Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Problems with Working at Home

Today is the last day this week that I will groan on and on about something. The topic du jour is...

The Top Ten Problems With Working For Myself At Home

10. The Mess

My condo is a freakin' pigsty. That is because my "office" takes up half of my kitchen area. As you can see (click to enlarge the horror), I have about half of my dining table commandeered, and behind the table is my filing-cabinet-on-wheels (one of several filing cabinets I have around the house). Because of my lack of time, which I'll get to later, things keep piling up around my laptop.

Usually it takes the imminent arrival of visitors to force me to do a whirlwind cleaning job... and then the mess slowly creeps back up on me.

My husband and I had initially planned for our guest room to double as my office. But I quickly learned that, especially because of my weirdly sensitive eyes (see yesterday's post), I need natural light, and our guest room doesn't have much of that. Plus, it gets really cold in there in the winter. AND, perhaps most importantly, our dog isn't allowed downstairs. So not only would I not be able to see, I wouldn't even get the benefit of hanging with my dog throughout the majority of the day.

Hence, Plan B: the kitchen table. We're not planning to move for several years, but when we do, you can bet that--if I'm able to keep this writing career going--getting my own room for a home office will be a non-negotiable.

9. One is the Loneliest Number

Except for the few people who know me really well, I would guess that most of my acquaintances think that I am an extrovert--I am always running around doing something, it seems. But if given the choice, I prefer to be alone, with one other person, or with a very small group of good friends, instead of, say, at a big party or get-together or event. When I've taken those Myers-Briggs tests and whatnot, I'm right on the border between introvert and extrovert. So, I didn't think that being by myself for the vast majority of the day would be a problem.

And thankfully, it really hasn't. But everyone has their bad days, and sometimes I realize that I do need another human to commiserate with (unfortunately my dog never responds to anything I say). There's a special kind of loneliness that comes with working for yourself by yourself, and it stems from the fact that absolutely no one else is truly worried about the things you worry about, or gets excited at the same level about the little things you may be proud of. 99% of the time this doesn't get to me, but when it does (which is usually on a depressing, cold, wintry day), I bust out the ice cream and have a pity party for myself. Those are the times when I miss the "water cooler talk" that a company offers.

8. No Nice Clothes

Yes, yesterday I was rejoicing in the fact that I no longer need to don suits and high heels on a daily basis. Most days, no one sees me besides my dog and my husband, so it's fine to be in cargo shorts, flip-flops and a cookie monster t-shirt. But every once in a while we will have dinner plans with friends, or an event to attend, or I will have to go somewhere that requires a step up in the dress code. And that's when I realize that I pretty much no longer have any of those types of outfits. And it's hard to justify spending money on nicer clothes, since I know I'll hardly ever wear them. Therefore, I keep on the lookout for sales during the change of seasons so that I am not stuck wondering if my "Pirates Arrrr Cool" t-shirt is too casual for a white tablecloth restaurant.

7. The "To Do" List Remains

A year ago, I had such high hopes for what I was going to get done around the condo now that I would have so much "free" time. Those thousands of pictures we have in piles in our guest room closet? Those would be in albums with witty labels in no time. Our crappy fireplace? I would get a contractor over here to update it before a month had passed. That ceiling fan that seems to be hanging by a thread? That would get replaced with a sleek new model. The bookcase would be cleaned out and old books would be given to charity or sold on eBay. The closets would get and stay organized. I would finally learn Spanish. And to play the piano! I would surely be in the best shape of my life after spending a few hours at the gym every day.

Uh, yeah.

Not ONE of these things has happened.

And what bothers me is not so much that I haven't gotten these tasks accomplished, but rather that I truly, honestly thought I was going to. So I have a heavy feeling of guilt when it comes to not even being able to begin, much less complete, so many of the projects I had been looking forward to when I started freelancing.

6. The Need for "Something to Show for Myself"

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of the past year is the fact that I AM working on something, but it's something that I don't want to jinx, and so therefore I'm not telling many people about it. Which then makes it look like I am doing nothing. Therefore, it's been very hard for me, Miss Type A, when someone asks, "So, what do you do?"

e: "I'm trying to start a writing career."
Them: "Oh, who do you write for?"
e: "Well, I'm working on some things... but I'm not a journalist or in magazines or anything."
Them: "Do you have anything online?"
e: "Do you happen to watch Lost?"
Them: "No."
e: "Oh."

Yeah, I know, it's silly, but it was MUCH easier when I could just say, "I work for Company X, aka 'The Man.'" That was something everyone could relate to, they'd heard of the company, I was "legit." Instead, anyone new I meet really does think I'm lounging at home all day, eating bon-bons. I'm sure of it. And unfortunately, I do care what other people think about me in this respect.

5. The Whole Money Thing

There is no way I'm going to make as much money freelancing as I did in Corporate America. I'll add in "any time soon" just to attempt to sound optimistic. Obviously, if I cared about making money that much, I wouldn't have left my well-paying job. But since Donald Trump was my childhood hero and Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book and "the money speech" in said book is my favorite passage and since I did go to business school for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees... well, there is always going to be a part of me that feels that the amount of money I pull in has some bearing on my overall worth as a human being. I KNOW this is not right... I KNOW that some of the lowest-paid people on this planet are also some of the most respected, most needed, and most important people alive... but I'm not quite at that point of infamy just yet, am I?

