For the past few months, I’ve been going back and forth as to whether to start my own freelance gig or seek formal employment with someone else. For a few years, I was convinced that when the time came the answer would be a no-brainer. After all, having a job in which you can work from home is about the cushiest thing a mother can ask for, right? If my profession allows for that (which writing and editing does), then why wouldn’t I? That was my thinking at the time, at least.
Don’t get me wrong—most days, I still find myself preparing to be in business for myself. Currently, this means finishing up the remainder of my copyediting coursework, sketching out business plans, cyber-stalking future dream clients, and starting this blog.
Other days, however, I don’t really want to do any of these things. On these days, the only activities that appeal to me are pouring through job ads on Mediabistro, crafting some snappy cover letters, and sending in applications (as a side note, I’ve done this several times in the past two months with zero response—more on that in a future post because I think it warrants discussion).
Why am I wavering on a life decision I was once so sure of? Here’s what I’ve come up with.
Having Too Much Freedom is Scary
My high school history teacher used to tell us that increased freedom means increased responsibility. He was right.
Working for myself means that I can set my own schedule, choose only the work that I want, be available for daytime events when my kids need me to be, eliminate commute time, and generally not ask for permission for anything.
It also means that income may not always be steady. I’ll have to (or get to) wear many different hats. And while successes are always going to be 100 percent mine, failures will also be 100 percent mine. There’s nowhere to hide, and no safety in numbers. Furthermore, carving your job own path is a little like choosing a laundry detergent in your average supermarket—there are too many products to choose from. You can’t possibly know when you’re standing there which one will work the best and which one will leave you with a coffee-stained shirt.
You’re Work Never Goes Away
I’ll admit that smart phones and WiFi have made this a reality for many people, but it’s especially true for anyone who works from home. When I started working as an Editorial Assistant straight out of college, I worked in my cube nine hours per day on a standard desktop PC. I did not have a laptop, and smart phones were still science fiction. So, when I left work at the end of the day to indulge (like any self-respecting twenty-something) in cocktails and deep-fried appetizers, I was done. Work was an afterthought until the next morning.
At home, your work is always in your space—staring at you, taunting you, laughing at you. It’s quite possible to spend your day getting certain things done and then spend your nights feeling guilty or worried about other things you didn’t get done—in which case, you may find yourself right back at your computer again when maybe you shouldn’t be. It’s a world where the lines between work and life are easily blurred.
I would undoubtedly describe the last three months as the most isolating of my life. During my years of office life (and school before that), I was surrounded by people on a daily basis. Granted, sometimes we were glued to our desks and didn’t talk for hours anyway, but at least I knew the others were there. I could hear them breathing or humming or rustling their candy wrappers. I could smell the burnt popcorn wafting up from the kitchen three floors down, signaling our shared space. And, there were meetings. Boring, yes, but at least you could look at another human face-to-face.
As a stay-at-home mom, my feeling of connection with the world diminished a little, but I did, in fact, still have a connection. There were playgroups, playgrounds, and gatherings with other moms. But in sending my kids off to school and adopting the work from home mentality, I’ve eliminated this social network without replacing it with anything (or anyone).
There are no co-workers, no playdates, and no playgrounds to use for idle conversation with strangers. My days are spent faithfully at my computer from 8:30 to 2:30, and I usually don’t talk to anyone until my kids come home. Add to this a husband who travels extensively and a geographically removed family, and I have some serious alone time on my hands. So I’ve taken to talking to plants. And myself. Even as an introvert I’m not sure this is healthy.
So now that I’ve described what’s been eating away at me, am I ready to throw in my freedom towel? Actually, I’m not. But, I do think it’s time for me to re-evaluate how I organize my week. I’ll be spending some time in the near future figuring out how to add a little more balance, sanity, and fun into my life—because adjusting how you live professionally also means adjusting the way you live your life personally.