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How much of ourselves should we bring to work?
Navigating self-employment through big personal changes
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I remember a time when we were not encouraged to bring our personal lives to work. Only our closest colleagues might know about the break-up, house move or tricky family situation going on at home. The expectation was that you carried on as normal. There certainly wasn’t any mention of mental health and wellbeing.
Thankfully the world of work has evolved and I can guarantee that every time I look at my LinkedIn feed, I will see personal posts from people in my network, and wellbeing-themed posts from companies I follow. Employers have changed. But what happens if you’re self-employed, like me?
Right now I’m coming out of a significant period of change in my personal life and it’s the first time that it has affected my work. When I realised how much this change was going to affect my focus, motivation and productivity, I had a decision to make: what do I tell my clients?
One of the reasons that I chose to have my own business was to take away the overwhelm of office politics and gossip and management. “I just want to focus on doing the work”, is what I told myself and my clients. This was fine, until I found myself spending a lot of time staring into a screen and basic tasks happening painfully slowly. Not to mention that many of my clients have known me for years, are former colleagues, have had cups of tea in each others’ living rooms and know the names and ages of our pets and children.
So, I decided on:
Full disclosure with my clients that I was going through some big personal changes (and as it happens, with my accountant and graphic designer and web developer).
Not taking on any new work for a few months. I didn’t market my business at all, I just focused on my existing client work.
This is what happened, and what I learned:
My clients were really understanding. Of course they were; my clients are all lovely people. It was 100% the right decision to be open and honest. Going forward, I will consciously choose to work with people and businesses where we can have these conversations.
Whether it’s divorce, bereavement, moving house or starting a family, the disruption and emotional impact of personal changes is huge. And everyone goes through this at some point in their lives. Most of the time, the upheaval is temporary. You just need to go into survival mode while you figure out your way through to the other side.
Where previously I’ve been able to throw myself into work during a personal crisis, or compartmentalise work and home, that just didn’t happen this time. And I felt pretty bad about that. Which I know I shouldn’t, but I did. That’s something to process and reflect on.
And finally, the fact is that if I don’t work, I don’t earn, so the financial implications of this period of my life were honestly not great. That’s the downside of self-employment. It was another reminder of the importance of having a f-off fund and business buffer in place.
To go back to the title of this post: how much of ourselves should we bring to work? The events of this year have changed me and my perspective on this.
There’s a balance between over-sharing every single detail of our personal lives and learning not to hide when something significant is going on behind the scenes. And the balance is not a fixed point.
So, yes I’ve been quiet and now you know why. I’d love to know how you’re doing - reply to this email or leave a comment below to say hello.