I was 29 when I quit working in a cubicle and became self-employed. It was a huge step, and I was excited to experience the freedom of setting my own schedule, working wherever and whenever I wanted, and creating a lifestyle that I had always dreamed of. I was eager to test myself to see how much I could accomplish on my own. Plus, I was moving to Germany for a year with my boyfriend, and that just added to the excitement.
My passion for my new freelance life was further fuelled by the fact that so many of my friends were either already working for themselves, or aspired to one day work for themselves. I felt like I had finally achieved something important: after two very difficult years of working 70+ hours/week at both my full-time job and freelancing, I had grown my freelance writing gigs and this blog from nothing, into something that I could actually make a decent living from. I had steady clients in place, and a good amount of extra freelance work rolling in.
However, after a year of doing my own thing, I knew that being self-employed wasn’t the right fit for me … which was interesting to learn about myself after years of wondering if I could make it on my own.
Although the year I spent freelancing proved that I have what it takes to work for myself if I ever wanted to go that route again, I am much better suited working for someone else for the rest of my career. Freelancing and self-employment isn’t for everyone, and I honestly think it’s a lifestyle that not many people can handle (no matter how much they dream of being their own boss). I’m constantly impressed by my friends who are thriving as freelancers because I know it takes a special kind of person to make it work.
Here are four reasons why I left freelancing and went back to my cubicle (and none of it had to do with not making enough money!):
Yes, freedom! So many people talk about wanting to have the freedom to create their own schedule, and not feel like they’re chained to their desk. Well, I’d rather be chained to my desk for 8 hours a day than feel like I’m chained to my own laptop and smartphone 24/7. Honestly.
Sure, I got to work whenever I wanted, and travel when I felt like traveling. But as it turns out, I was kind of a demanding boss on myself. I always felt pressured to work harder, and when I wasn’t in front of my laptop? I was either checking my emails and looking at social media, or worrying about checking my emails and looking at social media. I didn’t want to miss any new opportunities, and it drove me crazy. It’s pretty horrible to feel like you can’t be without your phone, ever. I had major anxiety, and started to lose all sense of balance. My work consumed me, no matter what kind of schedule I tried to implement. I wasn’t practical, because I was too scared not to hustle as much as I could.
So even though I was only doing actual work for 30 hours a week as a freelancer, I never felt like I could step away. Whereas a full-time job brings me the freedom to leave work behind. After 5pm, I don’t have to worry about projects or clients or income targets, and my evenings and weekends are mine to enjoy however I want. Life is short, and I’d rather hold hands with my boyfriend in the park after work, than sit in front of my laptop trying to hit a deadline.
2. Time Off
I used to think that if I became self-employed, I could take as much time off as I wanted to. But it was actually pretty hard to go on vacation and complete unplug from the outside world. Sure, I traveled a ton, but the problem with being your own boss is that when you’re on vacation, you’re not getting paid. Plus, most evenings (and yep, sometimes during the day) when I was on vacation, I was checking e-mails and following up on work-related admin stuff, or stressed out about a client reducing their budget – none of which were relaxing!
My old corporate jobs allowed me two or three weeks of vacation, which obviously was not enough time for the amount of traveling I wanted to do each year. I yearned for more time to go adventuring, and thought freelancing was the answer. But what I didn’t realize was that perhaps it was just the industry I was in that was limiting my freedom.
I love the industry that I’m in now because of the flexibility it provides when it comes to time off. I feel lucky in that every little bit of time I work above and beyond a normal work day gets given back to me – which works out to having seemingly unlimited vacation time. Last year I took 6 weeks of paid vacation, and this year will likely be around the same. Maybe even a bit more. And best of all? I don’t have to worry about anything related to work while I’m gone.
3. I am not special
I have a very good idea of where I stand in the personal finance world. I’m an average writer with an average get-out-of-debt story. I don’t have any unique skills, and I’m not special. But what I do have is an above-average passion for personal finance, and the desire to help others. And that’s why this blog has been around for almost 10 years.
There are so many other people who have the self-employed thing
The ability to work for yourself opens up the doors to limitless streams of income, and I will admit that felt super liberating. But I’m a natural worrier, and even though I had steady contracts which gave me a steady income stream, having the rest of my income fluctuate caused my anxiety to skyrocket. Some weeks I would bring in thousands and I’d feel so confident. Then there were other weeks I’d make nothing and I would start to panic. Everything evened out over the course of the year to provide me with a perfectly livable income (that was actually more than my previous full-time job provided), I couldn’t handle the ups and downs with grace.
My desk job provides me with the stability I crave. I know that every two weeks, I’ll be getting X amount of money. It’s something I can count on, and I need that feeling of stability.
