This past November, I celebrated thirteen years of being self-employed. Thirteen seems like a weird number to celebrate, but I actually celebrate every year.
And when I say celebrate, what I mean is that I freak out on a semi-monthly basis over the state of my finances and wonder why the hell I don’t have a full-time job for chrissakes.
On a recent freak-out, I convinced myself that I didn’t want to start another business, this time building WordPress websites. As much as I love working in WordPress and creating web sites, starting a new business means that I’ll need to hustle to get projects. That part, I don’t love. I’m already hustling enough in my other work. Instead, I decided to look into a bona fide j-o-b using my WordPress skills.
I figured that I may as well start right at the source, so I looked at careers at Automattic, the company that created WordPress. It’s an amazing company, one that I could actually see myself working for out of love and not just for a paycheck. I found a job called Happiness Engineer and it fit me and my skills perfectly.
Unfortunately, Automattic did not agree, which was a humbling experience. While I can apply again in 12 months, I don’t think that I will. Rather than becoming soured on WordPress, I felt a sort of renewed energy for creating on the platform.
The more I thought about finding a full time job, the more I found myself reflecting on the past thirteen years of independence. When I first struck out on my own, I often felt like an unemployed loser. In my head, my family was a hair’s breadth away from starving to death in a shanty town, reduced to selling cheap trinkets made from our toenail clippings. Over time and with some success, I was gradually able to think of myself as a business owner. We never did starve, and our toenail clipping trinkets are made just for our own pleasure. We’ve had to get creative at times (the Oregon alpaca farm comes to mind), but somehow we’ve always made it work.
The other magical thing that happened to shoo me away from a full time job search was that I suddenly got extremely busy. Big screen printing jobs mean long hours of pushing a squeegee, a writing gig means lots of coffee-filled outlining and collaboration, and I also landed my first WordPress gig. Not bad, considering I had convinced myself that a j-o-b was my thing only three weeks before.
Last week, as I was pushing ink onto my 200th sweatshirt, I suddenly realized that had I been hired at Automattic, I would be scrambling right now trying to figure out how I would be able to show up for everyone, every day, with my brain intact. Forgoing sleep and injecting the coffee comes to mind as a possible solution. But whatever, that did not happen and my brain is still (to a fair degree) intact.
What I also realized is that over thirteen years my brain has also been rewired. I’ve trained myself to work the way I work, meaning that I structure my time in the way that works best for me, rather than an employer deciding that. I’m able to put my energy into things I love and when I need to move on to something else, I just do it.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t sometimes push deadlines to their absolute limits. Huge deadline tightrope-walker, me. And yeah, there are days I wonder how we’re going to pay for those little frivolities, rent and food. I don’t enjoy the financial roller coaster. Who likes credit card debt, raise your hand. You, in the back, with the foil hat, you can have mine.
The thing of it is, I don’t want just another “job.” Been there, done that, I literally have the t-shirt. If I take on full time employment, I want it to matter. I don’t need just a paycheck. I need to work with amazing people. I need to work on challenging projects that make a difference, that add something positive to the world.
Maybe that’s a tall order, but I’m going to keep looking until I find it.