It took a little energetic cookie monster to come along in my life to throw everything overboard I thought of having figured out until then. Yeah, I know – no news here. It also took exactly THAT cookie monster to make me finally take the plunge to turn my year-long wish of becoming self-employed into a career as a Virtual Assistant. I believe this also isn’t a new or exciting invention to the human race…
Having monitored the booming trend of providing remote business services internationally and seeing the potential of it, the thought of using my professional skills and expertise, my qualifications and all the other non-related stuff I had learned along the way to work independently, had crossed my mind several times.
Like many other things on my bucket list (although I might not be old enough to qualify for it yet), it remained confined to that one horrible place within each of us: on hold. Not generally being the person who likes keeping things on hold when it comes to shaping my own fate (a lot of kamikaze adventures are proof to this), there always seemed to be other things coming first on the priority list. Or was I simply scared to jump?
Might also classify as MAKING EXCUSES.
Of course the timing never seemed right either. Excuse No. 2.
Besides that, and that’s a legitimate one in my case: there was a world to be explored, and I was too busy living in different parts of it, collecting local and international expertise in different fields of business in an almost 20-year-span. Pompous, I know.
Well, to be honest, the jobs hadn’t always been as exhilarating as the former might sound, but to my defense I have to admit that there are not many people who can add things like ‘working on banana plantations’, ‘restoring Chinese chunks on a Hawaiian island’ or ‘teaching Backgammon to African kids in a remote mountain village’ to their professional profile.
The stuff life is made of. Something I could tell my grandchildren about – one day. AND, of course, it’s always good for the karma-bank.
Let’s wander down memory lane (make sure to lean back): I was born to Italian immigrants in Germany and learnt early onward the privilege of being born into two worlds and to enjoy the sheer advantage of it. Yeah, there was the occasional stink of being foreign and different but that never outweighed the benefits – if you’d know how to tweak them. Growing up bilingual in two cultural backgrounds was great as well. I could sometimes use the language skills over the incomprehension of others (ignorance can be a bliss) and I was also able to sync the contradiction of being the wandering ‘organised passion’ – a well-meant notation I have witnessed many times throughout my career.
Being Italian in Germany still had something magical when I grew up – we’re talking Generation X. People had all these fantasies about the culture, the culinary treasures and: l’Amore. Of course. That was pre-Berlusconi and pre-Vatican atrocities which became more and more apparent in the years to come. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Italy and my background, it is a beautiful place with very warm-hearted and welcoming people. The older I grew, the more I embraced the tradition. At least some of it. But as it goes in life, the magic fades. And you simply grow up.
The circumstances of my upbringing also lead to a colourful globetrotter life, the ability to adapt to new requirements and environments in a short period of time and to understand ethical and cultural differences. Let’s talk about awareness given – something I am very grateful about. Most important lesson: be able to laugh about yourself.
Moving on to the professional part: I didn’t always want to become a ‘Foreign-Language-Secretary’, there were definitely more exciting jobs on the agenda of a rebellious 15-year-old with adventurous aspirations and an aversion against ‘nerd work’.
On the other side it definitely held the prospect of working for embassies, international affairs and possibly freeing people from remote rebels in an unforgettable rescue mission. Just my cup of tea! Or I could work for one of the great human rights organisations to save mankind.
Sadly, I realised quickly that the world is not perfect and that reality often does not have anything to do with the idea of ethical or moral behaviour. It is more about a big compromise half way there. No good compromise for me at the time. After accepting my shattered ideas of a purposeful future I figured that, in combination with different languages, this could still be a ticket into the world and something to fall onto wherever I might be. And behold, I might still be able to change the smaller world a little along the way. This realisation and outweighing the alternate option of giving up my worldly possessions to follow the wind free as a bird didn’t appear too attractive at that very point of my life as I have to confess: that I do like owning more than one set of clothes and that I like the occasional shower in between. I’m just vain like that.
After finishing my degree and taking off on a 6-month-work-stint to Scandinavia, I returned to Germany, did some occasional jobs in between to then follow another great passion in my life: Music! Once again, I ventured out to sync the contrast of being a Foreign-Language-Secretary in the music industry (the two just sound very uncool with each other), where I worked in all aspects of independent music distribution for a decade.
