Working for Yourself: Month Six (It’s Up To You)

Two weeks ago, if you’d reminded me that I’d been self-employed for almost six months, I would have told you that I didn’t believe it. I would have said, “It feels like it went by in a flash,” or “No way has it been six months.” But this week, I absolutely feel like I’ve been self-employed six months, no questions asked.

What happened? Well, it’s been a complicated month. I turned in my book, and I knew I had at least a month before I got it back for editing. So I decided to make that month count. I added submission forms to the site, I wrote a really long FAQ, I redesigned the side bar, I got Ask Team Practical a new logo, I launched the new Wordless Wedding feature, I decided to take on APW’s first ever event, I worked on some as-of-yet-unannounced projects, and oh yeah, I got my book back for editing. Need a nap yet? Because that’s not all! I also dealt with contracts and stressful budget mishaps. I (only?) cried once or twice. It was an action-packed month that aged me as a business owner. So what did I learn?

  • To manage my to-do lists (or Teux Deux lists, since that’s what I’m using these days). Plan for the week, try to realize you don’t have to do it all at once, and realize that most items on your list take longer than you expect them to. Damn it.
  • That the train keeps moving. For years, when I got a piece of disappointing business news, I allowed myself to feel crushed. “Can APW make it?” I’d ask David, “Is it all falling apart?” And erm, I don’t claim to have totally retired those questions from my repertoire. But I have learned that when you build a business, it has a whole lot of moving pieces. If you spend too much energy on the one part that isn’t working well, you end up wasting your time (and feeling sad for no reason). Better to focus on what is going well, and realize that the train is going to keep on moving, so you might as well be on it.
  • Learn to say No. I have found it utterly hilarious to realize that I need practice saying no in business situations because I’m so over-practiced at saying no in personal situations. But to run a business and run it well, you have to say no. You occasionally have to disappoint individuals because your job is to keep your eye on the big picture. It’s not easy, and I’m still not that great at it, but I’m practicing.
  • I am the queen of overcommitting. Yes, I want to get it all done. No, I don’t have to get it all done right now. In self-employment, the tortoise has a thing or two on the hare, and I need to work on my slow and steady.

But mostly I learned, again and again, that I am fully responsible for the business and the work environment that I create for myself. That is the blessing and the curse of self-employment. When I realized last week that I was an over-tapped, over-stressed, anxious mess, I knew I had no one to blame but myself. So I took several deep breaths, and thought, “I need to figure out what isn’t working, so I can change my behavior.” You know how in life, you really do tend to get back what you put out there? Well, self-employment is that cycle, times ten thousand. If it’s not working, you need to take responsibility and change the pattern, or it will get worse and worse. So I’m asking myself some hard questions, and practicing stopping (and delegating).

This Sunday, I woke up with work to do, feeling like a ball of stress. I checked my phone, and I had two text messages. One was inviting us to a birthday party with small kids, chickens, and old friends in semi-rural Sonoma. The other was inviting us to stay in a cabin in even-more-rural Sonoma. So I packed my lap top, and we did.

And on Monday morning, as I worked away on a deck in a redwood forest I thought: this is why I quit my day job. Because when things are not working, I can change the paradigm (with a little help from the universe and some friends). I can go from being an anxious sweaty mess, to working in a redwood forest in 24 hours. And you bet that’s worth the stress.

Photos of me taken by Maggie

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  • Amen for To Do lists always taking longer than you expect!
    I’m finding a lot of your wisdom (the train keeps moving part especially) extremely useful in my life right now…..and it has nothing to do with being self-employed!

  • lee

    I really enjoyed your post this morning because I also own my own business that I am working to build and struggle with some of the same things you mention here (although no book in my future). Thanks for sharing — it means a lot to us that hang out on our laptops all day without the community of an office. Congrats on all you do and have been enjoying your blog since I planned my wedding almost exactly a year ago. Isn’t being self-employed grand though?

  • These posts are awesome. You’re awesome. Like Pizza. No wait. Chinese food. Because I like Chinese food more.

    Seriously though – It’s a never ending, all out fun, hustle to keep things moving along. Well – it can be that, or it can just be like trying to desperately keep your head above water.

