Saturday, April 12, 2014

On Being My Own Boss and Why You Should Too

I came to a sudden realization this morning.

I'm living my dream.

It's not in the way I thought it might be, not remotely. But life is full of unexpected surprises. 

I've been in the "independent contractor"/"work for yourself" mode for about 5 months, now, but I have to say it's incredibly liberating. Yes, there are things about it that are terrifying, but it's nice to know my fate is in my own hands.

For those unaware, to say that a brand new library has limited funds is a gross understatement. The funding here isn't even enough to provide me benefits. So I am employed here as an independent contractor. I pay my own taxes and am on the justifiably-maligned Obamacare health system (which sucks--everything good you've heard about it is a lie, and if you're not actually ON it, you don't get to disagree).

Aside from the Obamacare bit, though, things are pretty good. Sure, I don't get PTO from here, but again, my fate is in my own hands. You see, I am also doing web content writing for a company called Optimized Scribes and quite frankly, that stands to be more lucrative than librarianship--at least at this stage. The amount of money I make from that is really up to me, but to put it bluntly, this two-week pay from OS is going to be easily as high as that from the library, and I've put in less than half the hours.

So why stick with librarianship at all? I mean, here I do have a boss, my contract can be terminated, and I can be out of work--I'm technically not my own boss at the library, and I don't even get sick days because there is (literally) nobody else to run the place on a moment's notice.

I stick with librarianship because I love it. I love this place, I love the kids and patrons, and I love what I do here, even if it's not quite as expansive as I thought it would be when I signed on. And guess what? I have the freedom to do this because I love it. I didn't go to school for my Master's in Library and Information Science just because, and I certainly didn't do it because it's a lucrative career. Hell, it took me two years to find a job and the one I did finally get pays way below the median salary for librarians. There's just too many new librarians and not enough librarian jobs. No, I went for the degree because it's a field I feel passionate about.  Sure, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to find a job, but even still. Baby steps.

I have a strange back-and-forth view of my two paying gigs. Technically the library is my day job and OS is my supplemental income. It's odd, though, because my supplemental job pays me more than my day job does, when it breaks down.

It's also nice to know that if things go south here (which given the state of libraries today is a very real possibility) I have a fall-back position. I can increase my writing output and likely more than make up the difference. Indeed, were all things to remain as they are, I could be making nearly six figures from content writing alone, just by doubling what I did this past week, every week. Anyone who says you cannot make a living doing this probably just didn't have what it takes to pull it off or has listened to propaganda from those who failed to pull it off. Ever hear the old fable about the fox and the grapes? Yeah, look it up.

Granted; I'm lucky. The owner of Optimized Scribes is a good friend and a very canny businesswoman, and is also *very* good at researching and bidding jobs for her freelancers. Her company is growing so hopefully you'll be hearing more from them in the very near future. 


So here it is.

For years I've said, "I wish to God I could make a living as a writer. I'd give anything for that."

I've also said, "It would be a dream come true if I could be a librarian."

Guess what? I'm a librarian who is also making a living as a writer.

Sure, 99% of what I write is ghost written, and little of it is creative, but I am, in fact, making good money writing. It's just not the kind of writing I always thought I'd be doing. I have given thought to the possibility of going full-time as a content writer, but the truth is, content writing is feast or famine and the library makes a strong fallback position for those times when there's no work in the writing. If you're going to make a living at writing alone, you have to do all the work you possibly can when it's there, and put as much money away as you can while you do it, because there will be times when the work goes dry--perhaps for months--and you'll still need to pay bills. Since the library is stable for now, I look at it as my main job while the writing, lucrative as it is, is supplemental. If I ever lose the library gig or the writing just goes through the roof, I'll re-evaluate.

There's all kinds of other issues at play--taxes are fun when you're self-employed, but you get used to that and you really just need to be diligent about putting away 30% of every pay for taxes. I also recommend a good accountant, but that's neither here nor there so far as this blog goes.

