Ripples in the pond and finding solid ground…

Gilda
Gilda

It’s been really hard to decide what to write next, following the freakish, completely unplanned and totally unexpected success of my last post.

Honestly, I do not plan these posts. I just write. I’m not a writer, I’m more of a compulsive journal scribbler. I write every day in a journal and have done for most of my life, more as a way of ordering and settling my own thoughts and feelings than anything else, and when I write a blog post it’s usually just a journal entry that I’ve decided to make public and I write in exactly the same way; beginning, middle, end, post.

So when the last post went viral, twice, it was a complete shock and It’s taken me so long to post again simply because instead of just writing what’s on my mind, I’ve heaped all of this pressure on myself to write something important or meaningful.

It’s been nearly three months since the last post, so I’m just going to write this, tell you what’s been happening since my self value revelation, and see how it ends up.

I was going to write about what if feels like to have something you’ve put out into the world go viral, but let’s just say it’s overwhelming. It is also incredibly humbling to receive so many heartfelt messages saying “me too!!!”.

It’s safe to say that following my wake up call, there has been a knock on effect in almost every area of my life, most obviously in my work. As a freelance designer, I usually take on as much then a little bit more than I can handle at any given time. I rarely take days off and I almost never take holidays. I often work twelve hour days and sometimes over night. This has been down to an ingrained fear that if I don’t work harder than everyone else, I will lose out and not be hired again.

Not so any more.

Shortly after the train journey when the penny dropped, I had an email from a regular client to ask if I would be able to take on a large project and complete it in a few weeks starting immediately. I really love working with this client and it was a great job, but it would mean dropping all of my other plans and working exclusively for them for a few weeks and delaying everything else around me. So I told them the truth, said that I was fully booked and if they wanted me they’d have to wait two months. I also added that if the project was urgent I could take on half of it within the next month then complete the rest at a later date.

I was worried they’d turn me down and simply find another designer.

Instead they thanked me for taking the time to get back to them so quickly, told me that they’d be delighted to wait for me to fit them into my busy schedule, and then thanked me again for being so generous with my time.

Ok…….

Then it happened again. Another client got in touch to say that they would like to arrange a meeting about an upcoming project and could I begin work as soon as possible. Again, I could have managed it if I had given up my weekends for a month and a half, but instead I told them that I would love to meet them for a chat but that I wouldn’t be able to begin work until later in the year. Again, if it was urgent I could fit them in earlier. The same thing happened! They thanked me for fitting them into my schedule, we had a great meeting and now they’re delighted that we’re going to be working together.

I told my business mentor about this in our last meeting. She asked me how it felt, and I told her in all honesty that I felt like it should have been a bigger deal but in reality it just seemed like this is how it should be.

I always felt that having the opportunity to work is a privilege, and I still think it is, but I now see it as a give and take situation. I work better when I am well rested and well prepared, not pushed to my limit and under extreme stress. I used to think that I was only good enough to deserve my job if I worked at the very limit of my endurance.

And here’s the thing… now that I believe in the value of the work that I do, and I am giving myself realistic timescales to work within, and earning a realistic wage, my work has stepped way up a level.

Clients now feel lucky to have me, but if I don’t deliver and deliver well, then they’ll feel let down and not hire me again.  I feel more valued and I work better because I have more time, the client feels glad to work with me and they get a good result that’s had all the time it needs to be completed.

I used to think that being self employed meant that I wasn’t able to get a “real” job with a steady salary and a predictable income. I thought that I had to take whatever jobs were offered to me and be grateful for the opportunity. I kind of see why that was important early on when I was finding my feet and building my client base, but I think it’s about time I became a bit more selective about what I’m willing to stress out over.

It’s not hard to see where that idea comes from. When you’re self employed people have the most ridiculous ideas of what you do and who you are.

Here are just some of the things people regularly say to me when they find out I’m self employed.

  • How much do you actually earn?
  • Can you sew on this button/fix this zip/adjust this hem for me?
  • I’ll tell all of my friends about you so you can sew on their buttons/fix their zips/adjust their hems for them.
  • Will a tenner cover it?
  • Do you have to do all your own paper work then?
  • And can you manage that all by yourself?
  • Seriously, how much do you earn?
  • Are you sure you know what you’re doing with all your paperwork, it’s really quite complicated isn’t it?
  • That thing you made looks really professional!
  • Make some posters and I’ll put them up in the office.
  • Are you really earning enough to get by?
  • It must be nice having so much free time.
  • You earn HOW MUCH???
  • I suppose folk will pay for anything these days….

I’m not even joking.

The questions about how much I earn are the most common. Can you imagine asking that about someone else’s job? Can you imagine meeting someone at a party or in a bar, finding out they’re an engineer or a sales assistant or whatever, then asking them the highly personal question of what they earn? I guess it comes down to people not knowing what industry standards are, plus the whole mystery surrounding creative industries and just plain curiosity, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just rude.

I think the one that pisses me off the most is the “that looks really professional” comment. To be fair, my own parents have said this to me, and I don’t think people mean any harm in it, but it shows a real lack of understanding of what self employed people do. The fact is I am a professional, the problem is that I’ve only just realised it!

So far everything had been lining up in support of my new found self worth and respect for my work, then just a few days ago something else happened.

I’d applied for another “thing”. I’m applying for lots of “things” right now, and this one wasn’t a big one, and it wasn’t directly linked to my work but they’d asked me to take some of my work along to show them.

They didn’t get it.

They so didn’t get it. I took along my portfolio of photographs of my work and Gilda and her wooden doll, one of my favourite pieces, and they had a good old patronising smirk at every single thing I showed them. They “played” with Gilda chucking around her from person to person and talked about how “sexy” her stockings were and how “clever” I was.

It was like fucking Mean Girls.

I’d realised about twenty minutes before the dolls came out that I didn’t want to be involved in this “thing” I’d applied for, but seeing these people making fun of me made me feel weirdly calm. I knew for sure that I didn’t want anything more to do with them.

I was really keen to get a critical appraisal of my work but this was just plain old school kid mockery, so I packed up Gilda and zipped up my portfolio thanked them for their time and left, absolutely certain that I really was fine with it and for the first time in my life, someone not respecting my work didn’t bother me one bit.

Gilda and her wooden doll
Gilda and her wooden doll

Even a year ago, that sort of experience would have broken me. I would have kept my portfolio shut indefinitely, I would have hidden all of my work from my sight and brooded over how horrible those people were to me and how I didn’t deserve it, then wondered if maybe I did because maybe they were right, then I would have brooded some more. This time, for the very first time, it was shrugged off the minute I left that room.

It actually felt good! It’s easy to feel good about what you do when the people around you are praising you and backing you up but it feels amazing when you can still feel good about what you do when you’re being ridiculed.

So what I thought might be a little change in perspective has ended up being massive shift.

And, getting back to the blog post, it’s been amazing to know that so many other people have struggled with the same things. It’s also connected me to some really amazing new people, blogs, Facebook pages and general goings on. I’ve had literally hundreds of messages and it’s been very difficult to reply to everyone personally, so if I haven’t yet replied to you please know that your message has been read and that it means the world to me.

The full impact of the response to that last post is still too overwhelming to write about so maybe at some point later down the line. For now, I’m going to sign off and say thank you.

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