Can’t hold your tongue? Maybe self employment isn’t for you

I actively avoid confrontation. Anyone who knows my family and me might find this surprising. We are sharp, so sharp we could cut ourselves, my brother and I were frequently told. We like having the last word. We are impatient with unfairness. We have high standards. We bicker, have long (LONG) debates about anything from cheese to rain. We never shied away from religion or politics around the table (possibly why so many meals concluded with a slam of cutlery).

This comes more from a love of language rather than confrontation. We do not like fighting. We’re not passive but an argument means causing upset. It means pushing buttons. There’s a difference between knowing what buttons to press and actually pushing them. Having a fight is supremely selfish, you’re saying “I am trying to make you feel as bad as I do”.

This week I had to deal with an act of aggression. The reason and story behind it isn’t important but it was unsettling, not simply because someone else’s negativity is never something you wish you’re going to have to deal with when you wake up in the morning. It’s been a trail of leaking juice staining what’s been a great week and that’s frustrating. But the most surprising thing about it is the person doing it is self-employed.

People who work for themselves are not saints. We get just as cheesed off about clients as people do about bosses. As much as we’d like to paint a picture of a life of self-control, autonomy and non-stop creative spirit sometimes it’s a pain. Yet there’s also immense satisfaction from knowing you’re working on your own wits. When you do your accounts at the end of the financial year there’s something that makes your chest puff a little when you recognise every penny came from your sweat, hard work and nous. You went out and found every bit of that work that money represents. It’s immensely empowering.

But you’re also all you’ve got. You’re the first and last line of defence. You’re the be all and end all. It takes a while to realise that because it’s you, not everyone might like you and working with you. Deal with it. At the same time, you don’t go out of your way to eliminate yourself from potential situations by burning bridges. Especially in tight knit industries and clusters we all work in now. When your work is you, why expose yourself to the possibility of a closed door, of removing an opportunity?

I have always liked to think that anyone can be self-employed, that anyone can work freelance. The 3am fear isn’t for everyone, sure, but I’ve always believed that it’s not anything particularly special that requires anything other than a fairly concrete nerve. Yet this week has led me to reconsider. There are some people, those who’ll shout first, who rage, abuse, start fights and seek confrontation – and we have all met them in places of work. These are often the people who think they’ll do well on their own in business because they’re selfish and they think they can live on their own wits. But they don’t realise their aggression is isolating in more ways than one.

They will fail. And that’s a horrible thing because who wants to see that someone is going to fail? But they will. If they’re aggressive to one person they’re aggressive to more. Confrontation isn’t something they avoid. They don’t try to keep people sweet or make them happy. They think of themselves, first and foremost. And that’s not going to work out. Because if you’re choosing to work with an individual, as clients do when they work with a freelancer, ultimately they’re going to say no. Who wants to work with someone who rants and raves when you’ve got a choice?

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