Working for Yourself - It’s About More Than Money

I sometimes forget some of the significant benefits of working for myself. The past few weeks have been a good reminder of these benefits.

Here’s what’s happened from late October to the present (early November):

  1. I’ve been able to tell a client “No” when asked to do something I was uncomfortable with.
  2. I’ve worked remotely to save on commute time.
  3. I took an unscheduled “day off” without having to explain to myself why I needed/wanted the time.
  4. I’ve been able to work around Mr. F2P’s schedule, which has been a bit whacky the last few weeks to say the least.
  5. I’ve managed to schedule personal errands while everyone else is working at their day jobs.

Here’s a bit more on each of these and why they matter.

1. The Ability to Say “No”

Even if you receive a regular paychekand have no intention of ever starting a business, it’s important to understand that you are still essentially self-employed. No one will look out for your interests as much as you will...
— Chris Guillebeau, Born for This (2016), p. 4.

Of course, we can always say “No”. Technically, no one can get us to do anything if we really don’t want to. We always have a choice, even if we like to convince ourselves that we don’t. That said, refusing to do something is a lot easier when the buck stops with you.

I won’t say I have perfect judgment in this respect. Every decision can turn out to be either the right one or, sometimes, less than optimal. I’ve often said “Yes” to additional work, requests, impositions over the last number of years, but it was usually because I really was OK with it. And, if after the fact, I found I’d made a mistake, I just vowed never to repeat it. Know better, do better as they say, right?.

Feeling a greater ease in saying “No” has helped me stay truer to myself, my values and has helped me set boundaries that make life easier, clearer. That’s what you get when you can listen to your gut.

2. Working from Anywhere

Normally, I meet with clients and do my work either in my home office or within a 5-10-minute drive from home. But this week’s been different. I’ve had an inordinate number of errands:

  • There’s been a need to help a few family members, 
  • Some extra errands for our household and 
  • Even errands for friends and acquaintances. 

I don’t know how I would’ve managed to pull all of it off and still have taken care of professional commitments I’d signed up for without the flexibility this lifestyle affords me. I avoided undue stress, resentment and long work hours by being able to manage a “to do” list with a good amount of flexibility.

And boy was it time well spent because I did manage to write the first draft of what you're reading today!

In fact, I’m writing this post at the car dealership. I brought in our Rav4 to have a number of recalls addressed on it (Yes, I’ve let them pile up, a very irresponsible thing to do. My bad). By choosing to bring my laptop to work from this location, I avoided over an hour of commute time, the stress of traffic and the need to look at my watch or wait for a phone call. I’ll just wait, and work/read a book/catch up on some favourite blogs & news sites, until they come find me. Easy peasy. 

I was even able to help a new friend who was in trouble with a gargantuan speaking engagement in late October, which would not have been possible if I’d had a regular job. I ended up spending nearly 20 hours on her project and it was great to be able to do that with her. I ended up learning a lot in the process and it was a lot of fun, despite the workload.

  This is the stuff that makes me want to get up in the morning.

This is the stuff that makes me want to get up in the morning.

3. Unscheduled “Days Off”

On Wednesday this week, I ended up working a 15-hour day. No joke. 5:30am - 8:30pm. It was very engaging work: preparing for and speaking to a group of professionals, along with the processing of the post-session feedback, video, session summaries, etc.

I took a deep dive into the subject and was “on” for the entire duration, completely absorbed by the topic and fuelled by both a deep desire to help and passion for the subject matter: change management for the individual (you can read some of my thoughts on the matter here and here).

Our most fundamental need is to spend and renew energy. We breathe in, and we breathe out. We can’t do one for very long without doing the other, and the more deeply we do both, the better we operate, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.
...
[T]he higher the demand, the greater and more frequent the need for renewal.
— Tony Schwartz, The Way We're Working Isn't Working, p. 49-51.

It was a definite a high point that I will look back on fondly. 