On top of that, while my husband encouraged me to do this and has never as much as breathed a word about my lack of contribution to the ol' piggy bank, I feel very, very guilty that I'm not pulling my weight.

Which leads to...

4. The Freak-Outs

"Oh sweet Lord baby Jesus, what have I done?!?!"

I have had that thought countless times since August 2007.

"Why did I get my MBA if I'm just going to be a freelance writer?"

"Why didn't I just stick it out a little longer?"

"What about all that student loan debt?"

"What was I thinking?!?!?"

Those are a few others I've had.

It's just natural to question your sanity when you make a big life change, so I try to shake off the self-doubt and the fear of failure as soon as I see them rearing their ugly heads. But they exist, and if anyone who has tried to start their own company or do their own thing for a living tells you otherwise, they are lying.

3. The Self-Employment Tax

So while I can't give you the details just yet (but I will soon), I actually have made some money since I started freelancing. And then I got smacked in the face by the Tax Man. Do you know about the self-employment tax? As my accountant said, "The IRS can't really explain why they penalize you for working for yourself... they've just always done it, and they want the money that they would've gotten from your employer."

To put it simply, The Man kicks in for part of your taxes. But when you work for yourself, not only do you have to pay the percentage that normally would've been taken out of your paycheck, you pay part of what The Man would've contributed, too. You're treated as both the employer AND the employee.


2. No Boundaries

When you work for yourself, especially when you also work from home, you never stop thinking about what you have to do for your business. Never. Ever. In my case, there's my laptop, always staring back at me right in the middle of the kitchen, reminding me of everything that's waiting on my To Do list. Sure, I could shut down my Mac and store it away at times, but then I wouldn't hear the "bllllrriinnnng!" sound when a new email comes through. And I admit it, I'm addicted to that sound.

At night is when it's the worst. I was an insomniac before all of this, so you can imagine what it's like now. For a while there I slept like a baby, right after I left my last job. But lately, perhaps because I'm so conscious of the fact that a full year has passed, I just stew and stew and stew each night about what I failed to get done that day and how I HAVE to do it the next day, but what if I don't? What if the things I have lined up fall through? What if I have to GO BACK TO THE MAN?!?!

1. Never Enough Time

Many of my "issues" I've listed out spring from the lack of time I have. I really don't know where the time goes, it's scary. I thought I would get so much more done now that I don't have to "get ready" in the morning or commute downtown. Instead, more "stuff to do" has filled in and overflowed those pockets of time. I am more behind on personal communications than I ever have been. I've been writing back to emails from friends five months late. And since I hate when people don't respond to me right away, I am highly annoyed at myself for being so out of touch.

Some may ask, "Well then why do you write a post on this site every day?" or "Why do you watch The Hills, then?" It is because I can only sit in front of my laptop for so long, and then I can't take it anymore. I'm already wearing nerdy sweatbands on my wrists to ward off blisters, I already have a bad back as it is, I already have circulatory problems in my legs (seriously, it IS like I'm 95 years old!), I just can't force myself to be typing away 24 hours a day. I make myself post on this site once a day as an exercise to keep myself writing. And TV shows and movies? Well, those are means of escapism. Everyone needs that.

I've realized, much too late, that to be more efficient, I have to write out a schedule for myself each day. Every once in a while I will do this, and it works like a charm. I literally time out EVERYTHING I have to do. "8 - 8:30 PM = Call Grandma." "12 - 12:30 = Walk Dog." It seems ridiculous, but my brain must be wired in such a way that I only respond to that kind of organization. Now I just need to do it on a daily basis. But as you may recall from my "Where Does the Time Go?" post, on many days, unforeseen events throw off even the strictest of plans. And so, my battle against the clock rages on.

Yikes... This post was kind of a downer, huh? I feel like I just was at a therapy session or something. Well, I'm going to more than make up for it tomorrow and Friday. Those of you working for The Man will be reminded of the benefits that come along with that situation in my next post. And Friday's installment, the finale of "e's Year of Freedom Celebration Week," will be so obnoxious that you will probably want to read today's depressing post all over again just to keep from hating me...

- e


Unknown said...

Wow this was an interesting post. All I have to say is that I think you made the right decision. Despite your doubts and insecurities, know that you had to have a LOT of courage to stand up to the man and make such a drastic life change like that. And despite the fact that others may look "down" upon not working for the Man, I honestly admire you for it because I know that I could never have the courage to do something like that.

Keep up the great work and hopefully things will continue to work out for you. Let's hope that you won't have to turn back to working for Coporate America.

Anonymous said...

Hey e,

I just read your post, and I can TOTALLY relate on so many levels from two very different periods of my life.

