Self-employed 15 years

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I was fired from what remains my last “real job.” I have now been without a full-time employer for nearly three times my whole salaried career—and while part of the time since included extended temporary/contracting roles, it has been most of a decade since I last commuted to the office for anyone.

I have no real regrets about this. I like this arrangement, and while I suppose that some alternate career path might have been better, I don’t feel that I lost out on “climbing the corporate ladder.” It is also extra interesting to reflect on this as America picks at established assumptions about how much autonomy, dignity, etc., is reasonable to trade off in return for “a job.”

Beyond this, it is difficult to know what I should think or feel. Celebration of what I have, and realism about the modest achievement it represents, pose something of a dilemma.

Professionally, I am certainly not a rock star. I believe that I do good work, particularly with bringing together a range of skills and experience to produce something useful with minimal direction, or even nothing more than a vaguely defined situation. This does not make for a simple tidy pitch, but over years, one proves one’s self to some people and word gets around a bit.

Financially, I am doing better than many. The past few years have been lean, and my annual income has always been modest by a lot of standards, but I mostly meet my modest expenses during lean years and have had years of relative plenty. I have saved and invested money, and certainly have more financial reserves than the typical American household. I have had the resources for some exciting travel.

The very fact that I am here, however, is what amazes me. Fifteen years ago I was fired, left out for the scavengers, and I never have gotten back on salary… “and yet I live,” despite it all, as Sherlock Holmes said in “His Last Bow.”

But, in my case there is much to be humble about. Not only do plenty of peers and those younger have much more professional accomplishment to their credit, I have gotten where I am with considerable advantages working for me. (Everyone should be able to complete a college degree without taking on debt, for one thing.)

Ultimately I suppose that I am appreciative to those who have given me the chance to carry this off, so far. I think that I provide very good value for what I’m paid, but in an age when millions of people could potentially make competing offers—I have now carried on my own practice and even slightly expanded it with hardly any face to face interaction for more than a year—just having a chance means a lot.

Plus, at this point I see only limited significance to judging my professional life in isolation, which is why this post is here rather than at my old freelance design blog.

Over the past several years: I wrote and self-published three books. Got invited to give presentations and a radio interview. Organized events which people actually attended. Helped transform local government in one city (and I’m currently lending a hand to the same cause in a much larger city). Turned over years of my life to wage desperate resistance against a corrupt, cruel authoritarian nightmare. Won a few, lost a few. Made some friends along the way, even as I was passing the 40-year-old mark.

I’m glad to have been helpful and I hope I’ve done some good.

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