People like to hear those self-employment stories about hard work and perseverance. They like those tales of grit. They also like those stories about sticking it to the man and flipping off your old boss. My self-employment story is mostly a tale of being beaten down so much that I can’t work for anyone else anymore.

a modern open office with big windows, white tables, and black chairs with the text "The Self-Employment Story Corporate Doesn't Want You to Read"

I won’t pretend that self-employment isn’t a privilege. And I did work a lot to go from blog to business. But I know it’s not an option for everyone, and if you read this and agree with how terrible most work environments are, I’m sorry you’ve experienced this shit too.

I suppose there are people in this world who like their workplace. And it should probably be noted that the people who enjoy their job are often the people who make the workplace terrible for everyone else.

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Don’t believe me? Let’s talk about the reasons for my self-employment story.

Every Workplace Is a Nightmare If You’re Not Self-Employed

I know people take pride in the workplace community they cultivate. You shouldn’t. Here’s why.

001: People need space to breathe you can only find in self-employment.

Every work environment I’ve been a part of has been stifling. Even when I had my own office, it was still impossible to get the sort of quiet time I needed to do actual work.

Open offices are shit. They’re distracting and it’s impossible for people to focus on the work they’re doing, or have a quiet conversation with a coworker about a project without distracting everyone.

And to top it all off, you have zero privacy. You can’t eat a snack without people being aware of it. Get a terrible phone call from a family member? Enjoy having all your coworkers watch you cry. Simply want to sit there and do your work until it’s time to leave? Best believe someone will take that as an invitation to include you in something you don’t want to do, but they won’t let you say no to.

And even if you have an office, chances are there are big windows around you so everyone can see you AT ALL TIMES, like a reverse panopticon.

That means you can’t avoid the unnecessary impromptu meetings that take place in your doorway because they know you’re there and you can’t escape. It means every time you get up to go to the bathroom, everyone will know about it. It means that if you have to have a one-on-one meeting with someone, everyone can watch and make assumptions about the reason behind it.

Every office is designed so that everyone knows everyone’s business at all times. They are designed so that no one can get away. They are designed to enable bullshit small talk.

And if you think I’m being dramatic, know that every place I’ve worked, there has always been at least one coworker who made a comment every time I went to the bathroom, ate a snack, or got some Post-Its from the supply closet.

In break rooms, I’ve run into people who think it’s their business to know what I’m working on or how I got that opportunity that should belong to their friend, even though I literally only go to work to do the job and take home the paycheck.

Your girl doesn’t do corporate ladders or in-office networking. That’s why I got opportunities. I got work done and others didn’t.

002: The modern work environment is designed for codependent people.

On the point of people getting into other peoples’ business, the modern office is designed for people who are so codependent, they can’t have an idle thought without sharing it with the group.

I expected this when I taught Pre-K students. I shouldn’t have to expect it from grown adults.

In every office, there are people who can’t shut their mouths. Granted, I am more on the quiet end of the spectrum, and I’m only close friends with people who can sit in silence with me for long periods of time. I hate small talk, and I hate how much people are happy to emotionally unload on people at all times.

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So, in an office, I’ve always been surrounded by people. who ask questions that aren’t their business, and they always play it off with, “Oh, sorry. I’m just nosey, I guess,” and then they giggle like they aren’t being terrible. I’ve also worked in places where the minute I walked in the door, someone was there at my desk, ready to complain about whatever was in their head for the next 45 minutes. It was never work-related.

I have worked in places where people want to have five-hour-long meetings.

I’ve worked in places where people think they should be given full trainings on something you’re doing that varies slightly from the way they do things, even though they don’t need to know it and you wouldn’t be paid for the work they want you to put in.

I’ve worked in places where even if the open office is dead silent and everyone is working, the people who just arrived for their day are loud as hell and shouting good morning and looking forward to having full-on small talk conversations that interrupt everyone else who is working.

Yes, you are around people at work. But I wouldn’t be around those people if I weren’t at work. Yes, you can build friendships with coworkers, but mostly, you’re just being friendly to your coworkers to grease the wheel so your day goes more smoothly.

Just because someone is there doesn’t mean they are your friend. It doesn’t mean they want to have full-on conversations with you. And just because they smile and nod doesn’t mean they like chatting with you. They are just being friendly because they can tell you’re needy, and they don’t want to have a confrontation with you about why you feel the need to be so codependent in the workplace.

