical schedule cuts the day in half. I work on personal things from 7 am to noon. These activities include working out, getting myself ready, performing household chores, and running errands in the neighborhood. If there are any critical calls to make or emails to send, I’ll do that as well.

My professional life starts from after lunch to about 7-10 pm (or, frankly, whenever my husband gets home from work). I find that I get on a roll at about 4:30 pm. I write a daily to do list, and use a Miracle Cube Timer to keep track of my time. 

I work from home most days, unless I’m traveling. I schedule appointments in the city all on one day to maximize my time.

I also try to schedule my calls for the week on one day. As an introvert, calls tire me, so I schedule them back to back. Each call gets easier as I find my groove.

Be Presentable

Even during my busiest periods, I make sure to look nice even if no one is there to see it. The stereotype of freelancers working in sweatpants is true! (I’m wearing them as I write this). But they’re fresh sweatpants I put on after a shower and before I did my hair and makeup. When I’m battling the craziest deadlines, I take care of myself because it sets the mood for the day.

I look forward to meetings with clients now because I get to dress up in Brooks Brothers and Fendi!

Relieve Stress

When I used to work for other people, my tension derived from toxic colleagues and dysfunctional workplaces. Now I feel the stress of having too much to do and knowing that I’m the only one to do the work.

To combat this, I work out every day. It’s primarily for the mental relief, but a fit body is a nice result. I do Crossfit, SoulCycle, and Aaptiv workouts.

I started incorporating meditation and deep breathing exercises into my daily practice. This body scan meditation is more refreshing than a nap. I use an accupressure mat, which is painful until the endorphins kick in. 

I also use natural stress relievers like Tulsi tea and Calm.

Before, when I worked at a “normal” office job, I felt like I had to contain my feelings until I left work. Self-employment has given me the freedom to address my stress and anxiety as it occurs. Doing so has significantly improved my life.

Manage Emotions

Along similar lines to relieving stress, I also manage my emotions. I strive to be happy and calm and avoid things that anger or annoy me.

Recently, I was feeling upset about something that I couldn’t figure out, and I had an important call with a client approching. Rather than trying to intellectualize my feelings, suppress my emotions, or otherwise try to be a stoic professional, I made myself cry. It was cathartic and I had 15 minutes before the call so I let it all out. I’m glad I did because I no longer felt bad, and I could talk with my client without having to push down my feelings.

Music is a great way to maintain a mood. Sixties-era ska/rocksteady/reggae and 70s/80s punk and hardcore pushes the happiness button in my head. I also have certain songs I listen to to get me hyped including “Accept Yourself,” “Bam Bam,” and “Sucker MCs.” No one will harsh my mellow!

Celebrate the Sabbath

Self-employment, at least initially, means that you work all the time. It’s important to take a mental and physical break so that you don’t burn out. I celebrate the Sabbath from Friday night to Sunday at noon every week. The time allows me to reconnect with family and friends, have fun, and give myself a break so that I’m fresh for the next week. Being a workaholic or a martyr is no way to live.

Travel Well

I’m still perfecting my travel experiences, but I’ve done several things to make my life easier. I’ve enrolled in TSA Pre-Check, created a travel packing list, and joined the loyalty programs of my favorite airline, hotel chain, and car rental company so I rack up points each time I travel. I keep my Dopp kit packed with beauty samples and my favorite masks. Each time I travel for business, I think of new ways to make my experience more enjoyable.

Listen to Your Gut

When talking to potential clients or partners, I listen to my intuition. There’s been several times where I felt a bad feeling about an organization or an individual. The feeling cannot be justified. You just know on a primary level that there’s something not right there. In situations like this, I use the rest of the conversation to figure out what the red flags are. If possible, I usually wait for the other party to turn me down before I turn them down. If needed, I will say no to moving forward. I never “ghost” people professionally because it’s not right. I found it far more compassionate to let people know in a timely manner that working together is not possible.

Treat Yourself Like a Lamborghini, Not a Jalopy

I take care of myself more than I did before. I recently treated a chronic pain condition I had for over twenty years by finding a wonderful physical therapist. I also found a doctor that treated me for an asthma-like condition that landed me urgent care several times in the past couple years. I eat healthy, drink in moderation, exercise, practice self-care, and sleep well. When I don’t do these things, I get sick and then I can’t work.

Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Almost every day, I’m doing something outside of my comfort zone—meeting new people, starting projects, or pitching ideas. In the past, that twinge of dread before an unnerving event used to paralyze me, but now I just feel it. Soon enough it passes, the task is done, and I move on to the next uncomfortable thing. I realize that every experience allows me to learn and perfect my craft. Sometimes I’m just awkward and uneasy. I accept that my feelings are temporary, and I move on.  

Be Authentic

At a recent Society of American Archivists conference in a session about radical empathy in archival practice, Holly Smith, College Archivist at Spellman College, said, “If I can’t be my authentic self in a space, I don’t want to be in that space.” That statement is something that I’ve felt for a long time, but couldn’t articulate. (Holly is one of the most beautiful people inside and out, by the way).

The most important and challenging part of self-employment is being able to accept myself fully. I’ve removed myself from toxic environments, and the only critical voice left is inside my head. How cruel this self-talk can be! I wouldn’t let a boss talk to me this way, but I’ve lived with this voice unknowingly my whole life.

I have to practice radical self-acceptance because I must depend on my brain and my body to do the work to support myself. Being an entrepreneur has built my confidence with each client I get and project I complete. I am forced to love myself because that’s the only way to survive.

I have learned to stop hiding and be more myself. In high school, I won “Most Unique” as a senior superlative.

I ripped this off the wall and kept it with my personal archives all these years. "Egg" was my boyfriend.

I ripped this off the wall and kept it with my personal archives all these years. "Egg" was my boyfriend.

But the freak flag I proudly let fly has been suppressed. I conformed my personality and my presentation for so long because I felt that I had to to survive in the working world. In the past year, I’ve slowly crept out of my shell and have expressed myself more. I want to get back to being the shame-free and fearless teenager I used to be.

Wearing thrift store and military surplus. I understood the importance of metadata even back then!

Wearing thrift store and military surplus. I understood the importance of metadata even back then!

Clients pay for ME; all of me—my expertise and my experience. I no longer have to put on an act to protect myself. My clients have problems that I solve. We align forces to fix something together. I show up in a way that I never have before. It feels good to do the work that I love while being my true, best self.

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