This year, I learned an important lesson about being self-employed. If you lack inertia, your business will as well. And everything you worked so hard to build up can easily come apart.
This year was our post-Sandy rebuilding year. I had to juggle running my business with raising my family, my usual level of crazy. But I also had to add in haggling with insurance companies, making endless decisions about paint colors and cabinet finishes and facing the regular interruptions from my contractor wondering “Do you want this here?” and “We have a problem.” All while running that business from a corner of my bedroom/living room/dining room/storage facility.
The close-quarters threatened to gnaw away at the little bit of sanity I had been able to maintain. The only TV in the house sat inches away from my work desk. So I learned to improvise. I’d tell the kids, “Mommy is going to work now,” put on my headphones and use music to drown out the sound of scheming Phineas and Ferb and arguing Mira and Miles (my kids). When we got bad news from our insurance company (which happened again and again) I had to figure out how to tamp down that fear and anger so I could focus on the next interview I had to do for work or article I had to write. There were so many days when a work-related deadline seemed poised to be the straw to my camel’s back.
“Never have I ever wished so much that I didn’t have to work,” I remember telling my sister.
But the reality was that never in my life was my working and earning an income so important. Insurance only covered about two-thirds of our rebuilding cost. The rest came from our own pockets. And here’s the thing: Because I’m a self-employed freelance writer, if I am not producing I am not earning. There are no paid sick days or personal leave. There’s no one else to cover for me when I need to spend the day researching the best flooring options or finding yet more documents for the insurance claim. Were it not for the editors who continued to believe in me and who, I suspect, occasionally threw me projects as a way to keep me working and earning, I shudder to think how things would have turned out for us.
While I am self-employed and work in my own bubble, I am not alone. I have cultivated a world of support and respect outside of my office desk. This might sound obvious if you go to an office everyday but for those of us who work independently, we often lack even the most basic feedback about our work. To feel connected to workplaces outside my own was a salve. Clients sent me gift cards. Editors I hadn’t worked with in months checked in with me to see how we had fared. They followed my journey on my blog, 365to40, and occasionally bought one of those posts to put on their own websites. When I fell short of meeting a deadline in those first weeks after the storm, when our house was unlivable, they didn’t let me add that to my list of worries.
I realized that after nine years of running my own business, I have figured out how to keep it afloat in good times and bad. And that has instilled a level of confidence that will propel me toward new ventures in 2014 (stay tuned!)
So as I end this work year, I’d like to thank all of you I’ve had the privilege of working with over the last year. Thank you for your understanding and your belief that despite the insanity in my life, I could still get the job done. Sandy taught me that being connected to a community is one of the best ways to survive the darkest days. Thank you for letting me be a part of yours.