The thought had crossed my mind several times, but I always managed to come up with excuses for myself: ”I don’t have enough money”, ”I’m not so fond of the people pleasing and oozing and smooshing that comes with it, I don’t know if I can deal with those parts of consulting”, ”I’ve struggled so hard to achieve my current title, who would I even be if I started from scratch all over again?”.
As you probably figured out: there was really no ending to my excuses.
So I continued on the path I was on. I changed from PR Consultant at the PR bureau to a role as Communications Manager at a listed company.
And it was fun!
Parts of the job really included everything that made me tick: tight deadlines, lots of adrenaline and pulse, a tight and fun team where I was fortunate to work closely with both management and the board of directors. It might perhaps not seem like such a big deal, so to understand it, you might have to add to the equation the small town, Jakobstad, where I grew up.
Things are changing over there now, but when I grew up, working within communications and large listed companies weren’t even on the map. It just wasn’t. f you were female and lived in Jakobstad, instead you were most likely to end up working as a cashier or customer advisor at your local bank, or perhaps work at a boutique or clothing store. This is of course not the truth about Ostrobothia and Jakobstad, but to the younger version of myself, back in the days: these seemed to be the only options if you stayed.
I still remember the day when I moved to Stockholm. It was a professional milestone for me.
For the first time in my life I was now able to conduct work and speak my own mother tongue! Had I kept living and working in Finland, I would have been forced to continue being someone else. (Or at least that’s what it feels like when you’re a Finnish Swede forced to speak Finnish at work). It’s just not the same thing and while working in Helsinki, I always felt as if half of my personality went missing everytime I tried to make myself understood in Finnish at work. That is: every day.
That was a little throwback. Now we’re going to jump back into 2017 again. So there I was then. Thriving at my new work, although 2013-2017 had been rough years for me. I had struggled to get my degree while still working 40 percent, I had broken up from a long relationship, moved into a new apartment, gotten the job at the PR bureau and so on. Quite a lot of changes. Positive changes, but still they take their toll on you.
More and more often, I found myself fantasizing about another kind of work life. Yet, I felt ashamed for doing it. I felt stupid. Why on earth had I been working so hard for what I had back then only to realize it no longer appealed to me? I didn’t know.
Then – very long story short as I’ve written about it before – things got really bad at work. I found myself in a situation I could no longer turn a blind eye to, got burnt out and whether I wanted or not, I realized I was actually sick.
I needed a break.
During this time not only was I forced to rest and start rebuilding my body and soul again, I also had to go through that soul searching hell that comes with that kind of crisis.
- Who was I? No fucking clue anymore without my title.
- Outside of work – what did I like to do? No one knew, turned out that I had not been doing anything else lately.
- What did I feel like doing? Nothing. Unless you count staring into the ceiling or watching old episodes of Melrose Place (they just don’t make great, crappy tv like that anymore!).
In order to make this post bearable for you, I will fast forward some processes for you here and get to the part where I decided to quit my job as communications manager.
And yup. I was crazy enough to do it while I was too sick to either think or work. Please note: I’m not writing this in order to include it as some pathetic ”strategic communication” part of the story. This just happened to be the way it turned out for me. I believe life does this for you. There’s signs and possibilities everywhere, but you must also act upon them. You must shut down all of those internal “what if” and “but wait a minute…” that you love to comfort yourself with. They are not going to get you anywhere.
Headhunters started to get in touch with me. I should have been flattered but all I felt was panic. All I knew was that I simply could not see myself going back to a corporate environment. At least not as an employee. I did not know how to dream anymore at this point of my life, but if I could have done it I guess I would have dreamed about freedom and some sort of balanced control in my life. I would have dreamed about bouncing back again and being able to feel happiness and professional fulfillment.
I didn’t know how to dream so I went for a more practical route instead. Took a course on how to get started with your own business, got the paperwork done. Then I panicked when I realized what I had just done. Then I panicked a bit more when I realized I was not well enough to get started as soon as I would have hoped.
Thus, even though I formally got my company started last spring, it would take until the end of the year until I started to be in shape to kick things off and get going as I wanted to. (Not that I did not work during the time i between, cause boy, has there been work to be done!).
Shitty strategies and USP’s – lessons learned
1. How to find clients
I’m still a newbie in this game, so I’m not going to take on any role of a business coach here, but at least I’ve learned one thing for certain: my way of getting customers differs a lot from the ”traditional” kind of way.
Sure, just like anyone else, I’ve got this site you’re currently visiting so you can find further information (if that’s what makes you tick). I also keep several social media accounts and hold myself accountable for also posting on these on a regular basis. Not to mention that I want to interact with others in these channels too. However, getting clients has typically happened through the most strange and spontaneous meetings in the most unexpected environments!
