Is it actually worth the stress?

16 May

I was chatting to a business associate the other day. He’s enjoying his high-powered, high-stress and, let’s be honest, high-earning position, managing all sorts of change, rushing around here, there and everywhere … or he thinks he is.

Actually, he’s plagued by all sorts of niggling illnesses, that have become worse. Nothing that’s putting him in hospital, but things that are affecting his quality of life, outside work more than inside, and can’t be ignored.

So, is it worth the stress?

Downsizing your life, downsizing your stress levels

I can claim to be a bit of an expert on this, from personal experience. Having been doing a management-level, fairly demanding job in London, when we moved to the Midlands I was determined to have “a job”. In fact, we both agreed we would indulge ourselves for a year, M going back to post-graduate study and me looking for a basic level library job.

I had a bit of trouble, as a qualified librarian, getting a basic entry level job, but I did in the end. Lots of people said I would get bored; my managers tried to encourage me to apply for promotions I didn’t really want. I’d been up the corporate ladder, and I knew that it suited me at the time to have “a job” rather than “a career”, something that would pay the bills but allow me the resources and energy to enjoy my new life in a new city.

So that’s what I did, and I was perfectly content for a good few years. In fact, having that lower-stress, lower-responsibility job allowed me to start up Libro and develop my own business.

Different career paths for different life stages

Now, I could have quite easily chosen to progress through the corporate ranks again, gone for those management jobs, gone for the higher salary, which is always a consideration, isn’t it. But I decided to go this alternative route, and set up the business.

But I did that in as stress-free and risk-free a way as I could (see my article on not taking risks for more information). I’d decided it wasn’t worth the fear of going full-time at the beginning, the stress of having to scrape around for money to live on, etc. Instead, I lived very frugally, scraped together money to live on in advance, and launched Libro full time in January 2012.

Now I have a satisfying job, where I’m responsible to myself and my clients, no bosses, no employees. I earn more than I’ve earned in any of my corporate jobs, and, having identified during my career that I like to work in this way, that I don’t like office politics, being a manager, etc., I can honestly say that, even running my own business where every sick day means income and jobs lost, where I do sometimes put in an 11 hour day, but where I can claim what I know makes me happy:

  • responsibility for myself and my clients
  • no employees
  • no office politics
  • flexibility to juggle my day to fit in friends and exercise

I am as stress-free as I can be. And I have no stress dermatitis, no IBS, I’m fit and healthy and enjoying life.

I’m not boasting about this: it’s taken time to know myself and know what I want, and it’s taken hard work to get here, which hasn’t always been the most fun I’ve ever had. But I’m in my own space now, not trying to jam myself into an inappropriate role, and I’m very much happier as a result.

Know yourself and make the change

The photo at the top of this post? That’s butterflies emerging from their chrysalises. Whether what’s confining you is stress or something else, such as lack of the confidence to break free, surely it’s worth trying to achieve your potential and seeing what you can do … if you just break out of the chrysalis.

My advice to you, if you think you’re stressed, or you don’t think you’re stressed but your body does …

  • Think about what you REALLY want. Is the money worth it? Yes, we all need money to live on, yes, economic times are perilous, but if you can save anything ahead of changing your lifestyle, do it.
  • Think about what you enjoy, what you need, and work towards claiming it.
  • Talk to close friends or colleagues. How do they see your stress levels? What solutions can they offer?
  • Talk to a reputable life coach or careers counsellor. What ideas do they have?
  • Mind-map, brainstorm, go walking for a week, whatever it takes to give you space to think this through.
  • Seek mentors and role models. People have told me my blog posts have helped them on their path to self-employment (hooray!) – look around for people doing what you might fancy doing, and drill down into how they did it.
  • Think laterally. Do you really want to be an architect, or do you want to work for a housing association? Do you really want to be a social worker, or do you want to train as a counsellor? Could you work part time while you pursue your aims?

My “career path”, from corporate ladder-climber to “just a library assistant” to successful small business owner shows that you can step down, sideways, whatever. I’m not a risk-taker, I’m not particularly well-off, and it hasn’t always been easy. But it can be done.

Good luck!


Posted by on May 16, 2012 in Business, New skills, Organisation


Tags: , ,

17 responses to “Is it actually worth the stress?

  1. verityjdo

    May 16, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I didn’t know you were a qualified librarian too! I love what you say about how you might not think that you’re stressed but your body does – I have chronic IBS, and I’m not sure it’s wholly related to work but it’s a pretty good indication of stress isn’t it! I would love to work for myself, but I have no idea what I would do with the skills that I have. Anyway, your story is pretty inspiring!


    • Liz at Libro

      May 16, 2012 at 9:34 am

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, I’m glad it’s struck a chord. There’s loads on this blog and my other one (link in right hand column) about how to go freelance, how to work out what to do, how to do it with low risk, etc. My IBS drives me mad when I’m travelling – at one level I am fine with travelling, at another, M knows to go “there’s the airport loo. There’s another one. Right – there’s the next one” ad infinitum!


