Over the past few months I’ve witnessed an epidemic; a baby boom that’s swept through my close circle of friends. Like the pied piper of newborns, I’ve stepped up to the role of the-unrelated-aunt with genuine excitement. Doing the rounds like a mobile salesman – a car boot full of soft toys and blankets – I’ve travelled to meet the new arrivals, asking each friend the same question: how has it been?
After reliving the birth story in disconcerting detail, friends have gone on to describe the last few weeks as a ‘rollercoaster’: a period of elation followed by an hour of crying on the toilet. Gazing at tiny hands, they’ve described how proud they are of their new tiny human, yet in the same breath (whilst readjusting their breast pads), they’ve looked up and asked: what have I done? During one visit, my friend explained that unless I had a baby, it was difficult to understand the constant barrage of highs and lows. How scary it was to feel optimistic one moment and floored the next. I chewed on the corner of my nail. Although sans child, I understood how she felt.
The words rising in my throat, I handed her another muslin (they seemed endless – where were they all coming from?) and bit the bullet: “It sounds a bit like how I’ve felt since I became self-employed”.
Immediately, I understood the gravity of my mistake. Snapping her head around, my friend stared at me. Raising an eyebrow, she gestured downwards, inviting me to look at her unwashed hair, the breast pump dangling from her left boob and the giant pack of what I’d initially thought were nappies (but were not) next to her. “No. Having a newborn child is not like blogging full-time, Laura. It’s nothing like it at all.” After that, all the filled the stony silence was the sound of the mechanised breast pump.
On the face of it, it’s clear that motherhood and self-employment have very little in common. For a start – and as my friend so delicately pointed out – my body is not leaking like a faulty faucet. I also enjoy a solid 8 hours sleep each night, can leave the house at a moment’s notice and take unnecessarily long showers. If the Great Baby Epidemic of 2018 has taught me anything, it’s that caring for a baby is a challenge like no other. Some of their stories have disturbed me to my core.
However, as my brilliantly brave friends have spent the last few weeks charting the turbulent seas of motherhood, so it’s true that I’ve been charting unpredictable waters of my own. Sure, it’s not involved harrowing stories of splurging afterbirth, but it has been filled with moments of sudden despair, followed by unexpected elation. Despite being promised that this – self employment – would be one of the best times of my life, it’s in fact been incredibly tough. Wasn’t it all supposed to be trips to the coffee shop and daytime yoga classes?
Yet, it’s not all doom and gloom. Whilst my own shift into blog parenthood has brought with it clouds of anxiety and doubt, it’s also been a transition that has steadied: calmer waters ahead. Claire and I even recorded a podcast on our experiences of it all. Honest, truthful and at times garbling, we hope it at least reassured anyone taking a similar plunge that it is OK to find things overwhelming – normal, in fact. To build on this, I decided to put together a summary of my four month journey into full-time blog parenting. A journey of highs and lows, sleepless nights and sheer panic, 16 weeks in and it’s all starting to feel, well – enjoyable.
So, without further ado, below is my last four months in a nutshell:
I’ve always found change a challenging concept. I once cried when my children’s TV schedule changed without warning – Biker Grove vanishing from our screens seemingly overnight.
It’s therefore ironic that as I packed up my desk on that final day in the office, I’d not considered the reality of what I was doing. Lacking the foresight and/or the maturity levels to fully consider my next steps, I was ignorant to the seismic change underfoot. Predictably, I therefore woke up on that first Monday of self-employment with rapidly mounting anxiety. I had no routine – nowhere to be. I didn’t need to put my ‘nice’ clothes on. I didn’t have to rush into a meeting room, finding excuses as to why I was late. I didn’t have a home time, a hump-day or a Friday feeling. I didn’t even have a traffic jam to sit in. I was adrift.
It’s clear to me now that I was in the clutches of the 9-5ers version of Stockholm Syndrome; unable to forget my former captor. I missed the smell of the stuffy office, the tedious meetings and the biscuit tin. Unsurprisingly, I quickly began to dread each Sunday night: a vague, shapeless week lying in wait. The thought of even trying to actively structure the tangle of vacant days overwhelmed me. Yet if I did try, I felt a fraud – like a kid writing down futile tasks that needed completing. Colour in drawing? Check. Sharpen pencils? Triple check.
As the absence of routine caused my normally manageable anxiety levels to spike, I decided to act. I made a day diary – each A4 in size and populated with 24 little boxes. From there, it was then up to me to fill each box, writing in a few things that I’d eventually make permanent: Blog Post Writing Tuesday here, Big Food Shop Wednesday there. I even noted down my meal times and early morning runs. From here, I then added the names of ‘clients’ I was completing work for: Visit England or Visit Florida – aka legitimate, real life people. Pinning each diary to the wall, I found that just looking at that collection of boxes made me feel calmer.
Four months in and I’m now much more relaxed that each week is incredibly unpredictable. In fact, given the choice of returning to the monotony of office life, I’d vote to stick with the unpredictability. Yet for anyone considering self-employment, it’s important to consider how you’ll adapt to this change and enforce your own routine; carving structure into all that dazzling freedom.
2) An Identity Crisis
From just eight weeks of self-employment, I’ve felt more emotions than I have in thirty-one years. Levelheaded and rational Laura went AWOL, replaced by a hysterical substitute. Even those friends taking the first steps into motherhood – drunk on lack of sleep – had more poise than I did.
