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Why I'm Glad I Took a Step Back in My Career

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A year ago I felt isolated and trapped in a job I despised.

You know those “all about my mommy” worksheets the kids fill out at school? My daughter’s idea for how I liked to relax is to “work on my computer.” Oh, how far from the truth that is!

Don't get me wrong - I had a seat at the table and I was paid accordingly. But after years of tolling night and day to make it up the corporate ladder, I realized I didn't really want to be there.

I knew I needed to find a way out of there, but simply searching for another job wasn’t an option. My entire network was in some way connected to my current employer, as clients or investors. And, sadly, that network was more like a grapevine than anything else!

After much consideration, I decided the best thing to do was just to tell my employers I was unhappy with the industry and give them 4-months notice. Enough time for me to openly figure out my new game plan and train a replacement.

What I discovered in that 4-month period was shocking even to me. As I interviewed, I realized I didn’t want to be stuck in the same situation over and over again. Working 12 hour days to make someone else’s dreams come true. All while they relaxed in their lake house and wondered why some minute detail had not yet been tended to.

I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was going to figure out how to make income directly from clients instead of having an employer.

Having been in Ops and Marketing roles in tech start-ups for the last 15 years, I knew I had valuable skills. And, not to be braggy, but I’ve always been that person who solves problems. Weird problems that everyone else in the office shirks.

So I have an unusually broad skillset. You need a graphic designed? I’m your girl. Website not working? Who ya gonna call? Adrienne! Trying to figure out a system bug? Adrienne’ll know the answer!

I eventually I went to Upwork (I wish I could remember how I got there!) and made a profile. Within a day I had my first client: a $20 job (with a $5 tip!) to redesign a 20-page PowerPoint deck for a college student’s presentation. Within the week I had my first four freelance clients, totaling ~$500 and I was stoked. It wasn’t enough to fully replace my income, but it was enough to realize with focus and efficiency, I could make a full-time income freelancing.

I eventually realized that I spent the least time and made the most money on PowerPoint presentation design, so I niched down. That’s enabled me to raise my rate and make more money without working more than 35-40 hours a week. Of course, like any professional environment when you’ve got customers with deadlines, your time isn’t necessarily your own. But it sure is more flexible that it ever was in the past.

If I want to go to an event at school, it's not a problem. If my daughter wants me to pick her up early from after care so that we can go to the craft store, it's not a problem. If she wants to spend 6-hours on a Saturday making the most epic Sea of Thieves cake for Father's Day, I'm not too tired for that! For the first time ever, I feel like I'm present and the timing couldn't be better!

Sure, there have been days I’ve wondered if I made the right choice by leaving traditional employment. There is a certain stigma of being a freelancer that leads people to believe you’re “not really working.” But it’s funny, as you get farther from all that judgment and keeping up with the Jones’ it’s so much easier to ignore.

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