“We were pale-faced, sipping Bach’s Rescue Remedy” – on leaving the corporate world to go freelance

Anniki Sommerville

Anniki Sommerville had spent nearly two decades working for a market research company but after maternity leave, found herself questioning whether there might be more to life. She quit, went freelance, continued as editor of Selfish Mother and wrote a book. Here’s her story…

In May, this year I took voluntary redundancy. I’d spent much of my twenties and thirties in the same role. I’d worked my way up to managing partner at a well known market research agency. The role entailed endless meetings, and managing the stuff that nobody else wanted to face up to. I necked painkillers like Smarties. I’d permanently got the Talking Heads lyric etched into my head – How did I get here?

I had a couple of great friends, and I cheered myself up with scented candles and regular visits to Topshop. This went on for a long time. Then I had a baby and everything changed. It was as if I’d undergone a cosmic accident. The PowerPoint slides, goals and objectives, and strategy meetings where nothing was ever resolved… they all became meaningless. This is a pretty common experience, I know.

Woman has baby and life is changed forever.

My return to work after maternity leave was miserable. Much of my role had been farmed out to other people. I was thrown into a business winning role, and given an ambitious target to hit (and was told that I’d never hit this as it was impossible on a part-time basis). I spent a lot of time in the toilet crying. I cried when I left my daughter at nursery and cried on the commute.

I questioned how I’d managed to exist in this environment for so long. I was now managed by the people I’d hired months before. I was constantly told I needed to be more dynamic and innovative. It was all about putting on a big show of enthusiasm, and making sure you sucked up to the right people. Perhaps this had always been the case, but I’d never noticed it before.

Some of my friends at work had become completely obsessed with money. They had back problems, anxiety problems, marital problems, insomnia… but it was all about living in the right postcode, sending their kids to private schools and holidaying in the most exotic destinations.

Each day the team meeting was AWESOME. The project was AWESOME. The presentation was AWESOME. It was as if we were a group of young, optimistic surfers about to hit the waves on Malibu beach. Instead we were pale-faced, sipping Bach’s Rescue Remedy, and tapping out presentations on dog food, fish fingers and incontinence pads.

How did I get here?

I’d been fortunate enough to be offered a role editing the Selfish Mother blogzine whilst on maternity leave, so when I became redundant this year, I still had that work to be getting on with. I felt good. I ranted quite a bit to anyone who would listen. And for the first couple of months, I was like that photo of Nicole Kidman when she hears that her divorce to Tom Cruise has finally come through. I was winning.

Then the panic. How would we pay the mortgage? What would happen? How would I ever afford to retire? I continued writing for online publications, and started a website (The Hotbed Collective) with two talented friends. I also wrote a book. I had a lot of people come and tell me how well I was doing but underneath it all I was anxious. Now there was no routine, no predictable income, no stability. The benefits of being freelance are many but it takes a big adjustment when you’ve been institutionalised. I still panic at least twice a week about money.

The other downside of being a freelancer? Well in my old job, I would come home and moan about work. I’d then take some time to sit down and do nothing (not much with a young child but a little nonetheless). Nowadays I must MAKE EACH MOMENT count. I lurch from feeling positive to a frenzy of hustling. Social media doesn’t always help as you’re constantly under the impression that everyone is busier and more dynamic than you are.

Those calls to be ‘more dynamic’ still ring in my ears.

The upside is dramatic. I meet people and I am Anniki. I spent my life feeling that I was wrong and everyone else was right. They were better educated. Had read more philosophy. Could quote Baudelaire. I’ve now realised that many of them were tossers. I wish I’d seen this back then. Two close friends have now got cancer and are undergoing treatment. Time is flying past. It is criminal to waste time being someone else. There is a thick line of grey in my hair reminding me of this.

I’ve called my book – ‘A Diary of A Mid-life Crisis,’ but I’m starting to think this isn’t a crisis at all.

Follow Anniki Sommerville on Instagram: @annikiselfishmother

Have you left a corporate role to go freelance? How have you found it?