Hello? Yes! Working in the music industry IS actually a job as professional as any other. You just get to wear your own clothes, witness a lot of strangeness along the way but also meet some very interesting characters and individuals. You also learn a lot, I guess, about life and all the strangeness and chaotic creativity in between.
What else? Globetrotting around the world to places like North America, Hawai’i, Europe, Southeast Asia, Australasia and Southeast Africa – including the regular shower in between! I have also lived for longer periods in Scandinavia, Australia, South Africa and more than once on Hawai’i – sadly never conquering the art of the Hula!
Throughout my professional career I worked in industries such as Entertainment, Media and Publishing, various International Distribution, Marketing, Adventure Travel and Tourism, Training and Education, Sales and Retail – mostly office-related but there was always the odd one in between. Well, quite a few random ones, especially when you’re on your way around the globe. Luckily, I have always been very open-minded and enjoyed being a jack-of-all-trades who gives everything a go.
If you haven’t tried, you won’t know what you’re capable of. I always believed that you can learn anything if you put your mind to it – it gives you immense freedom.
Let’s not talk about the labyrinth of doors it opens in life. In saying that, there are certain things you know straight away that you’re not made for, like taking a kranky baboon on a merry-go-round on your very personal hip, hoping that this ‘smart’ distraction maneuver might help him forget that he was after your ice-cream in the first place. Or trying to make the faintest attempt of showing interest in understanding LINUX (thanks god my first love was kind AND patient). Lesson learned: you should definitely accept your limitations along the way and be honest about it. The embarrassing truth is that I’ve simply not been made for bulls*** (oops!) my way around which, sadly, has cost me one or the other glamorous or exciting job.
Being flexible and open-minded does not automatically mean that life is easy and things will fall into place. Well, they do somehow but if you have a dream or you want something in life – YOU have to go and get it! No one else will do if for you – another wise observation in life ( I know, wohooo), because:
You might not have an unknown aunt somewhere in the African jungle who passed away and left you all her wealth and exciting enterprises. The chances that YOU will win the lottery are quite slim as well – looking at the queue lining up at the newsagent counter each week. And besides that, all the money in the world does not mean that you’ll be able to live your dreams and create something fantastic.
It’s about a bit more than that, I suppose. If I recall correctly, the greatest ideas have been born and implemented out of – literally – nothing than a brain and two-hard-working hands. And a minority of having come to it in a shameful and undeserving way (what would life be without the dark side).
I always admired people working for themselves and creating something on their own. They are usually people like you and I, they all have their little story that rarely differs from yours to a certain extent. They’re all human. They eat. They swear. They despair. They like bad comedy on TV (which I don’t). And still, despite all the ‘impossible’ adventures and accomplishments throughout your life you catch yourself thinking: ‘Could I really do that?’
Then you remember all these offices you sat in, 27 phones ringing, five people trying to catch your attention, a crazy busy day and that huge mountain of menial paperwork you can only finish in time by taking it home – unpaid, of course!
You remember all the hard work you’ve done for people who did not even appreciate it but earned three times your salary whilst enjoying a life of leisure (and ‘shamefulness’). At times thinking about karma is just not making the cut.
There are 725 reasons of why to fly solo but 725 is sometimes not enough either! It is true that self-employment has always had a stigma about it. For many people it seems so much hassle. There is so much insecurity, a lack of confidence and the fear of failing. Then there are all these horror stories you heard about somebody who did become self-employed and the misery they went through. But even if you have NOT heard about somebody ‘who has’…, self-employment seems to be so unreachable, almost something almighty only special people can do.
And in the end you’ll end up doing what MOST people do: you once again join the circle of unsatisfied existences that never end up turning their hopes and wishes into reality for all different kinds of silly excuses. In midst all of this you wonder where you lost your courage and taste of adventure along the way? Maybe I’m not human enough?
Yes, becoming self-employed is hard work and you have to be ready to put in the hard yards.
It is ALWAYS a risk. You have to venture out of your comfort zone which most people are dreading, such as attending networking events simply for the sake of networking with people I might not even like that much (I have hence stopped attending these as they are: terrible and useless). Then, and that’s the big one, you never know if your business idea will work out or not, if you’ll be a raging success or if you will end up a sad and depressed failure on the face of Earth. Luckily, mistakes are there to be made and learned from and re-inventing yourself is the key to a rich life. Which inevitably brings us to the truth that self-fulfilment, happiness and purpose are ALWAYS worth the try!
