“So you’re between jobs?”
“Don’t worry, something solid will come up.”
“Having a 9-to-5 is the only way to get a mortgage, you know.”
“Don’t you want job security?”
“I guess you’re on a journey of ‘self-discovery’, right?”
If these quotes sound like your last family gathering, then you’re not alone.
Explaining your solopreneur venture to your family can be like trying to explain algebra to a trilobite. (That’s an extinct marine arthropod, FYI.) The idea of talking work at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving or whatever it happens to be can fill solopreneurs with dread.
You haven’t got a “normal” answer. You can’t answer with a one word job title because you’re a saleswoman, a marketer, an accountant, a visionary, and an investor…all in one.
At best, being a solopreneur is brave, and at worst, it’s career suicide — according to family.
Explaining your vocation to your family will be different for everyone; no one family is the same. Levels of support vary and mindsets change.
First thing’s first: Take a deep breath. You aren’t alone.
Upsetting the apple cart
I know the struggle.
I moved to a place where there were no starter jobs. It was a place populated with the semi-retired. Moving again wasn’t an option and I spent months trying to land jobs that weren’t quite right for me. I had hundreds of rejections.
It was soul-destroying.
I knew in my gut that my writing ability was exceptional. I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t got a mathematical bone in my body, but words? I can do that. I was also well-educated and published in several newspapers.
But I was never the right fit. Not enough years behind a desk. Not enough willingness to subscribe to the outdated keyword-stuffing SEO ideas that still run this city.
Despite this, my personal blogs were getting shared and commented on. I was the go-to for friends who needed something written, so why was the corporate world so dead set against me?
One day, I snapped. They didn’t want me, so I didn’t want them.
I discovered the world of copywriting, an industry I — somehow — never knew existed.
I realized this was my gig. I could rock this.
I hit the ground running and got my first few clients in the first month.
My family’s response?
“At least you’ve got something until a proper job comes up.”
I felt the confidence bubble deflate like a cartoon balloon. You could almost hear the sad whizzing noise.
It took me a while to realise they weren’t being mean. Of course they weren’t, they’re my family.
Understand their mindset
They wanted what was best for me and could only express that by chiding me, trying to nudge me in the direction of a safe, secure 9-to-5.
Remember…a lot of these naysayers — parents, grandparents, extended family — spent their working lives as small cogs in big machines. They could only achieve success by joining a company young and staying there until they retired, slowly climbing the rank ladder.
There was little room for career moves, and entrepreneurship belonged only to those who could afford to be idle. In other words…it only happened to other people.
They don’t get it. They’re not being malicious, they’re just confused and worried.
The best way to assuage their fears is to be confident.
Know exactly what you’re doing and be proud of it. If you’re unflappable, they’re more likely to realize they don’t need to fret.
You never know. A cousin might be belittling your work because they’re envious of your bravery and wish they could do what you do.
One of the biggest stigmas associated with entrepreneurship is the risk factor.
There’s no point tiptoeing around it. Working for yourself has pitfalls a normal office job doesn’t.
You write your own paychecks and that can either be the best thing ever — or the worst.
Don’t deny it. Acknowledge the risk and explain that you are confident in what you do; you’re thriving despite the fear factor. If you make it clear that you aren’t blind to the risks, or simply ignoring them, you’ll seem far more competent.
Explaining your business in a single breath and then changing the subject can give off a vibe of uncertainty. You might sound threatened or hostile.
Be open! If someone has questions, answer them.
Channel a little of that saleswoman flair and sell your work.
Your Uncle Jim’s questions that were meant to cut you down might change to genuine curiosity. How wonderful would that be?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Reaching out for support from family might seem like you’re admitting defeat.
Remember being a solopreneur is just that — solo. It can be very lonely and you don’t have colleagues to cheer you up on a bad day.
There is no shame in soliciting support from your family. Tell them how amazing your work is, but acknowledge that you sometimes go for days without connecting to the outside world. Admit that being your only advocate can be tiring.
When they realize how much you’re willing to sacrifice for your dream, they’ll be far more likely to offer a helping hand or a hug — without the whisper of, “I told you so.”
You’re in control, but you could use a sympathetic ear. That’s no different from someone in an office job suffering from burnout.
The uncertainty and quips about “real work” mostly stem from misinformation. If you break down that barrier in a calm, friendly way, you’ll never have to worry about awkward, talking-to-a-brick-wall moments at family gatherings ever again.
(Yes, they’ll still worry. They’re your family.)
But they’ll also be happy for you, and when you work for yourself, that counts for a lot.
P.S. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, our family plays a huge factor in our solopreneur sanity.