Ten Things That Are Different Now That I’m Self-Employed

My first day as an entrepreneur, I got sick. Seriously. It was Thanksgiving. And I got a virus, which grew steadily worse through that day and the next. Immediately, I got to experience two differences about working for yourself: No paid holidays, and no paid sick leave.

By Friday evening, I was completely incapacitated and coughing up big wads of… Well, suffice it to say I was feeling awful, and starting to worry a little. My cash-flow plan depended on me being able to bill enough hours for November in order not to starve the first couple weeks of January. So, I went to the emergency room. (And my first executive decision, to opt for COBRA coverage, turned out to be the right one.) And the doctor gave me some really nice drugs. And I slept straight through Saturday and most of Sunday.

Now that I’ve been doing it for a week, here are 10 more things I’ve noticed that are different since I started working for myself.

  1. The coffee tastes better. Seriously, it does. Because if it didn’t I would buy different coffee, or I would brew it differently. I get to drink just the coffee I like, brewed just the way I like, brewed with whatever equipment I want, in whatever cup I want to drink it out of. So it tastes much better than if I had to compromise with dozens of other people.

  2. Expense comes before income. As an employee, I got paid in rapid iterations on a rolling schedule. With this, it’s possible to live hand-to-mouth if you need to. Whatever money you make, you spend it after you put it in the bank. As a self-employed person, I need money in the bank before I do the work. Because how else can I finance my business equipment and expenses? And I bill on a longer schedule, monthly. All of this means the money isn’t in the bank until long after the work is done. So, I have a strict budget now, and a cash-flow plan, and I talk about “paying myself” a monthly and weekly allowance, and I worry that an unexpected expense will crop up and ruin my cash-flow projections. Still…

  3. I don’t freak out as much about money. The car started squealing at me that its brakes need tending. Our other car was still in the shop. And I really wasn’t planning on more car repairs right now. Normally, this situation would stress me out and plunge me into worry and denial. Because if the money ain’t there, the money ain’t there, and there’s not much I could do to fix it. But this time, the burning feeling in my stomach and the tightness in my neck just weren’t there. Because my life no longer depends on one company who owns me. I have several buns in the oven. I don’t even need that car, actually, since I do most of my work from home. And if worse came to worst, I have a client I could work extra hours for in order to earn extra quick cash. I have options. And that means I control the situation; it doesn’t control me.

  4. I don’t “get” Dilbert anymore. Reading it doesn’t feel the same as it did before. I mean, yeah, it’s still funny. But in a Scrubs sort of way. I find myself asking, “Do real offices really work that way?” Well, yeah, they do. I understand that, because I’ve seen enough of them first-hand. That used to be me. But that’s part of a different universe. I used to laugh at Dilbert, because I identified with him, because I myself lived in a cube. But now if I laugh at him, it’s ’cause he’s so silly. I think I need a new favorite comic strip.

  5. No more office noise, except for the noise I want. This is pretty obvious, but it’s still worth mentioning. The office noise always used to bother me. When I need to concentrate, I need quiet, and I never got it in an office. On the other hand, when I wanted background noise, I had to use headphones.

  6. It’s harder to say, “No.” When I was an employee, it was relatively easy not to obsess over what got done or how many billable hours I put in. Because ultimately, it was someone else’s problem to deal with real-world constraints and still make the company profitable. Now, it’s my problem. Now, I need to tell myself, “No. I won’t be able to complete all these things in this short a time-span. You’ll have to figure out which items are less important and put those off until later.”

  7. My upper-back hurts, but my head doesn’t. I never realized how bad my home-office setup was, because I just didn’t spend enough time here. My wife, who is a physical therapist, had to point out to me that I’ve been rolling the chair back and leaning forward to reach the computer keyboard. No wonder my upper back and arms hurt. I’ve adjusted my posture, though, and they’re starting to feel better. Still, that stress headache I’ve had on and off for the past 3 years is gone now. And I mean really, it’s gone. And I don’t think it’s because of the Tylenol with Codeine the doctor gave me to help me sleep. Because I only used a few of them, and I haven’t been touched them for over a week now. I’m really not sure why the headache is gone, whether it’s just the endorphins, or whether it’s really because I’m feeling less stress. Probably a combination of the two.

  8. My kids are behaving better. Again, I’m not sure why this is. But it could have something to do with the fact that I’m home when they get off the bus. I think they appreciate that I’m there for them, even if I do immediately have to sequester myself back in my office. I’ve also been able to set effective limits with them when I’m working, something I always had trouble with before. They’re more sympathetic to me when I’m working. When I was an employee, it was harder to get the rest of the family to accept that what I did in my home office was “work,” because I always went somewhere else to “work.”

  9. I don’t feel stressed out about sleeping in. I would if it damaged my performance. But it hasn’t yet. As an employee, if I had a bad night, or even a late night working, I got stressed out about sleeping in the following morning. Especially if I woke up at noon. Now, no problem. I’m still working enough billable hours. I’m still getting enough work done. This especially came in handy the last few days of November. I was in full crunch mode, cramming in as much work as I could before the end of the month. My sleep schedule got royally frelled up. But I got a lot of work done.

  10. If I get tired, I can take a nap on the couch. But I haven’t needed to lately. Working in an office, I frequently needed to take naps. There was a time in the afternoon when my head just felt like it was going to explode. And I needed to find a dark, quiet room to decompress in for a half-hour. At my last job, the only dark, quiet rooms I could find smelled like moldy carpet. And I found myself longing to lay down on my couch. Now I can lay down on my couch, anytime I want. I can cozy up and close my eyes for twenty or thirty minutes. Surprisingly, though, I haven’t wanted to. I haven’t reached that point where my head feels it’s going to explode.

And a bonus: My wife has been spending much more time building her business. We both have options. I can get the kids from the bus. She can schedule more patients on more different days. As a result, she’s busier than she’s ever been before.

So, some good things, some bad. It’s a trade-off. But even the bad things I’m happy about. When I wrote “Top Ten Reasons to Remain a Wage Slave,” I was being sarcastic. Not everyone seemed to get the sarcasm. I guess that makes sense, because sarcasm is based on irony, which contains a kernel of reality, or at least of plausibility. Reading it now, though, those reasons just sound silly. Why would anyone ever want to live for someone else, rather than living for himself? It just doesn’t seem real.

-TimK