Today marks the first day of working for myself.
Leaving what was a rewarding and secure full-time job as an arts journalist has come with its fair dose of insecurity and imposter syndrome. Who am I to get up and quit a great job to do my own thing? Am I doing it right? Will I simply disappear off the face of the earth now that I don’t have a ‘real’ job to define me?
It feels like a terrifying decision because as a friend recently explained, the decision to work for yourself requires unravelling the overt messaging that tells us we have to have a secure job. We need to be responsible. What we do needs to be definable.
But that’s precisely the appeal of taking the leap – it means we have managed to shed other people’s definitions of what we should be and how we should navigate our own lives. Somehow, you managed to latch onto another way of approaching your life. It could have just been a flash of an idea, but in that moment you couldn't ignore how much better it seemed to fit and feel. So you made it happen.
The trick of course, is to remember how good that flash felt. For those moments of doubt and uncertainty, I’ve put together a list of reminders for myself as I carve out this new working life.
This is a manifesto for anyone who has thought about going out on their own, leaving the security of a stable, respected day job for the unknown, and needs something to refer to in those moments of panic. It's a reminder to feel bold and brave.
A manifesto for quitting your day job
1. What you want now is time, not security
Try not to be afraid of time, now that there is an endless expanse of it in front of you. Try not to get distracted by money or let the fear of insecurity sidetrack you from what you really want to be doing with your days. You’re in the privileged position to be able to get by on less, so guard your hours instead of trying to grow your wallet.
As Maya Mendoza said, ‘No amount of security is worth the suffering of a mediocre life chained to a routine that has killed your dreams.’
2. Remember your mountain
There will be times when the fear inside you will make you believe you are hopeless and jobless. It will somehow make you forget that you have chosen to be out on your own, to make a living on your own terms.
In such times, remember what Neil Gaiman said about mountains. ‘Something that worked for me was imagining that where I wanted to be – an author, primarily of fiction, making good books, making good comics and supporting myself through my words – was a mountain. A distant mountain. My goal. And I knew that as long as I kept walking towards the mountain I would be all right. And when I truly was not sure what to do, I could stop, and think about whether it was taking me towards or away from the mountain.’
3. Don’t be derailed by dull days
There will be days when you won’t feel capable of doing that thing that needs doing. That’s okay. If making some broccoli soup or doing dreary administration tasks is what you can do that day, then do that. Remember everyone experiences dull days, and they are part of the creative process.
The time will come when you can manifest the creative energy to do that other thing. Don’t beat yourself up or let yourself spiral because it just wasn’t working on a particular day.
4. It’s okay that you can’t quite make out your trajectory right now
When you’re in a secure, nine-to-five job it’s fairly easy to predict what the next year will look like. But the endless possibilities of the places you can go without a safety-net renders such possibilities invisible – you cannot see where you are going when it is uncertain or undiscovered.
Let it excite you, but don’t think about what will happen a year from now. Try to just focus on the next week or day ahead, seeing just a little bit in front of you at a time. Don't allow yourself to get lost in what you could be doing do, or the gap between who you are right now and who you want to become.
5. You’re not made to work for other people
Some people flourish when they are given tasks to do, or with the support from a team and a manager. You are not one of those people – you need to do it your way.
Remember David Bowie’s words: 'Never work for other people...always, always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you felt, that if you could manifest it in some way, you would understand more about yourself and how you co-exist with the rest of society... And the other thing I would say is that if you feel safe in the area that you're working in, you're not working in the right area. Always go a little further into the water than you feel you're capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth and when you don't feel that you're feet are quite touching the bottom, you're just about in the right place to do something exciting.'
6. Don’t overdo to-do lists
Pick your top three priorities for each day and stick to that. You only wind up beating yourself up for not completing tasks that were overly ambitious to start with.
7. Listen to your mother
There is a running theme to all of my mother’s sage advice: don’t look back. Miss a bus? Catch another. If you keep staring in the review mirror, you’ll crash. When we continuously focus on what once was, what we have missed out on, or what could have been, we are blind to new opportunities. Remember to keep moving forward.
8. Remind yourself now is as good a time as any
Hugh Laurie once said, ‘It's a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you're ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.’
9. Cultivate JOMO
You’re going to have to say no to things that you might want to do, but you no longer have the money for. Cultivate a "joy of missing out" by remembering that every dinner out with friends, or weekend away, or party you’re missing out on is all for you following your own desires to work for yourself. You’ll have them again soon.
10. Examine your days regularly
You now have the freedom to build whatever you want into your day. Start off with a morning routine that includes exercise, learning something, journaling and eating well so all parts of you are fed first up.
Instead of trying to change things, add good things. Read every day, meet with new people, smile at strangers, find the things that excite you and include them in your day. Document those times when you are feeling right, or when what you are doing feels important. Repeat.
Recall this verse by David Whyte often:
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you
11. Enjoy it
There’s no time for hating yourself, experiencing regret, or letting fear of the unknown get in your way – you’ve got work to do.
Remember you are free. You don’t have to do anything, be anything, there are no rules. Remember you can even break the ones you set for yourself.
As Miranda July said, ‘You can do anything you want. I had forgotten that and I continue to forget and remember and forget and remember that I am free. That is the hardest part of this job.’
You did this so you could be free, so you could carve a life of your own imagining. So your time could be yours. Relish it. Don't worry about whether you're doing it right, or what's going to happen in six months or six years from now. You're allowed to enjoy the beautiful uncertainty of it all.