What my success and accomplishments have cost me
As I am slightly more active on Instagram than I have been in the past, I am getting a lot of real-time feedback and comments that I normally don’t get on the blog. I feel like I blog here, a few people comment and then … *tumbleweeds….crickets*
On Instagram, it is INSTANT. Instant messages, comments, shares.. it can become overwhelming, but that said, it is equal parts rewarding and frustrating.
Obviously as on the blog, I post mostly about successes. I don’t talk much about the mistakes and the blood, sweat and tears and I am going to, today.
The headlines on this blog or my IG that you see are:
Freelancer’s $260,000 a year income
Worked 54% of the time
Cleared $60K of debt in 18 months
What you don’t see, is all the work that went into getting to that point, and I think that is a disservice to not talk about it or take it into account.
None of this stuff, as we all know, happens by magic overnight. If it did, we’d all be in the same position.
There are quite a few things I have sacrificed, risks, and decisions I have made to get to where I am, and a few of the major ones that come to mind are:
Freelancer’s $260,000 a year income!
I took a risk to become a freelancer and I quadrupled my income in this one move, but before that even happened I was wracked with stress, uncertainty and guilt.
The day I quit my job, shut down the laptop and basically rage quit the company, I wondered WTF I did in my next breath.
I only had $2000 saved in my bank account as an emergency fund (I did not plan to quit, I RAGE quit on impulse), and I still had outstanding student debt to cover each month that would eat those savings up like candy in 3 months.
I started making What If scenarios. You know, the kind where you write:
- What if I don’t get a contract?
- What if no one wants to hire me if I decide to go back to being an employee?
- What if this was a terrible decision? I literally torched that bridge.
I was exhilarated when I did it, but then I panicked later on that night.
I couldn’t sleep. Tossed, turned, basically turned into a mute plagued by self-pity, doubt and imposter syndrome for the whole entire weekend. Two torturous days, or 48 hours of complete stress.
It was a MIRACLE when Monday I got a call, and later that week, I signed my first contract at an amount I couldn’t have dreamed before in my life, and within a month, cleared all my student loans, and healthily headed into the black.
That risk was stressful – quitting a stable well-paying job while still in student debt, with only 2 years of experience and $2000 in savings with no real backup plan except to get another job at another firm if things didn’t work out in the next month or so. I am sure I sprouted 2 new white hairs as a result of it.
Worked 54% of the time
That’s the sexy headline.
What you don’t know about that other 46% of the time I didn’t work, is that more than half of that was unplanned, and each time I did plan to take time off, I had stress and anxiety about turning down contracts.
The two most memorable times of when I had taken time off and consciously are these:
1. When I took that year off to travel
It was right after my debt clearing, and just before the 2009-2010 recession hit and ALL the contracts dried up. No one was doing any projects or work, everything was in turmoil.
Literally, I could not have taken it at a worse time. I took my yearlong YOLO (You Only Live Once) vacation with my partner after turning down contracts for over $200K a year, and when our trip was over, I was ready to work and couldn’t for the next year and a bit.
You may be thinking: Oh but then you just chill out right? And just wait for something!
No no no my friend…. I was anything but f*cking CHILL at that point in my life. I had maybe $70K at the time when I went on vacation, spent about $20K of it YOLO’ing around the world traveling on a shoestring budget and loving it, and when I got back, I had $55K or so.
I had it all invested at the time, with barely a penny in cash. As the markets were crashing, I had to sell my investments off, piece by piece to get money to just pay for rent and basic expenses.
I was selling investments as they were plunging into the red. It was a scary time.
I FELT what it was like to be retired right at the time the markets around were imploding.
To add on top of it all — I had no idea when I would get my next contract, and indeed, after a year of waiting, I even started interviewing to be an employee again but directly at a client rather than for a company. Luckily, they hated me because I am a young woman (this industry is kind of misogynistic), and I ended up finding a contract just after that made me about $130K in 10 weeks, so it worked out.
But before all that? Stress. Anxiety. Nail-biting.
I had literally TURNED AWAY $$$$ CONTRACTS the day I was leaving for that yearlong YOLO vacation, and now I was kicking myself for not postponing it to a better time (like DURING a recession!!!) to have traveled instead.
I had no crystal ball to see in the future if I would be okay or not (if I could go back and tell myself a few things, one of them would be to relax, the other is to keep more cash next time and the third would be to not bother with boyfriends who are clearly losers.)
2. When I had Little Bun
When I found out I was pregnant, I was 6 weeks along and about to go on a trip, feeling like DEATH. He was an unexpected, happy surprise. But as all mothers know, you are tired the first trimester, I luckily was not nauseous, but I had no energy at all.
There was no way I was going to take a contract, and add stress on top of the pregnancy, so I didn’t. I just didn’t work, and by that time, I had a good chunk of money saved, and learned my lesson from before with that whole cashflow thing.
