- Shannon Page and her husband are both full-time freelancers.
- Page dreamed of full-time self-employment for years. In 2009, she was finally in a position where she was able to achieve it, and she hasn't looked back.
- She's found that freelancing has its challenges: There's no separation between home and work, and taking time off isn't something she knows how to do anymore.
- But, despite the complex finances and challenges, she would never go back to a day job. She loves having time of her own.
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For decades, I dreamed of working at home. The freedom! The luxury of being my own boss, of setting my own schedule! The sound of the all-too-early morning alarm was the worst part of my day.
Well, the alarm and my lengthy commute.
Well, the alarm, my lengthy commute, and the rigidity. In my final day job, there wasn't enough work for me to do — but I still had to be there every day, trying to look busy. If only I could be free of all that!
In 2009, I got my wish. I had a little financial cushion, enough to quit my job and set out on my own. It took a few years to grow my client list into reliable full-time work; now that cushion is gone, but my roster is full.
I met my husband around then, and we married a few years later. During that time, he too transitioned from a day job to freelance work.
I'm a copy editor; he is a commercial illustrator. In addition, we do our own creative work — art and writing.
The finances are … interesting. We hand the "top earner" baton back and forth. For a year and a half, he had a hugely demanding yet nicely lucrative gig. Now, we've made the decision for him not to seek paying work for a year or two, so he can bring a big creative project to fruition — and also cook the bacon that I bring home. And all the other meals, too, plus the lion's share of running the household.
I mentioned the finances: That's a big one for us. We're still trying to figure out how to manage the new federal tax bill; we got slammed at tax time last year, despite having made quarterly estimated payments. We're making much larger payments this year, and we also formed an S corporation. We're hoping that will help … we'll see.
One early challenge was work space. When I started freelancing, I lived alone, working at the dining room table. Once my husband moved in, that didn't really work anymore. I need uninterrupted silence to do my job, and the dining room was right in the middle of the house. Fortunately, not long afterward, he got that year-and-a-half-long gig; income from that allowed us to build me a "tiny office" in the backyard out of a toolshed.
Beyond money and office space, you might think a big challenge of being your own boss is discipline: making yourself actually sit down and do the work.
That might be true for some freelancers, but we have the opposite problem. We have a terrible time making sure we have a day off. Even one a month — forget "weekends."
When we had day jobs, there was a clear demarcation between "work" and "not work." When I was at work, I was on their time, and everyone knew it. When I went home, even though I might think about the job, it was clear that I was on my own time. I did laundry or worked on my novel or went out to a movie or napped or whatever.
Now? Work and home are in the same place, and my time is fluid, mine to manage — or mismanage. If everything is going as it should, there is always work to do. (I'm writing this article on a Saturday, in fact.) Where it gets confusing is in figuring out what is supposed to happen in each hour. I always left my day job with work unfinished at the end of my shift, just because it was time to go home. Not only that, but everyone else was leaving then, too — their departure helped enforce mine. The work would be there tomorrow.
That's a lot less clear now. "Time to go to work" is always now; "time to go home" is … never defined. I like my work — as I am fond of telling people, "I get paid to read books all day" — but the fact remains that it is, actually, still work. And yet it's always right here, at my house. Do I stop — in an hour? Three hours? Tomorrow for sure? Or only when the next imperative interrupts?
I don't really know how to take a whole day off anymore. To just … laze around. Lie on the couch reading a book for fun, like I did on weekends back in the olden days. I just want to finish this job, I think. Turn it in and invoice it.
And there's always another job after that.
Which is good! I do really like it, and it keeps us from starving. But it would be healthier if we could figure out how to strike a better balance.
The daily routine
Mornings ramp up slowly around here. We wake up when we do; check messages, do yoga, drink coffee. If it's winter, one of us builds a fire. We have breakfast, talk about anything that needs talking about; then, eventually, we retreat to our separate offices. It's often 10 a.m. or later before we get to "work." And even then, I find myself doing a bunch of administrative stuff — accounting, correspondence with clients, social media — before settling in to do actual writing or copy editing.
But that doesn't mean we don't put in a full day's work … lots of full days. Not only is it a Saturday as I write this, it's long past 5 p.m. My husband is upstairs, writing. Sooner or later, he'll come down and start working on dinner. If he doesn't, I'll have to go fetch him, because we're going to a 9:00 movie in town. When we don't have plans, we often work until 7:00 or 8:00 or even later.
This is the pattern, seven days a week, unless we have house guests or social engagements. Having folks over for dinner — which we love do to — can actually eat half a workday, when you count meal preparation, cleaning the house at least enough so that it's not disgusting, and the dinner itself.
On balance, though, I'm delighted with our lifestyle. I would hate to have to go back to a day job. I love not setting an alarm. I don't drive anywhere — not for work, anyway. I can go to the gym when I know the pool will be empty; I can schedule appointments and errands mid-day. My time is my own.
And I love the work itself. I love making order out of chaos; I love taking a cluttered manuscript and cleaning up its infelicities of language, killing its typos, helping it sing.
Most of all, I love being at home. I don't have a backyard tiny office anymore — we sold that house and moved to a lovely, remote island two years ago. Because we're portable, capable of working anywhere there's an internet connection, we could do this. Most people have to retire to move here.
Of course, we may never retire … but that's another topic!
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