The Self Employment Paradox

By Simon Akers

When you start a company, or go it alone, it is ups and downs. Both within a day, and over a longer period.

When things are good it is great (e.g. when I started, lots of day rate work thank you very much)…

…then when you have a pandemic it goes downhill (not alone on this I well know).

THEN you work hard, pivot, focus and get back to the good times again!!

THEN things go quiet and it’s slow again.

THEN all good, I have a call for a potentially big new client/gig!

The oscillation can be exhausting. Add in a foundational mental health challenge, and trying some different antidepressants for size, then you are really going for the thrill ride. I write this on the back of what has honestly been a particularly challenging fortnight for my head.

Self employed. Lone rangers. Solopreneurs. Freelancers. For all intents and purposes, we are going through the very similar thing. Alone. I have worked hard to flatten the curves of the P&L with some retained clients who offer predictability of income, but often the nature of the beast is a feast-and-famine approach, one which can play havoc on your wellbeing, future planning and all sorts.

It is good to remember though – why you did this in the first place.

It often seems an easy and obvious choice to just say ‘fuck it’ and go and get a cushy job with a handsome salary and a guarantee that, on the 28th of the month, regardless of your credit controller abilities or business bank balance, you will get paid a salary that is comfortable and guaranteed. Oh and not only that, all the tax and NI has been taken care of, and a pension deduction was made at source — AND doubled by my employer. What! 100% interest savings account? Happy Days. No need for the jiggery-pokery of putting self-assessment money aside your end now and pensions for the future. What a dream. You lot in FT jobs don’t realise how lucky you are!

But wait, there was a trade-off, and a reason you did this in the first place.

You were probably sick of the daily grind of working for a bigger corporation, the same place every day, on the same client with the same people, the soulless existence of feeling like a pig in a huge pen, with the monotony of repetitive work. Remind yourself of this next time you have a wobble. As no doubt the mental health downside you felt in that alien and perhaps stifling situation far outweighs the downsides of the day you are having today.

One of the upsides of feeling lost at sea at times, or being incessantly soul-searching and curious is that you may read a lot.

And oftentimes the wisdom of others provides solace. From business books to philosophy and self help. I particularly enjoy Matt Haig’s writing as he speaks from mental health experiences that I have personally related to. Here is one of my favourite quotes from his book ‘Notes on a Nervous Planet’ :

“You are not your feelings. You just experience them. Anger, sadness, hate, depression, fear. This is the rain you walk in. But you don’t become the rain. You know the rain will pass. You walk on. And you remember the soft glow of the sun that will come again.”

You do not become the rain. It is hard to see the sunshine sometimes but one has to know that the events around them does not define their current situation.

Also, love a bit of Stoicism and some timeless ancient wisdom. When the chips are down we can easily catastrophise, and imagine a much more dystopian future than ever happens. As Seneca wrote in his letters:

“We suffer more in imagination than reality”

To complete this mini lit-review, I also read great book You are The Business by Anna Codrea-Rado, who excellently prescribes to us the notion of a self-employed benefits package. What are the things that you can rely on? Certain times and days off. Extra non-commute time. Emergency fund prep. Fridays off. Employer pension etc etc. Recite them to yourself. Incidentally I read it on holiday in US at start of this year, living one of the very benefits; the freedom of movement, holidays and remote working. Incidentally, the image atop this article is from the Embarcadero near downtown San Diego, a shot that I took myself2 weeks ago. Not to be a terrible show-off, but as a reminder to myself that I started the month in a happy place that was afforded to me through time and money created from my venture. Plus the fact it isn’t stock imagery and I admire seagulls’ independent ballsy way. So — when in a funk, try not to begrudge the non-positives too much.

Also last week after a few weeks of planning a collaboration, I was able to buddy up with 3 other rangers in a similar marketing space. Professionally it is great to work with them as we can deliver for more clients now, often those who would not look at you twice if on your own. But personally, and way more importantly, we provide a pastoral layer of support for each other; only this morning I had a call with one of the partners and their client challenges. It is great to share. A problem shared is indeed, cliché or not, a problem halved.

So, create your own benefits package

I therefore overcome this paradox of self employment and placate myself with a handful of key techniques.

By reciting/reminding myself of the benefits of my position, NOT focusing on the benefits I am NOT getting.

