“Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
by Luke Harrison
Sometime between the third and fourth conference call of the morning, and somewhere between the 24th and 37th floor, I knew a change was needed.
Only four months into my role at a leading international bank I felt completely disconnected.
Despite having a supportive boss, highly skilled colleagues and the comfortable security net of salary, benefits et al I had begun to dread the morning alarm. The hours and travel weren’t an issue. It felt like a much deeper problem, one that wouldn’t be fixed by sidestepping into another role of a similar ilk.
It was only when undertaking a brutally honest appraisal of myself that I found clarity. It wasn’t so much a review of my strengths and weaknesses, but a decision to understand what really mattered to me, what gave me the sense of pride in my job that I craved.
I came up with four ‘needs’ that I value in my career:
flexibility in my day, my life and my choices
working alongside people who inspire me through their commitment to a better society
the space to be creative and spontaneous, be that in finding novel ways to communicate a message or by helping to make a process more efficient
a learning environment, where I encounter new subjects and ideas every day
It perhaps seems obvious, from those four ‘needs’ that I would venture into the world of freelance. I had considered taking the leap a number of times and fell short each time; I wanted greater experience and the cosy swaddle of a more stable employment was always on hand to draw me back in.
And yet earlier this year, with more experience under my belt and a few pennies stashed away for a rainy day, I still felt reluctant to trigger this new chapter in my career.
There was a major, unspoken obstacle in the way – my own stupid, stubborn pride. Or rather, my vanity.
When I moved into the finance sector it was seen by many as a chance for me to ‘move up in the world’. I was happy working in the higher education sector but sought to spread my wings, influence more, and develop as a professional – something that would require me stepping outside of my comfort zone.
Changing course so soon after that move came with a fear that I would be viewed as a failure, that my family and colleagues (both new and old) would feel let down. How would it look on my CV? How would it look on LinkedIn? Surely I should wait it out a year or so.
At the peak of my dilly-dallying I received a text from a future client asking for my guidance in recruiting a freelance writer. I’m not one for ‘signs from the universe’, but it was hard not to wonder if there wasn’t a greater force at play.
I contacted my nearest and dearest, then my boss, then my colleagues, friends, and various acquaintances. I waited for the inevitable backlash.
I need not have worried. The response to my decision to start up as a freelancer has been overwhelmingly positive – not least from the freelance community who have offered encouragement and guidance at every turn. There is a sense of admiration, and enthusiasm, that I’ve been bold enough to pursue my ambition. It seems that people who care about you just want you to be happy. They tend not to worry about your CV. I confess, I am a fool. A vain fool at that.
At the time of writing I’m seeing out my notice period and using my evenings and weekends to set up the administrative platform for my business. It is scary. It is exhilarating. On concurrent mornings This week I have woken up insanely early thinking about a) the colour of my business cards and b) my inevitable failure to make a living as a freelancer - to the point at which I work out how far savings would stretch to cover rent – and my cat ends up resorting to eating me in my sleep.
I’m under no illusions about the difficulties that lie ahead; the trappings of HMRC, getting clients, keeping said clients happy, developing a stronger immune system to avoid getting ill.
But I balance that against what I’ll gain in return.
This period of self-reflection has taught me much about opening up and admitting my fears and failings. The feeling I get from a positive interaction with a client is the right sort of pride. Clicking ‘publish’ on my website, however small, is the right sort of pride. The initial discussions I’ve had with potential clients including research institutions, charities and small business start-ups, have reinvigorated my sense of joy and purpose.
In a few weeks, I’ll be fully self-employed and will have plenty more lessons to learn.
Lesson one: Swallow your pride.
Lesson two: It is nice to be proud of what you do.
Luke Harrison is a freelance communications consultant with expertise in media relations, copywriting and strategy and a particular specialism in research communications.
image via US National Archives