Yesterday I finally succumbed to the head cold that's been making the rounds of my family. As my wife will tell you, I turn into a puddle of goo when my sinuses fill up. Sore throat? I'm good. Sore muscles? I'll power through. Exhausted? I still have a sense of humor. But plug up my nose and I am wrecked.
Nevertheless, there are still obligations to fulfill. Two different garden centers needed balsam to keep making wreaths, so I suited up and headed out into the snow, barehanded, to cut some bales. And I have a number of manuscripts in the inbox that need editing, so I spent the afternoon doing that, too. About every five minutes I goosed myself along with a clip of something from YouTube or a round of potato chips or ice cream.
So it was a full day. At one point my younger daughter, who is five, asked my wife (who was making dinner) why I had to work if I was sick.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the double-edged sword of being self-employed. Not having a boss is wonderful. I can be flexible in my commitments, which allows me to take part in my daughters' lives in ways they totally won't appreciate until they are grown. I can take advantage of spur of the moment things like a beautiful day, a last minute invitation. I don't look to anyone for a sense of self-worth, and I feel equal to anyone.
But there are also times when work just needs to happen. I try hard to keep my word, my promises and my commitments, so sometimes I work when I would rather not.
Miserable as I was, I had to get this manuscript edited and sent off. Snowy and inconvenient as it was, I had to cut those greens. Because I said I would.
We have interesting conversations, my daughters and I, about what it means to be self-employed. How I make money by selling things to people, by helping them learn or by doing things for them. How I am in control of how much money I make, and that earning more over time is a matter of making smart choices rather than playing some sort of game to get a raise. How important it is to diversify my income streams to mitigate the risk of any one thing not working out as planned.
This is a very different sort of conversation than many of us received as kids, I would wager. Most of us are told to find a career, preferably something we are passionate about. We are told to get formal education. To arrive early and stay late. We are told to make ourselves indispensable, to bring value and to acquire expertise. All of these things are true for being self-employed, but there is an extra twist, which is that when you work for yourself, there is only you.
No one to fill in for you to take sick days.
No one to do the work you would rather not do (although you could hire someone, and that is a whole separate topic, and generally I ascribe to the paradigm of leadership where you give your employees the fun stuff and do the tough stuff yourself).
No one to tell you what to do when the s%$& hits the fan.
There is only you. And that is both freeing and terrifying. And sometimes it means you eat a half quart of ice cream, watch the Rambo clip and finish the damn manuscript.
My blog has evolved into a series of short essays on the nature of entrepreneurship, craftsmanship, and their overlap. If either of these topics is something you think about, you will probably like this.
One idea is as worthless as another until you actually do something about it, and then it is the action, not the word that matters. --Orson Scott Card