By flattening the curve of feast and famine by sensible and prudent living and planning to put aside money for the rainy day, and making it my business to create the benefits of employment, like pensions. Create boredom and predictability amongst the thrills and spills.

By collaborating with others. and ensuring I am not alone with my fake colleagues. There is only so much you can do alone. Be independent, be headstrong, but do not become isolated.

By feeding your uncertainty with new techniques and learning. In my case it is reading. You may find solace elsewhere. Documentaries. Courses. Shadowing in a coworking space.

I do not know the answer for you, I barely know it for me; I am a work in progress. I am going through a personal process. But I know what can work for me, and by focussing on the areas that are of benefit to me, and remembering why I did this in the first place, this is a sure-fire bet you are exactly where you are meant to be. From decisions you made to follow your passion or goals. So don’t worry (even though we will).

SA

The benefits of coworking to mental health

There are more than 3 Million co-worker globally- according to GCUC.

There are many reasons why people are turning to co-working.

There are many benefits of co-working. It is generally more cost-effective on your business, separates work and home life, and gives you plenty of networking opportunities, these plus many more benefits are believed to be reasons why co-working can positively impact mental health.

For many businesses, especially in the current climate working from home is the norm. But working from home isn’t for everyone, for some  working from home is tedious and disengaging, no wonder Nuffield Health found that 80% of Brits working from home found it negatively impacted their mental health. Many of these people turn to co-working.

Co-working gives the best of both worlds. Flexibility and structure, working from home is handy but sliding from bed to desk in 2 seconds doesn’t really promote productivity- ease maybe but productivity – not so much. The routine of getting up, ready, and getting into an office environment- albeit usually much higher spec than a 9-5 office setup, gives a sense of routine and organisation. Chance to regroup and get yourself set up for the day.

Co-working places rarely lack the opportunity to network and collaborate. There is usually someone around to bounce ideas off and grab a quick coffee with. The beauty being potentially the same two days are not the same- different people and businesses going about their day in space. Fake colleagues are sometimes all remote workers crave, the option to see humans on a day to day will increase mental health leaps and bounds. With 1 in 4 people reported feelings of loneliness in lockdown – according to Mental Health Org, proof of human interaction goes a long way in improving mental health. 

Mosaic works to encourage better mental health. We provide lots of breakout spaces to get away from the desk, have a coffee and stop staring at the screen- we have a 200 degrees coffee machine in our lounge- which is discounted for members.. We provide a safe bike shed, to encourage you to bike in(whether that means you can nip for a Friday beer with the other members or just blast your way into work and clear your mind before you start your day).We have a big emphasis on collaboration, bringing our members together on all manner of things from a lunch stop to working together on projects. Not forgetting proving the goodies on pancake day, easter, halloween and all other yummy holidays!

With Co-working being set up and good to go, there is no worrying about running out of milk when you need that mid-morning caffeine fix, waiting for glitching faces on yet another zoom call as the WIFI is set up to withstand the advances of a digital world and not to mention the kids bombing in and out of the screen while you discreetly throw snacks their way- we’ve all been there! Coworking provides the professional set up at an affordable price- this in itself means that money becomes one less thing to worry about, it’s not a costly long term lease that’s like the Dii Vinci code to get out of- most coworking spaces operate an easy in easy out policy. Peace of mind- if that doesn’t help promote a positive mindset what will?

So with so many reasons on how co-working can help improve your mental health, what are you waiting for? Book a tour at Mosaic Lincoln today, and come see for yourself the benefits co-working can give you and your team.

Business & Mental Health – Remove the Blurred Lines

Author: Simon Akers MCIM | Founder of Archmon

I am frustrated.

Frustrated with the seeming rules on creating a divide between work and personal life.

This particular irk was borne from something the other day. I had a chat with another business owner in the industry who, by their own admission, wrestles with their own mental health, and we talked about how still we are frustrated by the notion of ‘better not post on LinkedIn as to not dilute our brand’. Frustrated that I even said it.

It is not binary however. We are not cells on a spreadsheet – we are not always predictable and following of typical logic. We are humans, with an oscillation of energies, moods and feelings who are oftentimes trying to hold it together for our day jobs.

