aymee buckhannon: from corporate to freelancer

My Story + A Day In the Life of a Freelancer

I truly never thought this day would come. Well, at least I didn't think it would come so abruptly. I had always dreamt of it, and it has been in fact my heart's desire, but I wasn't prepared to take the leap. Not yet. Maybe not ever. It's hard to make that transition from corporate to self employed, especially in an online industry. And especially with a young family to support. And especially when you are dropping a 6 figure salary :(.

But as luck would have it (it is luck right?), my long term “plan A” of 24+ years came to a halt in July 2016. Our team's functional role (as Instructional Designers) was not deemed a necessity anymore (cuz learning is apparently so over rated) and my team, along with several other groups in the same roles throughout the company were given approximately 30 days to either find another position, or take a voluntary severance package. Mind you, inside a company that was simultaneously laying off 12,000 people.

At that moment, when our small team was eerily scheduled to attend a late afternoon meeting to be “told” of our fate (and choices), I felt shocked, unprepared, disillusioned, and was in a bit of disbelief. The only thing that kept me together was the fact that I was not walked out the door as MANY of other groups and individuals had in the prior 2 months. Yes, that really happened: people were literally walked out the door with ONE minute notice and given a plastic bag for their belongings. People, personal friends, who by no fault of their own, or wrongdoing, or many not even a bad review, who had been there 5, 15, 20 years!! The most disrespectful layoff act I have ever (and hope never ever again) experienced and/or heard of. I was to feel “lucky” in how I was treated. But I didn't feel lucky at all, nor these people deserved this either. But I digress.

I, and others, were at least given “choices”. In an engineering environment, as an Instructional Designer, the positions that were available in a design and/or instructional area were, well, very few and highly competitive. I considered two, to be exact, but neither involved any development, just analysis or project management type skills and even though I had experience in both, my heart, my passion, my soul was consumed with the feeling that I didn't deserve to feel this way, or to be treated like a dispensable object. I also felt that THIS WAS THE TIME. MY TIME to pursue what I always wanted but was really never going to give myself the opportunity to jump into without a push. And so even though I felt cheated after all the years of very good and highly admired work (truly, I was a top producer in design and development), it came down to: it is what it is and it didn't matter to the company what choice I made as long as I made one within the time I was given (aka: not enough time).

Before I forget to mention this: I AM NOW THANKFUL!

And with that empty stomach kind-a feeling you get when being bluntly unappreciated, I chose to no longer be an employee of Corporate America. I wasn't bitter about it. I wasn't angry, per say. But it sure was hurtful and I felt very betrayed by both the company and a manager who chose to go on a 3 week vacation the VERY NEXT DAY after we were given 30 days to find another position. She of course didn't have the same fate. And folks, people do what they gotta do, I get it, and surely this was not even her decision (although sometimes I wonder) to let us go. But, I feel there is a time when you SHOW UP for people. I was in a management role once. I would have SHOWN UP. I would have helped, lent a hand, an ear, a shoulder, made some calls to other peers for my team: In other words, I would have cared. I simply would have been there, especially for a team who had been with me over 10 years and who was left with absolutely no one in upper management other than her who could guide them and support them whatever their decision was to be. But hey, she still had a job to do right? Bygones right now. I got over it. I promise. But wow, what a terrible thing to do as a “leader”.

The next chapter

My initial and immediate reaction was, of course: “Oh, $*^t!!!”. And shortly after, I also felt the “OMG! Maybe this is supposed to happen. It's TIME!”… And then again …”No, no, no. Oh, $*^t!!!”. And that has gone on in my had pretty much since. Although, as of the writing of this blog post, the “Oh, $*^t!” has been mostly silenced and over ruled 95% of the time by the pure joy I feel to be where I am today.

The first few weeks (months?) were completely unproductive for me. Checking out “jobs” online and sometimes even applying for them, saying no to offers, canceling interviews that in the end didn't feel like a good fit…you know, in case I was only kidding myself that my design business was the real deal. But little by little my heart stopped hurting so much, and my mind started working and adjusting to this new “you are the boss of you” mentality (aka: the hustle). And you know what, I have never in my whole life felt so right! And if you have read my book (The Awesome Factor), you will see the irony in all this! I won't expand on this for I don't want to ruin it for ya. LOL

Now that I feel a bit more in control, I will say this: going this route is kind of like having a baby, you are never really “ready”, you just sort of learn the ropes along the way, whether planned or unplanned. And as parents we do some things right and some things wrong and we just correct and adjust. SAME THING HERE. SERIOUSLY. Took me forever to even start promoting myself. And I can market other people like there is no tomorrow! But self-marketing? UGH, the struggle is real.

