Taking the Plunge the First Time
The last few months have been big ones in my professionally creative universe. They have marked and confirmed my return to full-time self-employment after a three year hiatus to run a high school Drama Department.
In many ways, nothing changes. I revert to the life I began as a Creative Practitioner just a year after finishing my teaching induction. Thirteen years ago, there was nothing frightening about the move. It was an easy decision for me to make. That said, I can still hear conversations I had with people at the time: ‘Oh, you’re registering self-employed? That’s very…brave!’ or ‘Goodness! What a big step. You certainly are courageous.’ and a personal favourite of mine, usually coming from peers, ‘You are so lucky. I wish I could do that!’
What Inspired Me?
Having spent my NQT year in a challenging school in Leeds, in difficult circumstances and with very little guidance, I had seen the pros and cons of teaching in an oversubscribed secondary school. Blessed with initiative and my Applied Theatre experience, I decided to make the best of an otherwise challenging year. Whilst in school, I established a link with the staff in the Inclusion Unit as they were then known. I piloted a scheme whereby I worked one-to-one during non-contact time with three of the most challenging SEN students. The aim was to reintegrate them into timetabled classes with their peers, resulting in their needing less time per week in the Inclusion (often also used for exclusion) Unit.
Each of the three students needed a different number of sessions with me, and of course the content varied wildly. Nevertheless, it worked and I loved doing it. For me, that was enough of a kick up the rear to motivate me to return to my specialist area of study – Applied Theatre – by taking myself off the mainstream hamster wheel, actively seeking further opportunities in that area.
I remember being bewildered by everyone’s responses. I was simply making a shift which would enable me to focus more on the type of work I wanted to do. Where was the bravery and courage everyone spoke of? More to the point, what was stopping my friends from taking a similar leap? They were, after all, only at the same point in their careers as I was. We were still only a couple of years out of university and free of responsibility. Why couldn’t they do it too?
Learning to Juggle
Over the years which followed, I juggled freelance creative projects with short-term teaching stints and acting jobs. I felt proud that I could remain true to the strap-line I had attributed to my pursuits, and Make Drama Work in a way which meant my income came 100% from creativity, despite my being self-employed at such a young age. I also loved the freedom of choice when it came to scheduling my working weeks and months. If I wanted to take a long weekend somewhere, provided I knew I could make up my office and admin hours through the remainder of the week, I could.
I never had to fill out a leave application to submit to myself, I didn’t question my commitment if one day I started work a little later or finished a little earlier, and I never demanded any dress code in my living room office. When it came to deciding whether or not to apply for a place at the LA drama school I had heard about, I was fully supportive of the whole process. All in all, I was a fairly laid back boss, and I was very happy working for myself. (Of course, I speak of ‘laid back’ in a way that takes my extreme perfectionist type A tendencies into account – I no longer try and deny the presence of that particular driving force.)
Raising the Stakes
So, if I have already developed my self-employment model, why was it such a significant step so many years down the line?
When I came back from LA in 2009, it was simply a case of picking up where I had left off. The only notable change, was that I placed greater emphasis on acting, began to build creative partnerships with other professionals, set up my LAMDA tuition and was blessed with far more regular performance work. For a short time, I actually hopped directly from one acting job to another; a blessing indeed. To an outsider, everything continued as if I’d never been away.
My Self Employment Sabbatical
Then came the GSAL call in October 2013, ‘Are you free to do Drama cover for three days?’ Some of you know how that panned out. In a nutshell for those who don’t, three days became half a term, then two terms, then the rest of the year…eventually leading to running the Drama department and three full years being employed there.
That’s partly why returning to self-employment last September, felt like such a leap into deep waters. Thirteen years ago, my decisions affected nobody but myself. If a busy month was followed by a quiet month, I saw no need to panic. As long as I always knew I had enough to pay my rent and my bills, I was happy. Now I have a mortgage and the joys of grown-up financial commitments, it changes things slightly. I am lucky enough to be part of a relationship, with my partner and I sharing the responsibilities attached to keeping ourselves afloat. It isn’t just about me anymore, and while we will never be motivated by materialistic desires, we still need enough money to survive.
Somehow, coming out the other side of my three-year sabbatical in school, it seems the stakes are noticeably higher. I suppose it’s a good thing I’m no more risk averse than I was all those years ago, or I might have lost my bottle at the realisation of the precariousness of self-employment.
The Next Chapter
As my GSAL term drew to a close, interested colleagues would enquire ‘where next?’ I would answer honestly, explaining that I was now free to return to self-employment. No matter how wide my smile as I spoke, there was an inevitable ‘oh no’ that always followed my reply. Sometimes it was unspoken, but the horror in the eyes of everyone I told almost helps to remind me why I love it. As perverse as that may sound, it is true. It serves as confirmation of the unpredictability of my working life. The removal of those boundaries and restrictions which some people need to keep them feeling safe, opens the door to endless possibilities.
This kind of reflection and self-evaluation is, in fact, an essential part of any creative practitioner’s professional development. The new-found fear bubbling beneath the surface becomes the adrenalin that will propel me through the projects I take on. The raised stakes give me the nudge that perhaps it is time for my work to mature into a fully-fledged business. Then maybe I can graduate from Freelancer to Practitioner, giving me a slightly tighter grip on financial security than before, even if only in my mind.
Once the trepidation had been acknowledged, I felt excited all over again. I have spent the last few months all a-buzz with the opportunities which have presented themselves to me. I am blessed to have built up a good reputation, meaning introductions, recommendations and partnerships have all featured recently, each with the promise of new business.
The Perks of the Job
I have genuinely found myself relishing fewer restrictions and limitations on my out-of-the-box thinking. I am enjoying the freedom I have rediscovered in not having to do 50 miles of commuting daily. I am loving being able to devote the time, energy and clarity of thinking to my biggest project to date, while still having space to explore other avenues and build different creative partnerships.
Despite my limited technical nous, I have really enjoyed being involved in the design and construction of my brand new site. Dally from http://www.ideasthatwork.co has been a great source of inspiration to me, prompting me to to reflect on my aims and set realistic targets for myself. For the first time in my professional life, I have had career goals that I actually want to achieve.
It is safe to say that self-employment suits me very well indeed. Even so far down the line. The daily thrill of all these varied challenges, choices and the creative freedom I have rediscovered, far outweighs the stability of a monthly payslip in my pigeonhole. This is what life is all about. Life is too short not to focus on things that make us happy. So really, there is no decision to make – if we are lucky enough to love doing something, we owe it to ourselves to do it.
Watch this space – Inspire by EG. is finally standing on its own two feet. Follow this blog to keep up to date with all my projects, challenges and creative adventures. Something tells me there are good things on the horizon.