And then, I crashed. I did nothing the next morning. And, by the afternoon, I managed to do some light housework, but nothing that was mentally demanding until later that evening. 

It. Felt. GREAT. I had a chance to think back on the previous day’s experience and really take it all in before moving on to the next project. Too few of us have the chance to integrate lessons learned and new insights derived by a high-point experience and that’s a shame.

I also unplug when I have the opportunity to have a deep conversation with someone that I know will leave us both better off for having had it. Sometimes these conversations are scheduled and sometimes they aren’t. In either case, I appreciate the opportunity to get lost in them without having to worry about what time it is and where I need to be next. I can give the other person my undivided attention and really think about what we’re discussing. Many powerful ideas have come from these conversations, some lasting up to six hours!*

Normally, in a 9-to-5 environment, a day off after a high-energy engagement like the one I described above or taking 2-3 hours to have an exploratory “just because” conversation would not be expected and/or deemed acceptable. But for me, it’s what’s needed to be able to deliver with the energy I brought to the task and to be able to explore fresh ideas for myself and others. 

Intense movement, balanced by deep recovery, dramatically increases our capacity, not just physically but also mentally and emotionally.
— Tony Schwartz, The Way We're Working Isn't Working, p. 79.

We’re wired for high points. The ability to produce at our highest intensity has to be accompanied by the ability to refuel. Otherwise, it’s nearly impossible to do our best work. I feel fortunate to know I can reach those high levels of performance and I don’t take them for granted because I remember what it felt like to be too tired/drained to be able to reach my potential.

4. Ability to Work Around Mr. F2P’s Schedule

Mr. F2P has had to deliver on some commitments that had him work some pretty interesting hours of late. I don’t see how we could’ve managed as well as we did if I hadn’t been able to flex around his fixed commitments. 

My flexibility reduced his stress level and left him feeling he could concentrate on his commitments without feeling he was letting me or others down (including our two dogs who do on occasion need to be let out, fed and watered). He was able to get his work done AND help one of our friends with some physically-demanding work that he could not have manage alone. Win/win/win.

5. Errands During “Downtime”

I love running errands early on weekdays, especially Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. If it’s a senior’s day at a given store we frequent often, chances are it’s my shopping day. The amount of time we waste in traffic during peak hours is insane. By ebbing when everyone is flowing and vice versa, I do myself and others a favour. I guess you could say I’m really living the retiree’s lifestyle when it comes to shopping! :)

Time & Personal Energy Management Matters as Much as Good Money Management

Working for myself helps our entire household be better versions of ourselves. We can:

  • assist others more often;
  • make time for ourselves when we need it/want it; and 
  • pursue challenging work that pushes us beyond our respective comfort zones

…because we can make room for some of these types of experiences when we want to.

I don’t want to discount the fact that a high savings rate helps keep this lifestyle accessible. I do want to stress that, along with good money management, many of us can benefit from guarding our time and energy with just as much zeal.

I believe this is the way life used to be before the industrial revolution, when people managed their time based on daylight and energy level/resources available, as opposed to by the clock. I also think that, just as managing time was more natural, the use of resources and money also flowed more naturally, more mindfully, because for the masses there was no such thing as a “regular pay check”.

Maybe the knowledge economy is nudging us back in this direction, at least for those of us whose work product mostly resides between our ears. If that’s the case, I think it’s a great path to pursue. It helps me appreciate why, when people go out on their own, a small taste of the entrepreneurial lifestyle can make some people say they’ve become “unemployable”.

I don’t have all the answers regarding the above and what’s in store for our society in general when it comes to work, but for now I’ll simply say this:

I’m grateful for this lifestyle and hope I never forget what a privilege it is to live this way.


*I had one of these conversations yesterday, from 10am to 3pm. It was AMAZING. I hope to have a repeat again soon!


Image credit/copyright, in order of appearance: suphakit73/freedigitalphotos.net

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