Join us, the 4.7 million self-employed workers in the UK and, no longer be snowed under, enjoy being snowed in!
7.30am. The silence is deafening. The brightness through the glazed bathroom window confirms my suspicions. The beast from the east, as the media call the icy blast, has hit North Wales. A thick white blanket is covering the garden. Even if the school was open, I couldn’t make it down the hill to the main road. First time I was booked to work there too. Thank goodness it is closed, and I don’t have to make my apologies. I can enjoy my coffee, the wintery canvas, and the prospect of a whole day writing in blissful peace.
8.39am. My phone quacks. The message is from Sian, my friend and previous colleague, with whom I joked about the challenges of this new placement.
“Is your school open?”
“No, closed! A day reading & writing! J You? xx”
“Closed! Shame you’re losing the money! xx”
“Downside of the type of work I’ve chosen but am totally free, priceless! Enjoy the day! xx”
For years, like Sian and most teachers I know, the conscientious ones anyway, I got up at the crack of dawn, rushed my children out of the house, juggled many hats all day – teacher, entertainer, party planner, decorator, photographer, news reporter, mother, counsellor, detective, police officer, psychic, social worker, doctor, dietician, babysitter and more – completed tasks landing on my desk due by yesterday, ticked endless to-do lists, spent most evenings, weekends and holidays responding to messages, preparing lesson plans, marking books, writing reports, schemes of work, policies and development plans doomed to be scrapped once completed, neglecting family, friends and myself in the process, counting the days until the next break that would never be one.
I knew I was unwell. IBS and its circle of friends, chronic fatigue, food intolerances, joint pains, weight gain, low moods and many more had become part of my daily life. It wasn’t until I slipped on a wet cypress stump and fractured my coccyx that I realised how unwell I truly was. Forced to slow down, I had to face reality. Despite working in a privileged environment, the job I loved was harming me. For it was not just the workload. More than anything, I resented the way I was forced to operate, to teach students to pass exams, killing their creativity and, consequently, narrowing their vision instead of broadening their horizons. Frustrated at work and unhappy at home, I was barely surviving. So, I finally made the difficult decision to file for divorce and resign from school.
I used my savings to retrain and have just set up my own holistic counselling practice. It is still early days but the number of sessions booked is steadily increasing. The feedback is excellent, so I trust that word of mouth and the Universe will continue to send more clients my way. As well as counselling, I give private tuition, and recently registered as a supply teacher, which allows me to enjoy the better aspects of teaching without so many of the unpleasant ones. As well as counselling and teaching, I hope to start fostering very soon too, something I have wanted to do for years. And all of these activities feed my passion, writing, my way of raising awareness of various issues linked to our wellbeing or lack of.
Sian has a point. Being self-employed, I rely, amongst other factors, on good weather and good health to carry on earning. I would be lying if I said that it was easy. In fact, it can be quite daunting at times to have sole responsibility for your breadwinning occupation. The uncertainty can be scary. Some weeks are very busy, others very quiet. It takes a while to adapt to not having a steady income topping up your bank account during term time and holidays alike. As well as time, patience, motivation, determination and faith, starting your own business does necessitate funds, and savings quickly disappear when money doesn’t go in.
On days like today, when part of my income has vanished under the snow, do I regret my decision? Absolutely not! Freedom is priceless. I work when I want, where I want, how I want, and with whom I want. I am free to work around my family and friends, and take time for myself whenever I fancy or need it. No power-thirsty bosses. No annoying colleagues. No pointless paperwork. No nerve-racking deadlines. No repetitive tasks. Unsurprisingly, as stress reduced, my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health improved immediately. From barely surviving, I am now fully living again.
Every day and every week is different. I work in various locations, with all kinds of people to whom I make a real difference. I can do a presentation and card readings in a Mind Body and Spirit fair on Sunday, teach in school on Monday, write an article on Tuesday, give private tuition on Wednesday and crystal healing on Thursday, take Friday off to have lunch with a friend, do some counselling in between, at times that suit both my clients and me best. I love the variety that my new way of working offers. At last, I am starting to feel like a being of unlimited potential in a world of unlimited possibilities.
Financially speaking, being self-employed has helped me to appreciate the value of money, as I used to when I was younger. Although I currently earn less than if I was teaching fulltime, what I earn seems to be worth so much more now that the income is self-generated. Looking at my accounts, the sense of achievement when it covers my outgoings is invaluable. Simple things, like paying my daily shopping or my haircut in cash, from the proceeds of a counselling session, make the process so much more meaningful. Although I now live with a lot less than when I was married and employed, I feel so much richer, filled with an immense sense of appreciation and gratitude for everything that I have, material and non material.
What about my pension, some of you might say? With Brexit and all its unforeseen consequences looming, pensions are a big question mark for everyone, not just for self-employed European citizens like myself. Would I have reached the retirement age of 67 had I remained in fulltime teaching? I doubt it very much. My health would probably have deteriorated further, as I witnessed far too often in my colleagues. How many people save for their retirement and never make it, or fall ill at that long awaited time? Doesn’t it make more sense to enjoy life whilst our mind and body are in their prime? And most importantly, aren’t our mind and body more likely to stay in their prime for longer if we do? As it stands, I do not worry about or long for my retirement. For, now that work has become less that and more of a hobby, I am looking forward to earning a living and contributing to society for as long as I possibly can.
Yes, I have lost money today. But I have had a wonderful time writing this article, lounging on my sofa, looking at the snow melting in the dazzling sunshine when, in a previous life, I would have worried about not being able to finish the programme or get the students ready for their orals, and crammed my day with assessments, lessons to rearrange, and other duties to catch up with. Not just that, I am now rewarded with the hope that this unpaid opportunity will inspire some of you to throw caution to the arctic wind so that, when the beast from the east strikes again, you too will be counting the snowballs more than the pennies and, no longer snowed under the obligations of your previous occupation, enjoy every minute of being snowed in!
About the Author
MA – M.M.A.N.F. – AHCP (Reg.)
Sandrine Berho-Lavigne is an experienced teacher and holistic counsellor committed to improving the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing of individuals across North Wales and further afield.