(FYI — Canada does not cover freelancers on maternity leave before or after as I do not pay into Employment Insurance (EI). Once you opt into EI you cannot ever opt out of it, and unless you have 3 children the cost-benefit of paying into EI and having maternity leave is really not worth the premiums)
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about money all the time. I was seeing my money slowly drain each month from living and not working, and it was very hard to let go, mentally.
Even today, I find it hard to let go and just not work. I have to really be strong to do that, and to remind myself that it is actually… fine. It is FINE TO NOT MAKE MONEY ALL THE TIME.
After I gave birth, I was calculating how long I had to be at home before I could go back to work (3 months was my estimate, and my partner was alarmed I didn’t want to take more time off to heal from my C-section).
I had an opportunity for a contract in Toronto but had to turn it down (this was painful) because we were settling in Montreal and we had also agreed that neither of us would travel any longer while we had Little Bun growing up at home as we didn’t want to be living consultant widows.
I had no idea when I would get my next contract. Truly NO CLUE. Again, cue anxiety, stress… money draining out of my bank accounts bit by bit, a little baby sucking all my energy and willpower, and sleep deprivation on top of it all.
I finally got a contract when he was 7 months and that really put me into a comfortable, and secure position financially.
It was only in the past 5 years that I have actually been able to let go and relax… to be able to truly say “No” to a contract and mean it.
Cleared $60K of debt in 18 months
So you know the story of how I cleared the last tail end of my debt so quickly by increasing my income by a significant amount, but what you don’t know is before that.
Yes, I had negotiated an increase in my salary when I started going from $50,000 to $65,000, which was a good boost and a smart move, but then I worked like a dog.
I am talking 60 – 100 hour workweeks. I was in the office early, out past 9 p.m.
I was so green, learning and stumbling, I almost wanted to quit. Yes REALLY. QUIT. This (now) dream career of mine, was anything but a dream when I started. I was so exhausted everyday from mentally pushing myself that I didn’t really see myself staying in something so stressful.
It was only by the saving grace of other consultants who told me to stick with it because it was not indicative of the average work-life balance of most projects, that I saw the wisdom in their words, and did so.
Plus, my partner whom I met during this time, told me that this was one of the best areas to be in, in his opinion. He explained briefly about the supply, the demand, and then just how hard it is to understand, so a lot of people quit or can’t hack it. He told me that he saw I understood and I had the right mindset and intelligence needed to succeed, and if I stuck with it, it would be worthwhile.
I listened to all of that advice, and I am so glad I did, but don’t forget — I ALMOST QUIT THIS JOB.
What you also don’t know, is that for the first half of my career, I didn’t see the point in keeping my expensive $1800/month apartment that I was never in because I traveled all the time. So I gave it up, moved my things into my parents’ for storage or sold it all, and lived out of a suitcase.
I stayed in hotels the whole time I was on a project, and the company covered the per diem and the hotel (food and shelter basically, your two biggest budget expenses), and I socked away up to 90% of my net pay into my student debt.
The other 10% went to investing and incidental spending, as I was doing the employer retirement plan match at 100%.
This sounds like a great headline doesn’t it?
MODERN NOMAD PUTS 90% OF PAY INTO STUDENT DEBT!
…but again, what’s underneath that you don’t hear or see is how desperately lonely I was for months.
I was alone in unfamiliar cities, living out of a suitcase without my things or my clothes (and you know how much I love fashion), trying not to spend a single penny because I had student debt to pay (it was rough in the beginning, I was still spending $500/month on clothes until I woke up and realized I was not helping my situation).
I was alone on weekends. I was the only consultant who didn’t go back, so I didn’t see friends or family for about 2 long years.
I even lived in a trailer once, because I was in between projects and had no place to stay and it was the cheapest option – 300 square feet, outhouse (I had to leave the trailer in the middle of winter to go to the main area to bathe and use the washroom, even in the middle of the night).
I was shoveling a fkton of money into my student debt, and it sounds glamorous to live in a hotel, but it is very lonely.
Plus you get fat from eating out so much because you can’t cook your own food.
Lots of people right now wish they could have done the same thing and I get it, but it sounds a lot easier than it really was. It was in that time that I started blogging about money on my old blog which I sold off during my pregnancy with Little Bun, and that was really the only thing that kept me going – that online community of readers, and just posting thoughts.
It’s the Freelancer’s Dilemma: I struggle with taking time off when I am on contract because every day I do not work, I lose money.
Every day I am sick or need personal time off, I LOSE MONEY.
Then when I am off contract, I struggle with not working. I mean I am fine for the first few months but then panic starts to set in.
I am somewhat able to control that contracting panic now because I don’t need as much money as I did before (house paid, car paid, good amount of money saved now), but it still creeps up on me.
I hope this has helped give you a peek behind the scenes. A lot of what you see as successes, are just the headlines. You haven’t seen behind the scenes all of the long nights, the anxiety, the stress, the sleeplessness and total uncertainty of it all that permeates into your life and psyche.
Nothing happens overnight, and sometimes, it may not be worth what you think it is.