What is Self-Employment?

When you tell people you’re self-employed they tend to have one of two reactions.

“Oh, I’m sorry you’re not working. You’ll find something soon.”

Or …

“Wow, must be nice.”

Of course they didn’t say these things word for word, but those were the two prevalent opinions I came across whenever I used to tell people I worked for myself. It was infuriating at times and I got to the point where I would avoid answering the question just so I didn’t have to deal with trying to explain self-employment to people.

Working for yourself is harder than a traditional nine-to-five.

I get why and how people who have never done it view self-employment as they do. I understand there are plenty of people who say “self-employed” instead of unemployed and I know firsthand the outside-looking-in appeal of working for yourself.

The truth is far from what many people think though, and I’m going to tackle both opinions for you.

Unemployed Vs Self-Employed

First of all, there is a major difference between self-employed and un-employed. For instance, I just did a bit of work for a client – my first one since starting back – but I would still consider myself unemployed. I have no stable income, my car was repossessed, I can barely afford to eat daily and I’m looking at getting evicted soon. These are not the traits of an employed person.

However, should I start getting a steady string of clients and be able to dig myself out of my current financial sinkhole – which would take a miracle that would make walking on water look commonplace – then I would be officially self-employed. I’d be making money and paying my bills with the proceeds from my own business where I am the boss.

It doesn’t matter if I’m the only employee at my company. The IRS is still going to want a third of what I make, I’d still be waking up and working every morning, and my needs would be getting met through the work I did.

(Hopefully I’ll be able to speak in the present-sense sometime down the road, but for now these are goals I’m hoping to achieve so please bear with the tense for now.)

The Difficulties of Self-Employment

When most people think about self-employment they dream of being able to wake up whenever they want, work at whatever pace they want, and do whatever they want every minute of every day of their life. If that’s why you want to be self-employed, then self-employment isn’t for you.

The truth about self-employment is that you are the only thing forcing yourself to work. You can’t do nothing all day and expect someone to randomly pay you for it. You have to set aside the Playstation sitting in your room, hide the remote control and try to avoid Google and YouTube at all costs.

Most self-employed individuals work more than 40 hours a week. Yea, you don’t HAVE to work a nine-to-five, but when that midnight call comes in from a client over in Australia you better sober up quick and put on your professional pants before you lose a vital source of income.

And every source of income is vital when you’re self-employed. Yea that client may be an asshole, but if they’re willing to pay your rates then you better listen up and compartmentalize. You never know when January is going to roll around and half your clients are going to decide they no longer need your services. When you’re self-employed you have to constantly be looking for new clients, which means putting in more work than you’re actually paid for.

It’s stressful, it’s time consuming, and it very often doesn’t pay per hour nearly what an hourly position would. Being self-employed is about building something from nothing. Going out and getting your self-worth. It requires a ton of hard work with no recognition and more discipline than the average human being can muster.

I’m not saying I have these qualities. Hell, I’m pretty sure by now that I don’t. I find making new good habits incredibly difficult. (Making new bad habits is stupid easy.) I just wanted to hammer the point home and bring self-employment into a new light. Maybe now you at least better understand what it is I’m trying to do, and why the vast majority of people who try to become self-employed fail miserably at it.


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