5 things I’ve learnt in my first month as a freelancer

Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

It’s been just over a month since I left my full time job and career of 10 years in academia. As well as that monthly salary… more on money next time.

It’s been a week since I launched my website, podcast and email newsletter. I’ve also written over 14,000 words of my novel.

A lot. And with a chronic illness and 2 young children.

How have I done it. Well, a lot has been the change in mindset from becoming my own boss. There are other things I’ve learnt. This is my first list. More are coming as I am learning as I go…

My 5 learning curves for this month:

  1. If you think you are burnt out because of your job, you probably are. I don’t wish I’d made the leap before, because I was only ready now. However, I’m no longer afraid to pivot again if I need to. This has been the most valuable transformation in my mindset. If you are not ready to pivot – see number 5.
  2. You can learn how to build and launch a website in a month. I went from zero skill, to, well competent. All self-taught. But, with a lot of support online. The website will still be a work in progress, but there are so many fantastic resources and sources of support out there. I’m writing a short e-book on this – for those of us afraid to do it because we lack the technical expertise and time – will be launching soon. Which leads me to my number three…
  3. Get yourself on to Instagram. If you are already there, start engaging. Watch a Youtube video about how to use the functions. Why? Because I have met the most amazing, generous, insightful, bright women who are freelancing on there. They are sharing – for free, and in paid courses – how they built their own business, their brand. Why they want more women to do this. How they are building a community. If you do one thing from reading this, check out Vix Meldrew’s webpage and listen to the Exciting Emails podcast. A must for anyone thinking of starting to seriously blog.
  4. It is ok to learn as you go. And make some mistakes. A podcast on Imposter Syndrome is coming on Monday because it seems this is a major factor for women – holding themselves back from change. Only, I’m not sure I buy that. I want to explore the fuller picture. Join in the discussion on Twitter or Instagram. Tell me your experiences of imposter syndrome – does it hold you back? Or, is it more complex than that?
  5. Being your own boss is the best. It is tough, it is stressful (especially the earning part – next week’s discussion). It is tiring (especially with any chronic condition – more on that coming soon). BUT, the work feels that it is for something. The work is tangible. The goals are clear. You are not being set up to ‘fail’. There are no snarky emails or remarks. It is freeing. It is liberating. Yes, there is privilege in being able to pivot; so, how do we make it both easier to pivot, and also less necessary. How do we fix workplaces so that they stop driving us to burnout or boredom? Check out the lovely Jo Hooper over on Mad and Sad Club – her work on stress in the workplace is great. Tackling the structures.

And here’s a bonus one – You are never ‘too old/uncool/boring – you are you. We all have amazing experience and expertise to share. I feel like I am finally able to bring the best of both of mine together. The feedback I have received so far has been amazing – it seems there is both necessity and desire. I’ll take that and keep going.

If you like this – please join us in The Learning Curve Collective. Sign up to the newsletter (see the welcome page), subscribe to the podcast. Join in over on Twitter or Instagram.

Please also comment here, like, and share this post if you liked this post and want others to join in too!

Oh, and I’ve not worked once in my pyjamas! Yet. x

Guest Blog for ‘Let’s Talk Academia’ – ‘What does it take to leave academia?’

I’ve a guest blog post out today. It’s a little meditation on the privileges it takes to have a happy exit from academia. As well as on the precarities that lead you to the exit, and that might await beyond.

You can check the link here:


I think it does end happily for me. No looking back 🙂

I’m leaving academia. But, here are some reasons why I stayed.

On Monday 7th January 2019. I emailed my line managers to hand in my notice of resignation. From a permanent lecturing post. That I had held for a decade. That had been a ‘pinch me’ job.

For a long time. Until it wasn’t.

As readers of this blog will know, I took a prolonged period of sick leave in 2018. My body physically gave in to ever progressing endometriosis and the situationally provoked mental health issues this created. In part, from attempting to mask a debilitating chronic illness. I have stage 4, severe, endometriosis in my bladder, my bowel, attaching my womb to both. Adhesions and lesions. I have been profoundly affected. 

I returned to work on a phased basis at the end of November 2018. This translates into taking 4 weeks to work up from 0 to full time – in case you were wondering. I still wanted to get back. I still wanted to teach in Semester 2. I didn’t want to go onto statutory sick pay; I received a letter telling me to sign on at the job centre the week I had returned. 

I thought I could do it. 

And yet. Nothing had changed. It was as if I had never been away. Had never disclosed I was ill. As if I was ‘better’ because I was back. As if a chronic, ongoing, progressive, illness, is not. 

By the week before Christmas, I could hear the alarm bells ringing again. I just didn’t want to do it anymore.

It was simultaneously too much, and yet, no where near enough.

No where near enough kindness, solidarity, intellectual curiosity, creativity, freedom. 

Ironic, huh. The ‘ivory tower’ – the place where you go to strive to be at the frontier of knowledge. Yes. If you fit with funding streams and REF panels and teaching requirements and new disciplinary priorities.

Sure, you can plough a lone furrow. Make networks outside of your everyday spaces. Sure, you can use social media – I do. I love it. I have met the best people. But, what about wanting more. More of the best. More of what was promised. More of what you were trained for.

That is why I stayed.

I thought it mattered that a first generation female academic was there. In a Russell group university. Being a different body with a different perspective. 

I thought it mattered that I was the first in my family to go to university. The only person in my family to have a job like this. An income like this. A title like this. Probably the only one to ever do it. You can’t walk away from that, can you? You can’t help the people that matter if you don’t have this income, can you?

I thought not being financially dependent on anyone mattered. It does. I won’t be unemployed. More of that later.

I thought my teaching mattered. I was making an intervention. A feminist politics class restored. A new innovative teaching methodology and assessment – visiting a zine archive, collaging, group collaboration to write our feminist manifestos. A new course on the human rights violations of austerity in the UK. Important. urgent. Angry. Political.

I thought I was a role model. For my children. A working mum. A career woman. Doing it all. Not letting illness bring you down. Triumphing mind over matter. Making sure my children’s lives would be better. They would be good citizens. They would be in solidarity.

I thought this was the place I could be more. I could stretch out. I could access the knowledge that I craved. And for such a long time I did. I cannot emphasise the sheer joy that comes from meeting the brightest and the best. The women who stun you with their intellect, kindness, tenacity, strength. That is the privilege. And these are peers and students. Seeing students soar, realise their potential – humbling and exceptional. 

And yet. For all those good reasons, there is a better one to leave. My own health, sanity, creativity, care and freedom.

I am leaving, not because I can’t do academia – I can. I just don’t want to anymore. 

I don’t want to stay, because of all the reasons I listed above to stay, now seem to matter so very little. The direction of travel feels all wrong. The motivations warped. 

This is not about specific place or people. Although individuals say and do things in particular places and spaces, this is not about that. This is about my response to the structural and cultural challenges of a sector. It has broken my heart.

I will always love higher education. I will always champion it. It has, in many ways, been the making of me. I would never be at the point of walking away from a secure, fantastically well-paid job, to do something else, without it.

It has given me confidence. It has let me know myself. I can intellectualise and analyse my experience.

I now know, I no longer simply want to research why women are politicised and our politics are diverse and divisive; I want to live that. I want to do that. 

I am going to. I am going to be more for more.

With love, solidarity and thanks.

To be continued….