I’m a freelance Graphic Designer and Animator. I’m also a stay at home dad married to a successful business traveler. I’ve been asked a few times what that kind of life looks like.
I left my last staff job a little over 11 years ago. In general, and simplistically, I liked the company, loved the people, and hated what I was like there. I’m an aggressive person, even when not angry. I wind up quickly and have difficulty braking gracefully. I was becoming more and more difficult to work with. I was burnt out, unmotivated and frustrated.
I left when it finally sunk in that I’d gone as far as I was going to go. The position I wanted didn’t exist, and they didn’t think I was the guy for whom it should be created. I can’t say they were wrong. I’d gone a little astray.
I had also wanted to try life as a freelancer for some time. She and I had discussed it over the years and always realized the time wasn’t right. But about when I’d hit “E” on my motivational tank, the time became right and She encouraged me to try it. Was She really brave and unconditionally supportive, or was She tired of me talking about it? Mmmm, yep.
The final straw was The Boys. Their lives were becoming busier and more complex, much more than two full-time careers could easily swing. So assuming that freelancing would allow me more control over my schedule, I submitted my resignation letter.
I got lucky. It didn’t start slowly, and I didn’t have to cold call. I learned quickly that there weren’t many freelancers in this market like me (though that has changed), and that I wasn’t unknown. So I got plenty of work. Not having to worry about selling myself, which I think comes with some necessary self-delusion, I was able to learn some things about myself very quickly.
I have to pretend I’m going to work. The Number One question I’m asked (seriously, Number One by a long shot) is if I wear pants to work. The answer is yes, everyday. I get up in the morning, shower, brush my teeth, put on clothes (including shoes and socks), and go to my office. I commute, though my commute is 17 feet. I’ve got to feel like I’m not just a pajama-clad mouth-breather playing with computers.
I don’t always play well with others. I need room to pace, to make sound effects, to scream at my computer. Sometimes to throw things out of frustration or excitement. When I’m thinking I fiddle with things, at times making me look distracted or crazy. I was in a meeting once, discussing the use of a 3D model of an ATV when I realized I was playing with a Boba Fett action figure. When I’m trying to solve a design or animation problem I tend to walk in circles, drawing pictures in the air with my hands. But most of all, when I’ve got an idea, and I get the bit between my teeth, I tend to fill up every open space around me.
I’m at my best, my most productive, from about 8pm to 2 or 3am. It’s always been so. When I was a teenager, left to my own devices and biological clock, I’d get up at about 11am or noon. My mom would wake me, saying “you’ve slept away half your day”. I’d think to myself, “No, I slept away half YOUR day. Mine just started.”
Most companies don’t really let their employees choose when to work, aligning with when they feel they’re at their best. And there are plenty of good reasons for that. But in my case, the 9 to 5 job feels inefficient. There just wasn’t enough opportunity for me to get lost in the work. Sometimes I can solve the problem in a few minutes. Sometimes it takes a few hours. And occasionally, it takes hours and hours of pacing, sketching, fiddling, playlist-jumping, and swearing to finally see a solution. And when there’s a deadline in play, 9-5 just doesn’t work. It doesn’t help when every few minutes some new word-vomiting head invades your space with “how’s it going?”, “need lunch?”, “what’s the deadline?”, “here’s the job number”, “the building’s on fire”, “we’re having a meeting to discuss distractions in the workplace”…
I learned that I’m happy with, and even require, alone time. She travels a lot, and even now as an empty nester I find I love the isolation. I’m able to love it because I know it’s not permanent. I know She’s out there, and that I’ll see her or talk to her later. I understand most people don’t like eating alone or going to movies alone. I don’t mind it. In fact, sometimes I need it.
I discovered that I’m a better person this way. I’m happier, more at ease. I suspect that it’s in part due to the fact that I don’t have to be “on” for long stretches. I can swoop in, be charming, be self-confident, be well-dressed, be witty. Then I can leave, head back to my cave and put Professional Troy away.
I learned that I’m proud of my two careers. I love being a designer and animator, and I love being a stay at home dad. I love that I’ve had the opportunity to do both. It hasn’t always been easy, but it’s never been hard.
I hope from what She and I built The Boys have learned that being true to yourself, seeking self-awareness, living with passion and taking risks are all valuable pursuits. Oh, and that a Boba Fett action figure is a legitimate business expense.