Lessons From One Year of Self Employment

A few weeks ago marked the one year anniversary of my being self-employed. Since then, a lot of interesting things have happened: I released The Zero Hour Workweek, launched Paid to Exist, c0-created The Dojo, and started the Limit Breaker Sessions. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a ton of amazing people, and have woken up with excitement almost every day since the last day at my day job.

Looking back, it’s pretty awesome to see what I’ve accomplished in the last year. I think the saying is true that you overestimate what you can do in a day but underestimate what you can do in a year.

Here are some things that I learned from one year of self employment:

Things can be the way you want – you just have to decide that.

This may seem like an overly-simplistic lesson, but it’s probably the most important one that I’ve learned. Doing what you want and having your business and life be exactly the way you want it is possible. It just takes continual and deliberate direction.

When you stop deciding that things be a certain way, they tend to drift toward not being the way you want them to be, or it’s a roll of the dice.

The cool thing about deliberately choosing the way you want your business to be is that you get better at it over time. The way you feel guides you toward doing more of what you want and less of what you don’t want. The best way to move in the direction of what you want is to allow the way you feel to guide you.

Taking care of your people is more important than the numbers.

It’s easy to get caught up in wanting more traffic, subscribers, comments, and all of the stuff that makes you feel high and mighty. But what matters most in running a business is not the quantity of your interactions, but the quality of them.

The more you serve your people, and make it a point to take care of them, the more they will become life-long clients and fans of your work.

Schedules ? Value.

This one is really hard to get away from when you’re so used to working in an office for a set number of hours per day, with a set schedule each week. To a certain extent, some scheduling can be useful and even mandatory when you’re self employed, especially if you’re doing coaching or consulting work.

But perhaps the hardest thing to realize is that face time does not equal value. And time doesn’t necessarily mean money. Effectiveness is the name of the game when you’re self employed.

Some weeks I work 1o-20 hours a week, and others I work 50-60. And sometimes the weeks of less work end up getting more results. So, I’m always trying to think of ways to do things more effectively and not necessarily be married to the idea that time = value. Sometimes putting in the time is just what it takes, but it’s all still relative.

I also have to remind myself that a lot of the work that I do isn’t when I’m sitting down at my desk. I can be working on an idea, mind-map, or project outline while I’m hiking, taking a walk, or laying in bed. Mental workspace is just as important (and often undervalued) as physical workspace.

We’re all running our own race.

As an entrepreneur, it can be difficult not to compare your success to the the success of others. You can have a great product launch for you, and feel great about it, then get swept away in self-pity and envy when someone in the same space as you has a monster success. You can wonder why someone else is getting 100 comments when you’re only getting 20, or why they got a connection with so-and-so and you didn’t.

All of this comparison leads nowhere. It causes you to go into self-defense mode and you start questioning your own value. Not to mention, it makes you feel like shit.

As my friend Danielle says:

“Comparison is a slippery slop to envy and for the most part, envy wastes energy that could be put towards getting what you want or optimizing what you have. It’s a trap.”

So, stop it. We’re all running our own race.

Be playful.

Almost anything can be made playful, and therefore enjoyable. I’m not saying that you should try to transform the things you hate doing and do them anyway with mind-blowing excitement and euphoria. You can happily stop doing those things any time (you have my permission).

But the trouble is, we have these expectations and judgments of ourselves that often turns the stuff we love into not-so-fun stuff.

Whenever that happens, it’s a good time to ask “How do I want this to be? How can I return to a place of playfulness?”

I try to do this as much as possible, and spend a good amount of time thinking about it when I do. Then I remember… Oh yeah, that’s the way I want those things to be. The way they’re supposed to be — playful. Life is too short to have it be any way else.

Lastly, one of the most important things I’ve learned is to ask for help. I’m really grateful to have people like my wife, Charlie, Danielle, Tina, Mike, Adam, Naomi, Marissa and so many others on my team and in my corner. There’s too many to list here so I apologize in advance if you don’t see your name here — it’s not because I don’t care. I’m grateful to have you on my team.

Of course, I feel the most support and love from you. Thank you for reading and following me on this path to personal freedom.

What are the most important lessons you’ve learned through living deliberately?

photo courtesy of Graham Binns

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Mars Dorian

I have learned that fun is always at the core of it.
It’s that kick-ass energy that makes destiny smile at you when you follow it.

Thanks for those inspirational words that dive through my ears like strawberry syrup.
You are making a creative difference !


