My puppies — Sam Carter and Jake the Dog

My 2020 Retrospective: A lesson in happiness

2020 was a really good year, for me personally. My consulting business had a slow but promising start to the year, which included my first paid trip as a freelancer to Sydney in February. Sadly, the client only paid for flights and a few hours of my time on sales pitch. I decided to stay at my dad’s instead of risk the hotel they were going to pick in the CBD, but it proved to be an invaluable moment for me to visit my loved ones in Sydney before COVID-19 got out of control. One of my closest friends lives in Sydney and had attempted suicide a few days prior to my flight, so I was fortunate to be in the city to offer him comfort and love.

When I decided to become a freelancer at the start of 2019, it was because I’d become fed up with the debauchery and disrespect of my employers and managers over the course of my career. From laziness to inflated ego’s to incidents where my line managers directly victimized me, I often felt like a day at the office was an episode of Kitchen Nightmares and I just had to wait for that moment Gordon Ramsay would walk in and save us from the bad owners — opening their eyes to all their mistakes. Demoralised and gaslit over the years by authority figures in companies large and small led me to think enough was enough.

I made a lot of mistakes in freelancing — chasing money instead of looking after my own mental health. That same “this is normal” and “toughen up” attitude that’d I’d used on myself throughout my career had followed me into freelancer life — and that wasn’t supposed to happen. I had to distance myself from my first big client because they had issues respecting my professional boundaries. Apparently I was to be available for free 24/7 on WhatsApp for their Director to berate and quiz me at his whim. I didn’t want to continue working for that man so I said as much and ended the working relationship. I missed a few meals the month after while the recruiter held money I’d earned, for services rendered, over my head. They even had the gall to ask me to work extra hours for free.

I had a bit more success with my next big client, the ones who sent me to Sydney, however things got bad in March when COVID-19 uncertainty prevented my client from giving me any more work (well, that’s the reason they gave me anyway). Then they made me an offer — to come onboard as an employee and continue working. I was hesitant due to there being a few moments where I doubted their authenticity and values. My past bad experiences haunted me so I made it clear to them that I’d had issues working for challenging people in the past and that I had certain expectations — they seemed to demonstrate authenticity, good values and a willingness to tolerate my issues so I accepted their offer. What happened next was painful — a working relationship that worked so well for half a year disintegrated in the same amount of time as a full time employee.

I struggled to integrate into the day to day operations of their business feeling the management was ignorant and aloof with too many meetings obstructing everyone’s productivity and no way to tackle real problems affecting the business. I was told off for exercising in the middle of my work day, even though it was a key part of my mental health management and I made up for the time. Needless to say, it was a bad fit for both parties. During my formal performance review, the only feedback I got was in the form of a petty rant about a single email I’d sent. The rest was empty platitudes and praise proving to me they had no interest, respect or care for what goes on in the business — they just wanted to make sure I stayed on for a little while while I build out the contracts they currently had on the go.

Despite delivering on deadlines, getting praised by their clients and regularly doing extra hours every week, I was unable to even take a day off 6 months into the job. Realising that they’d taken my freedom and ability to take care of myself, I resigned immediately. A month later, that ex employer made a mistake and only paid a fraction of the final amount they owed me. I had to call them, months later, to follow up to something that should have just happened as a matter of routine and while they claimed it was an error, I’m certainly not convinced. I can definitely forget about ever seeing payment, or even acknowledgement, of the countless free hours I gave them. But hey — they can run their business however they wish, I wish them all the best in that. We certainly have different views on industry norms and the relevance of standards so I’m glad to part ways with people like that. I wish I’d had the courage to not be tempted by money and listened to my instincts when I first saw the signs of their issues.

While it certainly came with challenges, I’m happy to find myself at the other side of a 15 year long lesson about self love and humility — the failure that was my career. Sure I had some wins on paper — I bought a house in 2009 when I was just 21, but gave myself a lifestyle I loathed. I’d gotten job after job, with no tertiary education…. But had little happiness nor even satisfaction from my work. Life is too short to worry about money all the time, years later I don’t care about what I owned or achieved. It was who I was with and the memories we created together that really mattered to me. I care more about the lunches with my colleagues at iiNet than the times I “saved the company”.

My career had a lot of pain, but I often stuck it out at these jobs because of the company of my coworkers — many have stayed on in my life as friends. As I get older it’s a bit hard to develop those kind of friendships spontaneously, certainly harder to trust new people given the past traumas I live with. I now have some serious health considerations to account for before signing up for the next job offer that comes along. Open Studios has diversified and began to operate as a “studio”. It will be some time before it can pay all the bills, but it’s a promising start and certainly more sustainable than the way I’ve worked in the past.

At the very end of 2020, my boyfriend of 3 years proposed to me while we were out for a walk with our beautiful puppies. Oh yeah, after leaving all those work problems behind we decided to get twin puppies (cover photo of this article) and I’ve spent the past few months raising them while I adjust to life as a real house husband and grow Open Studios. Purse strings are tightened and I’ve had to forego a few luxuries I’d grown accustomed to, but I also don’t really feel like I “need” those luxuries now that I’m happy. Taking care of my home, my dogs, my fiancee and building a business I truly believe in — I’m living the dream.

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