Box, Memory and Nickel (Photo credit: Thom Watson)
The interesting thing about going your own way and finding your own path is that certain people feel the need to comment on it. It really doesn’t bother me anymore when people make comments about the fact that I’ve chosen to homeschool my son, and I’ve gotten used to some people being weirded out by the fact that I run my own business from home. What I’m not used to is people treating my business as something that’s not a job or something I want to do.
The thing is, I do treat my business seriously. I work, on average, between 40 and 60 hours a week. I’ve been known to put in extra hours beyond that for quick turnaround projects and extra marketing. Even though I don’t actually leave my front door to go to an office (something that may change in the future, as I’m looking into office space), I feel like I work just as much – or even more – than many other people. And that doesn’t even include the time I spend planning lessons, teaching math, or answering questions about ambiguous questions. Sometimes I feel like I’m busier than I was when I was a graduate student, and it’s absolutely vital that I schedule everything as much as possible.
Why am I saying this? I felt a bit insulted earlier when someone suggested I check out a job opportunity that was 1) a minimum wage job and 2) clerical because “you’re attractive,” and 3) benefits. Now, before I got my feminist pants all scrambled up on number two, I tried to remind myself that the person only meant well and probably sincerely believed she was being helpful. The thing is, though, that I think this assumption that I’d jump and down at the opportunity – because I’m just hanging out at home.
Benefits would be great. I won’t knock that. But the thing is, I make more doing what I do now – and there’s really no cap on what I can make in a month. There’s no way I’d have the energy after working eight hours at a minimum wage job to do what I do now. I would resent the amount of work I was doing for the tiny paycheck. AND I’d still have to have a second job in order to meet all of my monthly expenses. Even as a graduate student, having a kid means that minimum wage does not cut it, so I had a second job. I was both a teaching assistant and a research assistant for a professor – until the university told me I was working too much (even though I was in the top third of grad students, receiving As on my work, on top of everything, and presenting at professional conferences). It’s all about time management. And yes, that particular semester, I was also homeschooling my son.
Yes, being outside the box has its own challenges that come with it. For example, I have to be disciplined every day in order to get my work done. That’s not something I would have been able to do about 10 years ago, before graduate school, but the thing about grad school is that you learn work habits. You learn to make a tiny bit of progress every day towards a goal. You learn to organize those goals. Well, I did anyway. Another challenge of being outside the box involves the lack of a safety net. If I were in a 9-5 job – or even the minimum wage job – if I were sick, I’d still have a check coming. When you’re sick and you own your own business, you’ve got to rest – but you also get no billable hours in. You have to foresee times like this, and instead of spending that huge client check on gourmet meals, you sock it away – live like no one else now to live like no one else later. And of course, there’s the health insurance issue. I’m on my own for health insurance. Luckily there’s writer’s unions where you can purchase such luxuries at a discount price.
I also don’t have a car. This is another thing people bring up often. I don’t want to own a car. Cars are expensive, they pollute the environment, and having a car would mean I would probably choose to drive rather than walk places. Some days, when I’m really busy, or it’s really hot and I don’t want to run, the only exercise I get is walking places – of course, that still means that every day, I’m getting in the recommended amount of physical activity. If I ever do really need wheels, in addition to public transportation, there’s a number of people who have offered rides should I need one. And worst case scenario? There’s always a taxi. By not owning a car, not only do I lessen my carbon footprint on the earth, but I also save the money that would otherwise be spent on a car payment, car insurance, gas, maintenance, and the emergency fund that goes with owning a car. And no, having a credit card does not count as having an emergency fund. Does it cause inconveniences? Sure, but usually only when I’d want to do something spontaneous like hop in a car and drive somewhere for a vacation. So again, it causes me to have to plan and save money. It also means I have to live close to things. It means that when I’m at the store, I need to think carefully about each thing I purchase – do I really want to pay money for that AND carry it home? So…not having a car saves a lot of money that’s not even related to the cost of owning a car.
I like living simply. Sure, I like a nice dinner here or there, and I like to look nice – but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to do that. I don’t like to spend money that doesn’t need to be spent. That makes it so that I can spend more money on things like healthy food, books, and the things that my son and I enjoy doing together. I like the flexibility of my schedule because if I want to run a 5k, go visit a friend, or volunteer a Saturday to help build a home, I don’t have to ask for the time off in advance. I just have to plan accordingly. Sure, running a business makes things complicated tax-wise, and not all months are created equally. But I continue to grow each year, and I feel like giving up now would be a huge mistake. The only thing I’m considering is finishing my graduate work part time while I continue to do what I do.
And honestly? I like being outside the box.