Although I have always had a little too much courage for my own liking, I paradoxically lacked it greatly after a life of constant adventure, the challenges coming with it and the ordeal of permanently immigrating to a foreign country the ‘adventurous’ way. Yes, I was unhappy with my work choices lately, yes, I was tired of starting all over again, yes, it was exhausting to work in environments where people managed with the minimum of organisational skills and were happy to just get by, ignoring their potential to grow and be efficient! And YES, I was so incredibly tired of running in circles and contributing to environments where you were just a replaceable employee. A ‘number’ at worst. Note: this is the point you feel sorry for me.
Luckily, in my case, nature took care of this – talking about things falling into place. Becoming self-employed was my only ticket of surviving months of sleep deprivation, questionable body liquids covering the holy area formerly filled with vinyl records, photographs or art projects, and the doomed life of mother’s groups (which I gave up on after the second attempt). Not to dismiss the intellectual challenges conversing in a language consisting of unrelated and not-yet-formed words.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my cookie monster and would even cross a zombie apocalypse for him, but life for me has always been more than fake pregnancy-early-motherhood-bliss-bubble. I guess that’s where it gets personal. I guess that’s something I didn’t know about myself before. And I guess, in such cases life has to take out the big guns!
I thought people were crazy when they started asking me about childcare just 6 months into my pregnancy. Why the heck should I care about that at this stage?! I’m literally JUST pregnant! Who knows what wonders will happen after delivery – maybe I will never ever go working again and start knitting, or become a missionary and we all move to a remote island. Maybe my kid will be supersmart, sleep perfectly and play by itself whilst I’m inventing something great!
I realised soon that my innocence in these matters looked a little different only a few months into parenthood. And that childcare waiting lists can be very LONG and dreadful! I realised that knitting wasn’t for me, my kiddo had other ideas in terms of sleep and playtime, and I was already getting antsy after a few months only. Touché!
I started having all these fantastic ideas of how to make money and stay at home. Surely, I could fill in enough surveys to make a little along the way. I could finally turn my travel stories into a book and publish it as an e-book – with raging success. I could do things for others they couldn’t do! Famously, none of the aforementioned ever saw the light of day (I should be grateful about that) and after a few more months of silly excuses and chickening out, the thought of joining the rat race again, spending way too many hours of the day in often unproductive and unsatisfying office politics you can’t escape and/or being stuck on buses full of crazy people who always find their way to MY seat, no matter how many other passengers are sharing the ride, finally gave me no other choice than: taking the plunge!
And a pretty wet and hard plunge it was!
The first few months were filled with too many long nights and not enough sleep. The realisation that setting up a business – no matter how low-cost – is a little more than just an internet connection and a phone. And if you don’t have immense funds, you have to do it all yourself! From letterhead to branding to building a website. And then there is this horribly selfish thing called self-realisation, wanting it all to be ‘different’ to the rest and to a great extend it should reflect: YOU as a personality! Don’t get me wrong, I love being creative and doing stuff myself, but throw a little time-pressure into the mix and no childcare/network: and it becomes toxic. There were a few times I just wanted to give up.
Looking back I am glad now that giving up is not part of my package!
I still don’t get enough sleep. I still don’t take half as many walks I promised I would. I can’t remember the last time I took a ride on my board. I still don’t pre-screen every enquiry the way I should. Still haven’t entirely learned to say ‘No’ or to put on my business hat. But it’s getting better with each day and I’m thriving by the buzz of steering my very own ship in true Jack-Sparrow-Style (with a little more values and ethics to add). I love the smile of a happy client and the props coming with it. I genuinely enjoy helping others, being ‘useful’ and changing their life to the better. I’m just a sucker for happy endings like that.
Who cares about some sleep lost along the way if you can leave a legacy and be remembered in your children’s life? All those mornings and afternoon set-ups on my desk, focussing on my projects whilst listening to the 27th You Tube Clip about ‘Big Machines’ and ‘Toy Trains’ – I guess, we somehow all win in the end.
Self-Employment might not be for everybody. And it shouldn’t. I might not be for everybody. That’s totally okay. I don’t know if it will work out in the end.
But I CAN try and hope for the best!