So you’ve left the safety of your corporate fishbowl for the wide open deep waters of an independent career.
It’s both exhilarating and terrifying, and you need to be prepared. You can’t underestimate how important some of those things that you took for granted are and that you will miss most. Maybe you had a great benefits package and salary, but even if you didn’t you will probably have had other perks that you took for granted, like an IT department on tap (however much you complained about it) and an office that got cleaned every night.
But the single thing that is raised by most of the independents and freelancers that we talk to is the utter wrench of loss of status.
You leave behind your job title and your place on the ladder, and although logic tells you that it doesn’t matter, that its no longer necessary, your heart tells you otherwise.
What do you say when people ask you who you work for? Or even, who you are? For years, we have been defined by our jobs. It’s not that long ago that senior staff in organisations were deferentially referred to as Mr X or Mrs Y. If you are honest, your job is very often your identity.
In a ‘proper’ job, you usually have a job title. That job title confers status, position in the hierarchy and signals your relative success. Of course, you may have had a ridiculous job title. I’ve had a few of those in my life, but they still meant something – even if no one really knew what I did!
Most of us spend the vast majority of our time working. So, it’s no wonder we define ourselves by what we do at work. When you loosen the ties with the corporate job and go freelance, you break more than just the contractual link, you break habits and certainties. You have to recalibrate in a world that you don’t understand, and where you have to learn the new rules of engagement. For those of us who have stepped out of senior positions, it can make you feel very vulnerable indeed.
I spent most of my first year as a freelance using the phrase, ‘when I was at X company as a Blah blah director’ because I didn’t know how to say that I had over 25 years of experience and that’s why you should pay me for it.
The reality is that whilst self employment is rapidly becoming the career of choice, many still think about freelancing as something that people who can’t get proper jobs do. That’s why people hold onto job titles. It says ‘I’ve still got it’.
I wonder if that’s why we also find it hard as independents to label ourselves? Very few freelancers I know answer the question ‘what do you do?’ with a job title. Most describe themselves in multiple terms, reflecting the diversity of many modern independent careers. But maybe it’s also because we don’t want to commit to being one thing or another in case we are benchmarked in those terms.
Going solo will certainly mean that you have to define a new identity. But at least this time around it is your own to shape. The pressure of performing to meet the expectations of your level on the ladder or your job title are gone, and although they are replaced by new pressures, they are largely within your control.
You can start again. You can choose how you want people to view you and how success looks for you. You can change your mind and you and you can flex.
If you really want a job title – then give yourself one. That’s the beauty of working for yourself. There’s a great tool here if you want to have some fun with it.