      • verityjdo

        May 16, 2012 at 11:13 am

        I think actually, what I find more stressful than the work itself is fitting it around everything else that I want/need to do. I enjoy my job, but I don’t enjoy getting up at 6.05 so I can fit in my swim training, I don’t enjoy then showering at the pool, and carting around my swimming stuff, topping up my panniers with grocery shopping, getting home, doing chores and cooking dinner, and then maybe an hour before I go to bed to attempt it all again. No idea how there’s a way around that!! Give up swimming and subsist on ready meals and send the laundry out?!


  2. Liz at Libro

    May 16, 2012 at 11:19 am

    To be completely honest with you, I’d say go part time at work! Dropping one day a week worked marvels for me (I’ve done this in two jobs actually) and now I have a grand old time doing my gym and running whenever I want to, etc. It does depend on the money situation, of course, but I found that a) I lost less than 1/5 of my income as the tax changes, and b) it doesn’t make a huge difference. Oh – get a cleaner, though!


    • verityjdo

      May 16, 2012 at 11:34 am

      I would LOVE to do this, but it’s just not an option where I work unless you have kids/caring responsibilities. Certainly the plan is to review work when the mortgage is paid off in about 4 or 5 years time. And I would LOVE a cleaner but we make so much mess that I’d still end up cleaning mid week I think, and also Mr W refuses to countenance one!


  3. Liz at Libro

    May 16, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Well it wasn’t instant for me – it’s taken me till I’m 40!


    • verityjdo

      May 16, 2012 at 1:00 pm

      Got a few years yet then! I also aspire to moving back to the South West, but I’m not sure why I’m convinced that would help my stress levels. Also, you don’t look 40 from your pictures 🙂


  4. Liz at Libro

    May 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

    I aspired to move back to Birmingham from the instant I moved to London, but it took me 8 years. And I know – used to dislike looking younger than I am, now I don’t mind so much!!


  5. thestartupwife

    May 16, 2012 at 7:35 pm

    I LOVE this post Liz! I am so happy that you’ve made this happen. I know self-employment is not an easy option and making it work but to see you doing it is just brilliant.
    And some great advice here for people who perhaps aren’t in the right place at the moment.


    • Liz at Libro

      May 16, 2012 at 7:41 pm

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Emily! I have had an amazing response to this post – my biggest number of hits on a single day in the history of my blog and loads of shares and comments in various places: it seems to have really hit a nerve!


  6. ridingswitch

    May 17, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Great post! I can relate to a lot of it. I recently took the plunge into freelance writing and editing after struggling with ongoing, possible stress-related illnesses as a result of working in roles in which I wasn’t happy or fulfilled. Since making the change I have never been happier, healthier or more productive! I think there’s a lot to be said for taking the plunge and making a few sacrifices. If it’s what you want to do, you can make it happen, and you will ultimately be happier as a result 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experiences.



    • Liz at Libro

      May 17, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Thank you for your comment, Cat – and I’m glad you have taken the plunge too and are happier as a result!


  7. Leslee

    May 17, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    You don’t have to have a management job to have high stress. I recently left an individual contributor writing job that was so stressful I had arm injuries, back injuries, and spent way too much time crying in the middle of the night (and middle of the day in the ladies room). Part time wasn’t an option at this company, and full time left me no energy or brainpower to do anything after work. While I was keeping my eyes open for another job for a long time, I finally committed myself to some serious career exercises and then networking and interviewing. In the end, I was laid off, but I’d laid the groundwork and had immediate freelance contracting work. I was self-employed for many years prior to this job, but work had dried to a trickle and I was in debt, so I took the salary and benefits for 5+ years. So happy to be back working for myself again! The job was a killer, but I did gain valuable skills and knowledge, plus improved my finances, so I hope this time I’ll be able to manage better.

    Anyway, thanks for this post!

    (sorry if this comes in twice – nothing showed up, so either my comment was eaten or it’s being held for posting!)


    • Liz at Libro

      May 17, 2012 at 5:30 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Leslee. The comment was held for approval (this happens whenever anyone comments for the first time) and I was out visiting relatives!


  8. Daisy

    May 18, 2012 at 8:40 am

    I’m not convinced going self-employed is the stress free option! You have to worry ‘more’ about making enough money to live, if you’re sick you don’t get paid, you loose a contract you don’t get paid, dealing with cashflow when invoices are paid late, you can’t just go home at 5pm and stop thinking about your business.


    • Liz at Libro

      May 18, 2012 at 8:42 am

      Thanks for your comment, Daisy. I didn’t quite say that going self-employed is the best and most stress-free option for everyone, I was sharing my story: it works for what I need in my life, and I did it very carefully so as to minimise those risks (e.g. working 2 jobs so I could save up living-on money and know I was safe). The idea of this post is more to say watch out for if you’re stressed, and if you are, work out how to minimise that, whether it’s downsizing (which I did the first time) or something more radical (which I did when I made my second change). And yes, the freelancer life is not easy, but for me, it doesn’t have the things I don’t like to cope with!



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