It’s also worth noting that most people who think they’re fun and chummy in the workplace are actually assholes.

Oh, you made a fun joke and people laughed? Who was at the expense of that joke?

Is your need to make idle chatter ALL THE FUCKING TIME just an excuse for you to comment on EVERY FUCKING THING in your immediate environment? That’s not conversation, sweetie. That’s you playing an insufferable game of I Spy, much like that Rob Schneider SNL character who often mentioned who was making copies.

Just because people are around doesn’t mean you have to talk. And just because you can talk doesn’t mean you have something to say.

Coworkers may become your friends. Not all coworkers want to be your friend.

My self-employment story is devoid of mindless chatter, and I like it that way.

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003: Mandatory fun is bullshit.

My jobs paid me for an eight-hour workday. But so many of them wanted to take over my unpaid lunch hour with potlucks and shitty pizza parties.

Pizza parties lost their luster around the fifth grade. And potlucks are fucking disgusting when you consider how many of your coworkers come to the office absolutely covered in pet hair.

If I’m going to be trapped in a workplace all damn day, I need that one hour at my lunch to regroup. I need to step out of the office and get away. I need to find some quiet and privacy. I need to be away from all the small talk and face-to-face conversation so I can regain some energy. And when I say regain energy, it definitely means I need a break so I can come back with that friendly smile plastered on my face and continue to work in a sociable way. Because if I don’t get that time, by the end of the day, I’m curt and direct with my coworkers in a way that women often aren’t allowed to be.

So you can’t have the mandatory fun office lunch and also get me to perform my gender in a way that the men in the office need me to perform it to accommodate them. Sorry. Pick fucking one.

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Also, let’s talk about team building.

I played softball for the majority of my childhood. From second grade until the summer after senior year of high school, I spent about ten months of the year on the field or in the batting cages. That is a team sport. We had a team that was simply built by showing up to practice and games.

We didn’t hang out much outside of those two things. We built the team by doing the thing.

But for whatever reason, supervisors and bosses seem to think that showing up to work and doing the work isn’t enough to build a team. They create all manner of retreats and activities designed to make you feel like more of a team.

But guess what? IT DOESN’T FUCKING WORK.

I feel like I’m a part of a team when my feedback is valued and my voice is heard. I feel like I’m part of a team when my contribution to the whole is acknowledged. I feel like a I’m part of a team when I can go to anyone else on the team, share my concerns, and they fucking listen and fix the issue.

I do not feel like part of a team when all my male coworkers dismiss what I have to say because I’m a woman, but we got to build a lego set that one time in the break room to build the team.

Team building is more about who you put on the team and how they react to and work with others. There is no amount of ropes courses or trust falls that can make someone feel like a valued member of a team when the team is constructed to disrespect them.

004: The school day structure was awful, and workplaces have adopted that structure.

I hated a lot about school growing up. I hated the structure of the day, how there was no privacy, and how much time was spent keeping everyone at the same level, even if you finished early and could work ahead.

The work day is structured in a way that’s guaranteed to accommodate the people who don’t actually generate a product, and harm the people who make the thing the company needs. That is to say that middle managers get to call all the fucking meetings to talk about processes and expectations, and the people who actually do the process have to show up and give updates. You’d think project management software would prevent this. You’d think we’d all know where everything was in the process because we have to update where we are in the software. And then we all get to keep working on the thing.

You’d be wrong. You need a very long meeting for that, and you better be ready to over explain what you’ve been doing to the one person who doesn’t know what it is you do, but is somehow your boss.

And after that meeting, when you need some time to decompress because it was an hours-long confrontation, you can’t have that. It’s back to your open office environment with you. Just jump back into working on the thing even though some dude who has no idea about what you do just kept devil’s advocating about how you do it and suggesting you do something that is antithetical to what you do because he read a LinkedIn article about thought leaders and doesn’t know he has that job because his daddy plays golf with the CEO.

So of course you’re behind, even though you could do this project by yourself in your sleep, because it’s more about the company being the company than it is about the company making the product.

And you know what? You’ll probably just take the project home over the weekend and use your two days off to finish it up because you cannot work in the work environment. That’s a lot like homework, isn’t it? You learned in school that taking work home is fine. It’s like they primed you to do extra unpaid labor or something…

Yeah, my self-employment story is full of me working odd hours. But at least I can control that.

