I never understood how some people manage to snag their dream job straight out of college, as it took me a generous handful of tries (at soul-sucking, albeit stable jobs) before I landed on mine.
Mine didn’t come in the form of a job posting, or an interview, or a job offer. It came in the form of a side hustle.
I’d been working in admissions and financial aid at a university, and although the pay was decent and my coworkers were great, my heart was 0% invested in the actual work. I only took the job in the first place because it required heavy travel. Unfortunately, they failed to mention that for every New York City or Los Angeles I visited, they sent me to three middle-of-nowhere towns in Iowa mid-winter.
As you might imagine, there’s not much to do when you’re alone at a Hampton Inn in Brainerd, Minnesota and it’s negative 40 degrees outside, so I started spending my evenings doing something I’d always loved but never seriously pursued: writing. Eventually, I realized that I could make some money on the side, so I joined some freelancing websites and started picking up writing gigs.
In a flurry of excitement over the fact that I could actually make money online, and doing something I love, I quit my job a lot sooner than I should have, financially speaking. Without much money in my savings account, I was forced to dive headfirst into my budding career as a means of survival. It was scary trying to make a living doing something I never used to see as a viable option, but now that I’m more than three years into my career as a full-time freelance writer, I’m doing way better for myself than I ever could have at my old job. Here’s why.
I doubled my income
I’m not going to lie: The first year was rough on my finances. I made money, but not a ton. I moved back in with my parents for about nine months while I got my freelancing business off the ground.
With a lot of persistence, my second year had me almost at my old salary. By my third year, I surpassed it. I recently filed my taxes from my third full year as a full-time freelance writer, and I can proudly say that I’ve doubled what I was making at my last job. Even if I’d been promoted multiple times by my previous employer, I never could have hit this income level.
People talk a lot about how self-employment gives you control of your schedule, but they fail to mention that it also gives you control of your income. You don’t have full control, of course, but there’s always more money floating around out there if you know how to grab it. Traditional employers might offer annual raises of a few percentage points, but when you’re self-employed, there is no ceiling to how much money you can make.
I cut my monthly expenses in half
I used to think that savings accounts were a myth. A few years ago, I could barely stay out of credit card debt, let alone save money. But self-employment has not only doubled my income — it’s also allowed me to cut my monthly expenses in half, which has done wonders for my savings.
Given my ability to work from anywhere in the world, I decided to move abroad and travel once my income was stable. I’ve cut out so many expenses by living abroad, from car payments and car insurance to clothes shopping (I don’t have the space for new things). I also live in a Costa Rica, where there’s a lower cost of living — my rent is about five times less than what I would pay in the United States.
Of course, living abroad isn’t an option, or even a desire, for many people. That doesn’t mean self-employment won’t cut down on your expenses. If you live in a high cost of living area because it’s close to where you work, self-employment will allow you to move to a more affordable neighborhood. You might cut down on the cost of dining out, commuting, or daycare by working from home, or you may be able to give up your car.
Self-employment gave me freedom and flexibility
Making more money and spending less are two concrete ways that self-employment has improved my life, but the more intangible benefits are often the most valuable. Self-employment gave me the gift of a work-life balance most people can only dream of.
I love being my own boss and having control of my hours, workload, and schedule. I can take off a random Tuesday just because it’s nice out, or miss a few days of work to go visit my family or go to a friend’s wedding whenever I want. If I need a whole week off because I’m going through something difficult, I don’t have to ask for permission. Granted, I still have bills to pay and clients to please. But I’ve found it easy to shuffle around my work and cut back on expenses (or work more the following week) when I need some time off.
The ability to work from anywhere in the world has been the greatest gift for my travel bug-infected heart. I have a home base in Costa Rica that I love, but I’ve also traveled all around Central America, flown to Mexico twice a year, spent a month in Japan, a few months in New York, and a summer backpacking through Europe. I can go anywhere I want whenever I want, and that freedom is one of the best feelings I’ve known.
Not everyone can make a living off of their hobbies, and quitting your job is always scary. But if you think side gigs can’t become flourishing careers with enough patience and persistence, you’re wrong. If you’ve got a side gig you love and believe in, it’s worth seeing what it can grow into when you make it your main gig.