BenLeander_ Visual Design

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I’ve never had a normal job: My journey away from 9-to-5

When my studies came to an end and I was gonna have to find a job soon, I had to ask myself: How could I combine upkeeping my personal freedom with a 9-to-5 job? And was that what I wanted?

I have had jobs since I was 15 years old, actually, the first day of my first job was on my 15th birthday, which is the legal age to start working in Austria. It was a shitty summer job where I was overpaid to wear branded clothes at the airport while giving out flyers. The best thing about this job was falling for my female coworker (shocking, I know!). We had nice moments together but since she was considerably older than I was and I was gay (which I wasn’t totally aware of back then), nothing ever happened beyond her falling asleep on my lap during lunch break. But back to business.

Every day I’m hustling

I have had some weird side hustles and internships that I barely remember. Once I gave out coffee samples and advertised a coffee brand, which makes zero sense to me as I hardly ever drink coffee. But everything is fake in advertising, right? What came closest to an actual job was the nine months I spend working in an office for social workers after school. I had to work normal hours but was only paid a small tip for my efforts. Also, I almost got fired right before Christmas, so this work experience doesn’t really speak towards me working 9-to-5.

Post Bachelor

After having finished my bachelor’s degree in psychology, I felt that it was time to get financially independent from my parents. Since I had also just finished my design degree, I was looking for agency work. It was hard to find a place where I could have a lot of freedom to finish my master’s degree though. I was very lucky to eventually find an agency that let me work flexible hours.

I ended up staying with that agency for over five years. By that time, I had finished my psychology studies and was in a small identity crisis evolving around what I wanted to do with my life. I have always felt very comfortable working in the creative industry and didn’t wanna give that up. After my ex-boyfriend broke up with me on my birthday and cut all ties with me one week before my master’s exam, I was very depressed. I remember being terribly sad when I was leaving my master’s exam. I started to cry outside of uni because there was no one there awaiting me.

Escape Life

I decided to flee from Austria, moved to Berlin for the first time and started working at The School of Life. I thought this was going to be the perfect way for me to combine my passions for psychology with design. Unfortunately, though, this was not the case and I ended up moving back to Graz. After my return, I had no job for a couple of months. To stay busy (and sane!), I started freelancing and writing for the local magazine Futter. I did lots of arts and joined the collective Dancen und Schmusen! that hosts the first sex-positive parties in my hometown. However, my job hunt wasn’t going all that well. I didn’t find a job in psychology because I didn’t want to become a slave to the minimum wage. I also realized that I couldn’t imagine going back to working for an advertising agency full-time. It was time to become a freelancer.

But was I ready?

I think you never really know if you’re ready to become your own boss. There are a lot of things to consider: Are you good at organizing and book-keeping? Are you outgoing enough to network and find clients? Are you confident enough in your work that you can sell it? And many more! I didn’t answer all these questions with a ‘Yes’ right away, but I felt the strong need to become independent and make my own rules. And that’s the key to my happiness in having my own advertising agency! You have to want it and you have to want it more than any other possible work situation.

Becoming my own boss was a process that didn’t happen overnight as I already had some smaller clients from years of working in the industry. I found a business start-up program that I joined which helped me a lot in my beginnings. I organized myself and everything that concerns my job. I re-did my living room and turned it into my office. I wrote a business plan and a concept for my social media and PR presence. Then, I lost one of my biggest clients for good, a safety net I was totally counting on. Could I still make it? I was feeling unsure.

Road map to uncertainty

There are always gonna be setbacks, but if you’re doing well these setbacks aren’t going to define you. After I lost my best-paying client, I got lucky when an advertising agency reached out to me. They were looking for freelancers to do lots of jobs in the future. I also found many new clients and had to stop part-taking in the business start-up program to handle all my work. Then, the Corona lockdown started and I lost many potential projects because of it. On top of that, I was threatened with a lawsuit at the same time. But this setback, even though it jeopardized my whole career, passed and better things happened right after. In these first very eventful months I learned that being a freelancer is about accepting things you cannot control but finding ways to still remain in a stable and secure situation.

Building my freedom

I know that I don’t have lots of jobs in the summer. That’s always been the case in every agency I have worked for and wasn’t going to be different for me. So, last year as well as this year, I went to Berlin in the summer to find new inspiration and contacts. My (work) life isn’t perfect right now, far from it! I still doubt myself a lot, ask if I am ‘good enough’ or what meaning my job brings to the world. And there are things I want to be better at and grow from. Seeing how I am motivated to get ahead is a rewarding feeling. Life is a learning experience and if you feel comfortable being employed, then that’s great. Being an employee, however, was never what fulfilled me.

I don’t regret becoming a freelancer but it is also a lot more work than being employed and you have to be motivated and stick with your plans and ideas and learn to trust your instincts. I wouldn’t recommend doing it if you’re not willing to put in time and energy. It is probably the right way for you when you feel there may not be another way!

Enjoy the road

Enjoy your fails as much as your wins (trust me, I have a ton of both) and don’t overthink. Whatever you chose for your future, nothing is set in stone if it doesn’t work out.

 

BenLeander

 

 

Suggested further reading:

Meet the Troll in my Head

Compulsive nonconformist who left the 9-to-5 world after studying psychology and has since then devoted himself to design and writing on a freelance basis. Has at least four different kinds of chips at home at any given time.

Comments

  • 23. August 2021
    reply

    Quite a journey. CongratZ on being able to make it on your own!

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