It must be so nice to be your own boss.
That’s probably the one thing that’s repeated to me most frequently upon people finding out that I make my living as a freelancer. Well, either that or “Oh man, I wish I could work in my pajamas!” or, “Do you actually make money?”
I won’t deny it—being your own boss definitely has its perks. I can manage my own schedule and workload without having somebody breathing down my neck and I don’t have to worry about any clashing personalities or communication styles.
However, I’ve noticed that many of the people who seem to fantasize about how great my boss-less life must be are often missing a couple of the big downsides that come along for the ride. And, believe me, those really do exist.
For starters, I feel the need to clarify the biggest thing that people tend to forget: Just because I don’t have a boss in a traditional sense doesn’t mean I’m floating along happily without anybody I need to report to. Remember, I make my living by keeping my various clients happy—which means I often wind up feeling like I have dozens of direct supervisors. In those situations, reporting to just one person seems like a leisurely stroll through the park.
I’m sure many upper-level managers often feel this same way. There’s this perception that once you reach the top rung of that ladder, you get to work in total isolation. You don’t have anybody telling you what to do and when to do it—you have nobody expecting anything of you. But, it’s time for a major spoiler alert: That simply isn’t true. At all.
You still have responsibilities to uphold and accountability to the people around you—whether that’s your direct reports, your colleagues, or your clients. Trust me, not having a conventional manager above you in the hierarchy doesn’t mean that your work life is stress-free.
Secondly, I think that many people often see the fact that I don’t have a boss. But, they fail to bring together that other piece of the puzzle—which means that I’m the boss. And, while that sounds fun and impressive, it can sometimes result in a lot of headaches.
Those difficult conversations that I’d prefer to delegate up to a superior that I feel is better equipped to handle them? Not an option. Those times when I’d like to run a big idea by someone with a lot of industry expertise and sage advice?
Well, unless my dog counts, I don’t always have immediate access to somebody who can provide some much-needed guidance. When I’m feeling completely stuck on a challenging project? Again, it’s either my dog or my dear friend Google.
I definitely appreciate missing out on some of those annoyances that come along with needing to navigate a successful professional relationship with a superior. But, I’ll admit that there are plenty of times throughout the workweek when I actually wish I had a more traditional structure that I could lean on for some help, inspiration, and mentorship—even if that meant I had to deal with a little bit of micromanagement or a few unrealistic deadlines (let’s be honest, I still have to deal with those things anyway).
So, yes, managing your relationship with your supervisor can be tough. And, yes, there will likely be times when he or she can really get under your skin and drive you up a wall. I even recognize that there are some horrible bosses out there who make the independent life seem that much more appealing.
However, if you find yourself constantly gazing over at those boss-less pastures with hope and adoration, remember that the grass really isn’t always greener on the other side. In fact, things can be just as tough on the opposite end of that fence.
The only difference? You won’t have someone who you can lean on to help you through it.
Photo of person working courtesy of Mint Images-Tim Robbins/Getty Images.