“And you may ask yourself,
well… how did I get here?”
– David Byrne, Once In A Lifetime
Just a little bit shy of a year ago, I left my last full-time job. That’s not to say that I’ll never take a full-time job again. There’s certainly something to be said for the security, the benefits, and the peace in knowing where your next paycheck is coming from.
But that’s not where I’m at right now.
In August of 2015, I’d been offered the opportunity to take a job on a tour bus, handling merchandise for a British Progressive Rock artist. I’d hesitantly said yes, despite having a full-time job, working for a company that was consistently unstable, and made me miserable as well. The only saving graces were the awesome people I worked with, and the ridiculous amount of money that they paid me.
Somehow, night after night of dealing with a clueless, yet ruthless and demeaning boss grew tiring. As my anxiety levels skyrocketed, my willingness to even pretend to put up with the bullshit grew less and less, and in October of that same year, I found myself laid-off. With a three-week vacation ahead of me, I started preparing for the tour; a journey, which, at that time, held more futuristic uncertainty than anything else.
It’s usually right about then that the voice in your head starts asking you all kinds of circular, stress-induced questions. The particular voice in my head was an endless, rotating, auctioneer’s chant of existential garbage:
“But what are you going to DO?! You have to pay rent! How are you going to earn money now?! Should you move somewhere else? What are you doing with your life, Megan? WHO EVEN ARE YOU? What should you do with your free time? Should you go to the pub tonight? What if this tour sucks and everyone hates you and you get kicked off of it on the first day and then you have no job and you just stay in my bed with your cat forever? What if your cat hates you too?! You can’t do anything!
…HOW DID I GET HERE?!”
Interestingly enough, while producing “Once In A Lifetime,” Brian Eno hated the song and almost had it dropped from the record, but it went on to become one of the most important songs of the 20th century.
Oh, and by the way. None of that internal dialogue was helpful.
I imagine some of us must have these awesome head-voices, that sound like Morgan Freeman reading excerpts from the Bhagavad Gita, telling us how awesome, and beautiful, and endlessly talented we are. If in fact these people exist, I really want to know who they are, because the voice in my head is a cynical, abhorrent piece of shit.
I’d like to think his name is Eunice, or something equally putrid. He’s basically my old, invasive, upstairs neighbor, who’s spent his days recounting his failures by pointing out others’. He drinks a fifth of Jameson and a 12-rack of Miller Lite each morning before aggressively stomping around overhead, picking fights with me through the floorboards, over whatever slightly unraveled string he can pull at that day.
I hate Eunice.*
In any event, after suffering through enough of Eunice’s brooding criticisms, I did manage to find a window of sanity, and I came to a couple of important realizations:
- I really wanted to work for myself. I’d been telling myself this for the better part of a decade. So many of my highly valued friends and colleagues had often told me that I possessed not only the skill and talent, but the business-sense to be successful on my own. Now, I just needed to start believing it myself.
- I really wanted to move back to California. I’d been telling myself this since I’d moved back east. I don’t necessarily want to live out west forever, but I did want to continue designing in the City of Entertainment, that although I found challenging – I had grown to love. If there was ever going to be a time to make that move, it was going to be now, with literally nothing holding me back.
Being a freelancer was something that I always wanted to do, and yet somehow, something I had convinced myself for years that I couldn’t do. I don’t know whether it was parental pressure, or the fear of failure, or simply just Eunice stomping around in my brain. But I’d had myself convinced that a “normal, big kid job” was the singular path to righteousness.
Okay, first of all, there is no “normal”. Some people work 40 hour weeks, some people work 120 hour weeks. Some people work days, some people work nights. Some people work at desks, some people work in mines, some people work in sewers, or swamps, or in airplanes, or on suction cups attached to Trump Tower. There is no normal. And you can do whatever it is that your little heart desires, as long as it makes you happy, and earns you a means to a living that you’re satisfied with.
“Freelancer” is almost a dirty word, where I come from. It seems to sort of signify that maybe you don’t actually do anything at all. But in Los Angeles, freelancers are a dime a dozen. Some of them probably work more than others, and some probably make more than others, but it’s certainly a viable way of life here. And it can, in fact, be very lucrative.
Since last November, I’ve been touring part of the year and freelancing the rest of it; splitting time between the road, my own clients and an awesome staffing agency, and you know what I’ve learned?
The voice in my head is just a jerk. I could totally do it!
Since last November, I work on cooler projects. I have a better work/life balance. I get to travel more often. I can, in fact, DO IT.
And so can you.
Be aware, there are definite ups and down. Your life isn’t necessarily going to become this glowing abyss of free-time. But you can probably get to that 1 pm yoga class, when you plan accordingly.
And you probably won’t be saying goodbye to 10 hour workdays. In fact, you’ll likely find you’ve got to wear a few more hats that you did before, so you’ll probably be working more than you you thought you would. From the couch at 8 am. From the doctor’s office at noon. From the airport on Friday evening. But, you can dictate when those 10 hours happen. So maybe, sitting in your bathtub, designing business cards, isn’t all that bad.
My favorite part of being out on my own? The complete freedom to say yes or no. Man, those are some powerful words. And when you embark on a life of working for yourself, it’s super important to learn how to use them. (More on this in next week’s post!)
But the biggest thing is, you’ve got to really love, and work hard to be great at what you do.
So, learn to tell the voice in your head to buzz off. Then one day, you may find yourself, living in another part of the world. And you may ask yourself, in slightly more bewilderment than self-doubt, “well…how did I get here?”
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*If this is something that seriously resonates with you, check out Dan Harris’ 10% Happier. It’s a wonderful book and so worth your while.)