Why I Left My (Toxic) Corporate Job For A Full-Time Freelance Career
If you’re familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator assessment, then you know that each of the 16 personality types perceives and judges the world differently. I am an INFP, and one of the characteristics of this type is having difficulty performing routine tasks or engaging in meaningless work. This is the number one reason I abandoned my job as a marketing manager to pursue a career as a freelance writer. I was working myself to the point of exhaustion for a company that touted one set of values publicly but privately fostered a toxic environment for its employees. I felt like my work was meaningless. I felt unappreciated – the proverbial cog in the corporate wheel on a train headed nowhere. When I resigned, I made a promise to myself that going forward I would focus on selling myself without selling my soul, or compromising my integrity ever again.
While I have always freelanced on and off throughout my career, until 18 months ago it was a side hustle. Something I did in addition to my full-time job. However, it eventually became clear that the work I was doing to earn a cushy paycheck was not making me happy. One of the best quotes I’ve read about this phenomena is by scholar and essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb: “The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” Obviously, you need to earn a paycheck to survive because nothing in life is free, but you shouldn’t have to sacrifice your soul to pay your bills. No one starts off intending to sell their soul, and if you’re like a lot of people, you began your career full of idealism, and you had big plans to change the world.
However, little by little, you find yourself giving away more of yourself until one day you wake up and realize you’re now accepting a fat paycheck for things you swore you would never do. This is what happened to me, but it didn’t happen overnight. In one of my favorite shows, Shades of Blue, Det. Harlee Santos (Jennifer Lopez) says this about compromising her integrity. “It happened so slowly I didn't realize and so quickly I never saw it coming.” It can take years. It did for me. I started my career as a daily newspaper reporter and eventually became a managing editor for a group of newspapers. When the newspaper industry started to flounder during the 2008 economic downturn, I lost half of my staff.
An uncertain future for print journalism prompted me to go to what my colleagues and I referred to as “the dark side,” aka corporate marketing, which subscribes to a very different set of morals and ethics. At first, I was relieved that I had finally had that coveted job security my parents were always touting as the golden goose. I was making more money and working fewer hours. The dark side isn’t so bad, I told myself. However, as I moved from company to company, and started to earn a larger salary, I began to compromise my integrity in small ways. I promoted products and people I didn’t believe in, and I didn’t like or respect the people I was working for. Most importantly, I didn’t feel good about what I was doing.
And, despite earning a higher salary, I was still broke AF because I was carelessly spending everything I was making to compensate for the fact that I was so miserable. Near the end, I was sick to my stomach almost every single day. What’s more, the lean hours of my first marketing job were short lived. By the time I resigned from my last full-time gig, I was working between 60 and 80 hours every week, had regular anxiety attacks, and months-long bouts with migraine headaches. This is the definition of not worth it. After seven years working in marketing, I knew I had to go back to my roots to regain my identity.
When my corporate career came to an end, I had pretty much stopped freelancing, and I had no recent clips to show to potential editors. I turned to my network (don’t be afraid to ask for help), and got a few assignments for a local magazine. Armed with these clips, I updated my website and began to apply for other freelance opportunities. During this time, I burned through my 401k, put my student loans into forbearance for financial hardship, moved to a cheaper apartment, and got a roommate to help me save what little money I had left. After months of what felt like sending pitches into a black hole, I landed a regular gig writing for a women’s lifestyle website. I continued writing for the magazine, and after a year (and hundreds of published articles) people started reaching out to ask me to write for them, which is totally #CareerGoals personified.
If you’ve read the book The Secret, then you know the concept of this book is actively putting what you want out into the universe. When you do this, it eventually comes back to you. It’s basically the law of attraction. While it might sound super new age-y, it actually works. I have other friends who’ve left their corporate jobs and successfully made their side hustles their main hustles. From sales specialists turned Pilates instructors to marketing directors turned meditation teachers to learning and development managers turned career coaches, I have seen The Secret in action up close and personal. All of these people are succeeding like the bosses they were always meant to be, and they’re doing what they love.
I’m not going to lie. Starting your own business, or going freelance isn’t easy. Sometimes life derails your plans. And, because you don’t have any paid sick time or vacation days when you work for yourself, you can lose a week of work when you find a litter of stray kittens in your attic crawl space that need to be rescued before a stifling heatwave, and the person organizing the rescue effort falls through the ceiling of your rented house the day before you’re supposed to leave on a press trip to the Florida Keys for a travel-magazine assignment (This really happened!). But, even the worst day of my freelance life is better than any day I ever had working in corporate marketing. And, if I can do it living in Los Angeles – one of the most expensive cities in the world – with no outside financial support, anyone can. Once you get clear about what you really want and actively pursue it, what you want will come to you. Trust.
Have your own experiences learning to sell yourself without selling out? Tell me about it in the comments below.