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Are you ready for a personal Independence Day?

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BY COLLEEN MINIUK-SPERRY
This article is the first installment of a three-part series about leaving an office job for a freelance career. The second article will list the top things to do before you leave. And in part three, the author will talk about how to thrive in the freelance life and avoid returning to Corporate America.
Though not recognized as a bank holiday, Feb. 28 is my personal Independence Day. On that glorious day in 2007, after two years of meticulously planning my escape, I left the safe but life-draining gray cubicles of Corporate America and opened the door to a full-time freelance career in outdoor photography and writing.
When I share my story with others, I most often hear, “That took guts! How did you do it?” This three-part series will address that question.
There are things to consider before you resign from your current living and ways to ensure you don’t return to your drab windowless office. But first, how do you know you are ready to pursue a full-time position in your own business? If the following rings true, it may be time to plan your own Independence Day.
Working at the circus sounds more appealing than staying at your current job. You feel like you work with a bunch of clowns now, which makes you so crazy that it seems like running off to join the circus would be a step up in your career. And that’s a good perspective to have because as soon as you become a freelancing communicator, you become a one-person show in a many-ringed circus. Are you ready to simultaneously juggle the tasks of marketing, finance, human relations, manufacturing and training? If multitasking isn’t your forte, do you know who to contact to either perform these tasks or help you develop these skills?
If freelancing doesn’t work out, your backup plan is not returning to your existing occupation, but rather serving hamburgers at a fast food restaurant. Indifference is not a big enough motivator, but an intense dislike of your current situation can serve as excellent inspiration to change. When the worst case scenario seems better than where you are at today, perhaps it is time to stop wasting your talents and energy on things you honestly hate to do.
A burning passion to inform, educate and inspire others lives in your soul. Making a choice to become self-employed should stem from an excitement and commitment to your desired area of focus, not because you lack other employment options or because you saw an idealistic notion of what a National Geographic photographer does from the novel and movie, “The Bridges of Madison County.”
You have run out of “dead” relatives. No one believes your great aunt has passed away six times since February. Or maybe you have called in sick so frequently, you’ve earned the reputation of being “the one who has some highly contagious unpronounceable disease.” Whatever your excuse, you have run out of your allocated vacation and sick days to support freelance opportunities during work hours — and it’s only June.
A taste of the “good” life has left you hungry for more. Working as a freelancer in conjunction with your present 40-hour work week can sometimes make you feel like you have two full-time jobs. However, trying out your new life in the figurative circus above a safety net and finding enough work to independently generate income now and in the foreseeable future can set you on a profitable self-employed course.
Family and friends support you beyond, “Wow, that’s a pretty picture, George. You could totally sell that!” The people in your moral support network are willing to buy your photographic prints for the holidays, spend hours editing your articles, and cook you dinner when you’re so focused on a deadline you forget to eat.
You are self-disciplined, independent and highly motivated. Being self-employed, no manager stands over your shoulder telling you what, when and how to do your work. No one will provide direction when the path gets foggy. To be successful, you must be comfortable charting your own course and following your own compass.
Having complete control and accountability for your work excites you. As el Presidente of your own business, when things go right, you’re to blame. When things go wrong, you’re to blame.
Your financial obligations are low. Because you’ll be transitioning from a stable income to a fluctuating one, it is best not to be in serious debt when starting a freelancing career. You might have to fund your own trips for developing story ideas to build a portfolio, and query new outlets before they are willing to give you regular assignments. Are you willing to put off purchasing that expensive new lens you really don’t need?
If these points resonate with you, don’t jump ship yet! In the next issue of OU, we’ll explore the critical steps to take before you ditch the clowns, to ensure you are set up for success once you celebrate your own Independence Day. ♦
Residing in Chandler, Ariz., Colleen Miniuk-Sperry is an award-winning and internationally published outdoor photographer and writer. While focused on delivering phototext packages for various editorial outlets, working on three books, teaching photography workshops, and chairing the OWAA Education Committee, she frequently forgets to eat. Contact her at cms@cms-photo.com.
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