December 13, 2017
When I first finished graduate school, I thought it’d be fairly easy to find a job. After all, I had a master’s degree — wouldn’t that give me a leg up on my competition?
Even if it did help in some ways, there were far too many others who had what I didn’t: more experience.
So instead, having applied to a slew of positions over the span of six months, I landed a part-time marketing internship that paid near minimum wage, working for an up-and-coming agency in downtown. I was beyond relieved to have a new opportunity (especially since my bank account was down to its last pennies and my credit card bills were sky high).
But one of the hardest parts wasn’t working in an industry completely new to me: it was re-training my mindset and sleep schedule to clock in hours during specific times of the day.
Every job I held prior to that point had had a more unique schedule. Evenings and weekends for retail and hospitality, morning and midday shifts in banking, one-hour classes at the university.
It also didn’t help that I’ve always naturally been more of a night person — staying up late to read the latest Harry Potter book as a kid, studying until 2 a.m. during high school, writing midnight poems for my college courses. How was I supposed to create new sleeping patterns for the first time in my life at age 24?
I just assumed it’s what everyone does. That this was “just the way it is.”
I was wrong.
The truth is this: life — and work — don’t have to fit one single structure handed down by mainstream society.
I spent the first two years out of graduate school pushing myself to wake up, drive an hour in bumper-to-bumper traffic to work, put in my time, and spend another hour driving home.
Between the hours I worked in the office, the commute, and the amount of time I spent at home in the evenings thinking about working, I was doing 50+ hour weeks with only a lot of stress, anxiety and limited income to show for it. I had a hard time turning my mind off and relaxing nearly every day. I would sleep like a rock at night from pure exhaustion. I was working hard, but hardly ever felt accomplished.
However, during that time, I was also lucky enough to have two jobs that occasionally allowed me to work from home.
What I learned on those work-from-home days was that I was not only more productive being away from the office chatter, but that I could also work at my own pace, and often with less stress. I didn’t have to hear the usual gossip, or the venting on a high-pressure day, or be called into last-minute meetings taking up an hour or more of my time on projects that were by and large in the hands of others.
In essence, I became the manager of my time.
This isn’t to say I never had (or have to this day) distractions. Social media and my pup, Bruiser, still get to me from time to time.
But working from my own comfortable home environment on those remote days gave me a level of freedom I didn’t have at the office. And when I got distracted and fell behind on work, it was by my own doing and I learned to make up for it. I also obtained a stronger set of time management skills.
Today, I am self-employed and work from home full-time. Although I typically work during most of the usual business hours, there are benefits I have now that I will never take for granted:
- Taking mental health hours or days when I need to
- Going out to breakfast or lunch with friends or family without worrying about getting back to work at a certain time
- Working late at night when I feel most inspired and creative
- Spending more time and energy on education and self-improvement
- Running errands in the middle of the day when most everyone else is at work
- Having flexibility in where my “office” is (home, a coffee shop, Panera…)
- Networking with other business owners several days a week
- Sleeping in without having to call out of work when I’m sick
- Working a variety of projects on any given day
And probably two of my favorites: no rush-hour traffic, and far more traveling.
In fact, I even forced myself to schedule a long weekend trip of hiking in Utah with one of my best friends. And it felt pretty great knowing that I could make up that time (if I needed to) by getting ahead of schedule beforehand, and catching up when I returned. All without ever having to put in a request for PTO.
Working remotely isn’t for everyone. But neither is commuting to the 9-5 life working for someone else. I believe we all should be continually striving to find the kind of lifestyle that suits us best as individuals, and our careers are a part of that choice.
I have discovered that I am my best self when I have more freedom to fulfill my dreams and grow my passions on my own terms. There’s simply nothing else quite like it.