After I graduated from college, I went to work as an writer/editor of a small entertainment magazine in L.A. After two completely stressful years working there (the magazine was owned by a brother and sister who were totally psycho and yelled at each other on the intercom all day long while I had to interview people on the phone and make article deadlines), I decided to go freelance. I worked for several different magazines at once and enjoyed doing so in the peaceful environs of my apartment. But I used to get lonely, had trouble getting motivated to write my pieces, and missed the water cooler convos, too (I didn't miss the psychos, though). I definitely also had that issue of people thinking I was home doing NOTHING because they couldn't quite grasp what I was doing. Since my day went according to my own schedule, family members would always call and ask me to do crappy errands and such for them--WTF, I'm working here, people! Freelance does not mean unemployed, dammit!

Wow! I guess I'm still pissed about some of this stuff, even if it was 10 year ago. :)

Phase Two came after our daughter was born and started school. I knew I wanted to get back to work, but wasn't sure I wanted to get into magazines again. My husband and I always wanted to start our own business together, but didn't know what we would do. After thinking about it for some time, we decided to open our own music education studio for kids. The good news is that we haven't killed each other (yet) and our business has grown leaps and bounds since we opened up three years ago. The bad news is that, at times, I feel like I did when I was freelancing for magazines. My husband is at the studio teaching and overseeing the teachers we have hired. Meanwhile, my office is at home, where I do all of the operations for the business (bookkeeping, scheduling, payroll, etc.) People think I'm home eating bon bons and that my husband is running the business because he is the one that is visible to the outside world!

I try to focus on the positive aspects as much as possible. In the mornings, we usually take a hike together with our dog and then work together on the marketing/advertising aspects of our business. This is fun because we get to work together, and I'm not alone! He goes to teach in the afternoon, and I pick up our daughter from school and get to spend time with her. But I still do get those feeling you speak of, and I also get caught up in the day-to-day piles of laundry, dishes, and errands around the house.

Okay, sorry for the major rambling on. I just wanted you to know that I completely get your situation, and that I feel for you. I thought maybe hearing about somebody in a similar circumstance might help? I vent to my friends all of the time (and my family), but they don't really get it because they all work for The Man.

I really enjoyed reading your post about this, e! Keep at your "secret" writing, know that your posts are well-loved, and that you have a comrade to vent to at any time (I believe you have my email address from a Long Live Locke post--use it!).

Take Care,

another e

OlNumba7 said...

Hi e,

This was a great post, in my opinion. I am in a similar position, but for different reasons, and I think you perfectly described how it feels to go from the work force to....your house every day. I've been at it for a little over 3 years now, and I've felt (and still feel) every single emotion you've outlined. It's tough sometimes, but it's good to be able to vent like you did (and like I've done to my wife many, many times).

The motivating thing is that you're pursuing a dream, and that there are a ton of people who wish that they could cut loose from "The Man". It's a different path, for sure, but it's greatly rewarding. Keep up the good work...I love reading this blog (and Long Live Locke)!

Anonymous said...

thanks so much for writing this post, e! i'm still in college and trying to figure out what to do afterwards (it's coming up quick!). reading about you pursuing your dream, even when it gets tough, is really inspiring. i admire that you had the guts to do something (that you love!), even though it may not have visible results to the outside world.
i love reading this blog (and Long Live Locke), and appreciate that you take the time to write it. thank you!

Alex Yates said...

Perfect encapsulation of home life isolation. Your writing talent will be rewarded in time.

I was job searching for 10 weeks when we moved here for my wife's job. I know she wanted to say, and only twice did I hear her say aloud, "what DID you do all day?"

I previously was a ghost writer for a rich lady who grossly overpaid me. Amazing but true. I piddled away the hours and mornings for over a year when i should have been at the gym, doing my own writing, learning spanish, updating photo albums, ALL the things you captured. But I didn't. My body became soft and my brain turned smooth. But I had just finished grad school and was beaten down and needed the mental break from deadlines and high expectations. Maybe that's the decompressing you're enjoying now. Soak it up. Don't let anybody drink your milkshake of schedulelessness. YOU drink it up!

"About a Boy" has Hugh Grant and his units of time to make his days productive. I found this to be trite but nonetheless true. Set a timer and move on to your next thing when it goes off.

Exercise before lunch became my big thing and gave me the most focus in the end.

Realize that deep down we're all really envious of YOUR situation. So embrace the Seinfeldian answer of you being a woman who all day does nothing. People ask what do you do? You say nothing. That's you. You're so unique you've managed to spend your time getting nothing done for no one on with time that belongs to no one else but you. (People will beg to know how you do it!) Because the something we're doing for someone else is somewhat less tnan what we thought we'd be doing for a living. In the end, our work generally amounts to nothing. So it all evens out...somehow.

Do it for you. We expect you to not have to account to anyone but you. You don't need no TPS reports! You don't need 37 pieces of flare. You need to just rechannel energies for spurts/units of time.

There's no unrealistic goals, just unrealistic deadlines.

Now get back to whatver it is you're not doing.

Platitudinally yours,

Anonymous said...

I just love reading your posts - we seem to have so much in common (go Locke!).

I am a bit concerned though... as I write this it's Friday morning and the last post is from Wednesday. I need my e fix! Hope everything is OK!