Two months ago I left my job as editor and digital director of this website to go freelance. Now, I'm a writer, content consultant and creative producer. Two of the main drivers for me making this change were to work in a way that I controlled, according to my interests, and to spend more time with my two daughters, who have never had me home for homework time. But my biggest challenge was busting through my fear.
It took a large leap of faith to enter into the busy pool of the freelance, flexible work world. It felt terrifying, but at the same time, also the opposite –I feel more empowered than I have in many years.
My career so far has been full of twists and turns – seemingly random decisions and paths - which only now I can see have brought me to a place where each piece of the puzzle has relevance, despite how separate from each other they have seemed to be.
Beginning my work life as a professional makeup artist, segued to beauty retail, store management, PR, the setting up of a makeup school and starting a beauty and lifestyle blog, to working at IMAGE as acting beauty editor before becoming editor of image.ie and onwards to now. Looking at it written out like that, the path does show relevant links. And above all, it shows that as I went along, I was constantly learning something new about how businesses work and above all, what women are interested in when it comes to beauty and media.
So, all that was great. Until I decided to hand in my notice…
And when I did, it felt weird.
I went through a feeling of mixed up professional identity, if I’m not ‘Ellie from IMAGE’, then who am I? What am I selling myself as? What is it I do?
An avalanche of fears presented themselves at my door. What if nobody hires me? There are so many freelancers working in media right now, what if there isn’t enough work? What do I tell people I do? Who am I, again?
Work forms a huge part of your identity, both for yourself to yourself, and to the others in your world –professionally and personally, and when it changes dramatically, it’s something you don’t think enough about. Or I didn’t anyway. Initially.
Think about how quickly we ask people what they do, after meeting in a social scene. It’s probably quite rude to do it, but we do. It helps put people in a box. Via some sort of internal professional processing, we feel we know what we’re dealing with. Or who we’re dealing with. It helps us adapt to, and accept the person in those first few moments, ‘ah you’re an accountant, I know someone who does that…'
It’s small talk which helps put people at ease in those slightly unnatural, initial moments when your friend goes to the loo leaving you with their mate from college. Both, of you almost sigh with relief when conversation falls to the safe ground of ‘what do you do?’ At least you can talk about that!
But I feared not being able to talk about that once I had changed my work story. The inner voice said, ‘what is it you do again??’
I had some internal professional processing of my own to do.
I had to review what success means to me, and what I would deem as success in this new, freelance way of working. The traditional path of being company-based, working hard, awaiting appraisals, promotions and remunerations for same is well laid out – we’re all familiar with that. Now I have to appraise myself on my path. The voice inside said, ‘this could be tricky’.
I had to review what I really wanted to work on and how to get myself there, so I spent time on that. Proper time, where I scrawled on pages, the notes app on my phone was almost on fire, my head spilled forth my ideas and dreams and I properly paid heed. I’ve always been known as a creative ideas person – things just come to me in a tsunami of thoughts as soon as I tune in to something – and where I had previously applied this creative thinking to other people’s initiatives and projects, be they video production concepts, articles written, brand voice, commercial campaigns for brands, they were always for someone else.
I had to apply the creative thinking to myself this time. The inner voice said, ‘this could be hard’.
And it is hard. But the tweak I figured out was to think of me in two ways: as a creator and a client. The creator for someone else - and a client for myself. Let me explain: being a creator for someone else is the simple part – I do the work that I do for someone and get paid for it. But switching my role as client to me made me take an accountability that I haven’t previously felt. Now, I have worked as a freelance for many years before my six year stint at IMAGE, so I’m down with the concept of the hustle and the pipeline – I wanted six months worth of work lined up at all times to feel some semblance of job security (the dream, right). But thinking of having to perform and deliver to me as a client, made sense to me. I need to show up and get the goods over the line for myself – as if I were a client in an agency, or an editor in a title, or a CEO of a brand.
Because, what I am is the CEO of me now. And CEOs need reports. And KPIs delivered.
And therefore, so do I. It’s just they are coming from me. To me.
It may sound a bit bananas, but it was a mental accountability mind shift that helped me move from employee to chief executive.
The inner voice said, ‘this could be shit’.
I had to review my methods of work. With the motto, ‘my time, my terms’ ringing through my mind, I researched productivity apps, I made schedules – I now have a weekly timetable! It was very like when you’re avoiding study in school, so you organise your stationary – but that works. It’s all part of a new focus. Finding a new way.
I reached out to people, others reached out to me, and projects began. My urge to create meaningful media with an excellent aesthetic was in play. The green light on.
But still, feeling the fear, I had to review again the reasons I made the change in the first place to see if they still held weight. They did.
I believe there comes a time in your life where you have to answer the call you are making on yourself, because to deny listening to your desires for change is stifling for the soul. Sometimes it won’t be possible to make dramatic adjustments to your life, or sometimes, for some people, just thinking about it is enough. For me, I knew I wanted radical change. I needed to try things another way. But the fear almost paralysed me. I am a single mother with two daughters, the pressure and responsibility of that is staggering on most days. But also, they are the reason I wanted to force change. I wanted to be there for them more, and I wanted more financial gain for us as a family. The fear of disappointing them is immense. I want them to template a work practice that is inspirational to them, so they can see that your career, when right for you, can elevate your life.
Standing on the precipice of this decision was one the most terrifying things I have ever done, and I didn’t take it lightly. In fact, I went to a counsellor for six months previously to break through my fear of making change and to try to forecast the future and feel prepared.
But in truth, there’s no real preparation for the fear of doing it, there’s only the adrenalin that gets you through it.
The inner voice says, ‘JUMP’.
Waver. Falter. Retreat.
The inner voice says, ‘your daughters are watching...'
Breathe in. Go.
There is a sign hanging in my kitchen for years now, it has taken this long to turn from fear to action for me. But it helped me get there in the end.
“What if I fall…
Oh my darling, what if you fly.”
Right now I’m gliding. And hopeful.