Being self-employed is a terrific option for some people. I have plenty of friends are are self-employed rock stars! But it’s a lot less glamorous and a lot harder than you might think. I know myself well enough to know this now, but it took me half a decade of freelancing and a full year of being self-employed to really understand it.
Have you ever wanted to work for yourself?
When I was in college, we had to do a mandatory 4-month co-op during the summer between our first and second year. I wanted to do something in marketing or event coordination, but couldn’t find anything in Victoria. I did, however, find a position with a non-profit in Northern Alberta. So without hesitating, I said yes to the barely-above-minimum-wage job and the chance for a bit of an adventure.
I decided to drive the 1,300km to my new temporary home because I knew I’d likely need my car while I was up there. But since my car was basically a piece of crap on wheels, I was going to have to take it into a mechanic to make sure it was safe to take on my short road trip. When I found out it would cost just under $1,000 for the repairs, I remember nearly bursting into tears. I didn’t have that kind of money! So for the first time in my adult life (and the first admittance to anyone that I was in any sort of financial trouble), I asked my parents if I could borrow the money from them.
“You don’t have $1,000?” I remember my dad asking. I felt shame. Nope, I didn’t. His face fell and he kind of shook his head in disappointment, but he loaned me the money. I got my car fixed, and away I went on my road trip. But I felt so horrible about owing him money that I paid him back with my first pay cheque (which ended up being the entire amount – and a little bit more) – and lived off my credit cards until I got paid again.
Except that when I got paid again, I had to pay off my credit cards. And it was just so easy to fall behind when the minimum payments were a lot more appealing than paying off the entire amount. A few pay cycles like that, and all of a sudden I had maxed out my credit card.
I’ve mentioned it in a few posts lately, but life is a lot easier now. I don’t feel like I’m falling behind, and I actually have savings in the bank and a financial plan for the future. But I will admit that I still feel a bit of a victory whenever I can fill my gas tank up completely (instead of only putting in $10 worth of gas because it was all I could afford).
I’m not really sure what the point of this post was, but I wanted to share the story of the first time I admitted to anyone (including myself) that I was in any sort of financial trouble. Even 11 years later, I can still see that disappointed look on my dad’s face, and it’s something I hope to never, ever see again.
Can you remember the first time you knew you had money problems?
Back in December, I shared my panic about not saving enough for early retirement. I was putting away $950 each month back then, and once employer contributions kicked in, that increased to $1,200. Because of my little panic attack, I increased it again to $1,350/month for January, and then in another surge of panic in that same month, increased it yet again to where it currently sits at $1,685/month.
And even though I’m not stretching myself thin by contributing $1,685/month (which includes employer contribution), I couldn’t help but ask myself two important questions:
- Could I be saving less into retirement and more into my general savings? If I don’t actually need to be saving this much money to reach my goal of early retirement, would I be better off setting that money aside for a down payment on a future home? Or spending more of it on life (which basically means travel)?
- If I continue saving at this rate, could I potentially retire earlier than the 55-57 age that I’m currently targeted?
Even though I’ve been saving for retirement for 10 years already, and early retirement is my number one financial goal, I really don’t think I’ve ever grasped the actual reality of retirement. I’ve just kind of been wildly throwing money into my portfolio in the hope that it would fund whatever lifestyle I choose to have. But the thing is, I’ve always known what I want. Maybe I can’t picture the details exactly, but I know the feeling.
Related: What does retirement mean to you?
I wrote this back in 2013 and it still feels so true to me:
Retirement to me means having the freedom to do whatever I want to do, without the obligation to work for a living. I guess you could call it financial independence, rather than retirement. Who knows what I’ll be up to! But whatever it is, it’ll be my choice, and it won’t be based on the need to bring in an income.
Most experts say you want to replace 70% of your pre-retirement income in order to live comfortably. Which is what I’ve always been aiming for. 70% of my income right now would conservatively be about $55-60k. But the issue I’m having is, that number seems really, really high. And I’m beginning to realize that your retirement calculations should be based on your pre-retirement SPENDING, rather than your income. Right?
Because, come on. I’ve never in my life spent $55-60k in one year! I’m living quite comfortably right now on 35-40% of my income (and that includes paying rent) in Canada’s most expensive city. So if I have no rent/mortgage to pay during retirement, and I live a good life right now, why on earth would I ever need 70% of my current income during retirement?
Sure, unexpected costs will always creep up on you. So let’s say on the high end, I’ll want 50% of my income during retirement. I’m a cautious person, and there’s always a degree of uncertainty to life – so the extra padding would be nice. But that’s still a lot less than the 70% I’ve been stressing myself out to obtain.
My goal for this month is to take a really good look at my retirement plan, my current contribution rate, and what that means for my goal of early retirement. I don’t know if I’ll end up changing anything, but I do think it’s an important exercise. And if anything, it might calm me down a bit. :)