The disadvantages of working for yourself Part I: the emotional challenges

Well, this is a bit embarrassing. First I wrote about the advantages of working for yourself. And now I’m writing about the disadvantages, and it’s turned out three times as long!

But don’t panic. Of all the people I’ve interviewed, it was clear that hardly any of us could imagine ever going back, despite all the challenges:

Taking risks. “You have to be brave a little bit, don’t you. You have to go slightly outside your comfort zone to make things happen,” says Brian, an architect.

Making all of your own decisions. No-one else is responsible but you. If you employ others, you are responsible for their livelihoods as well as your own.

Although you still have someone telling you what to do – your customers. As Brian says, “the only people who can stop me designing what I want now are my clients.”

That feeling of winging it, and feeling like really you have no idea what you’re doing. Secretly doubting whether your whole business model is viable and/or you are any good at it anyway. “I’m just feeling my way,” says Steven, who’s starting a carwashing business, and I think we all know what he means!

Motivating yourself. Even if business is slow and you feel depressed. It’s very easy to allow yourself to be distracted by watching Homes Under the Hammer, I find, and Ann, an artist (interview coming soon), finds it easy to while away time hoovering or gardening.

Isolation. Having no colleagues to help you with a thorny question, or to banter with, or to sympathise with your problems. You might not see anyone all day.

Dealing with clients all day may sap your ‘people’ energy, and leave you feeling antisocial in your spare time.

Work is always there. There is always a bit of admin that you could be sorting out, even if it’s 11pm, and it’s a Saturday. It can be difficult to switch off. Boundaries between work and not-work are less distinct. “There’s always more you could be doing. It’s difficult to shut off,” says Ann.

Remembering to look after yourself as well as your business. Marie, a life coach, says it’s a real challenge “to manage to take time for myself, because I’m really enthusiastic about what I do. I have a tendency to neglect myself, and not do the things that I know are good for me.”

Venus, a poet and model, laughs as she says ““I give thanks for my husband because he is a more leisurely person then I am. So he’ll try to remind me to go outside and enjoy the sunshine.”

The time and energy you invest in your work may become a source of tension between you and your partner. It may keep you away from your kids. It may kill your hobbies.

Working with family members may put pressure on your relationships. “Quite early on, you realise you’ve got to stop taking anything out on each other, that’s not a healthy scenario,” says Drew, who runs a village deli with his wife (interview coming soon).

You have to find self-belief. Somehow you need to sustain your confidence, even in the face of setbacks. You may find your status in the world goes down.

Joe, an author, Ann, an artist, and Stephen, an actor (interviews coming soon), all talked to me about the questions of how we know that what we are doing is good, and I think the same question comes up for all of us who run our own working lives.

It’s easy to be very self-critical, and only focus on what you haven’t managed to get done. As Gordon, a web designer, says, “if you work for yourself, and it’s not going well, then you’ve no-one to blame but yourself, and that can be destructive.”

When you find yourself feeling tired, lonely, unsuccessful, confused and depressed, you may still need to present an upbeat face to clients, peers, friends and family, for the sake of your business. And your peers may well reply with a bright smile and tales of how their business is booming. Great.

And then, on top of all that, you may not get a lot of sympathy for your plight. "People think you're just sitting around and doing nothing," says Christine, as she busts a gut building up her business teaching dance and Pilates (interview coming soon).

See also:
The best things about working for yourself
The disadvantages of working for yourself Part II: financial challenges
The disadvantages of working for yourself Part III: practical challenges

About the author

Jessica Kennedy
Thursday, 1 December, 2011 - 14:20
United Kingdom

Jessica is an acupuncturist,, and the founder of