Dude, can I use that as a testimonial? The strawberry syrup part? :)

Naomi Niles

I’d say that is a pretty damn good first year. Congrats!! :)

Naomi Niles

Btw, did I say how glad I am to be on your team? Well, I am. :)

Ahmad Fadli

The most important lesson I learned from living deliberately is that I am the master of my own reality.

The way I perceive events and things around me is the way they unfold.

Reading “We are all running our own race” reminds me that sometimes I do slip into the self-pity mode as well…….

Gianpaolo Pietri | The Optimalist

*acting deliberately and with a consistent sense of purpose.
*putting your people first.
*having fun doing what you love.

That pretty much sums it up. Nice to see that you’re wife is getting in on the action and helping you to continue the great creative process which you share on Illuminated Mind.

That’s pretty special. Wonder what the next year will bring…..


That’s my attitude. I try not to plan too far ahead, and keep being open to wondering what’s next.


It is always have goals in life, but when you plan to far ahead sometimes you can lose the vision and the motivation. Planning (short-term goals) help to keep yourself focus and to have a great feeling of accomplishment.

Well done Jonathan


Ivan Hernandez

Congratulations Jonathan,

It is fantastic that you have achieved so much in this past year. This shows how dedicated, productive and effective you are.

By the way, I have been reading your Zero Hour Work week ebook and I think is excellent. Well done!




Thanks Ivan, I’m glad that you’re enjoying it.

James Schipper

I can’t believe it’s been a year already. A lot has happened since then.


dude, I can’t believe it either, it’s pretty amazing.

Mike Roberts

Humbled by the mention. The feeling is of course mutual. The biggest thing I took from this post, and it will be with me forever is: :”I think the saying is true that you overestimate what you can do in a day but underestimate what you can do in a year.” This is my first year online, most days feel like not a damn thing is happening. But when I look back at the entire year, I can’t believe the people I’ve met, the things I’ve learned and the opportunities that are right there for all of us to grab.… Read more »

Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist

Yay, Happy Self Employment Day, Jonathan! My personal lessons? Stop worrying about the details and just start. Do live up to your own quality standards, but be ready to refine later. Don’t ignore negative people, but ignore negative people that come blabbering again and again. (This is also true for the internet world: Unsubscribe! Unfollow!) Nap. Have fun in everything you do. Oh, and, of course: Read Illuminated Mind. The lessons you list are so true and congruent with what I’ve experienced over the last few months, and I probably wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for your… Read more »

Percival J. Meris

I have just passed the one-year mark since I retired and set myself on self-employment through blogging activities. One thing I learned from other articles is that I should have a system. Goals and plans should be written down, and broken into scheduled daily activities. Now, here you come saying all of your stuff in this article. WOW!!! Another set of good advices I am receiving. Thanks for writing your article. I am going to copy and paste the entire thing into my word processor, and keep it in my hard disk for constant reference. I do this whenever I… Read more »

Carmen Isais

I’ve learned to ask for help. In the beginning, as “sole proprietor” we have to wear so many hats, and oftentimes find ourselves stretching our capabilities and abilities. Soon, however, this routine can backfire. I’ve learned to do the things I’m good at, and hire out the items I have little talent, or passion for. The end result is not simply a better use of my time, but a better value for all, and less likely to lead to burnout.

Daniel Richman

I totally agree with this post and it’s content. Being self employed and encompassing yourself with the business of your dreams, is a dream in itself. I love what I do, and I enjoy everyday that I’m doing it.

Ritesh Reddy

I’m not sure I remember how I came across your blog Jonathan. I believe it had some thing to do with JKD. I’m very happy however to read about your journey in illuminating your mind. I agree whole heartedly about making that decision being the first step to an avalanche of awesomeness. Amazing what one year can do when you choose to live deliberately. Love the way you express yourself. In the words of Lee.. Keep training and of course keep writing!

Danielle LaPorte

well THAT year went by fast. Fast n’ full.
Your fan,

Michel J. Gagnon

Congrats Jonathan. I think that the people part of your post is pretty important. Sometimes, we put so much energy in our projects that we forget about those supporting us on both sides. And these people are the very ones who make it all worth it. All the best for the upcoming year.

Jared Matthew Kessler

I think the most important thing I learned is that… you can truly get up and go anywhere.

