More than ever before, I feel quite split into multiple work personalities. If I’m feeling critical, I might say that I’m avoiding a commitment one way or the other. If I’m feeling generous, I might say that I’m just making sure that we’re not putting all of our eggs in one basket by pursuing all opportunities. Jobs, the economy, clients, customers, trends – they can all be fickle, so it’s hard to say no while opportunities still manage to come my way. It’s that freelance mentality. When you’ve created this life supported by hobbling together various businesses and freelance projects for so long, it’s quite scary to cut the cord and jump all the way in.
But I think about doing it all the time – when I’m riding the train to the office sandwiched a little too closely to people on all sides; when I’m sitting at a meeting during an insecure moment of “what am I doing here?”; when I’m at home on my days off folding laundry and catching up on house work before picking the girls up from school. Taking this part time(ish) job at a startup was supposed to be a move towards simplifying my work life, a break from the hustle of lining up freelance jobs so that I could dedicate the time away from the job to work on our business. At least that was the idea. I still continue to freelance because it gives us a more comfortable cushion, but it also covers camp costs and childcare so that I could go into the office. The irony of that kills me, but isn’t this a common dilemma for many working parents? In the end, the job just added another layer of complexity in my already schizophrenic work life. So now I have 3 jobs, not 2. Funny how that ended up working.
It’s hard to believe that I’ve been commuting to a job for a year now. Some things I knew going in – that the commute can be soul sucking, that childcare would be stressful, and that physically working in an office would be a big transition. The AC situation, let alone sitting 8 hours at a desk, is still hard to get used to (I really don’t like wearing 3 layers and a scarf in the middle of summer). The interaction with people is great, and lately, getting off from work during golden hour as the sun gets ready to set makes me want to linger in the city a little longer before heading into the subway station.
What did surprise me was how challenging work relationships can be, especially in really small teams. It’s often as complex as being in a relationship with your spouse or family and it takes a lot of work to foster good relationships built on mutual respect and trust. Being part of a startup, where the future of pretty much everything that you’re working on is inherently uncertain and risky, can feel like you’re on a ship with no navigational course. The highs and little victories can be exciting, but the low points can be the worst too. Things can turn on a dime when winds shift suddenly and you have to execute fast to stay afloat. We’re at a transitional point right now and the work that I’ve been doing for a better part of a year changed when we turned our focus towards something completely different than when I joined. My job title and role was constantly shifting all year anyway and I’m fairly used to change when it comes to work situations given the nature of freelance, but it did result in anxiety-filled uncertainty. I’m still trying to find my footing in this new iteration of the company. Feelings that I hadn’t experienced in a long time, in the context of work, surface quite frequently – insecurity, frustration, but also all the good stuff of being part of a team. The gender stuff too rears its head even though I try not to allow it. All the emotional extras of having a job and commuting during rush hour that I had sort of forgotten about takes up a lot of mental space – so much so that I don’t really have the mental energy to do much else some days when I get home. On those days I feel pretty unproductive, but simply put, a startup job isn’t the kind of job that you can just punch in and out of, and a part time job isn’t really part time when you’re connected to the office online on days when you’re not there.
So my plan to consolidate my work life so I can dedicate more time to the business isn’t exactly going as I planned – not yet anyway – but not all is always lost when things don’t go as you envision. For now, I’m okay with letting things drift to see which direction they take rather than steering the ship too tightly. Taking on a job was, quite frankly, something that I didn’t think would happen considering freelancing worked for us all those years and I loved being self employed despite all its challenges. But sometimes you need to swallow your fears and personal wants in order to do what’s good for your family, and in our case it was a steady paycheck and better benefits. I can’t say for certain that after a year, it’s the right career choice for the future, but I don’t know what the future is – I’m working at a startup, after all. Success rates are notoriously low and most burn out after a few years. But then again, the same can be said about the food industry. Here we still are 8 years later…