Here’s a brief little peek into my work history…
- I hated school and dropped out of high school in Grade 8. I had never wanted to go to university – because I wasn’t interested in any of the traditional careers that seemed to be on offer there. I wanted to be in the creative industry.
- I spent 3 years at a technical college (mostly to satisfy my family’s requirement that I complete my N3 – supposedly a matric equivalent). It was a complete waste of time and money. There were typing classes… and even “decorum” classes (I kid you not). They had feeble (and unchallenging) art classes too. I won 3 art trophies while there… and hated the rest.
- I had always wanted to go to art school… my mother had her reasons for not sending me. I’m still not sure what they were.
- After college, it was time to “Get-A-Job”. My “Education” was now complete… and now I needed to *get* a *job* – as was expected. At the time, nobody seemed to think much about generating an income whilst doing something that you actually liked or enjoyed. It was almost a ‘given’ that you’d hate your job and count the days down until Friday.
- So I got a job… at a big courier company. I worked in Operations and needed to track lost parcels. I was beyond bored and loathed it with every inch of my being. I used to doodle greeting cards and daydream. Unsurprisingly, I was fired.
- After that, I flitted around working at different jobs (all of which I hated with a deep passion). Dental assistant… receptionist at a hospital… sales representative for company distributing plugs and extension cords… assistant to personnel consultant (and typer of many CV’s)… sales secretary at another courier company… driver… a long list of awfulness, bad pay and boredom…
- Smack in the middle of all that, I got married at the age of 19 to husband-number-one. And that was a wake-up call of note. Previously, I had been living at my parents’ home and eating their food. My small salary went towards work clothes and commuting expenses – but the rest was kinda like pocket money. I could spend it where I wanted. Suddenly, I was married at age 19… living in a tiny flat in the shitty part of town. Suddenly there was rent to pay, groceries to buy, water & lights, telephone, car payments, hire purchase payments… and more. Suddenly, I couldn’t afford to be fired… or to quit (so easily)… I was forced to stick with those jobs I hated – because now there were bills to pay.
- But I was miserable. And I hated it… and I desperately yearned to be doing something meaningful… something that suited my natural design – my natural talents.
- So – in my free time – I created lots of art and illustrations and I made a portfolio. And I sent out this portfolio to advertising agencies and other creative companies in an attempt to show people that I had a creative gift – that I could draw!
- But the agencies said: “Sorry! We need people with experience!”… (which was very frustrating for me because how could I gain experience if nobody was willing to employ me?)
- So – I applied for a secretarial position at a public relations company (because at least I had secretarial experience!)… and while there, I befriended the people who worked in the ad agency next door… and I started showing my illustrations to the creative director… and then I took a big risk: I offered to work for free (for the ad agency) – just so that I could gain ‘experience’…
- The creative director accepted my offer (and paid me R800 / $80 a month for commuting expenses). It was the first time that I actually looked forward to going to work… it was the first time that I actually enjoyed what I did.
- There were a couple of people in my family who were horrified. How – they wanted to know – could I quit the sensible, well-paying job of secretary… and work – for *gasp!* FREE… for an advertising agency?? They let me know – in no uncertain terms – that it was very, very stupid and irresponsible of me.
- But – that job provided the foot in the door that I had needed. From there, I was employed as Junior Graphic Designer at the local newspaper. I walked to work every day – and I loved my job. The salary was still pretty minuscule (R1450 / $145 per month) – but, at least I wasn’t working for free.
- While at the newspaper, I enrolled in evening courses to learn new computer graphics software so that I’d be better equipped in my chosen industry.
- Then – I was employed at another big marketing agency (with a much higher salary). The company was an hour’s commute from home – so, because my salary was higher, I decided to buy my first car – a second-hand Volkswagen Golf.
- … and – after just a few months at this company, I decided to take another risk: I wanted to work for myself. I wanted to be my OWN boss. I didn’t want to ask for leave any more… or have to commute to work… or have other people tell me what to do all day. I wanted to make my own way and build my own path… so I quit (again, much to the horror of the relatives!)…
- And I took out a loan – and I purchased a computer, big screen, laser printer, scanner and graphics software (which, at the time, were MUCH more expensive than what they are today)… and started a little business from the spare room in my house called “The Ad Factory”.
