In five days, I’ll be on my way to South America. I’m wildly excited, of course. People keep asking me if I’m ready, though, and I’m never quite sure how to answer. I mean, I have a suitcase that will hold 25 pairs of shoes and still have enough room for a couple weeks’ worth of outfits. I’ve got an apartment in Buenos Aires all lined up. I’m finally cast-free and I’m working on my physio so that I’ll be strong by the time we hit the Amazon rainforests. I have a supply of sleeping pills for insanely-long flights and bus rides across the continent. I have my business here sorted out and ready for the transition. I know how to say “Where is the nearest shoe store?” and “I have broken my wrist!” in Spanish. I don’t have any kind of proof that I’m a Canadian citizen, but that’ll only present me with trouble when I’m attempting to return to the country, after all. I love traveling, I love adventures, what the hell is wrong with me, after all?
I recently realized that I hate change. This revelation came as rather a surprise to me: I’d always considered myself something of a chaotic free-spirit creature. Shouldn’t I happily embrace change? Why does uncertainty make me feel so queasy?
When I was in school, they told us that, as graphic designers, we had two choices, careerwise. We could get agency jobs, where we’d basically work 18 hour days for an 8 hour salary, or we could go it alone as freelancers and pray that our clients would actually pay their bills. (I’ve since realized that this advice is faulted on many levels, notably for failing to take into account Mysterious Option C, which is you realizing that Halifax is bursting with brilliant unemployed designers, and going back to school to study accounting.) I was quite certain, right then and there, that I could never handle the uncertainty of owning a business. I’ve always been a little paranoid about money, which, while I suppose is much healthier than being a little cavalier about money, means that I’ve been overly cautious at times in my life, especially when it comes to going into debt.
I figured I’d never be able to hack it as a self-employed type, mostly because I wouldn’t be able to manage the stress and uncertainty of it all. I ended up running a business mostly by accident; I was working at a video game development studio and doing freelance work on the side, when the freelance work took off and I was forced to choose between the two. Quitting my job was, of course, utterly terrifying for me, and every now and then, I really do miss the stability of a steady job.
In the intervening years, I’ve learned all sorts of things—about running a business, and also about easing the discomfort of the paranoid control freak who lives inside me. Getting a line of credit account helped in the first few years: I may have owed some money and paid more interest than I’d like to admit, but I was never so stuck that I couldn’t pay a bill. I’ve been lucky in that most of my clients have paid their bills, and the ones who didn’t were so early in my career, or such small amounts, that it never became disastrous. A few years ago, I started doing regular design work for the Wicker Emporium (note: website not by me, thank you), which still gives me enough steady, regular work that I don’t have to worry about paying my bills anymore.
And I wouldn’t give it up for the world. As much as I may bitch and moan about crazy clients, working a million hours a week, and constantly being over-stressed, and as much as I do from time to time fantasize about work being over at 5pm, I utterly love my job. I genuinely believe I have the best job in the world. I get to meet all kinds of different people, and I get to learn about all sorts of different industries, which I find genuinely exciting. Every project is different—I think I’d get bored otherwise, which I suppose is the flipside of the stability. And then there’s travel. I never would have had an opportunity to travel as much as I have, or as much as I plan to, if I had a typical job, that almost always ties you to one place. I absolutely love the fact that I can take off at a moment’s notice and be halfway around the world.
I’ve been freaking out over the past few weeks. I suddenly realized how much I’m going to owe the taxman in April (yes, approximately a hundred million years away from now) and I started to panic. Was I crazy? How on earth would I manage to come up with that much money by then? What happens if I suddenly stop getting business? What if I end up stranded in Argentina without any money or way to get home?
Today, I climbed right out of that crazy tree. As it turns out, I’ve already got three new contracts lined up for 2011, and new quote requests appearing in my inbox on a regular basis. In fact, I’m so consistently busy that I haven’t done any marketing, at all, for the past few years. What the hell am I so worried about?
Bring on the South American adventures! Fishing for piranhas, bribing corrupt cops, decoding Portugese bus schedules, scouring the Chilean coast for camping spots, and exploring, exploring, exploring: I’m ready now. Let’s go!