Also it’s important to go with what you FEEL not so much what you know. :)

Tina Su

All great lessons. Thank you for the inspiring write up. And thank you for the mention… I’m proud to be on your team and honored to be your friend.




Looking forward to reading your continuing journey. I’m on my second month, of trying to sell my messenger bags online, a real eye-opener indeed. But I am certainly enjoying the journey :)

Abby Kerr

Hey, Jonathan — I’ve been reading your blog for several weeks after hearing it mentioned just about everywhere — now *that’s* an accomplishment for one year of self-employment! — and I wanted to comment today, introduce myself, and thank you for this post. I’m Abby and I’m in my first year of being *gainfully* self-employed as a copywriter/coach {I had an indie retail boutique for 4 years and just closed it in February b/c it was too much life force investment for too few lifestyle rewards}. I appreciate hearing other solopreneur’s unvarnished truths from the trenches about how they make… Read more »


[…] a recent post, ‘Lessons from One Year of Self Employment‘, he celebrates his one year anniversary of being self-employed. He draws the lessons he has […]

Chrissy Scivicque - Eat Your Career

Jonathan, You are SUCH a source of inspiration for me! I’m slowly moving out on my own (business-wise) and it’s so thrilling and ridiculously scary at the same time. Thank you for sharing your insights and putting it all out there. It certainly takes guts! Your thoughts on scheduling particularly hit home with me. I’m certainly concerned about maintaining discipline on my own. I LOVE your idea of the mental workspace and how you can be “working” while hiking, etc. That is EXACTLY what I needed to hear. I can’t wait to see what the next year holds for you… Read more »

The Dropout Kid

I think being self employed is great for America or any country your in. It keeps the economy going etc. But not everyone can or is suppose to be an entrepreneur. If this was the case, competition would be obscene and over the top. So it’s better that those who do, do. And those who don’t, well,don’t.

Shepard’s need sheep. Don’t you agree?


Agree! As long as the sheep are happy.

As for competition in the marketplace – I’m thinking the more the merrier. Here in Australia, many industries have a ******opoly (haha sorry Im on my phone can’t be bothered searching the term) , meaning a few big players control each industry. Aus is fairly behind in lots of technology and service standards as a result of a lack of competition!

It’s a blessing and a curse to be hypermotivated, but we all do make the world go round :)

Scott Dinsmore

Congrats on a year of success on your own terms! I can’t think of anything to be more proud of. Focus on value you add to customers, not the quantity–that’s huge and so easy to get caught up in the wrong focus. We’re all running our own race, is huge. If we as a society could adopt that mantra, I think there would be a lot more fulfillment and positive creation.

Hat’s off to a proud first year in the books of working your 0HWW!


I’ve learnt that being a control freak got me working for myself. I’m six months in, running a bit behind but it’s the only time I’ve ever felt sufficiently challenged! My favourite part is seeing all the parts of my life intertwine: got a haircut today then worked in a cafe for two hours, still ‘got out if the house but completely efficient. I’ve learnt 9-5 is crazy talk – not much of my best work is done during ‘business hours’. The only conflict myself and I have entered recently is on the question – could I ever do enough?!… Read more »

Jason Webb

this article helped me a lot when i first started my own business 2 months ago, now i have a completely different mindset.


[…] “Almost anything can be made playful, and therefore enjoyable. I’m not saying that you should try to transform the things you hate doing and do them anyway with mind-blowing excitement and euphoria. You can happily stop doing those things any time (you have my permission).” (Really useful self-employment lessons by Jonathan Mead of Illuminated Mind.) […]


[…] Own Race. An Illuminated Mind post on lessons learned from one year of self employment. “Effectiveness is the name of the game when you’re self employed.” I couldn’t agree more. […]


Gosh, a year of self-employment! I am venturing into this world next year – cannot wait to see what life will be like after a year.

Your words on living life deliberately resonate with me. It’s about making the decision, isn’t it? There was a time when I dreamt of living in London. Then I decided to just move and here I am, over 2 years down the line. It’s been tough sometimes but mostly I have loved it. You never know what things will be like until you simply make the decision to try, right?

– Razwana


Today is my first official day of self-employment, and this advice is fantastic for starting out (and at any stage too, I suspect). For me, to leave my comfortable, well-paid job was an easy decision that seemed to come out of the blue (although on reflection, it had been brewing in the back of my mind for some time), and I was surprised how definite, confident and unrepentant I felt after handing my notice in.
I look forward to reading more of your website!

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