- Again – it was like being thrown in the deep end. I certainly wasn’t an established, knowledgeable, senior Graphic Designer. I knew NOTHING about printing and reproduction. I knew nothing about installing or importing fonts. I didn’t know what a vector image was… or the difference between TIFF, JPEG or PNG. I was very very green around the gills.
- But… I had creative talent, lots of ideas… and I was very determined (stubborn might be a better word). I went to a big printing company whom I had worked with in one of my previous jobs – and asked them to mentor me… and they did. They graciously explained the entire process and what was needed of me. In return, I used them for all my print work.
- I learned on the hoof. It was sink or swim – so I learned to swim.
That was back in 1993.
For the past twenty years, I have been working for myself. Over the years, the work has ebbed… and flowed… and changed… and evolved.
And yes… working for myself… working from home… has become so normal to me – that the very IDEA of having a boss, or someone who tells me what to do every day, or a long morning commute to an office, or having to ask someone permission for leave… is SUCH a foreign concept to me that I tend to forget that most people (out there) have “day jobs”.
I’ve forgotten what a “day job” actually is.
It seems like a lifetime ago… when I worked for horrible bosses… that I drove to work and back in rush hour traffic… that I counted the seconds-hand ticking on the clock on the office wall… that Friday was like a beacon of hope and Monday was like a grim death sentence.
Obviously – I am NOT inferring that everybody hates their jobs. I know a lot of people who find genuine fulfilment and enjoyment in what they do (which I think is awesome – and necessary – and needed!)…
But – I can certainly relate with the countless people who DON’T enjoy their jobs… and especially with those who truly hate their jobs. I was there. I get it.
Sometimes, I wonder what would have happened if I hadn’t made these two important decisions:
If I didn’t take the risk… and leave the well-paying secretarial job and offer my services to the Creative Director of an Ad Agency (for free). That was a turning point in my life. It was my foot in the door into the creative industry – the place I really wanted to be. It was NOT an easy decision – trust me! My husband and I had to make a number of sacrifices in order to manage the significant drop in monthly income. But where would I be if I didn’t make that decision all those years ago? Where would I be if I just continued… indefinitely… with the secretarial position (regardless of how much I hated it)… because, at least it was *safe*… and predictable… (?)
And I wonder what would have happened if I didn’t take the risk… and leave a very comfortable position at a very nice company… to leap into the deep end and start working as a freelance designer from home. Would I have just continued… indefinitely… working for other people? Would I still be working for other people’s businesses today?
Those two decisions formed my the direction that my life would take in major ways. For a start, I have done a lot of long-term travelling over the years (something that would have been impossible with a normal job)…
And I can educate my kids at home… and we can travel as nomads… and we have the freedom to live life as we choose.
So… when people say: “You are so lucky to be able to work from home”…
I must admit… I feel a bit annoyed.
Because luck infers that this way of life somehow… magically… luckily… dropped from the heavenlies and landed in my lap.
But it never landed in my lap.
I chose to work from home (all those years ago)… and it’s a choice I continue to make. And yes – it comes with it’s own set of challenges and sacrifices too… (anyone who works from home will agree wholeheartedly with me – it’s certainly not a bed of roses… and also not for the faint-hearted!)
But it’s not luck.
It’s a choice we both made years ago (Nick – obviously – has his own work-from-home story. He’s a freelance cinematographer and editor now… but he actually has a university degree in computer science and spent the first few years of his career working for big corporations as a programmer…)
So – that’s my story.
These days, things are a bit different. I still work on various projects (usually in the evenings while the kids sleep… or at kid-friendly restaurants and coffee shops – while the kids play) – but, my primary role is “Mom” and “Teacher”. If you’ve read my Bathtub Moment post – you’ll know the story of how I built a significantly-sized home business… and then gave it all up for a simpler and more meaningful life.
Nick is the main breadwinner of our family. He works really, really hard – but, thankfully, he really enjoys what he does. Also, his filmmaking affords us the opportunity to travel (bonus!)…
Sometimes I wonder where we’d be… where he’d be… if he didn’t quit that (very!) well-paying corporate job – and buy his first camera…
It’s all about the choices we make… isn’t it?
PS: The photo at the top of the page was taken in December 2003 (before Nick and I were married). I was working in my home studio during the festive season – and feeling a bit bogged-down by deadlines.