I never wanted to be an entrepreneur. Too risky. Too solitary. Too much work for too little reward. Moreover, I was never SO passionate about what I was doing that I wanted to work on it all.the.time. which is how I saw most entrepreneurs I knew. When I was a senior in college, I took a class on entrepreneurship. It fulfilled an elective requirement I needed, and met at a convenient time. It was a masters class, with a fun group of students, a good professor, etc. Most of the students in that class were there to work on their (already-hatched) business ideas, but the main thing I learned was, “Never in my life do I want to be an entrepreneur.” I went on to work for a large engineering firm, and then to graduate school – all with the aim of returning to the corporate world.
Did I ever mention that moving abroad takes all those life plans and tosses them out the window? When we decided to take the opportunity in Ireland, our understanding of Brad’s work permit was that it came with permission for me (his spouse) to work as well. Although that is technically true, I must have a work permit in order to work. To get a work permit, you must first get a job, and the vast majority of employers I spoke with only wanted applicants that had existing work permits, since the process takes about 12 weeks to obtain a new one. It was a Catch-22. I couldn’t get a job because I didn’t have a work permit, but the only way to get a permit was to get a job. When I finally obtained the all-important work permit, I ran into further problems. Most employers, when they saw “USA” on my application, assumed that I did not have permission to work, because I am not an EEA (European Economic Area) citizen. Never mind that I had the all-important permit, they couldn’t get past one line on the application! I have continued to apply for jobs with some success, but have not yet found the right opportunity. (As an aside, this experience of trying to get a job overseas has given me a completely new perspective on immigration issues.)
In an effort to not go stir-crazy with 3 kids under foot (hence the picture above, with the dollhouse for added effect), I started teaching myself how to design websites in WordPress. At first, it was just to tweak items on my personal site. Then I did a project for a local PR firm, and then another friend asked for help on her business’ site, and now I am working on several sites. Despite the frustration of looking for full time jobs, my freelance web design business has been growing – with very little advertising or effort on my part. Just word of mouth. As happy as I should be with this development, it makes me uneasy. Why is that? I guess I feel this way because I never considered going into business for myself at all, and certainly not in web design. I look at friends and former classmates, and I’m wistful for their careers. I see the life that I willingly stepped away from, for the chance to move overseas. Career path! Responsibility! Salary! Entrepreneurship is never where I expected to be, and sometimes feels like a waste of my skills. I struggle to decide – should I pour my energy into my freelance business, even though there are plenty of competitors out there? Should I expand my skill set with more coding skills, even though those tasks can easily be outsourced? I worry I don’t have enough passion, or insanity, to make this gig work. All the entrepreneurs I know are 150% invested in their work. What if I’m not? Is enjoying what I am doing, serving my clients well, and being happy with myself, is that enough? Or do I need to have the desire of world-domination? (Ok, probably not that.)
On the other hand, should I focus solely on my full time job search, and hope that someone will be able to look past my nationality, and see the value I could bring to their organization? If I were to decide to return to the full time workforce after a few years of freelancing, would employers discount my experience? I worry it could be viewed as “well that’s nice, but it’s not a real job”, but maybe I just don’t have enough faith in myself to sell it as a valuable experience – which it is! All of this leaves me with a conflicted relationship with freelancing. I worry that it is a waste of time because it doesn’t look like the career I always imagined. And yet, I really enjoy it because it challenges me in new and different ways.
For those of you who are entrepreneurs – are you comfortable in your decision? For those of you thinking about freelancing, what has held you back from jumping in?