Yesterday was my 32nd birthday. At the risk of sounding vain, I unashamedly love birthdays. I love celebrating other people’s birthdays, but boy, do I love my own. When I used to work in offices, I hated going to work on my birthday. Sure, colleagues were nice enough to me and often there was a Colin the Caterpillar cake, but a dull meeting is still a dull meeting even with a slice of cake in front of you.
Now, of course, you don’t have to be freelance to take the day off work for your birthday. But even I, the patron saint of birthdays, never took the day off when I worked in-house. I would never just take a day off to hang out in my own city. That felt like a “waste” of a precious holiday day (this was especially true when I used to work in America). I needed to get as much out of my vacation days as possible and that meant saving them for “real” holidays. I also, if I’m honest, felt awkward requesting a day off from my bosses for something that felt kind of childish – I don’t want to work today because instead I just want to celebrate my existence.
So this year, with no boss to approve it, I decided I wasn’t going to work on my birthday. And so it was that yesterday I set an out-of-office that said, “Today is my birthday so I’ve taken the day off.” And off I went for a long and lazy lunch.
When I tweeted a screenshot of my out-of-office, someone replied describing it as a political statement. After thinking about it for a beat, I realised what a shrewd observation that was. The thing is, you’re not supposed to say in your out-of-office that you’re taking the day off for your birthday. Professional etiquette dictates that you’re not meant to show you have a life outside of work. By mentioning my birthday in my autoreply, what I effectively said is: “I’m not working today because eating cake is a higher priority to me and I’m going to let you know that.” In a one-sentence out-of-office, I’d inadvertently stuck my middle finger up at the corporate machine.
Modern work culture doesn’t value time off, nor does it celebrate the individual. As broken as work culture is, however, freelancing cannot be the solution to it. I’ve said countless times before that self-employment is not a panacea for all work problems. that being said, freelancing has taught me some lessons that have completely changed how I understand work as a whole.
It's not a case of freelancing being “better” than working in-house, it's that self-employment has shifted my entire relationship to work. In freelancing, I've rediscovered my love of writing, tried new skills I never thought I’d be any good at and have learned that fulfilment in work comes listening to your intrinsic motivators rather than chasing superficial goals.
Put simply, I now find joy in my work in a way I just didn't before.
There’s a deep irony in the fact that the idea of working on my birthday isn't the misery it used to be when I worked in offices. The difference is, however, that I’ve finally understood that you can be good at your job and not have to keep trying to prove that fact by working yourself into the ground. You can take the day off for your birthday and not feel guilty about it.