Four million Americans quit their job in April 2021 alone in a part of what economists and news outlets have called “the Great Resignation”. If you’re one of them, you’re in good company. Carolyn Rousch was one of those four million individuals, quitting her job at a nonprofit to pursue a passion for writing.
In her own article published to Medium, Carolyn shared her experiences, as well as insight into what she thinks employers could be doing better. We highly recommend you give that a read here.
We sent her the following questions, and, after reading her article, we were not surprised to find her answers thoughtful, insightful, relatable, and, in a time when we all need it, comforting.
In your article you detail your experience of leaving behind a job at a nonprofit to start working for yourself. What was the moment when you realized you were definitely going to quit?
It was something that grew and became more and more real over time. By April of this year, I knew I was going to leave very soon, and I even started making plans, but the moment I absolutely knew I was going to quit was the moment I did it.
I had just gotten back from a weekend trip to San Diego. It was the first time I’d left town since before the pandemic started, and that space helped me to refocus and know that I was ready. When I got back to the office, I could think of nothing else; I resigned that day.
What were the signs you experienced that indicated you were burnt out on your career?
I wrote about this in the article, but the clearest sign was how I felt when I returned to work in January. I’d had more than a week off for the holidays, but I walked to my desk feeling completely exhausted.
It wasn’t the typical post-holiday emotional hangover when you’ve been traveling or gotten used to sleeping in and being lazy all day and the alarm going off feels like torture. This was a deeper feeling of dissatisfaction that I knew I couldn’t ignore anymore.
What advice would you give to someone working up the nerve to take the leap into freelance?
I’m still so new to this journey myself that it’s hard to say! Everyone’s situation looks different, and freelancing isn’t really the right fit for every person. But for people that have been thinking about this, have done the research, and have financially prepared, I’d just ask this: If not now, then when?
That’s been kind of my mantra this year. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned everything on its head, and while I was lucky to keep working and I’ve stayed healthy, I haven’t been immune to the realization that nothing is as secure as we may have believed. We only have this one life, and if you’re privileged enough to imagine a different way and to realistically make it happen, it’s up to you to take the leap and own it.
How did you communicate your career change to your family/friends/coworkers?
Only a few people knew my plans before I turned in my notice: my husband and a couple of friends. So I had a lot of people to tell. I made a mental list of the people who needed to hear it directly from me (friends, colleagues, etc), and reached out to them right away before the news could get to them in any other way. Everybody else found out via an announcement, whether from me on social media or from my organization.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in becoming a freelance writer? What’s the biggest reward?
The first few months were incredibly challenging because everything was new. I’ve never owned a business before, and here I am setting up an LLC and creating invoices and opening a bank account and figuring out what my “unique value proposition” is and how to tell people about it. The first time I got a check from a client, I literally had to google “how to sign a check as a business.” It was incredibly taxing, both mentally and emotionally. I had a few days in there when I’d do one thing in the morning, and that was it for the day; I had nothing left to offer!
Now that I’m a bit further into it, my biggest challenge is figuring out what I want my freelance career to look like and how to make that happen in a sustainable way. There are a million ways to be a writer and a million ways to be a freelancer. Despite all the advice out there telling you what you should do, finding your own path is important.
I spent my BF (before freelance) career in the non-profit industry, and I still love working with mission-based companies and organizations. They’re the people who are intentional about what they bring to the world and not just what they get out of it. But I am exploring a lot of different writing avenues right now and seeing what fits.
And the rewards? Well, having a lot of flexibility and owning my own time and energy are huge. But I’d be lying if I didn’t get a thrill seeing people respond positively to my writing!
How do you think coworking spaces fit into a more sustainable future of work?
Freelancers aside, while some offices are asking people to return, others are shutting down completely and giving their staff the freedom to work anywhere. That flexibility can be amazing. I work from home, coffee shops, bars, wherever I can camp out and get things done. I could sit in the middle of the woods, and as long as I have cell service (and bug spray), I can work. But there are times when you really do need a more professional, well-equipped, work-oriented space, and coworking spaces fill that gap when a normal office isn’t an option. There are tons of benefits to having that as a resource, but there’s also a mental aspect: it helps to shift your mind into work mode.
