This year has been a reminder that working for yourself is both wonderful and incredibly challenging at the same time. The comparison between full-time vs working for yourself isn’t what some people make it out to be.
Simply put, there are pros and cons for each. It’s why I went back full-time a couple years ago and was happy to do so at the time. I’ve said before, embarking on an entrepreneurial venture isn’t for everyone; it’s a choice with its fair share of ups and downs. And it’s why either my husband or I may choose to go back into a full-time role at some point in the future.
Here are some thoughts on full-time vs working for yourself from the perspective of someone who has done both over the years.
These considerations may be helpful for those of you considering taking the leap as a freelancer, entrepreneur or business owner or working at a full-time job.
This is the first and biggest consideration for most people. Really, the best part about a full-time job is the certainty that comes along with it. There’s an undeniable sense of security that comes from knowing the set income you’ll receive each month. Oh, and health insurance is another big one. My husband and I are in pretty good health, have generally low medical costs and don’t currently have children, so it’s a bit easier for us in the healthcare department.
Looking back, I’m grateful I had a full-time job with great benefits lined up after college.
Working in corporate taught me a lot, and also allowed me to be able to afford necessities, experiences and assets that I wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise. Without working full-time for the years we did, my husband and I wouldn’t have been able to save the amount we have in our retirement accounts, buy a house, own our car, and travel to the places we did, among other things. Those years working full-time set us up to better weather the ups and downs that come when you work on your own—not just financially but also from the greater experience and maturity level.
The first time going on my own was challenging, and looking back, a large part of it was for emotional reasons. It felt terrifying not having the security of consistent income but still having bills to pay each month. I’d feel this dread deep down, and experience moments of panic as my internal dialogue ranted on about debt and disaster.
It gets easier though. Each year that passes, I develop more tolerance. Each year that passes, my husband and I have more experience and a more sustainable foundation built. The entrepreneurial path isn’t easy, but each year adds another layer to the business.
The lack of financial certainty can also be a source of motivation, but it needs to be at a threshold that will depend on the individual.
If you’re too stressed about finances, that’s no good for your sanity or productivity. If you’re too comfortable, well, that can lead to complacency, a lack of urgency and little to no growth. I’ve found that there needs to be a delicate balance between the two, and it’s one that my husband and I have walked for the past several years.
Location, location, location
Where you physically work is also important. Many full-time jobs require a commute, and many people desire a shorter commute rather a longer one. There are many studies that show the commute to work is the worst part of the day.
One of the benefits when people work for themselves is the ability to work from home whenever they want.
There’s no commute and more flexibility on when you wake up and what you wear. But I’ve realized having an office builds more of a distance between home and work.
While I’ve brought work home on many occasions when working full-time, work and home blur together far more when you work for yourself. There’s more time spent working from home, first of all. You are also more invested, and that makes it harder to establish boundaries that are healthy—particularly at the beginning as an entrepreneur newbie.
Turns out having a physical space for work is more important than I thought it was. I’ve observed that many freelancers, consultants and business owners who have been doing this for awhile end up finding an office space outside of home to do their work.
The lines that are more definitely drawn when working full-time blur when you begin working for yourself. As mentioned, work location has a lot to do with it, but it also goes beyond that.
When more of your life becomes a choice, it takes more awareness and intention to appreciate it.
When I was working full-time, cooking at home was a treat. It was something that I didn’t get to do very often. Relaxing at home on the weekends was also more enjoyable. I felt like I actually spent time relaxing at home, as opposed to simply being at home regardless whether I was working, cooking, writing, cleaning or relaxing.
With everything mixed in together, it was harder to feel the extremes that make life more vibrant and distinctive. For me, it took more intention to fully appreciate the freedom and choice, and to create those greater extremes for myself.
Working with others
The benefit of working for yourself is you have greater control over who you work with. You decide what projects to take, who to partner and collaborate with, and who to hire. Maybe not all the time, but there’s far more flexibility on working with others than if you were a full-time employee at a company.
Working with others can be frustrating at times, but when you work for yourself, it often gets lonely. The exception maybe being when you have a team of people working for you—but even then, the dynamic is different from having a team of colleagues all working under a boss.
It’s fun to bounce ideas off and joke around with a team of people. Working hard towards a project outcome with others feels rewarding. It creates the feeling of being part of something bigger.
