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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