It is an interesting thought. LinkedIn police aside, we share our sunny beer garden pics on Instagram, our occasional musings on Facebook, but LinkedIn is the home of real commercial muscle flexing, showing how bloody smart or humbled we all are in our particular field.

Especially when you are a business leader or self employed – you think you have to continually promote yourself and offering (if a service business/consultancy like I am running), without being unbearable. At the same time, you want the business story to stand up on its own 2 feet, exclusive from any seeming emotional outpour or mental vulnerability. As could that be bad for business perhaps? It is hard working for self as is, without the added pressure of dividing the brain in 2.

I personally have had a whirlwind 3 year since I got out of a place (before I even started Archmon) where I was very ill and in all honesty, had some of the lowest thoughts imaginable. It spurned a shift change in my definition of success and a rewriting of commercial norms. Did some contracting, tried full time work again, not for me. Now working own hours. The value exchange of becoming own boss versus knowing the buck stops with you. A new type of pressure from within, but one I could at least cope with. A new benchmark of earning. lifestyle and with it a soothing humility. I now have a multitude of interests that suit my way of thinking, my energies and hopefully helps sustain a better mental wellbeing, and not all money/career driving either. That and 2 therapy runs, 2 prescriptions, 2 years of trading/client growth, and 1 move out of the hustle and bustle on London later – things are looking up.

This is all my own paddling below the surface above. The swan however, gliding on the LinkedIn surface. must look calm, resolute and friendly right?

Respectfully, no.

The fact that I was nervous to surface this story (and resurface link above to my Mental health ‘opening up’ 2 years ago) before posting means we are STILL NOT THERE in terms of mental health de-stigmatisation and neurodiversity celebration; the snobbery of the platform and business life being celebrated as a cut throat emotionless life is sadly alive and well. I saw this gut wrenching poll the other day that was along the lines of:

If someone opens up about their mental health, does it make you less likely to work with them?’.

Words fail me. Thankfully the vast 90%+ majority said no. Although the comments underneath were from typically stuffy policing personnel who said business should be business and LinkedIn is not the place for this. Agree to an extent of course, there’s a lot of BS and irrelevance on here, clickbait and attention seeking humblebrags and other useless polls; the marketing planner in me knows as well as anyone it is all horses for courses. But come on – businesses are human, and humans are always human. The plus point is I now know who the fuck to stay away from in my business life (another soothing reality to get comfortable with btw – the knowledge that you cannot sell in you, your brand or business to everyone, and that is absolutely splendid!).

As it happens, I truly feel I have done some of my best work and engaged some of the coolest contacts, clients and opportunities into my life (including those from neurodiverse backgrounds and mental health products) as a result of this. Also as I am building a business about collaboration and working on own terms and with right kind of brands, it is so much less jarring.

That said, I’m also happy to take the bullet for others to get this conversation normalised too. I myself can sometimes overwhelm people with my energy, and sometimes I may not be everyone’s cup of tea, and given my own anxieties and more sensitive nature, will pick up on that and beat myself to a pulp. But I guess neither are you immune to this by the way. But we can be comfortable with this, so I will continue to have the conversation until 100% say NO to that bullshit poll.

This is coincidentally in Men’s Health Week (Men’s Mental Health down under) – which I do not necessarily subscribe to. I feel, like any event, it is great to be recognised as a growing concern, from IWD to Pride, they provide a chance for virtue signalling without any real action or accountable follow-through. But the point is, what difference do these events really make if 2+ years later I am writing like this again and feeling nervous pressing Publish again? Especially as this is first one since running business.

Final thoughts?

Time is precious. Resources also. Energies even more finite. Do what makes you happy, open up. Be real, and align with those whose appreciation and energies befit yours. If you are selling yourself to a degree, go warts n all. I mean you don’t have to word vomit but do not fear being open, as you will filter towards what is needed from a new business POV, and reject those who, let’s be honest, will be a nightmare anyway. If they don’t like it, then great, on to the next. It is fine. Be comfortable with being you and our own brand.

Let’s get to work, or not. Take an afternoon nap. Have a mental health day. That is fine too.

I am awesome, man.

Author: Stuart Wischhusen | Owner of Tequila Pancho Datos | Non Executive Director at MENTalk Lincs.