My days go something like this now:

  • 5:40am wake up (Yep, this is what happens when you are eager to get to “work”). Why not 5:30? Too early. Why not 6? too late. Must be in the middle. I love it that way. I get to choose now.
    • Pour coffee, feed cats, dog, kiss my husband “have a great day” as he is off to work, see my son off to school, then go to my home office.
      – Isabella sneaks in a snoozes away in the arm chair next to me.
      – I work until 7am
  • 7am I help Isabella get ready for school, we make breakfast, sign school work, drop her off or walk with her to school. Sometimes, if not too cold, she rides her bike.
  • 8am I have some breakfast and I am back to work
  • 12-1 (give or take 30 minutes) I drag my butt away from my chair and either do laundry, have lunch, some of each or tidy up.
  • 1-3pm work some more
  • My oldest son gets home around 2:45 but he is self sufficient. I love being here when he gets home instead of him having an empty home. Although, he is a teeenager, he may not even realize I am home. LOL
  • 3-5 I pick up Isabella and we do homework, have a snack and get ready for activities
  • 5-7 guitar lessons, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, soccer, running or whatever is on the schedule that evening for either of the kids. Usually just ONE event per evening, per child btw (I couldn't deal with more)
  • And the rest of the evening I work by appointment or spend it making dinner and just hanging out with the family.
  • 9pm after kids are in bed: usually back to design. I am a night owl and many of my clients also have children and this is the time we get to collaborate in peace :).

Now this happens 70% of my time. AND.I.LOVE.IT

20% of the time is spent on house/family stuff: I now get to accomodate my schedule as needed to clean, go grocery shopping, prep meals, run errands, volunteer at schools, get a pedicure, or maybe even have lunch or coffee with a friend. I still used to do all this when I worked full time, btw, but now I get to take care of it during the day so my evenings are not as hectic. How DID I do all this?? No idea!

About 10% of the time I do still grieve a little and second guess myself, and wonder if I am just kidding myself and that all this is temporary and eventually I will need to get a job anyway. And frankly, that would be ok, and I would do it graciously and with absolute gratitude, just not what I feel I was destined to do.

And you know what? I wouldn't trade this split for anything. At least not voluntarily. Because I LOVE the 70 and the 20, and when I am in the 10 sulking, I find immediate joy and inspiration that I get to do the other 70 and 20 the next day!

Remember that video with the cute little girl in curls on top of her sink saying: I love my house, I love my mom, I love myself? That's me (minus the cuteness and the part where I stand on my sink cuz that would look kind a crazy + probably fall). But I say this to myself inside quite often: I love my house, I love my husband, I love my kids, I love my parents, I love my siblings, I love my clients, I love my friends, I love my dog, I love my cats, I love myself and I love my work! (Try it!)

In Closing + Disclaimer

I must include in this post that even though I DO hope to inspire you to follow your heart (NOTHING will feel more real to you), truth of the matter is, I DID have a little parachute. It was little, but it definitely helped along the way (severance package). Make sure you evaluate your financial position first before making dramatic changes because I did not have any steady income coming in from my business at the beginning. And I thank God every day that I have an extremely supportive and encouraging husband (with a job) who inspires me every day to stay on track. Having no paycheck coming in every two weeks like clockwork can feel scary and uncertain for sure. I recommend you save up AT LEAST 6 months salary so that you can sort of “pay yourself” every two weeks as if you still had a job while you transition over. And of course, a business plan with a profitability forecast will be quite helpful.

So don't go quitting your job to pursue something you've never made some money with, that's all I'm saying. I have been designing on the side for YEARS even though it wasn't a regular business for me at the time. I never pursued it full time because I loved my job and I wasn't ready to jump ship (probably more mentally than financially). That's my disclaimer :-).

PS: Goes without saying, I hope, that following your heart does not always mean “self employment”. Following your heart can mean other things: another career, a different job, a degree, music lessons…

So, are you an independent freelancer? Or hoping to be? What's your experience been like? How did you “go for it”? I'd love to hear from you!


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