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Should we bother being self employed?

Messy desk

Is it my turn to do this…..again?!


Self employment isn’t easy.

Some days it can be tough being self employed. Your desk looms in a dark corner, the work keeps piling high but somehow the ‘flow’ just isn’t happening. Everything is like climbing uphill or swimming against the tide.

The downsides

So why DO so many of us want to work for ourselves? We can talk about vague concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘balance’ but if you look at it closely there are also quite a few downsides. We don’t get paid when we take time off. We actually don’t get paid for a lot of the time we put in! We often work really long hours with no team to banter with and no managerial direction to fall back on. We are on our own, and when we stop being productive, creative and motivated the bills stop being paid.

The secret to work satisfaction

Why does self employment remain the only real choice for so many of us? Why are we turning our back on the comfort and security of full time work in exchange for conditions we wouldn’t tolerate if we worked for someone else?

Here’s the secret. It’s because you need to feel in control.

Control button

Who’s really in control?


The truth about choices

Control has been proved to be the most influential factor in whether you are happy at work or not. But an important distinction here is that it’s not even actual control. Here’s the twist – the crucial element is perceived control. What we value in work and every other key facet of our lives is to FEEL like we are in charge of own destiny, even if this is contrary to the actual reality of the situation.

When you are working on your business at 10pm on a Friday night it probably won’t grate in the same way as it would when your boss insists you stay late to get the job done. Although you might rather be in the pub in both situations, the former means you can get your coat and head out if you want to. You have the authority to assess the consequences and act according to your own best judgement. The latter means you have to answer to someone else; your decisions aren’t really your own. The end result in both circumstances may be the same and you stay working until midnight. But what got you there is massively different.

People who believe they are in control expect their actions to affect outcomes. Think about how important this is. The opposite is to feel helpless and powerless – which interestingly lies at the root of depressive illness.

Control freaks

So if we consider that self employed folk are more inclined to feel effective and powerful, what is it that you do with that? How have you made the most of your freedom? Are you controlling your destiny, fulfilling your dreams? Or are you still behaving as if you have a boss sitting at your shoulder?

Change and unfamiliarity aren’t naturally comfortable conditions for most of us. We tend to return to the same seat as we sat in yesterday, or use the same toilet cubicle we know worked out ok last time because we like things to be predictable; it makes us feel safer. So when we quit our jobs to work for ourselves it can reduce any anxiety if we keep things similar to what we are used to. We set up a desk in our spare room; take no more than a couple of weeks holiday a year; work 9-5; persevere with a frustrating task even when we really aren’t in the mood. It’s just what we are used to doing.


Are you the boss in your business?


Powerful stuff

But it’s worth remembering that we chose to work for ourselves because we are powerful. We are in control of what today and every day looks like. We don’t have to settle and we don’t have to submit. We have choices, and even if some of them have to be compromises, not all of them should be. We’ve earned that because we threw away the security blanket when we ditched having someone else be responsible for us.
So what are you doing with your freedom? Are you really in control? When you quit your job, what was it you were reaching for? If you haven’t achieved it yet, maybe it’s time to take back control. It’s been yours to use all along.

How important is it to you to be in control?


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13 Responses to “Should we bother being self employed?”

  1. This is such an inspirational read for anyone weighing their options of starting their own venture vs. staying in the safety net of corporate america. I have taken a year long sabbatical from work to travel the world with my husband, Tony, but we are trying desperately hard to start up our own venture while on the road. I have my company to go back to in the states if all else fails, but I just can’t imagine going back to a cubicle after traveling the world and seeing what life could be like on the other side.

    And your right, running your own business can be sooo tough but its a great feeling to be in control. My parents have run a business together since they were in their mid-twenties and they worked liked crazy – on the weekends, during holidays, etc. But my dad always said he LOVED waking up every single day to go to work. As a kid, that was so inspirational to see – And now that is what Tony and I strive for!

    • We certainly believe that being self-employed is an option that everyone should consider, it isn’t going to be easy but the freedom and control you get is well worth it. Hannah actually took a sabbatical from her work when we first went travelling, surprise surprise she never went back and our business started to grow from there.

