As the countdown continues towards my returning to a full-time work schedule, I had a vision today of why I am still feeling reluctant to take the final plunge.
It’s kind of like taming a wild horse. She goes down kicking and screaming and whinnying. But ultimately, she goes down.
Anyone who has successfully worked for themselves knows the thrill of landing a new project, a new business contact, a new client. They understand the sense of satisfaction of doing it yourself, and not being reliant on anyone else’s timetable. The enormous relief of not being beholden to any boss but yourself, and a sense of freedom that you can never achieve at a 9-to-5 job.
Only someone who has been their own boss understands the fun in the complexity of figuring out how many client projects you can juggle in one week. Of the joy in networking that leads to a gig. Of the pleasure of commuting to your living room, and only committing to outside meetings when it's not rush hour. And then there's the added bonus of being able to exercise mid-day, and get much needed sunlight during the winter. (There's little more awful than being stuck inside a windowless office all day with nothing but florescent lights, dark when you leave in the morning and dark when you come home.)
Of course, there are also the down sides. The drop in the pit of your stomach, like being on a roller coaster ride, the first time (and the second and the third and the fourth) when you realize that you don’t necessarily know when your next check will come in. Or IF it will come in – will that new client adhere to the contract and pay on time? There is also the feeling of never, ever truly being away on vacation. Your clients might need you, and they can easily rip the rug out from underneath you if you’re not available – you’re much more expendable than a staff person.
Then there’s the loss of boundaries – one of the hardest parts of being your own boss. You never leave your work. You work on weekends to meet deadlines, or because you took two days off with a sick child over the week, or for any number of reasons.
But frankly, there is nothing like it. Even in my most nervous moments as an independent consultant, I remember saying to myself, “I’ll never, ever go back to an office job.”
And yet, here I am, about to go back to a full-time office job. One that I’ve been working my way up to, certainly, and with much pleasure, but in fact, full-time and beholden to a boss, a timetable, a budget and an organization.
A smart friend, as I sat wallowing in my pity party during the four-month transition from my consulting life to my working stiff life, reminded me that although it was fine for me to be mourning what I was losing, I still didn’t know the potential joy and benefits on the other side.
This does feel like an enormous loss – of autonomy, of freedom, of the ability to balance not only work and family, but life and work and family. For when will I ever find the time to keep writing, and working on memoir, poems, maybe even a book? When will I sneak in a lunch with a friend? Or an impetuous, once-a-year movie-during-the afternoon?
I loved my consulting life. It was a clear-cut moment for me, on 9/11, holding a three-week old infant in my arms, when I understood that there was no way I would return to an office with three young children at home. I would instead hang out my shingle and try to make it on my own, holding them closer while I continued to work. But in a totally different paradigm than I ever imagined.
Eleven years later, I can toss my beret up in the air, Mary Tyler Moore style, and proudly announce to the world that I made it after all. I was a successful consultant, always having clients, and I was always able to balance the time between their needs and my family’s needs – although there was never, ever any doubt in my mind that I would drop everything in a heartbeat if my family needed me. They always, always come first.
But time has moved on. I have been offered a tremendous opportunity to take on a job that enthralls and challenges me. I am preparing to take the next step in a career that has clearly been circular, mobile and creative – far from the linear job march I had been led to believe was everyone’s lot in life.
I left full-time work for the sake of my family. I am now returning to full-time work for the sake of my family, so that my children see that I am a professional who loves here work, and a mom who helps provide for my kids.
But still I sit here on the precipice, feeling like a giant white mare, legs kicking up into the air, a lasso around my neck. I am being tamed after having run wild and free for over a decade, and it will take a while to feel content with my new choice. I can always go back, I tell myself.
But for today, for now, I am pitching forward, restrained but excited, up for this new adventure and a return to an old way of working. Technology has changed the parameters of today’s work environment, and for the better. There is more flexibility, more ability to work remotely, more compassion for the need to balance home and work responsibilities than when I stepped off the treadmill 11 years ago.
So here I am. I hope it’s a good ride.
Photo by Jeremy OK via Flickr