My husband and I are currently working together, which has its upsides but can certainly make for some challenging moments. Not only are we partners in life, we’re business partners, workout partners and adventure partners. That gives a whole lot of things to potentially clash over—from the dishes, way to approach a project, to what to prioritize in work and life.
Hands down, the best part of working for yourself is the flexibility you have over your schedule. I thoroughly enjoy not waking up to an alarm clock on most days.
You decide what your hours are, where you work, and what projects to take on. There’s no need to check in with your manager about a doctor’s appointment or taking off earlier in the day to run an errand. There’s not a certain number of vacation days or times when vacation days aren’t allowed.
It’s really all up to you. And that’s part of the challenge.
Not having or having less external pressure can be a good or bad thing. There are some of us who benefit from having a certain amount of external pressure. It creates structure, schedule and a level of productivity that may not happen if we were left on our own. While I was happy to leave my corporate finance job back in 2014, I credit a lot of my work methodology and organization to the years I spent in the job.
There’s a required amount of discipline and learning about what works for you when you embark on your own. There will be times when you overwork yourself, and when you overdo the flexibility and realize that you’re not getting anything done. It’s all part of the self-discovery and learning that comes with the more uncertain path.
All on you
While there may be less external pressure from a boss and coworkers, there’s more internal pressure to make it work when you’re building your own business. It can be an incredibly vulnerable and raw feeling to be in the spotlight.
Putting yourself out there, choosing something different from the traditional path, having to explain what you’re doing to friends and family questioning your choice—these all take a toll.
What I’ve learned is self-care is really important on a mental, emotional and physical level particularly when you’re embarking on a new path.
There were days in the earlier years when I wanted to shrivel up from the feelings of self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and fear of failure. There were days I could barely get out of bed. I wanted to wave a white flag and go back to the security and anonymity of being part of a large company. When I simply didn’t want to continue on the up and down, unpredictable and nerve-wracking adventure I was on.
Yep, the pressure is real. Created in our minds and amplified by worry, the internal pressure can really test our resolve and inner strength. But the pressure results in major meaningful growth and change. And in retrospect, it’s been completely worth it.
It took my husband and me several years, along with some trial and error, to figure out ways to make it work while not going crazy during the process. We’re still figuring it out, and with each week and month that passes, we’re slowly and consistently adding to our foundation.
I take full responsibility for this one, but I’ve found I take less trips and time for fun than when I worked full-time. While there were a couple of years working full-time when I regularly worked over seventy hours a week and on the weekends, I eventually built better boundaries. I got to the point when I no longer worked on the weekends and fully disconnected when I was on vacation.
I’ve struggled to totally take time off since working for ourselves this year.
During moments when I want to take a break, it’s difficult to truly relax and turn the brain off. Since my husband and I have been working together, it can be a struggle not to talk about work when we’re walking through the park with the dog or enjoying a beverage out on the patio.
We’ve actually traveled less this year while working for ourselves than when we were working full-time in previous years. Part of it is due to budget—we can’t afford to be traveling around a bunch each month. Another part is due to our pup—we just don’t want to leave the little guy and taking him along can get pricey and more complicated. But it’s also because we’ve learned that we don’t work as well when we travel.
We could take a drive to a neighboring town if we wanted. A quick flight to a city we haven’t visited before during the week. These are all low-commitment options that we could well afford, and have thought about incorporating into our lives. But our focus right now is on building the business, and we both know that the disruption that travel introduces isn’t conducive to the work we need to do. A recent three-week trip to Taiwan to spend quality time with my family was well worth it, but definitely took away from the new initiatives we launched this year. It’s hard to prioritize time off when we both know there’s so much to be done.
Having dedicated time for work and dedicated time for fun are both important though. And that’s one thing I didn’t realize I already had when working full-time.
It was easier to disconnect and take time off fully when I was working full-time, because there were coworkers and other people on the team. The success of the project and the job wasn’t completely dependent on me. There’s simply more on the line and on the mind when you’re working for yourself. Perhaps this may change as more time passes and with our ability to hire a team of people in the future, but we’ll see.
So there you go, my thoughts on working full-time vs working for yourself. My husband and I have done a combination of both over the years to get to where we are now this year, working together on building our business. There are definitely benefits and a time and place for each approach. Hopefully these thoughts are helpful for those of you intentionally designing and building the life you want.