Is Self-Employment Right For You?

My first office job came about after I had quit working at Starbucks. Sick of constantly smelling like burnt milk and coffee grinds, I had decided that a desk job would suit me just fine. I landed a cushy assignment as a Logistics Coordinator for a training company. I also had lupus, an auto-immune disease that largely affects young women. Outwardly, I looked in robust health, but I had a daily regime of medications, was in constant pain and was often tired.

Even though it was the desk job I thought I wanted, I never had the energy to go out afterward and barely visited my family. I gave everything to the job. I wasn’t thrilled, but I thought that’s what “real” jobs entailed and shrugged it off. Everything changed when the news came that our company had been bought. Since the buying company already had a logistics division, mine was dissolved. The rest of my co-workers quickly found other jobs, but I stayed on, figuring that once I got the boot, I could take my severance and take a bit of a vacation. It didn’t work out that way, though. After a month of doing the work of my whole division and flying out to train my replacements, my illness erupted and I was hospitalized. My kidneys were permanently damaged, but luckily didn’t fail completely. Even after I was released, I was under intensive medical treatments that further decimated my strength. After that, self-employment seemed the only viable type of employment for me.

While not everyone turns to self-employment for such drastic reasons, more and more it’s becoming an alternative for people who deal with a long-term illness and want more control over how and when they work. But the myth of self-employment being a free and easy lifestyle is just that – a myth. There are serious benefits to working for yourself, but there are also serious drawbacks, especially when you also have a full-time illness. Before jumping on the self-employment bandwagon, here are some of the realities I discovered after I hung out my shingle.

Saying that you could have erratic hours is a understatement, however it can be both a con and a pro. My best energy is around 9am or 10am, after I’ve taken my medication, so that’s when I start my work. If I’m not feeling my best, I can take the day slowly or start later. On the negative side, without a firm sense of self-drive, “quick” distractions can easily translate into last-minute marathons that leave you exhausted. There’s also time spent on research, marketing, networking and chasing down payments. If the possibility of roller-coaster hours stress you out, then the less-than-predictable life of a freelancer might not be the best option for you.

You’re on your own, baby.  Probably the most crucial part about being self-employed while having a chronic illness is where to get and how to pay for health insurance. While insurance can be a huge expense, going without any coverage can be even more risky. And it’ll be that much harder to impress all your future clients if you feel miserable. Spend a few months tallying up your medical expenses; how many medications you take, what doctors you see, dental check-ups and any other costs you have. If you ask, any pharmacy will give you the retail price of your medications and your doctor’s office should be able to provide their full price for your visits. This kind of information will help you get a more accurate idea of what your health care really costs and how that cost stacks up against various health insurance plans.

Home is where the work is. When I tell people that I work from home, they seem to picture me in an overstuffed armchair, sipping champagne with a purring cat in my lap as I lazily type away on my laptop. I spend more time cleaning my home office then I do working in it. For over a month, my next door neighbor was doing apartment renovations which meant I was treated to a daily symphony of saws, hammers and drills. I also didn’t need to be told that another neighbor has a grandchild – I can hear the kid crying though the walls. It was actually a pleasure to work in a client’s office and have some quiet for a change. While there are lots of ways to make a home office comfortable, there are also many things that will be out of your control. If your environment will cause more strain than anything else, budgeting for an alternative, such as a co-working station might be a good middle ground.

But while there is more work that comes with self-employment, there are very strong benefits as well. Having more control over my workload and schedule means that I’m free to work at my best, instead of pushing myself on someone else’s schedule. Having total control over my environment is a huge plus as well. If my joints are more sore than usual, I can break out a heat wrap or take a stretching break every ten minutes without worrying about a boss who might think I’m not up for the job. If I have a creative block, I can go for a walk or take my tablet to the park and work from there for a few hours. If I get sick, I can focus on healing, instead of worrying about how many sick days I have left or if my boss might fire me.