I Left the Corporate World to Be My Own Boss: Am I Being a Good One?

In 2016, I left my high-paying corporate job.

It had been the job of my dreams—great pay, plenty of personal autonomy, work that I enjoyed. Fresh out of my doctoral program, I was given the title of Senior Director of Cognitive Science at a high-tech startup, and the prestige of that was intoxicating. I’d worked so hard to be the kind of person who could land a job like this, and I was damn proud.

But, with time, the job lost its sparkle. I had a supervisor who micromanaged, frequently intruded, and often derailed important work with blue-sky brainstorming sessions that seemed to have no purpose. All that I could deal with, if it weren’t for his tendency to also speak over me, challenge my expertise (when he had none in my field), and often engage in soft misogyny that made me feel undervalued in the workplace. Along with the hours being too long, and the travel too frequent, and the stress too high, I decided it was time to make my exit.

The timing was nice because I had just given birth to my son and was excited to get to be home with him. That said, I always knew I wouldn’t stay happy and fulfilled if I wasn’t doing something for work. And thus began my journey toward self-employment.

I wear many hats these days. I am a business owner. I’m also an author. I do consultations for companies who need someone with my expertise. I also write for Psychology Today as well as for my own blog. In my spare time, I work to open doors and make introductions for other women who want to make their way in the world, often donating my time, energy, or personal connections to help them get their start.

It’s a lot of work, but it’s what fulfills me. Best of all, I get to be my own boss.

That’s the point, right? Working for myself means I get to establish my own working hours and take time off when I need it, without piles of paperwork. I don’t report to someone who knows less than me, and I don’t have to navigate a work environment that sometimes feels hostile toward accomplished women. That’s the dream!

But if it’s such a dream, why am I so constantly overwhelmed and exhausted? Why am I using my car as a rolling command center—working from car line, taking calls on the road, eating my only meals when I’m driving to a meeting or an appointment because, that way, eating doesn’t interfere with my productivity? Why do I constantly feel like I’m chipping away at a To-Do list that only seems to get longer instead of shorter?

These questions beg another question: Am I being a better boss to myself than my past bosses were?

If my life is not demonstrably different from the life I had in the corporate world now that I work for myself, what was the point? Why did I give up the stability, the benefits, the excellent pay? Why did I make all these sacrifices (that often felt like setbacks) to remain locked in the perpetually spinning hamster wheel of overwork and burnout? If I’m not making sure that I’m the best boss I’ve ever had, why did I do any of this?

These are hard questions for me to answer. Not because I don’t already know the answers, but because I would rather not confront them.

The answers, you ask?

Sure, I’ll tell you.

I am chronically goal-driven, painfully ambitious. I don’t do anything halfway, even if doing it all the way nearly kills me. It’s why I have accomplished so much in my life—things I am fundamentally proud of and do not regret. But along the way, my goal-orientation has caused me to forget how to rest. I don’t want to admit that because admitting it means I have to do something about it.

The thing is, what makes me struggle and doubt myself is that I’m doing okay. I can handle the work I load up on my shoulders. I’m happy, I’m fulfilled. I’m seeing my labor come to fruition in some of the most profoundly exciting ways. I’ve got this.

So, the moment I begin to consider slowing down, a tiny voice in my head starts gaslighting me. It tells me there’s no need. It tells me I’m being dramatic. And often, I listen.

The difficult work of being my own boss, it seems, will be about establishing perspective and boundaries. Establishing perspective will mean reminding myself that I have the rest of my life to achieve my goals, and there is a wonderful world of accomplishment waiting to unfold. I do not have to grasp it all at this very moment. Establishing boundaries will mean choosing to be good to myself.

I deserve a good boss. I deserve rest, and positive regard, and to be treated like a human being who has needs. I am able to get those things for myself! I just … haven’t been.

I’m guessing it’ll happen incrementally. After all, anything with a lot of momentum will take some time to slow down. But I’m going to trust myself enough to start giving it a try. Slowing down is not a bad thing. I’m also giving myself permission to know that right now might not be the right time to slow down completely. I have a book scheduled to release later this year, and there is a lot of work to be done as we prepare for the launch. I’m firing on all cylinders right now, and I kind of have to. I want to, even! Deciding to make some changes doesn’t mean I have to do a complete 180. Maybe it just means starting to embrace the reality that, when the time is right, I need to let myself slow down and enjoy the fruits of my labor.

I deserve to be the boss I left my job to find.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

Check out her blog called Compassionate Feminism on Psychology Today to join a feminist conversation centered in openness, empathy, and equity.

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