Friday, March 24, 2006

Self-employed, not Unemployed

Okay, its time to break my silence. There’s been something on my mind for the last few months that I have not blogged about, out of respect for Joe’s feelings. But now that it is no longer a secret, I can share it: Joe quit his job.

He was originally hired at his former job to build the mental health program and assist the Director. Shortly after he was hired, the Director left and he was asked to be the acting Director while a permanent one was sought. He applied and eventually got the position of Director. As time went on and as the Director he got to see in glaring detail how dysfunctional the agency was. He found himself in a position that was nothing like what he’d originally expected to be doing there. Rather than building a mental health program, he found himself as an Administrator whose hands were tied when it came to breaking out of the dysfunctional cycle of work that plagued the agency since before he arrived. He longed to be more ‘hands on’, providing psychotherapy.

Last Nov was the first time he verbalized to me his desire to quit. At that time, I was trying to sort out some changes happening with my job and company, and we were coming into the holiday season, so we decided he’d stick it out at least until the 1st of the year. This would also give him the needed time to be sure his desire to quit would last longer than the frustrations that led him to want to leave. He stayed on and didn’t mention anything to anyone about his thinking of leaving. We continued talking about the viability of his resigning, and what he would do with his time. He said he wanted to expand his current part-time psychotherapy practice into a full-time practice. After all, doing therapy is what provides him with the most satisfaction and personal reward. And set up correctly, it can be pretty lucrative, too.

I was a little concerned that he wanted to resign and go full-time with his private practice just because things weren’t going well at the agency. I thought that wasn’t good, because as quickly as things can change, it seemed to me that his reasons for wanting to resign could possibly be resolved one day. Then he may wish he’d just stuck it out a little longer. At some point in every one of our conversations I would repeat to him “How do you want to spend your time? As the Director/Administrator of an agency, going to meetings and reporting on budgets? Or as a full-time practitioner, seeing clients for therapy?” It seemed to me that there was a much bigger question that he’d not yet answered to himself, or to my satisfaction. “What if you go to work tomorrow and all of the crap has been cleared up, by some major miracle. Would you want to stay? Or would you still long to be doing therapy instead?” Initially he’d answered that he’d stay, because of the regular paycheck, lots of paid leave, and company-paid benefits. But then he finally admitted that even if things did miraculously improve at the agency, he thought he would at some point still want to leave and go into full-time private practice. “There’s your answer then.” I replied. It would still take a little more time for him to be comfortable with his decision and the idea of being self-employed.

About 2 weeks into the New Year he decided he was ready to talk to his boss about it. Since they do not work in the same building, he called her to let her know he planned to resign. They talked briefly and she asked him not to tell anyone yet; she wanted to meet with him in person and talk more about it. Her busy schedule meant waiting a full week. When she met him at his office he was able to go into more detail about his reasons for leaving. She asked him again not to tell anyone, and to give her another week to think about what he’d said and to see if she was able to do anything to alleviate his concerns. They planned to meet again the following week. She was unable to meet him in person the following week, so they spoke over the phone. She really wasn’t able to offer him anything that would lead him to believe that things would be any different in the future, so she agreed to accept his resignation. Once again, she asked him not to tell anyone until she had a chance to line up the person/people who would handle his responsibilities once he’d left.

So, by the first week of Feb he had officially tendered his resignation to his boss and HR, with an effective date of Feb 24, but was not allowed to tell his staff. Finally, about 2 weeks later his boss called an all-hands meeting and announced Joe’s decision to resign and the plans to cover his duties. It was official!

I kind of expected that we should begin immediately preparing for Joe’s new full-time practice. After all, there would be a website to design and get up on the web, additional office hours to secure, more business cards to order, private health insurance to research and obtain, networking meetings to set up, announcements to send to professional acquaintances… the list just seemed to go on and on. Joe immediately secured the additional office hours at his 2 existing locations, but I found him much less anxious to begin all the other tasks I thought we should get started on right away. He said it was difficult for him to keep going back and forth between a “closing down/wrapping things up” mentality at his day job, and the “fresh, new, positive” mentality required for his self-employment. Being a therapist himself, it seemed he should know, so I backed off. His colleagues at the agency gave him a nice send-off luncheon and his final day arrived.

The weeks since then he’s spent looking into additional cost-effective ways to advertise, deciding on the content for his website, and prioritizing his additional tasks. He decided he wanted to start 2 psychotherapy groups, one for gay men in relationships that are having trouble, and one for male-to-female (MTF) transgender folks. So far, the gay men’s group has met once and is scheduled to meet for a total of 8 sessions. He hopes to start the transgender group in April.

We recently met some new people at a dinner party and when asked what he did for a living, Joe replied with a smile: “I’m unemployed.” I quickly corrected him: “You’re self-employed, not unemployed!” The new friends looked a bit confused until Joe explained his recent resignation and the start up of his full-time practice.

Since both of us have always been employed by companies, the idea of Joe now being self-employed is a bit scary for both of us. There is, of course, the natural financial concern of being able to stay up to date with our bills and maintain the lifestyle we currently enjoy. But there’s also the unfamiliarity for him of not having a boss or a daily schedule. He can create for himself a daily schedule, of course, but unlike a regular job, there is no one to whom he must report if he doesn’t keep up. I’m sure that none of this is unusual or new; but rather the same issues that all self-employed people have dealt with. With some time I expect we’ll continue to feel more and more comfortable with this fairly big change in our lives.

There. I’ve said it. Now, it’s real.

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