November 2019 was a tough month for me. The unexpected sudden loss of a beloved position toppled my world. I had only known office jobs and, even though I had always dreamed of freelance, I had only vague, idealized plans to follow that path.
My position had become unsustainable. Responsibility creep had ramped up and the teams I was managing had nearly tripled in size. As my task lists grew, my supervisor neglected to learn enough about my departments to understand how I spent my days, let alone the growing burden being placed on my departments. I saw my work stagnating, I was relying too heavily on my automated systems to keep things running while I chased dumpster fires. I was forced to ask more and more of my student workers without having the budget to adequately compensate them. I loved my work and I wanted to do better for my organization, my students, and myself, but I needed support and innovation if I was to be expected to keep up this work load. Feeling devoted as ever, I set to work coming up with a proposal to develop my skills, teach at my local community college, give my student employees more opportunities, and reorganize my departments to accommodate all of these goals. I saw a future where I could stay at the Emerald another 5 years while I also carved out time to get even better at my job.
Looking back, I realize that my proposal was never taken seriously. It feels like I was asking an abusive partner to please be nicer. I should have foreseen that request would be met with anger and dismissal. I still get lost in the memory of that Monday morning. For the briefest moment walking into the conference room I thought I might finally be getting the mediated conversation I had so desperately wanted. Some witness to the damage this position was causing me. Rather, the board member present was there to make sure I understood that I had no allies and my resignation would be effective immediately.
Leaving the Emerald left me feeling damaged. From my point of view, good-faith honesty and critique had cost me a lot and I was sure that I couldn’t risk that kind of injury again. For months every professional communication felt empty at best, or like an attack at worst. I was terrified that I would never feel successful or professionally stable again. Even worse, I felt angry. And when my rage would bubble over I would be in that conference room again. Screaming at the sudden void and repeating all the things that I thought maybe could have changed the outcome.
I was broken and the sound bites of that time hung over me. An insistance that I “would never be as happy in any other position as I was at the Emerald” haunted me while I thought it was true,then enraged me when I realized it wasn’t. My current successes are inextricably linked to my experience with the Emerald, but the time since has given me the distance I needed to realize I had to leave in order to take my next step. I’m now in a place of trying to create some sense of gratitude. The sudden-ness of it all, the stress leading up to the end, and the admittedly petty urge to prove doubters wrong all made for a painful start. Had it not been for all the chaos, I wouldn’t have learned the confidence of managing such chaos. I wouldn’t have understood my need for better conditions. I would have been less prepared to navigate and defend my own professional boundaries.
Going into my second year as a freelancer, I am having more good days than bad. I’m finding a lot of joy and excitement in the work I’m doing and I have time to explore personal projects and learn things that may never make me any money. This is an ongoing journey but I’m finally excited to be on it.
Below are some general thoughts on my first year as a freelancer in various contexts.
2020 / Covid-19
2020 was quite the year to kick start a new learning experience. But maybe kind of perfect in a weird way. I was depressed and broke and overwhelmed, but so was the whole world. As my reality filled with video calls and working from my home, so did everyone else’s.
I feel particularly blessed to be free to navigate my Covid exposure based purely on my own standards, without the struggle of competing with capitalism or any organization’s expectations. My health, my time, and my finances are more completely mine to care for in a way that I’ve never experienced but I am lucky to be navigating this time while the world grants some extra grace.
Last November, I was mourning a place that had asked too much and gave too little in return. This November, I find myself in a place of abundance. I have been prioritizing my own comfort all year. Yet the work I do gets done much better than if I was stretched thin while the profit I make feels better and is under my control.
November 2020 was the first month that I made enough money to be excited, and I accomplished it on my schedule, doing projects I chose, and spending hours a day with a cat on my lap.
I have goals that require me to make more money than I currently am, but unlike in my last position, I see a path towards that financial future and I am eagerly pursuing it.
This year I’ve turned down jobs a different version of me would have taken and suffered through.
This year I have looked forward to work, but only after my second cup of coffee and a morning snuggle with my cat.
This year, I have rebuilt my professional identity on a new foundation of self-motivation and the seeking of joyful work I can be proud of.