I'm Sorry I Judged You For Being Self-Employed (Because Now I Want To Be You)

Having always been the person with the "grown-up job" as a friend of mine once put it, I realize now that a part of me was mentally rolling my eyes at the "self-employed."
Publish date:
August 14, 2013

This was me three-and-a-half years ago:

Monday through Friday, and some Saturdays, I woke up at 8am (okay let's be honest it was more like a frantic 8:30am most days), put on my latest cute-dress find, occasionally threw on some lipstick, stepped into my favorite Fluevogs, and dashed out the door for my 45-minute commute in LA traffic.

I'd usually make it to work just in time to beat my boss there. After we exchanged morning pleasantries usually involving some weird thing her birds did or my cat did, I'd lumber over to the kitchen and prepare my coffee while picking over leftovers from the previous night's event -- muffins, veggies and dip, cookies, sandwiches, sometimes if it was fancy, remnants of the mashed potato bar.

As the resident teaching artist for the theatre I worked for, I'd then spend my day scheduling workshops, creating lesson plans, Googling the world's greatest cave diving locales (I don't cave dive, but my alter ego does), yakking with my intern, playing with one of the many office dogs, and going to meetings.

My day would typically end at around 6pm, after which I'd usually go to rehearsal for a show I was directing, either for the theatre or independently, and be home by 11:30 or midnight, ready to watch TV until 2 am while eating something involving cheese.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Needless to say, I was nursing a full time job and then some, and for most of the years I lived that life, I was pretty happy. I had creative freedom, but I also had a structure imposed upon me that essentially told me when to work and when to relax. It was all very clear cut.

At this time in my life, I was in the minority of my social circle. Most of the actors, writers, directors, musicians and such I kept company with were either unemployed, working part time at a soul-sucking job, or self-employed.

Having always been the person with the "grown-up job" as a friend of mine once put it, I realize now that a part of me was mentally rolling my eyes at the "self-employed."

I was such an ass.

I remember very clearly one Friday afternoon I had off from work. Wanting to make the most of my three-day weekend and my recent paycheck, I called a self-employed friend of mine to go see a movie then go out that night. He answered the phone but told me that he couldn't make it because he had a lot of writing to do that day, and he was basically holed up in his apartment.

After a few flaccid attempts at changing his mind, we made plans for the weekend, and hung up. I remember saying to my husband, then boyfriend, "But he has all the time in the world! He really can't take a few hours out of his day? He can write any time!"

Bleeeeccchhhh. Writing those sentences just now, I feel like I'm writing about another person, another person I think IS A DICK. OK, that's not entirely fair, but a person who is ignorant to the fact that there is more than one way to be earn a living.

Until recently I've had my artistic career, but I've always had a full time job to give me monetary stability and cocktail party cred. Now, as I find myself living in a half-time self-employed/freelance place, I realize that having the discipline to freelance, or work for yourself and MAKE SOME GODDAMN MONEY, is one of the hardest things an adult can endeavor to do.

In all honesty, when I was in the thick of my "grown up" jobs, I always imagined my freelance and self-employed friends having three-hour brunches or spending everyday waking up at noon to watch a day's worth of "Iron Chef" or "CSI" with some writing or a phone call in-between episodes. It always made me a little bit angry when a friend would complain about being "so tired" after a day, I presumed, of surfing the Internet and going to Pilates, while I had worked all day at a REAL job.

The reality I've found, at least for me, is that working for myself is often more exhausting than working full time for a company. Where as there were always stakes with my office job -- the quality of my work, the approval of my bosses, the funding for my programming -- there was always a safety net. My department provided support. For the good of the company, my boss, my co-workers, would simply not allow a project to crash and burn because it was their necks too.

And frankly, I got to the chance to fund and implement a lot of the programming I dreamed up because the name of the theatre I worked for carried a little bit of heft.

At least for some of it, I was riding on coattails.

You know what I'm riding on now? A MacBook Pro that has an "Arrested Development" DVD stuck in it, and the hope that I never run out of words in my head. The four days a week I devote to "The Business of Me" (I'm hoping to transition to a full time version of this soon), are the most mentally tiring of my days. Most of the stakes are still there, but it's just me now.

I crave schedules, but I am terrible at creating my own schedules. I sometimes have to literally bribe myself to stick to my work list for the day ("If I write these pieces, at this coffee shop, I'm allowed to get a piece of butter mochi cake as a reward"). I constantly worry that I'm not going to get my shit done, and when I DO get it done, I fret about the crappiness of it until the next deadline smacks me upside the head.

I worry that I'm too slow, I worry that I'm too old, I feel guilty about going to a movie in the middle of a writing day. Where have I heard that before?

Just the other day a friend of mine called in the middle of the day when I was trying to churn out a post. I picked up the phone just to let her know I wasn't ignoring her and that I'd call later when I wasn't working. Her response, "Louise, you're just writing, stop it for now and talk to me," almost made throw the phone down.

The thing is, I've never been entirely and completely accountable to myself before. It's so hard, and so scary. There's no department backing me up and supplementing my work. If I don't write or submit or pitch, I won't work and I won't get paid. I have to stress, I have to be disciplined, I have to turn down the movies and lunches and phone calls when I'm writing.

But I'm happy. I love not being tied to an office most days. I CAN wake up later if I choose to, I DO have freedom. But it is like I'm always at work. I noticed lately that I never stop thinking about what I'm writing. And while I do worry, there is a pleasure to it. It's mine. I own it. It's on my own terms.

What I guess I'm getting at is that I have a new respect for the people I know who were, or are full-time self-employed or freelancing, and making a living. For some of them, a great living. I'll say it again, I was an ass.

Work worth doing is almost never easy, and I've come to learn that it doesn't matter where you do it. There is no hierarchy of "job worth" -- we all do what we must to be fulfilled or at the very least survive.

So to my long-suffering friends who were subject to my judgment for all those years, I am humbled, forgive me. Please forgive me. And when you're ready, the next "non working hours" movie is on me.