If it's not broken, don't fix it?
January 12, 2022 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I have struggled professionally because I have excellent skills combined with mental health issues that can make living up to expectations difficult to impossible. After crashing and burning at my last/only full time position, I have been freelancing and gradually built this up into a pretty good work-from-home business. I've never been more stable than I am now…but my newfound success has led to more opportunities and, now that I am potentially going to be offered a job that is objectively an excellent opportunity, I am beanplating about it. Help!

If anyone could help me get my head straight about how to look at this situation, or has any thoughts based on having gone through something similar, I would really appreciate it. I'm supposed to talk to the potential employer again soon and I don't know how to approach the conversation because I am very conflicted about what I even want.

[Note: if you read my posts from when I was at my old job, you can see how stressed I was...thankfully I didn't get fired, but I did quit with nothing really lined up when I couldn't take it anymore.]

Good things about my current work: 
-Being in control and not having to answer to anyone. I can say no to projects anytime, work whatever hours I want, and not work with people again if it's a bad experience. 
-This is very good with my mental health issues (ADHD, anxiety, bipolar disorder) because my capabilities are not the same every day or every month, and I can go with the flow more instead of fighting against it all the time. I also don't have to feel afraid that I am going to get in trouble if I'm not getting much done--I just don't make as much money. 
-Low social demands--all I have to do is respond to emails in a pleasant manner, take the occasional phone call, and turn things in on time. No complicated social dynamics to manage and spiral about later. 
-Money is pretty good and I expect to be able to do better (low six figures) this year by a combination of saying no to lower paying work and working more (but still part time) hours for higher-paying clients.
-Type of work--I'm not always doing something I care most about, but it's not boring, and I like having a range of projects and learning new things about random topics and then moving on to something else. 

Potential good things about job:
-What I'd be working on is something I care a lot about, and I like collaborating with another smart person who is interested in the same things. Being more invested is kind of a double-edged sword though, because it also means it's hard for me to disengage. 
-Much higher long-term earning potential and prestige
-Additional challenges, something that looks like actual "career advancement"
-My only coworker would be my boss and I already know they are pretty good to work with because I've done some substantial work for them as a freelancer
-I would still work from home and the potential boss is not a micromanager, but I would have no control over my assignments or the amount of work I have to get done. The nature of the work would mean things can sometimes become really stressful/time consuming through no fault of my own. And I'm afraid that I'm not capable of working normal full-time hours, let alone the extended hours that are often expected in this field. 

Thank you for your Metafilter wisdom!
posted by picardythird to Work & Money (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The fact that you are able to manage a successful freelancing business gives you a pretty nice cushion should the new job not work out. Would you have to rebuild from the ground up if you started freelancing again in 1-2 years or would you be able to quickly pick up old clients? Either way you could think about this opportunity as an extended freelancing job.
posted by TurnKey at 6:10 PM on January 12, 2022

Best answer: This is a hard call. I think it's so impressive and laudable that you have created such an awesome job for yourself and your strengths and challenges. I'm torn: normally I'd say "definitely go for it! Try the new job!" But I also understand how important feeling comfortable and balanced is. I love my job but with the latest wave of COVID, I'm feeling off-kilter at work and needing much more time and space to decompress after hours; I am accepting that I have to cut back on "extracurriculars" for the sake of my mental and physical health. I think of a recent ex who is currently very successful in a fancy new work endeavor but also completely wiped up and unable to do much more other than work and gym (hence the end of our relationship.) I get it though? Our dream jobs are often exhausting and these are extra exhausting times. Perhaps there's a happy medium possible where you do more with this boss but not yet commit to full-time. It's always worth discussing!

One more thing I had noticed: I see you talk about career advancement, income potential, and prestige. These are all fine things to want. Do you really want them or just think you should want them? There's nothing wrong with striving for being elite; there's also nothing wrong with being happy with a job that's less outwardly wow but makes you happy and at peace. I hope you can figure what's best for you, both right now and in the future, and that you are satisfied with your choice.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:27 PM on January 12, 2022

And I'm afraid that I'm not capable of working normal full-time hours, let alone the extended hours that are often expected in this field.

Any chance you could have an honest conversation about this with your potential boss/coworker and explore mitigating setups, or whether there are any more sustainable ways to be involved?

As someone with similar issues, I really sympathize. For my part, I've been forced to accept the conclusion that I really, inescapably cannot work normal full-time hours, and the path to that realization hasn't been pretty and came at a high price to my health. So I'm trying to learn to feel good about turning down work that would push me too much, and think of the health costs averted rather than the money not earned. In your case, maybe (I hope) things aren't as dire, but it could be good to think about what your options would be at different stages if things did get to be too much.

