I did it! My story on self-employment

I grew up in a house in the German countryside. My family originally came from Poland at a time, when work and money needs exceeded the value of education on the priority list. My grandfathers both worked in coal mines, retiring at the age of 45 due to severe risks for health issues. Oma [grandma] Wanda worked for a butcher’s shop and Oma Anna spent most of her life working as a seamstress. There were no shops, clothing was passed down from generation to generation, food grown and harvested in gardens or purchased with food stamps. Potatoes were sold by farmers in wooden carriages, milk delivered in glass bottles to people’s front doors – frozen in cold winter months, sour in the summer heat. There were no toilets, but outhouses in the backyards, old newspaper served as toilet paper. Coffee grounds, back then a delicacy, reused multiple times even when it lost its taste, chocolate chopped into pieces and shared evenly among family members. Mold was cut off fruit and vegetables so the remains could be saved. Nothing was ever thrown away, everything was repaired and repurposed. New clothing, furniture and shoes were hard to get but I remember my parents telling me about those magical parcels. Relatives living in the West sent food and clothing packages whenever they could – filled with sweets and all things dreams were made of. When my parents decided to leave behind their old life and move to Germany aged 19 and 20, they did it for a better future. Not speaking or understanding a word of a foreign language was hard. The government provided daily language classes, a job and helped find an accommodation . They shared a house with other foreigners, slept in bunk beds and dreamed of a day, when they would live in a place they could call home. About ten years later, they built a house and raised two children. My brother and I had the privilege of a loving, simple and natural childhood, because of everything my parents did for us.

Why am I telling this story? Because it explains why I convinced myself to believe that solely education was key to a successful career, financial privilege and everything that comes with it. And why I never dared to let my parents down after everyhing they had gone through. Being the eldest, my parents wished for me to be the first child to strive for a university degree. I worked hard and studied all day and night for what I believed the most crucial challenges of my life. I lost count over the parties I missed and sleepovers I cancelled in favour of splendid A-Level results. I wanted to become a psychologist but my grades were not quite enough in the end. I was angry and disappointed in myself so I took a break from everything, travelled abroad and worked as an Aupair in London for a year. I remember how confident I was with my decision that university was the one and only option I had. Nothing else was good enough, since I had put too much effort into my education and although I felt a strong desire for my creative soul to take root, I denied the feeling and continued a journey that never sparked joy. I believed I had learned from my past mistakes and found pleasure in the simple things and the freedom of living on my own. However, during exam periods I went back to my old self, buried in the depths of books and journals. Once again, my degree seemed like a life or death decision and the perfectionist in me would not allow for any mistakes. Three years later I graduated. I moved to England and found a job with a private health insurance company. They never even asked about my degree. Despite many sad and life-changing moments that I do not dare to mention, I still lived in this bubble of excitement until reality hit me like a train. The job destroyed my mental and physical health. I lived on pain killers to get me through my shifts, went home with severe headaches and migraines, suffered from anxiety and panic attacks combined with sickness every morning. I did not eat much. I cried a lot. I needed help. Four months later I quit. This was probably the best decision I ever made, followed by a series of unfortunate events. 2020 was the year I had set all hopes on. I gave myself a month to figure out what to do with my life. I needed purpose. I needed a simple 9/5 office job, without shifts and weekend work. I self-funded a recognised HR course and started looking for suitable entry-level positions. I believe I sent out about 120 applications but heard nothing back. A thick layer of darkness wrapped itself around me like a heavy blanket I could not shake. Everything I had ever worked for, everything I had ever believed in, was no more than wishful thinking. A degree is a piece of paper, not a first-class ticket to a good job. Education looks good on a CV but it gives you none of the experience required for even the simplest jobs. School and university are places that talk so much about education and knowledge, but never about the reality of the world outside those four walls. I needed therapy. Weeks later, I finally received a phone call. A glimmer of hope flickered in front of my eyes and an interview later I got a job. Things fell back into place. I went through pre-employment checks, filled out documents, merrily rearranged my therapy sessions to fit my working hours and added quality work attire to my wardrobe. Everything was good until the world held its breath, literally, for COVID-19 took over our lives. And I lost the job.

It’s been eight months since my last employment. I have stopped counting my applications and try not to think about how this might look on my CV and my bank account since that approach has not brought me far in the past. I signed up with recruitment agencies and intend to find a role eventually. It does not help that thousands of people lost their jobs in the last months, desperately looking for some sort of income source. I am in a place where I have a degree that is not well recognised in this country and work experience of jobs I never intend to do again. I am stuck in the midst of a career shift for an area that seems to heavily depend on experience that I do not have until someone gives me the chance to show that I can organise files and folders, confidently use Microsoft Office, take phone calls and fill up coffee cups. It’s a vicious cycle and millions of like-minded individuals seem to share the same interest in job adverts. My current focus lies on my HR studies and most importantly [drum roll] on setting up my own business. During the last months, the only thing that got me through dark times was my creativity and desire for new projects. I spent hours sewing cushion covers, drawstring bags and napkins. I have registered with HRMC, designed a logo and created the first product range. I have contacted suppliers and ordered materials. I am testing product designs and am fiddling about with the settings of my new printer. This journey finally gives me the happiness and joy I have wanted from a job. I have no idea where this adventure will take me, and yes, there are still breakdowns and tears when things do not work out the way I imagined. All I know is that our bedroom has turned into an office, there are boxes everywhere and my savings are gone. I still haven’t figured out half of the things I need to do which is so far from my old perfectionist self, but I am surprisingly okay with that. Looking back, I would have changed everything. I would have studied less and instead focused on enjoying life more. I would have applied for apprenticeships rather than university. Perhaps become a seamstress like my grandmother, a ceramist as the art of throwing clay has always inspired me, or an illustrator working with brush and paint. It is so easy to look back and think of everything that went wrong. We might not have the power to change the past, but we can certainly take control of our present and future. If I ever have the privilege to have children of my own, I will try my best to teach them that yes, education is important, but so is life.

Do not regret what you have done, only the things you haven’t done.

some wise person