Going Out On My Own, I Didn’t Expect This
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve read enough from those who’ve gone before me and spoken with others as well. I thought I was mentally prepared for what I would experience when I decided to leave a job and work for myself.
After all, this is the new “gig” economy. You don’t need an employer. It’s never been easier to advertise your talents and be engaged by potential customers, or create content that generates passive income. This excited me. Thinking about not having to deal with some of the toxic, immature, or simply bizarre people I encountered at my last employer absolutely excited me. Being able to pursue what I thought were the right ideas and not have to convince someone else who was in charge was definitely exciting. Putting all of this together in my head gave me the inspiration I needed to actually do it.
And to be fair, I wasn’t completely on my own. I was given the opportunity to work with someone who has been on his own for 2 years now and has built a growing client list and business. There was nothing guaranteed, but I wasn’t starting from scratch. I also took the opportunity to invest in the seed round for a company that was then looking for someone to act in the CRO role to get sales moving. There were plenty of opportunities for me to work and generate an income.
Or so I thought. But two very interesting things happened.
The first was this: within a day of receiving my last paycheck from my last employer, I woke up in a complete panic. While I realized there wasn’t going to be a paycheck at the end of this month, I didn’t expect that would rattle me. What I really hadn’t thought about was that there wasn’t going to be a paycheck again until I did something to generate it.
The intensity and mixture of emotions that were generated were completely new to me. I had felt panic before — trying to pay two mortgages, worried about some unpaid debt on my credit report killing a mortgage application. That kind of stuff. I would feel the panic but my logical brain would kick in and overcome the emotional tide that was rising.
That didn’t happen this time. No amount of reasoning in my head would stop the swirling panic and the feeling of falling into a bottomless dark pit. I finally had to surrender my attempts to fall back asleep, grab my smartphone, and watch some mindless video content on YouTube. After an hour, the nuclear explosion going on in my head subsided, and I could return to sleep.
Of course, it was back the next night. And the next. Even after I scored my first paying gig and received funds in my account, I still get the visit from this diabolical monster. Now the fear has morphed into not understanding how to pay taxes and owing the government more than I can pay. I knew it was completely irrational stuff. Others are doing it. Certainly, I can. Yet there it is, constantly haunting me. I’m doing my best to get used to it. I’m also sharing the irrational emotions with others — my wife, other solo consultants — and that is helping tremendously.
Still, the monster looms in the darkness, waiting to pounce. It throws me off my game and leaves me questioning my very existence.
The second thing that happened was this: I came to the stark and very depressing realization that working for someone else has made me lazy. There is nothing like going out on your own to reset what you believe is producing results.
When you’re a middle manager working for someone else, the notion of work often includes sitting through back-to-back meetings and responding to emails requesting your input and feedback. I suppose to some degree this contributes to the growth of the company, but I have to believe very minimally.
Now on my own, I have neither this cadre of meetings or hosts of people clamoring for my input. In fact, just the opposite. In some cases, people I used to communicate with regularly now avoid me because they’re worried I’m going to pitch and squeeze them for business. You start to realize who your actual friends are this way.
So for someone who is going to make a living on delivering content, it was a complete shock to the system to go from middle manager meetings and emails to sitting by myself in front of a screen wondering how the hell to get started. And in those moments, lots of voices in your head start to accuse you of being a complete idiot for leaving the steady paycheck. They tell you how much you really didn’t know at all. That you’re doomed to fail. And then suddenly I find myself browsing job postings on LinkedIn praying it’s not too late.
But it is too late. And that’s a good thing. Because I’ve also come to realize that I can’t go back. Ever. Just as the Spanish explorer Cortes burned his ships to motivate his men to stay in the New World, so I have burned the “work for someone else” ships. I’m here to stay.
I’ve come to understand the cliched phrase: “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” The sprinter always sees the finish line. That’s easy. The marathon runner doesn’t see it until the end. They train themselves to keep putting one foot in front of the other, having the faith they’ll make it. With each step, building the belief in themselves.
Just like I’m doing now.