If you decide to do this (and maybe even if you don't), consider setting up some support and habits for your mental health in advance, like a therapist you trust, a meditation or exercise routine, or whatever you feel could help you carry this new role sustainably.
posted by trig at 6:39 PM on January 12, 2022 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: One more thing I had noticed: I see you talk about career advancement, income potential, and prestige. These are all fine things to want. Do you really want them or just think you should want them?

That's a good question (and thank you for your very empathetic response smorgasbord).

I'm not entirely sure--I've never valued these things that much and included them in the list in large part because they're reasons why someone might objectively say that of course I shouldn't say no to this. Not that I don't value them at all--who would mind getting rich? And it would be nice to leave my mark on things more--most of what I do now makes my work anonymous because the people I do the work for put their names on it. But I've never pursued these things as a priority and there's no amount of money that's worth being miserable.
posted by picardythird at 6:40 PM on January 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

That is a hard call. What about asking for a regular review period - say, every three months, for each side to evaluate how things are going and address mutual pain-points that hadn't been addressed previously?

You might also ask about a "tech track" - that is, there is not an expectation that you'll move toward being a manager, but can become a Senior Whatever-you-do where you may spearhead projects, and you may mentor, but you mostly keep working as a hands-on contributor and you might not be hiring & firing or giving performance reviews. You can ask about switching off the tech track in the future if you decide that, yes, you'd like to start working toward an eventual management position. That's another possible way to minimize stress until you feel comfortable rotating into such a position.

Also raise your concerns about hours straight away, and mention why you're concerned. I'm only guessing, but are you in the tech field? Lots of companies are recognizing that people burning out is no longer just a nebulous "it-might-happen."

For concerns about spots of overwork, keep communicating with your boss about your workload and bandwidth, and try to find out when you might need to be all-hands-on-deck for a week or so. It can be a concern, but even if you're not a freelancer you're not completely at their mercy. Just check in with yourself from time to time, and act on what's actually going on rather than what you want to be going on. If you find that you've been working 50-hour work weeks for the past month, pump the brakes. This can be hard, especially if you'll dive into anything that really grabs your attention; but you need to be super protective of yourself.
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 6:43 PM on January 12, 2022

Maybe it depends on what would happen if the job doesn't work for you – will it be easy to pick up the freelance gig again? Or will it take some time to get clients again? How long, and would you have enough of a financial cushion? It sounds like a good opportunity, but it would be less stressful if you know what your plan would be if it doesn't work out.
posted by lookoutbelow at 6:46 PM on January 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: A couple people have asked about whether, if it doesn't work out, I would be able to pick up the freelancing again easily or have to start back from the ground up. Hard to say for sure, but most likely somewhere in the middle. I'd be able to find some work right away almost certainly, but my best (and best paying) clients very well could have moved on and found a new "go to" person. That's what makes this so hard!

(But thank you for the reminder that I will not be destitute and without options if this doesn't work out and I don't have to view it as a decision that I am making permanently for the rest of my life forever and ever.)

(Sorry if this is too much back and forth, people were asking about these things so it does seem like the clarification/info would be helpful to future commenters.)
posted by picardythird at 6:59 PM on January 12, 2022

Best answer: Hello. Bipolar person here. I practiced law for 20 years as a sole practitioner so I could control my work flow, the number of cases I carried, who I represented, and the hours I'd work each day.

As someone who tries to stay healthy while living with bipolar, I need to be able to have a good work/life balance. Not get too stressed, or tired. It was important for me to be able to manage my work flow by adjusting how many people I would see in a day, or how many clients I took on during a particular month. In sole practice I was able to do those things and I was able to manage both my law practice, and my mental health, well.

There are a lot of work considerations for you to think about. However, I'd also take some time to think about what you need to stay mentally healthy and whether this job is able to give you the flexibility to take care of those needs.

I try to always put my mental health at the top of my lists.
posted by furtheryet at 7:14 PM on January 12, 2022 [9 favorites]

I started freelancing 9 years ago. There is no doubt I could make more money and have more prestige if I took a corporate job (again), but I have no plans to. All of the things you cite -- the option to work when/where I want to, saying no to bad projects/clients, low social demands, finishing a project and moving on, etc. -- are the things I value most. Going back to high-paying work that would be very demanding and also include a lot of hours? No way. Just...no.

