It’s official. This week will be the last time I get a salary paid into my bank account (but hopefully not the last time I get paid). No, I haven’t been sacked after a minor misdemeanour, made redundant as part of a ‘change management’ process, or decided to become a stay at home mum, nor has the company in question gone into administration after hiring a dodgy accountancy firm. No, it’s potentially far scarier than the sum of all those things.
I’ve decided to go freelance.
You’re probably doing one of two things at this moment: either nodding optimistically in solidarity or sympathetically shaking your head (I’m hoping for the former). Working for yourself seems like such a good idea, doesn’t it? But the reality is that staring at the blank spaces on my 2017 calendar evokes a sense of dread that I’m not really familiar with, tinged with the teeniest bit of nervous excitement.
I feel utterly conflicted about the decision I’ve made, grappling with the same emotions I felt when I took voluntary redundancy from the Guardian in 2010. Back then I was nine months pregnant and, because I was busy relocating from London to Bristol, I was able to channel those emotions positively into crucially important decisions like choosing soft furnishings and metro tiles. Never again will I underestimate the power of distraction to get you through tough times. I also spent a lot of time reading books about childbirth. Turns out they were about as useful as the Yellow Pages is in a world where Google and high-speed Wi-Fi exists.
When I returned to the workplace after a three-year career break the industry had seemingly all gone ‘digital’… I felt outdated, irrelevant, and I was only 33.
Seven years, two children, one wedding and two house moves later, I’m finally coming out of my professional shell. I used to be very busy in my old editorial job: a heady mix of creative, inspiring work, booze-filled evenings and lots of freebies (ah, the champagne socialist days). Back then, when people bought newspapers and magazines in abundance, I used to dine out on seeing my name in print. In fact, I’m sure my Dad even did too (despite being a lifelong reader of the Telegraph).
When I returned to the workplace after a three-year career break the industry had seemingly all gone ‘digital’. Blogging and social media had changed the landscape forever. I felt outdated, irrelevant, and I was only 33.
Despite suffering a crisis of confidence, I refused to be pigeon-holed by print and so I did some work for a couple of old Guardian colleagues who had setup their own small businesses — slowly but surely immersing myself in the digital world. That led to a recent stint working in the journalism department at a local university where I was able to work part-time. Meanwhile, I taught myself how to build WordPress sites, use social media, completed a Diploma in Digital Marketing to add another string to my bow, and started a blog called Social Butterflies (part therapy, part showcase and entirely the best thing I’ve ever done to make connections).
I love acquiring new skills and learning from others. I’m terrified about feeling isolated, only making contact with people through the virtual bubble of social media and, of course, I’m terrified of never being employed again.
I’m definitely entering a wonderful new phase in life – it’s called the ‘Zero F**ks’ stage. Part defiance, part simply not caring what people think.
Anyone that reads my blog will probably think I’m being disingenuous or perhaps fishing for compliments: “but Amy, you’re so confident, so together, you’ll be fine”. All I’ll say is, we all project the image we want to convey, particularly professionally. The reality is I’m afraid of failure and naturally self-deprecating. I mean, for f**ks sake, I’m British and a woman! It’s not in my nature to nonchalantly high-five my way through life. I’m a positive, happy person but I also survive on a healthy diet of cynical humour. Like I said, I’m British.
My career confidence at this point could perhaps be summed up through metaphorical prose. Imagine a well-loved second hand car, a few cosmetics scrapes and one flat tyre. It’ll just about make it to the nearest garage where the flat will be hastily replaced with a brand spanking new one, preferably a sexy Italian Pirelli. In case my ham-fisted metaphor has alluded you (and who could blame you) my confidence is represented by the flat tyre: temporarily deflated but ready to be upgraded. I’m feeling unsteady at the moment but ultimately I know it will be OK. I just need to be persistent, resilient and with the support of family, friends and my extended online network, a paying job should be just around the corner. (Please God let that corner be really close by and concealing loads of cash.) Importantly, if it’s goes the way of Theresa May’s political career, I will not be afraid to admit I tried, but failed.
I turned 37 this year and I’m definitely entering a wonderful new phase in life – it’s called the ‘Zero F**ks’ stage. Part defiance, part simply not caring what people think. It can be a potent personality trait if exercised wisely. It’s giving me the impetus to jump off the diving board of PAYE and jump head first into the pool of self-assessment. I am determined that this is going to be my year and I hope you will follow my journey, the highs and the lows. I’m sure there will be plenty of laughs, tears, doubts and nerves, but no regrets. I refuse to regret things I’ve tried in life – only the things I haven’t. That’s why I wanted to write this article, as a way of holding myself publicly accountable for the decision I’ve made and also to act as a reminder to others who feel held back by self-doubt that you will always be in good company.
Photograph by Helen Martin.