Sure, I’ve done my share of email pitching as well – and actually gotten results – but one of the biggest lessons for me has undoubtedly been that I must relearn to trust myself. I must learn to have faith in the fact that my weird personality combined with my professional experience is actually my strongest USP. Not trying to produce lame, clean cut mainstream posts that fits into society’s norms.
Perhaps you’ve also always felt like you don’t fit in? Perhaps you’ve also always been told that you’re too much and that you want to much and that you should have lower ambitions? Too driven and yada, yada, yada. Even though you might have a thick skin, hearing this all of the time – whether applicable or not or just coming from someone jealous – in the end it gets to you of course.
It got to me too. And so during my first year, I’ve done my share of trying out different strategies. Both IRL and online. Needless to say: trying to enter into some “neutral business version” of yourself is a shitty strategy. Don’t waste your time on it. My advice to both you and myself for that matter, would have to be to stop taking yourself so damn seriously.
Take your work seriously and make sure you deliver on time. Forget about trying to fit yourself into some well thought out business costume or persone. You already know the answer: you’re too much of a human for it. It won’t fit.
2. You will be too much for some of your friends and co-workers
Sadly, your first year in business will also have some people come clean. Even though you will be struggling and there won’t be so much for your peers to be jealous about in the beginning, jealousy will arise. Isn’t it funny how people these days love to like, love and comments famous entrepreneurs post and initiatives? In reality, your changed career path will be too much for some of the persons you might have considered friend or at least industry connections. The good ones will stay. The bad ones will find you embarrassing to deal with and try to pretend they don’t know you anymore. You can not count on their support.
But on the other hand…
The Law of Attraction effect
Changing my career while also working hard on changing and improving my own mindset has brought amazing people into my life this year. Daring to post uncomfortable texts, posts and updates has given me an even thicker skin and helped me sort out my own way forward. I know it sounds like the oldest cliché in the world, and you might not feel like it at all, but please try to give this “trust the process” thing a go.
Which leads me to the next lesson:
3. Keep going (especially when you feel silly)
I feel silly most of the time. I may be recovered physically from my burnout, but the emotional scars are still there. Ready to bleed at the most inconvenient times. This is however not a rational feeling.
The rational, professional part of myself already knows this. But I believe we have to tell ourselves to keep going at least maybe 100-150 times per week.
For example: I got my first paycheck as a writer when I was 13. I’m 32 now and every time I hit a “publish” button on the web, I still have to fight my urge to run into the closet and hide. This is not a rational behaviour, but who said humans are rational? I try to battle back.
So I keep going.
The good part? Every time you conquer yourself, there will be results. It may not look like you intended it too. That blog post you wrote may turn out completely different from that perfect image you had of it. Still: you wrote it. It might not be trending this instant, but perhaps within six months, your post might be exactly what someone else needed to read and provide you with an unexpected business opportunity.
In the end, it’s just like a workout. The ones that matter are the ones that get done. Simple as that.
4. Track your time
At some point on, you will of course feel the imposter syndrome creep up on you. You’ll feel lost as if you’re just pretending to “play business”, especially when working on the more creative parts of your business. Use Toggle to track your time!
Not only will you see that you’re not at all playing around, but you’ll also get a realistic grip on how much time certain tasks do require. This will give you an advantage when you prepare your tenders and you’re able to set your rates and calculate hours in a more business focused way.
Remember and repeat – it’s your business. Not a hobby project.
What about that life quality I mentioned in the beginning then? Well, thank you for asking. I used to live in order to work. Nowadays, I actually have a life too. It’s worth mentioning here as I’m by no means the only one suffering and recovering from a burnout.
With regards to recovery and coping strategies, those are a chapter of themselves, but somehow I’ve slowly, slowly managed to experiment and find a work rhythm that works for me. Turns out, I do some of my best work on Saturdays or Sundays, which no longer needs to be an issue as I can plan my workload in accordance with my natural rhythm.
Mondays are no longer anxiety for me as I’m not forced to sit through painful meetings and have no control over my work week. Instead, I prefer to start my week by having a slow Monday.
I find that this is what works best for me. Enough sleep, a sweaty workout at the gym or a long walk to get fresh air and circulate my creativity – these are typically the elements that I like to include on a Monday morning. It does not necessarily mean that I will be slow-tuning all day, on the contrary.
But relieving my brain from all the unspoken and invisible requirements of how a Monday is ”supposed” to get started, that I used to have in a corporate environment, has truly worked wonders for my productivity and overall wellbeing.
Oh. By the way.
I’ve been thinking I might just call P someday and tell her she was right.