So what's the point of all this? Am I bragging? No, I'm not--at least, that's not my intent. You would not believe the number of arguments I've had with people over the years I was wildly unhappy as an administrator for a University. People told me, "I don't know what your problem is. Suck it up. Grow up and do what you have to do. Nobody gets to do what they want. As long as you're making good money that's all that matters."

You know, I learned the hard way that those attitudes are sheer bullshit. Do what you love and don't sweat the money. As long as you are paying your bills, that's what matters. Quit being jealous of people who go on cruises or travel the world. Many of them do that shit because they so desperately need to get away from their soul-crushing but high-paying day jobs which they secretly hate.

I'm a lot happier not hating having to go to work every day, and just scraping together the funds to go to a gaming convention every year. And you know what? I'm pretty sure that if I keep on keeping on, eventually the money will follow. I may never be making 200 grand a year, but I'm stable.

The truth is, most of us live either at or just beyond our means, regardless of what we make. If you make more, you'll spend more. If you make less, you'll spend less. And you will spend less if you make less. I know, because I do.

I took a 53% paycut to come to the library from my last gig, and even with the supplement from writing I'm still about $5,000 a year less than I was (though if I keep on increasing my earnings from OS, that will change). I spend less because I know I have to, and it didn't take a hard conscious adjustment. It just happened.

Yes, since I know you're wondering, it was scary making that move. Terrifying, in fact. It certainly helped to make the decision, that I had fourteen years of successive administrative jobs that paid me more and more and made me less and less happy. I also discovered that while I was a passable secretary and administrative / executive assistant, once I climbed into the upper management levels, I was really not good at that job, no matter how hard I tried.

I was at a point where I didn't have much to lose. I was going to change my life or succumb to a pretty severe and possibly permanent depressive funk. So the thought process of whether or not I should go from almost $45k a year with full benefits to under $23k a year with no benefits but in a field I really wanted to enter took about 1.5 seconds. For many people it'd take significantly longer and the terror of the uncertainty might be crippling. I get that.

You know, I have only one response to the people who don't make the move because they're afraid of not having security. 

Nobody in this world EVER achieved great success by playing it safe. Nobody. If you can't take the risks, you can't play to win. If you take security over happiness, you've thrown in the towel, and the two are not the same thing--it's nice when they overlap, but make no mistake: security and happiness are mutually exclusive concepts which can be complementary but one is not requisite to the other.

It takes balls to walk away from upper middle class pay and full benefits for a far less certain future, but if you have the balls, it's almost always worth it. Yes, it's better to do it when you're younger, but it's never too late. If you're not happy and someone tells you to "suck it up," it's usually because they're too afraid to make their own change, and misery loves company. Not always, but usually.

The moral of this story is, have courage to make the change you need to make. Do what you love and the money will follow, and there are, in fact, opportunities to pay your bills doing what you love. You just have to hunt for them and grab them when you find them.

If you think I'm stupid or full of it, that's fine. If you're too scared to make the change or are otherwise dismissing me out of hand, it doesn't matter. If you don't believe me, so be it. All I can do is speak from my own experience. It took too long for me to get there and I no longer have time for negativity in my life.

Is my life perfect now? Nope, not by a long shot. Nobody's is. I still have job-related frustrations and really shitty days. Hell, I still may fail. Guess what, though? Here's an uncomfortable truth: any one of you can fail at your job at any time. This is true no matter good at your gig you are. One mistake can end it all, and it doesn't even have to be your mistake. If there's one thing 2008 showed us it's that even major multinational corporations can fall apart in a day and you can be out on the street.

I'll tell you what: I'm a lot better off emotionally, spiritually, and in all other ways than I have been for a very long time, and I hope it stays that way for a long time to come. The times are changing, the economy is changing, and the middle class is going away. There's not a damn thing we can do about it, except make our own middle class by finding our own opportunities and doing what we love. The future of corporate work is haves and have-nots, not upper and middle class. The future of the middle class is self employment.

But enough of my rambling. Quit your job; you'll feel better.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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