How can coworking spaces best support freelance and remote workers?
Freelance work is unique, and I’d love to see opportunities for freelancers of all types to come together and learn from each other. I started this whole thing in the middle of the pandemic, so I haven’t ventured out to meet other freelancers, but I want to. At a bare minimum, sometimes it would be nice just to share a beer and know that someone else gets what you’re going through.
Additionally, freelancers don’t exist without the institutions and clients who give us work. So it would be really cool to have a way to connect members who need freelancers and freelancers who are open to work through a portal or job board or intentional programming.
You mention bad work habits in your article. What are some of those habits and how did you address them?
I’m a procrastinator. I hate it because it’s highly stressful, and now I’ve trained myself to do some of my best work at the 11th hour. In the modern era, social media or other apps also provide an easy escape when I don’t want to tackle my to-do list. When you’re salaried or even an hourly employee, you don’t necessarily notice that lost time because you’re getting paid regardless!
But when you’re a freelancer, your productivity is money. That coffee break that lingers a bit too long because you’ve gone down a Wikipedia rabbit hole and learned all about 17th-century corsets? That’s time you’re not getting work done, which means that you’re not going to get paid.
I’m a long way from solving all of my problems in this area, but I’ve taken a hard look at how I spend my time and why I procrastinate. For me, it’s usually not laziness but a symptom of anxiety – I’m not feeling confident about doing whatever it is that I’m putting off.
I’m starting to journal through those anxieties (an idea I stole from my friend Jess, an incredible artist with her own non-traditional career). I’ve also made small changes like turning off notifications and deleting some apps to ensure that the temptation to get lost in them isn’t constantly there. And, despite all attempts to go digital, I still keep a paper planner to map out my time.
For someone who is starting to build a freelance network, how do you suggest they go about getting their first gig?
Start with your current network. You genuinely never know what doors they’ll open for you. In the first few weeks after I went public with my freelance plans, I connected with a couple of key clients through former colleagues who knew me and my work.
I’m now working on expanding my network, and for an anxious introvert, it’s hard!It takes a lot of bravery and emotional energy to put yourself out there, but you have to do it. You’ll get some noes and some no-replies, but getting that yes makes it all worth it.
What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had?
My jobs have overall been pretty boring. Even as a teenager, I was in offices and libraries doing administrative work. But I did have a job for about a month in a greenhouse selling plants. It’s a good thing it was a temporary gig – I have the blackest thumb imaginable and should not have been trusted around green things.
As a freelancer, one of my weirdest (and most fun) jobs so far was editing and formatting a play. It was totally out of my comfort zone, but I love those kinds of oddball projects where I have no idea what I’m doing to start. The internet is a wonderful safety net of information to get the job done and do it well!
What’s something new you learned in the past week?
I’ve been reading a lot about whisk(e)y because I love it, and I’m trying to figure out how to write about it, professionally or otherwise. So this week I learned all about how the Irish whiskey industry nearly died out in the last century. Just 10 years ago, there were only four distilleries left in the country. There are now 40, and they’re continuing to grow and innovate. I’m primarily a Scotch drinker, but I have a couple of Irish whiskeys on my wish list now.
What’s your favorite thing that you’ve written?
It changes every day! Sometimes it’s a whole piece, sometimes a passage, sometimes just a couple of words that just play nicely together. Lately, the article I published about The Great Resignation is up there; the response has been profound, and that brings me a lot of joy and satisfaction.
The best advice you’ve ever been given?
No one cares more about your work than you do.
Everyone has their own priorities and demands on their attention and time. So it’s up to you to advocate for yourself, and you also need to have a little grace when people aren’t as excited or focused on your work as you are.
- Listening to: 1970s Soft Rock
- Watching: Ted Lasso
- Reading: ‘Bird by Bird’ by Anne Lamott
What are three words you would use to describe COMMON Workspace?
Work made happy.
Thank you, Carolyn, for the thoughtful answers and for being a part of this community!
Check out more of Carolyn’s work on her website.