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005: “Leaders” are narcissists.

This will be controversial to people in positions of leadership, and will make total sense to people who are not.

Real leadership isn’t separate from the people doing the thing. Real leaders are doing what those they are leading are doing. They are openly and directly communicating with their people. They are sharing why decisions are being made. They are asking for feedback.

But people who seek out leadership positions often don’t do that. They are narcissists who seek to elevate themselves above their peers. And if anyone they are leading asks anything that they see as a threat to their power, they retaliate. (Note: It doesn’t have to be an actual threat, it just has to be perceived that way.)

Narcissists will throw people under the bus in meetings, blindly agree with higher ups, and generally portray themselves as a godsend to the company just so they can have a little bit of power.

And when you consider where people get their leadership training, it’s really obvious why it works that way.

I live in the Bible Belt where nearly every white man in a position of power has some kind of certificate from an evangelical institution certifying him as a leader. It may be from a Christian school, church, or men’s retreat.

But modern evangelical Christianity’s preoccupation with purity culture has functionally made it impossible for women to exist in the workplace. As an outsider, I don’t have all the details, but as I understand it, and as it has been related to me by women raised in the evangelical church, purity culture is basically the notion that a woman is worthless if she has sex before marriage, but if a man does it, it’s okay because boys will be boys.

Women are expected to “uplift” men by not tempting them, by remaining pure, and by basically cosseting them like little boys. That means taking care of them in a motherly way, and picking up all the slack they never have to think about as men.

Because purity culture puts an undue responsibility on women to “uplift” men, men now expect it in the workplace. Even if your company is not an openly Christian one, this sort of indoctrination has worked its way into the company simply because so many people were indoctrinated into it.

So men expect women to take their leadership at face value. They expect to be listened to in the way that maybe a preacher would. They expect the women that work for them to do all manner of unpaid labor that their wife and mother did. And they expect, since they’re the leader, that they’ll get take long lunches, wheel and deal on the golf course, and just never be around to help those they are leading.

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My Self-Employment Story

I could go on all day, but this post is already waaaaay longer than it should be. So if you made this this far, I’d say congratulations. But also, you probably made it this far because you’ve seen all this in action, and you’re probably rage crying.

I’m sorry. Maybe it’s time you wrote your own self-employment story…

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I built up my creative business because I was so burnt out on showing up where I wasn’t valued. My self-employment story is the story of me realizing I needed to get out. And since I left at the end of 2019, I’ve slowly been decompressing and healing workplace burn out.

What does it mean to control my work day? What is self-employed?

To me, it’s a safe place where I can do work without all the bullshit of being employed by someone else.

4 Responses

  1. Amen, sister! Imagine, if you dare, five hospice nurses sharing an office about 15×15 ft. Barely enough room for small desks lining the walls. Three extroverts who loved to hear themselves talk…about shopping!

    As if caring for dying patients weren’t enough, this was the setting for the office part of the job. Many days I hauled my charts to the park and sat in my car doing paperwork.

    The talkers often failed to manage their time well and would beg me to see a patient for them on Friday afternoon because they were behind. Yet *I* was the one who got the talking to about not being a team player.

    Now I spend my days alone at home and cannot imagine ever being in a workplace ever again.

  2. This article really spoke to me and articulated in a way I couldn’t why I hated being in an office. I’m still working for an employer, but I’m 100% remote and it’s been a game changer. Open concept office bullshit was for the extroverts and narcissists. I voiced many times to my boss why it was hard for me to concentrate and get things done when we had all kinds of pointless meetings because why not, she liked to “pop” into my cube whenever she had a thought or was hounding me on something, and the constant chatter and people walking by was beyong aggravating. Her solution was for me to buy my own noise cancelling headphones to wear at my desk all day. Guess what… that doesn’t solve anything and gave me a daily headache. I also was constantly staying late or taking work home because it would get quieter and I could actually concentrate then. Thanks for the great, relatable article and keep being awesome!!

    1. Ugh. I hate how people who are consistently the problem don’t ever see themselves as the problem. And people who treat the work day like social hour drive me crazy! I’m so glad you get to work from home now, because it’s so much more productive than being in the office. Thanks for reading!

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