      Good luck with your venture and hope our paths cross at some point. C

      • Hannah and Chris
      • Reply
    • Hey Meg, exciting times for you guys, but a lot to juggle as well by the sounds of it. It’s tough to get the right balance when you want to enjoy your travelling after working so hard to do it but have starting a new business on your mind as well. The beauty of a sabbatical is that you can go back for a few months if you need to- so make sure you make plenty of time to just enjoy travelling, unwinding and finding a few answers along the way.

      It will be easier if you aren’t feeling too driven to achieve while you go. You will be able to leave your cubicle behind VERY soon because your clear that’s what you want-but these things don’t always work quite to our timescales! Your trip sounds fantastic and the best ideas and direction often form when you are busy enjoying yourself! Thanks for your thoughtful comments, and I’ll look out for updates on your progress. H

      • Hannah and Chris
      • Reply
      • Thanks Hannah and Chris. The sabbatical is definitely nice to have and my company does not require that I return to work for them once the sabbatical time is up. I think I am going to follow in Hannah’s footsteps and probably throw in the towel – Unless we are completely broke and then I can go back to earn a paycheck for a little bit while Tony helps start a business up back home… That’s our fall back plan at least! But I can only imagine how hard it can be going back to Corporate America after living this life on the road chasing your dreams!

        Tony and I forward to following your journey and sharing thoughts/tips/stories with you both as we work our way to location independence!
        Meg from LandingStanding recently posted..How One Night At The Hyatt Regency In Paris Could Have Saved Me A Semester’s Worth Of B-School Tuition

  2. Thanks for the great blog post Hannah and Chris, and yes I agree with it all. I wouldn’t say I’m a control freak because I’m not but I do like to be in charge of my own destiny. I find that I am happy to undertake most tasks if I’ve set them because I know they’re for the greater good, and that they were my idea! ;) Of course the other benefit of being self employed is that you can choose your location and working hours. I was thrilled to write my latest blog post and record a video to it in the garden yesterday – so easily pleased!
    Kate Cave recently posted..Staying on Track With Your Goal

    • Hi Kate, I know how motivated you are and you are right, it does make it easier (most days!) when you know what you are doing it for! Am now off to check out your post, full of lovely garden sunshine and energy!

      • Hannah and Chris
      • Reply
  3. A client remarked to me yesterday that self employment is a synonym for self development. and I think that’s true. Those of us who are self employed want to keep developing and testing what we’re capable of, and would soon be bored working for someone else with entirely different objectives.
    Judy Heminsley recently posted..Coffee shop working

    • OOh, I like that, self employment = self development. I agree too, you have to learn and grow all the time which is definitely a big part of the appeal for me too. People can often tend to work better with some challenge and self set goals….and there is plenty of that with your own business! Thanks for your comment Judy, nice to hear from you

      • Hannah and Chris
      • Reply
  4. While I can relate to the desire to control one’s own destiny, I actually think my desire to become self-employed is rooted in something even more fundamental: I simply want to express my true self. I think that can best be done by “following my bliss” rather than helping someone else follow theirs.
    Hannah recently posted..On Ice: An Interview with an Antarctic Adventurer

    • Nicely put Hannah. Looking forward to catching up with you guys in Portland and hearing much more about your passion and purpose!

      • Hannah and Chris
      • Reply
  5. Just came across this post while searching for blog posts about being self-employed. I’m pretty new to the game although I didn’t quit my job- it was taken form me by redundancy (every cloud has a silver lining etc).

    The control issue is really interesting. I like being in control of my working life but it sometimes feels like I’m losing control too when things don’t go my way! it’s a fine balance. I’ve blogged about my reasons for going freelance. Thanks for a great post.

    Sian Rowland recently posted..Ten reasons not to go freelance

    • Freelance can be a scary business Sian but something so many people aspire to. You are right it is a fine balance, we may be ultimately in control of our income, time off, workload and rewards but there are some days where it definately doesnt feel like you are in charge at all! Good luck with it

      • Hannah and Chris
      • Reply
  6. True North Productions are looking for couples and families for a brand new Channel 4 series who want to make changes to their lives and start running their own business.

    We are looking for people who are ready to make these changes but need some expert help to identify the right opportunity. It’s a perfect chance for people who dream of a new life, but until now just haven’t had the expertise or head space to go for it!

    If this sounds like something you might be interested in then please contact:[email protected] with a little bit of information about yourself and your current situation. Ideally you should be in a position to make some big decisions in 2013.


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