Friday, February 2, 2018

Look at Me, I'm Self-Employed

Yeah, this post title is deliberate as it's from a song called "Takin' Care of Business." I've been self-employed for quite sometime and I feel it's necessary to tell you the good, the bad and the ugly of it.

The upsides are you work for yourself. Nobody gets to tell you you can't do something you want to do or who to work with or not work with. No workplace gets to censor your creative voice or demand you to put up with incompetent behavior. You get to keep a bunch of money for taxes and pay Uncle Sam in the end instead of waiting around for a refund. In theory, your time is yours.

The downside is you typically have to build a business. That part is extremely difficult, especially if you're not an expert marketer, come from tons of money or some great school where you've got built in contacts (and even going to an Ivy League school doesn't make you an instant millionaire as a gentleman in my life would freely point out). You also have to find people who actually advocate for you & think of you for things instead of the other guy. Your taxes are also a tad more complicated & forget about getting those done for free unless you're dead broke. Not to mention you most likely don't have stable income & you aren't guaranteed a given rate or paycheck. There's a lot of uncertainty to it all.

As a person who refused to work as a waitress in college because she didn't want to work for tips and refused to do commission based jobs or miserable base pay + commission, self-employment and this business building stuff is especially scary. I still have to control panic and stress attacks when I don't get a paying assignment on a given day. Plenty of people say I stress out too much and definitely have far more faith in me than I have in myself some days. I've been called "a shark," "a survivor," and I'm convinced there are people who think I'm Superwoman while I'm frantically thinking and telling people "No, I'm not."

When people think you're Superwoman, they never believe you have weak moments or are in need of help from anyone. They think you can magically take care of yourself and make things happen. I guess if you knew my full story, you might draw such conclusions about me.

One thing you learn as an adult is that nobody really has it together. You think they do but in actuality, they are dealing with credit card payments, bad credit scores, taking help from relatives, enduring insane housing conditions, suffering from health issues, all kinds of stuff. It makes you miss the days when your parents were superheroes and took care of everything no matter how bleak things looked.

I've seen this happen in the business world as well. It seems the self-employment panic attack happens even if you are paying bills successfully and businesses can close and merge after many years in existence. My former therapist told me she experienced that for years when she started out and told me I just needed not to fixate on that or stress out if I didn't get an assignment on a given day. I try to use that time to do other business obligations & tasks I need to get done that I'd usually be too busy for like business networking, responding to e-mails, submitting for casting calls and even simple relaxation.

You learn that the house isn't build on the solid foundation you assume it is, whether that's a business or personal existence.

The best way I could describe being self-employed is living in a perpetual state of unease and worry about whether you're going to make your bills this month. The constant worry that if this goes sour, everything will come crashing down around you. You ask yourself "How are you going to deal with it?" Some choose self-employment and some are forced into it. I was definitely forced into it due to being so unique when it comes to my skill set & talents. From what I hear about people's jobs, though, I feel like it's a better route than a job I'd hate where I'd be forced to change my entire identity. I definitely know life is precious and time is fleeting so you may as well do what makes you happy vs. worrying obsessively about your credit score.

Knowing the big truths makes it feel more encouraging, like I'm on this journey and I'm not going to be in the exact same place 5 years from now. More recently, I've been looking back on where I was 4 years ago. I actually saw a pic from a fashion show I did nearly 4 years ago since a friend shared it on her Facebook timeline. I had vivid memories of doing that show and how I was feeling at that time; modeling that night was a literal escape from the hell of my household with my ex-husband.

I have also thought about where I was when I started on my new legal work almost 3 years ago and what I've learned in that time along with the progress I've made in my creative career that I never got when I was married.

But knowing all these things, does anyone still get the fear that all their effort will be in vain? That the worst case scenario is going to happen and no matter how much you try to prepare for it, you know there's no way you could handle it long term? That it couldn't become your new normal & you'd want to die if it did?

My big fear is being forced to live in NC again; I'm a really crappy Southerner, you know. I don't like country music, I don't have a Southern accent, I spent a childhood overshadowed by my sister and it's just far too small for me. My eccentricity might be noticeable in NYC & I might be "weird" here but this is a city of weirdos so nobody hassles you for your own individual weirdness unless it's in the form of "she needs to be locked up" crazy. I stuck out like a sore thumb in NC and in my childhood though I've been gratified in recent times by people who knew me back then saying I was pretty, had worth and all that good stuff. It made me realize my lifelong problem wasn't the problem I thought it was & I know how to manage that one far better, in a more healthy and positive way. If I didn't know how to cook, didn't possess charm + manners & have more conservative leanings on some subjects (including a belief that God exists), I think they'd revoke my Southern card.

Being self-employed feels like being on a tightrope extended between 2 high rise buildings with at least 20 floors & knowing that there MIGHT be a net at the bottom if you fall but you don't know how sturdy the net is, if anyone's going to be holding that out for you, and you have no safety harness to rely on. But I consistently have to remind myself that much of my life has been like this. Getting thrown out by my lowlife ex and my transient life was definitely like this; yet so many people claim I'm a survivor and have "survived" this. I feel like I'm still recovering but there are things I'm not dealing with anymore that made me realize "hey, they're kind of right."

I've also questioned whether anyone really has an easier existence than me & I feel like the answer is "no, their existence is just difficult in other ways." The big questions come up a lot when you've lost a parent, gotten divorced, lived as a transient or talked to people who sound like they're doing a lot better than you (I've found out those people have envied me or thought I had it made in various ways).

I'll be the first person to tell you self-employment is not for everyone. You have to be extremely ambitious, determined, motivated and a freaking force of nature. You also have to do you best not to let the anxiety and instability eat away at your soul. It shouldn't be glamorized though it is how most businesses came to exist & there are all sorts of stories about famous owners and celebrities who had extremely difficult times to get where they are today. I like to think maybe my dark days are getting brighter and I'm either going to be confronted with full sunshine or I'm going to be dead and leave behind an indelible mark on the world. So many people never show you the reality & I feel it's only fair I oblige by sharing my truth with others. They also say writing reduces stress so if you feel it, you may want to try it sometime.

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