Freedom, Freelancing, and Things I Never Thought We’d Lose

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.  Those great words from Janice Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee) run thru my head anytime freelancing comes to mind.  There’s an air of negativity to that line, but also a measure of truth.  If you’re clinging tightly to something you’re not willing to lose, then you’re not really free.

So here we are.  Five years into our life as WordPress pioneers.  Not so much pioneers in that we were first in the field.  More along the line of being willing to throw all our stuff in a wagon being hauled by an ox and head off into the great unknown.  We took stock of our life.  Decided what was a need and what we could get rid off.  Then we spent 4 hard months working full time corporate job and full time contracting.  We saved all we could to have a cushion and lined up our “ducks” to have work planned in the future.  April 1, 2010 we climbed into our loaded down ox-driven wagon and left the corporate world behind.

Oh?  You remember that from my previous post?  Good.  You were paying attention.  Do you also remember this post is about what we lost?  Well here it is.

To start with, we lost the corporate job we’d had for 10 years.  The job started as a family environment and had been going downhill for years.  The thinking became more and more corporate and the respect and pay decreased.  Family boundaries were irrelevant, demands became unreasonable, and it was impossible to take vacation.  For all that we were also losing insurance and retirement contribution, this was no longer a healthy place for our family.  This was a good thing to lose.

What’s next?  We lost our nest egg.  We’d worked hard and sacrificed thru a long cold winter to save up for the unexpected.  The “unexpected” ended up being a new water heater and 4 new tires for the all-wheel drive vehicle the week we quit our steady job.  Sure, we should have kept better watch on the tires, but the hot water heater attacked out of the blue.  We were glad to have the savings, but so sorry to see it go so early in this new adventure.

Savings gone, but work still lined up, we set off into the great unknown and freelanced for about 18 months.  We had a plan.  A good plan.  A well thought out plan.  And nothing had the outcome we hoped for.  So what else did we lose?

We lost the grand idea that we worked for ourselves.  This was a lie.  You do not work for yourself.  You work for the client and you work for MANY clients.  They are all now your new boss.  UNLESS you set up good boundaries.  Clients are people too (kinda like children, really).  You can, and should, establish and communicate good boundaries that give you space while meeting the clients needs.  Clients should respect reasonable boundaries and if they don’t you need to decide if they should be your clients.  Great stuff.  Wish we’d known it then.

We lost a lot of family time.  We had hoped that freelancing would lead to short work days and more family fun.  Instead, it felt like T worked constantly and the work was never ending.  If time isn’t managed well, it is so easy to waste.  Boundaries inside family life are just as necessary as boundaries with clients.  They help establish good expectations, but also make sure that you’re spending your time the way you really want to be spending it.  Fortunately for us, our girls were at an age where they were less concerned with spending time with us.  Friends, family, and particularly grandma and grandpa were a good substitute.

We lost our marriage or at least the marriage we had.  Neither of us wanted a divorce, but the marriage that seemed like it was working before freelancing was actually a broken mess.  The stress of running a business and a family exposed cracks and flaws that had to be addressed.  There were a lot of feelings created by misunderstanding, poor expectations, and perceived disregard for the others needs that had to be addressed.  In the end, we scrapped what was and started on something new.  After nearly four years, it’s stronger and better,  but also hard won and no one came out unscathed.

This last thing was the most unexpected:  we lost the direction we were headed.  Our path was to create a successful freelance business, to live a life where we were free.  Instead, we joined a start up.  Importantly, someone else’s start up.  For all that freelancing wasn’t going as planned, we did still make our own decisions.  This was one of my dreams:  to be able to create our own schedule, to live our life on our own terms.  Christmas 2011 the start up that had been a former client and a project Topher tinkered with got it’s first big round of funding.  With it, T joined on full time and this last dream was gone.

And with that our full time freelancing career ended and the Dark Ages of start up hell began.  What?  Too dramatic?  Read what comes next and decide for your self.

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