  • marbella

    Thanks Meg. I’ve been working for myself a little over a year now and although mostly great, the past couple of weeks have been extremely stressful. I too need to learn to say ‘no’, although I am pretty much unpracticed at it in every area of my life.
    You are right – “I need to figure out what isn’t working, so I can change my behavior” hit a chord. I am the one in charge, and therefore I also have the ability to change the situation for the future.
    Thanks for the to-do link, I am checking it out now!

  • melissa

    Love your dress. I have the same one. That’s all I had to say.

  • I don’t work for myself but I am still loving these posts. There is such useful insight about balancing work and life and checking in and checking out that I find really helpful. Love that you were able to work among the redwoods! Yes.

    • Aurélie

      I don’t work for myself either but I love those posts too!
      They give me hope and get me going. I’m not as much a doer as you are, Meg, and seeing you working so hard gives me a slight kick in the butt. So I re-read them often… ;)
      Please continue to share with us your journey, it’s very helpful, at least to me!

  • Redwood forest… *sigh* What a great place to work! (Even if you’re wrapped in a blanket and wearing a cardigan in July.)

    “That the train keeps moving” is a very good lesson to have learned. Sometimes I forget and I get hung up on one small task on my list of many things to do that day/week/month, so it’s good to be reminded that you have to keep moving right along with that train!

  • ka

    The part about the train could not be more true. Am actually experiencing just this at one of my businesses now.

  • I want to work in a redwood forest! *stamps feet*

    I love these posts, just so you know. They even have a special link all of their own, separate from APW, on my blogroll. That’s how much I love them.

    • meg


      It was nice, the redwood forest. Almost made up for a week of feeling like I was going to vomit from anxiety all the time. ALMOST.

  • Meg, as always, you’re good at reminding us that self-evaluation and introspection is so important in achieving our goals and dreams. I am definitely in a place where I needed a good reminding, so thank you.

  • Ha, I’m glad you put the bottom photo, because from the top I thought you were working from a park bench in a blanket. Redwood forest is MUCH nicer.

    • Ha! That’s totally what I thought too!

  • Jen M

    Love your Anthro dress :)

  • Yes–I love the “working for yourself” posts. They remind me that I might be able to do it one day; they remind me that my own career needs regular assessments to celebrate what’s working and create solutions for what isn’t. They always have bits of wisdom that I end up applying to my personal life, too (in the same way that APW as a whole has).

  • Sarisa

    This whole post was just full of awesome.

    Also, I can already tell that Teux Deux is totally going to be my new best friend. Thanks for mentioning it!

    • I used to use teux deux which I liked, but have since switched to and love- LOVE!- it even more because it has the ability to group tasks by projects, and put in due dates (or not) and priority. And you can tag things. So amazing. I highly recommend it. :)

  • Class of 1980

    Sorry I wasn’t around today to read this post.

    Self-employment takes you closer to the way things really work. Instead of being a crew member on the plane, you are piloting it … and Oh My God just the slightest touch on the controls makes the plane do big moves!


  • I’m having some stress at work right now and I thought that none of it was my fault. Turns out, I need to take things into my own hands and work on shifting my own happiness to make it more accessible. Because I can’t change anyone other than myself. I’m getting there, but it’s a slow process, and I’m thankful for this reminder. Cheers to 6 months!

  • Meg, this is why I keep reading your blog even though I’ve been married *officially* for 9 days (can someone please tell me when you stop counting the days?), you write about stuff that I can relate to. Quitting my firm job, steady paycheck and convincing my now husband to do the same to start our own firm was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I used to regularly have fears of being homeless or worse, living with my parents. It’s been 3 years now and I can actually stop to think about long terms goals for our business and what I want out of life.

    I’ve found that connecting with other self-employed, like minded people has been a HUGE help. Let’s face it, you might be really good at whatever it is you do (photographer, writer, lawyer, etc.) but no one teaches you that to be self-employed, you have to master things like estimated quarterly taxes, payroll, business licenses, marketing or corporate filings.

    Congrats to 6 months! Cheers.

  • I actually love these posts more as time passes and the whole working-for-yourself thing becomes less novel. Even though your work seems pretty varied month to month it’s interesting seeing how you’re settling into it, I like it.