I became my own boss by 25, but not in the way you think. I didn’t create an app on a napkin; didn’t launch a startup in a Seattle coffee shop; didn’t buy an organic farm.
For me, being my own boss means setting my own priorities. It means autonomous income. It means leading my career on my own terms.
But I didn’t take a “leap of faith” into being a self-employed writer. In fact, I didn’t leap at all. Instead, I took intentional steps that all but guaranteed my success:
- I decided what’s important.
Before I planned anything, I figured out what mattered to me. I didn’t care about selling a product; in typical Millennial fashion, I wanted to own where and when I worked and what I did every day.
Whether it’s location flexibility, self-imposed deadlines, creative freedom or any number of perks, choose what you value most. If you can’t decide, ask yourself what kind of job you’d hate. What about it would be unbearable? My nine-month stint as a receptionist taught me that I don’t want a nine-to-five. Working on my own time from anywhere became my priority.
- I chose a specialty.
I knew I wanted to write. So I became an intern, and then a full-time editor, at a popular online magazine. Once you enter the field, everything you do is paid training to eventually become your own boss. Editing made me a stronger writer, thereby enhancing my freelancing opportunities.
Getting a job in your desired specialty is often, contrary to popular hope, vital. You can’t launch an independent career in an unfamiliar arena—first, because you don’t know anything about it and, second, because you don’t have any credibility. But don’t fool yourself into thinking you need to stick around forever for extra “experience.” Do you know what else is experience? Being your own boss.
- I side hustled at one thing.
Whenever I undertook more than one side job, my productivity collapsed. The American Psychological Association explains, “even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.” Juggling side gigs means spending more time sending emails, networking and creating freelancer profiles than actually getting paid. So I ultimately chose one consistent side hustle: freelance writing and editing on a website called Fiverr (but there are hundreds of others).
Don’t let a rotten economy spoil your goals. Use the career and money advice in The Millennial Game Plan to get and stay ahead for good.
Choose a single supplemental income. If you’re trying to build your own business, the process is the same: create one company around one idea. Make everything you do lead back to your specialty, your life’s current thesis. Ask, “is this task on track with my main purpose?”As Entrepreneur on Fire Founder John Lee Dumas commands, “F.O.C.U.S.: follow one course until success.”
- I rescued time.
With a full-time job and a side gig, I was busy. I had to salvage and repurpose whatever time I could. I decided how many hours I needed at my day job to be both a valuable employee and financially self-sufficient. I cut back to 35 hours a week and gained almost a full weekday for freelancing. This allowed me to build up my clients, reputation and savings.
If that’s not feasible, there are other ways to save time for your side hustle: reduce your commute by convincing your boss to let you work remotely a few days a week; work on your way to work by listening to related podcasts or tackling projects on the bus or train; allot a couple vacation days or weekends per month to your own work; get up early and give your gig the most productive time of your day.
- I set a deadline.
The Harvard Business Review explains that defining the “where” and “when” parameters of a task increases our likelihood of doing it. Last fall, I told myself and everyone around me that I was going to be my own boss by January. I used my ego and daily, weekly and monthly goals to hold myself accountable.
Non-procrastinators “focus on the task that needs to be done. They have a stronger personal identity,” said Joseph Ferrari, PhD, a psychology professor at DePaul University. Your deadline is your guarantee that you will do what you say you want. It makes you a person of your word and one worth working for.
- I worked.
I followed through on my plan by working a total of six, occasionally seven, full days a week for seven months. No amount of advice can replace hard, focused work.
Once I established myself as a writer, I knew my value. Indeed, with new skills in my specialty, I was tangibly more valuable to myself and others. I earned the power to be my own boss. At the beginning of this year, I raised my freelancing rates. At my editing job, I negotiated fewer, more flexible hours at higher pay.
Of course, I still answer to someone every day; we all serve something. Every circumstance is different—but you can be your own boss in any one of them if you know what you’re worth, ask for it and, if you need to, walk away. You’ll know you’ve become her when each decision finally feels like your own.