If you're not ready to completely say no, what would happen if you told them you're not looking to make a change now but might like to revisit the opportunity in a year?
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:09 PM on January 12, 2022 [2 favorites]

I recently dipped my toe back into the "working for someone else" world, and despite the situation being as genial as it could possibly be it just stressed me the hell out. There's quite a bit of money to be made there but I simply would never be relaxed in my life. And as furtheryet says above, mental health is top priority.

In your shoes I would treat this as an experiment. Tell your existing clients you'll be on vacation for a few months and dive into the job. If it turns out you want the job and can be healthy doing it then you're good. If it turns out to be a misfire, fall back to your current position.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:37 PM on January 12, 2022

Oh, and as demonstrated by the Great Resignation society is in flux about what an objectively good job is at the moment. You may not want to rely too much on tradition
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:42 PM on January 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Given what you described, I think the control that you have as a self-employed person is really critical to the success that you are having both professionally and in terms of feeling reasonably healthy and balanced. I would not give that up for a job with where you have to deliver based on commitments made by someone else.

(If I imagine myself in your place, I would come down strongly on the side of f* prestige, I'm going to set myself up to live my own life in the way that works for me. Said as a self-employed person who is really appreciating being able to reduce my schedule in the face of some intense pandemic / family stressors. Reality is that I don't know everything about your life and I could be totally wrong about what's best for you but since you asked.....)
posted by metahawk at 9:10 PM on January 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: At this point in the world, and with my own physical and mental health issues, I'd personally be very reluctant to let go of a "pretty good" work-from-home business that I could continue to build. In fact, that's where I'm trying to get to; I badly need that flexibility.

I think my sole considerations would be if the benefits (primarily health insurance) and money were so good as to make it tough to turn it down...

I would be strongly inclined to answer something along the lines of "I'm not currently interested in a full-time employee commitment, though that might change in the future. In the meantime, I'm glad you appreciate my work, and I'd be happy to discuss expanding the scope of our contract(s)."
posted by stormyteal at 11:17 PM on January 12, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am a freelancer because of various mental health issues. If I had to do 40 hours a week, every week (and it happens), it drains me and I NEED time off. I am lucky enough to be paid enough per hour that I don't have to work 40 hours a week and I have a network of clients that book me in for jobs throughout the year, BUT when a job turns out requiring more time - I work for free and have a mini breakdown.

Anyway, just saying, I've thought of working full-time and I can't do it. I can't even guarantee waking up by 7am every morning. Just thinking about it - anxiety is explosive.
posted by b33j at 11:25 PM on January 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the responses, I really appreciate it, and it made me feel a lot better hearing from other people who have had to make similar decisions. Sometimes I look around and feel bad that I haven't been able to do more, not necessarily because I even want to do more, but because I see my professional peers working "normal" jobs and feel like there is something wrong with me because that is so hard for me.

This internal debate might be for nothing because I may not even be offered the job, but I think I'm going to take a middle road and float the idea of doing a part-time contract for a few months with the plan that if all is going well, we will discuss the full-time position at that time. Then if I feel good about where things are going and the salary details make it worth it, that's great, and if not, it will just have been a temporary contract where I learned a lot and I can go back to what I was doing without having cut things off with my current clients.

I suppose I could negotiate myself out of a job this way, but if the potential employer can't be flexible about something like this, that would likely be a bad sign anyway.
posted by picardythird at 9:13 AM on January 13, 2022 [3 favorites]

If you are financially solid, I would stick to your current set-up and look for ways to expand and improve that over corporate climbing. I have a contract job that is WFH after self employment and freelancing, and I actually find it so much easier because I am not responsible for budgets, management/HR issues and timelines, only in completing the projects I've been given. I do 40 hours a week, but on flex time, contactable during office hours. I can work around migraines, childcare and flare ups, and as long as the work gets done, it's good. Busy periods are balanced unofficially by slack periods.

Talk about flex work and contact expectations with your prospective boss and really go into the office culture. A short term contract is a *great* idea to test the waters.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 11:35 PM on January 13, 2022

Something about your description is pinging my own adhd “I would be excited about the good stuff and downplay the bad stuff” radar.

However, I do think you should evaluate your feelings further on why you might want to work at a job, and see if there is a reason you want to follow through on this with another job or create a partnership with another colleague. It seems like there are reasons you want this but this one might not be the right fit.

I’m just basing it on a sense of what you’ve said and how I, as someone with adhd, have experienced similar things.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:10 PM on May 7, 2022

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