My lovely neighbors invited me to a barbecue at their house to meet some new families who had recently moved in. Chatting with one of the new couples, parents of two young children, the inevitable question arose:
“So, what do you do for a living?”
She was an executive at a big media company in NYC, he was in financial services and when she posed this question to me, I just stammered incoherently – something about owning a website, doing a little consulting and writing, this and that and working from home. I scrambled desperately, pointing in the direction of my husband: “Chris works from home, too. We share an office!” As if that little fact somehow better justified my existence.
“Wow,” she said. So you’re living the dream!”
The dream? Well, I suppose that was one way to look at it. It wasn’t the way I was used to thinking about my working life. While I relished my flexible lifestyle, the fact that I could go out for a run in the middle of the day, leave a stew simmering on the stove while taking a conference call in the next room, and be home when my kids walked in the door from school, briefly open to chatting about their day, a mood that has long passed by dinner, mostly I was caught up in the necessity of my situation — if I didn’t have a child with special needs, if I didn’t have so many children, if I had never lost my job back in 2008. I wallowed too much in thinking about my lack of status (exacerbated no doubt by the fact that I rarely bothered to dress in anything nicer than jeans and a fleece hoodie), the challenge of making enough money, and the difficulty of bringing in new clients, not to mention all the little injustices of working for oneself like bookkeeping, self-lawyering contracts, not having anyone else to ask for help and, worse still, not having anyone else to blame if things didn’t go my way.
The dream? Hardly. But then again… maybe.
That was when I started to realize that many of us who work independently don’t appreciate the real value of our working lifestyle. Yes, maybe we make less money than we did before. And maybe we feel more uncomfortable at dinner parties with more “successful” friends. Maybe we worry that we have stepped off of a career path that we had long planned for in our younger years. Or maybe, even when we say we appreciate our independent working lives, we too easily fall back into an old-fashioned kind of thinking, thinking in which money and status are the sole measures of our success.
I know that I am not the only one who struggles with this issue – wanting the flexibility and freedom an independent work life brings, but needing a way to value it, to contextualize it, to quantify it and ultimately, to feel good about it.
This conversation with my new neighbors started me on the journey that is Return on You. Does my experience resonate with you? What do you most struggle with in your portfolio life?