I wasn’t aggressive in my second counselling session but my frustrations of the last week were coming out. I just didn’t know how this was going to work. I had spent months trying to get some help after my breakdown and, now I had a solution in place, all my thoughts turned to how this was actually going to help. My problem was working too hard at a very stressful time, that was how my anxiety had built up, right? I was certain. I was wrong. 

It was September 2018 – I had my breakdown in July of the same year. In my first session I told Yvette (my counsellor) that I had counselling about 6 years ago for another issue. She said something to me which I dismissed instantly: 

“Your issues probably stem from the same problems you had then.” 

How could that be possible? Back then, I was stuck in a job I hated and now I was in a job that meant the world to me.  

So here I was in my second session – ready to dismiss the whole thing. 

I was honest about how I was feeling and how I didn’t think that counselling would help me. Looking back, I feel like I was ready for a fight – maybe my subconscious was in its last line of defence before all would be revealed… 

We talked back and forth. About the mask I had been wearing, about the anxieties I had and my recent success in my career. We then hit on something that caused me to break down, Yvette said: 

“Why aren’t you proud of yourself?” 

I sat there and cried. 

Christmas Lights

I have often described counselling like getting the Christmas tree lights out. You start your counselling in the same way you start to tackle unpicking the lights. You don’t start at the beginning because you don’t know where the beginning is (and neither does it matter) and you start unpicking knots. You keep doing that until you have straightened the lights out. Through counselling, you are picking out knots in your mind that have been hidden away and you are bringing them to the front and dealing with them. 

I had just picked out my biggest knot. I could never be proud of myself. So many things had happened in my life which led me to think I wasn’t good enough. Not doing that well at school, feeling un-attractive when I was younger, doing a degree that I didn’t use (although I was certain I would), getting stuck in a job which I hated… 

This is all changed when I got my job as a Trainee Business Account Manager. I was so happy, but as I got promoted and became more successful that feeling of not being good enough was always present. I thought: 

“I shouldn’t be here.” 

Imposter Syndrome 

This feeling that sat in the back of my mind controlled me. Because I didn’t think I was good enough to be in the position I was, I thought: 

“I shouldn’t be here, so you need to be thinking about your role at all times.” 

“I shouldn’t be here, so I need to control everything.” 

“I shouldn’t be here, so I need to work every hour possible.” 

I had never thought about this before. It wasn’t just about being stressed at work, it was thinking I had to hold on to a job that I thought I didn’t deserve… 

So Yvette was right, this feeling I had was “the stem” that linked me now, me 6 years ago and through most of my life. It wasn’t just at work either, every time something went wrong in my life, I blamed myself: 

“It is your fault because you are not good enough.” 

I Am Awesome, Man 

I have made a number of changes in my life recently (not all I can list right now), but the biggest is being true to myself. I spent so much time not being proud of who I am that sometimes I have tried to be someone I am not.  

I have changed. I have vowed to try and do what I think is right at the time. 

This isn’t always easy and it is fair to say that it doesn’t always sit well the people around me. I will give you some examples: 

  • I will say to a girl that I am dating “you’re amazing” because I truly mean it – even though I should be playing “hard to get” (and I might look like a weirdo) 
  • I will tell someone if they have upset me – even if I am perceived as too sensitive or weak 
  • I will say I don’t want to do something (like go karting!) – even if that makes things awkward 

I am proud of who I am and I am showing that by taking actions that I believe are right.

Anyway, the title of this piece… 

A few weeks ago, when restrictions lifted and we could drink coffee in the park (woo!), I met my good friend “FunTime” Franky. The sun was shining and we sat on a bench enjoying our hot beverages. We talked about my recent dating and Franky said: 

“It is a shame some of these haven’t worked out” 

I replied with: 

“I am awesome, man” 

Franky laughed and nearly spat out his coffee – I thought I should clarify… 

“I don’t mean that in some arrogant way, like I am better than everyone else in world. I am awesome because I am the truest I have ever been to myself. I have met some amazing women whilst dating but if they don’t think I am amazing as well, then it’s not right…” 

Franky replied: 

“You’re right, and I have seen a change in you. You know yourself, you know exactly who you are and what you want. You make decisions with 100% assured confidence” 

I loved hearing that. I realised in that moment that I had come along way…