You see, the 9-5 brings with it security in many forms. For starters, you’re an official member of PAYE: a monthly paycheck guaranteed. Furthermore, you needn’t worry about the consequences of market fallouts or policy changes, that’s for your CEO to deal with. You can even afford to talk in the kitchen for an hour about Sue’s new haircut – you’ll still get paid. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly for me, your reputation comes part and parcel with your firm. If they’re respected, so are you.
Self-employment is entirely different. Stripped of the comforting wrapper of a wider organisation, I felt not only completely naked, but without any real identity. Since university, I’d always worked for national orgnisations: universities, museums and libraries. These were institutions that held their own: a pedigree attached to them. In working for them, I shared in this legitimacy.
However, as a full-time blogger – Twins That Travel now my institutional banner – I felt overwhelmingly insecure. Feelings of embarrassment and illegitimacy hit me from nowhere. I’d somehow transformed from a respected grafter, to one of life’s chancers. Sat at my desk one Wednesday morning, the realisation of it all hit me: I was nothing more than Milton Keynes’ answer to Del Boy – and Claire my Rodney. Eventually, I realised that unless I changed my thinking, my experience of self-employment was going to be short lived. Sure, Twins That Travel wasn’t a national institution but it was a business; a business that we had created from nothing. Surely that was a bigger feat than simply riding the coattails of some private sector enterprise? Additionally, was I not working harder than ever before – driven by that unique fear of destitution that haunts the other 4.8 million self-employed people in the UK?
To tame my imposter syndrome, I decided to set myself a daily exercise. Short and simple, I’d learnt it during a CBT session with my long-suffering therapist. To begin, all I had to do was write down my thought: ‘Twins That Travel is an embarrassing hobby, not a respected business (whisper: therefore you’re not respected)’. From here, the real brain training began. I’d have to find evidence not only to support my claim, but to discredit it too. “This evidence has to stand up in court,” my therapist had said.
Unsurprisingly, it was much harder to find evidence to support my suspicious and paranoid thoughts, than to prove them wrong. If it wasn’t a real business, why was it making money? Why were we being offered opportunities to work with brands that I fully respected. What if – collective gasp – not all my thoughts were truthful or real?
Imposter syndrome can affect us all and our thoughts can be convincing things. But that doesn’t mean you have to believe them. Looking around, I realised that some of the people I respect the most in life are self-starters. If I admire their ambition, their braveness and their courage to step outside the safety of the 9-5, then why can’t I admire myself and what I’ve created? However teeny tiny?
3) Under Pressure
For most, blogging starts as a hobby: something to be nurtured after work or at weekends. Offering respite from real world worries, my own blog quickly became a welcomed distraction from work; like a mindfulness colouring book for adults. It was, in short, the ying to life’s yang.
In fact, I was so enamored by it that when I decided to give up my job, I thought (perhaps naively) that TTT was all I would need. Like that part-time boyfriend you decide to move into your home, I couldn’t see how things could change. Surely spending even more time together was only a good thing? Wouldn’t we go from strength to strength? And so it was that for those first few weeks of self-employment, it was just me and my blog. My blog and me. We were permanently cohabiting; holding hands on the sofa and cooking together. Just lovely.
Initially, all this time spent together was fine. I was excited that I finally had more of my day to dedicate to TTT: writing, sorting out my Pinterest strategy and laying down some clear business goals. Yet, as time passed, it became clear that maybe – just maybe – the blog wasn’t enough. Being together all the time not only put enormous pressure on TTT itself, but on my relationship with Claire, too. I also missed the sector that I used to work in; realising that whilst my job was stressful, it brought with it an underlying sense of satisfaction that I’d not appreciated. Without the distraction of other work, other colleagues or other objectives, my once sparkly blog lost its shine. It wasn’t respite care anymore, but a pressurised office of its own.
Yet if there’s one thing I care about, it’s this funny corner of the Internet – and I was certainly not about to break up with it. To restore balance, I therefore made the decision to begin my own consultancy; working in the sector that I missed. Eight weeks later and I now have three clients who I dedicate two days a week to. Rewarding and at times stressful, it nonetheless means my ying yang equilibrium has been reestablished; I’m genuinely excited and positive when Wednesday roles around and it’s time to focus on the blog again.
Although I understand there are many bloggers who are entirely happy to focus solely on full-time blogging for me I needed a slight distraction; something to ensure my blog remained the spontaneous fun boyfriend, rather than the one you have to listen to farting in the bathroom every morning. As I’ve discovered, there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
Overall, the last four months have – as my new mum friends would say – been a rollercoaster. I’ve cried, I’ve punched the air, I’ve despaired and I’ve walked down the street humming chirpily. Wildly unprepared and embarrassingly naïve, I’ve learnt that self-employment and full-time blogging demands an entirely different mindset: one that is braver, more confident and defiant of your choices and passions. You’ll need to adopt a new work ethic; be willing to install your own structure to your week; be proud and confident of your blog or business (however small); and be open to experimenting until you find a balance that suits you.
As my brave mum friends have said, when it comes to life’s big changes, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. You’ve got to close your eyes, make the leap and make things up as you go along – the end result will be more than worth it. After twelve weeks of self-employment, I couldn’t agree more.
Tools that helped me:
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