Self-Employed Does Not Mean Jobless!

I am a professional genealogist and am self-employed. In April 2011, a friend said that anyone who was self-employed meant that they had no income. The comment was thoughtless, it stung since my very first tax season as a self-employed individual made me aware of how much I felt like God was blessing me and keeping me alive. It’s been the two lowest income years of my adult life since going into business, but it was part-time on the weekends, and that meant that there was little to no effort going into it.

I did not treat it as reality and had other jobs at the same time. I was scared and did not think highly of my abilities simply because it’s unusual what I do. Plenty of people do it as a hobby, but doing it for a living? That takes the next step. Changing from fluid to solid and adding the infrastructure to make a skeleton that moves. This past summer I received a very expensive business license from the Windy City, and felt quite strongly that it was time that I develop the sole proprietorship into something that is worth my effort. No more second jobs. I like having bosses and being part of an internal corporate ecosystem. There is not the risk involved in a creating a true start-up.

I’ve taken the plunge and added memberships with different societies beyond my Bachelor’s Degree in Family History-Genealogy. My goals presently include certification with either ICAPGEN or BCG and having letters at the end of my name that mean something professionally. More than fifteen years of my life is invested with genealogy, and I’ve had the dishonor of dealing with illegitimacy of my industry. Dating back professionally to about the 1960’s, my field is newer but it does not have the “cool” factor that iProducts do, and it’s based on subjective and often intangible knowledge versus a cold piece of metal deliverable.

So, with all of this background I look around me and see friends with their credentials which they worked hard to obtain for steady jobs and incomes proving their advancement in society and entrance into “real” life with a “real” job. They’re done with school, and now they work and make money and deal with their lives.

I may never be done with school, but I’ve taken a year off for business development. My life revolves around my business, around finding clients, around doing client work and research, and around library and archive schedules for finding the needed documents to finish client work to make them happy.

My livelihood is so different from most of the people I know that I turn into an underdog without really trying. I’m like the plumber, but since they don’t see my labor and since there is no union for me to gouge prices, I don’t charge plumber or lawyer prices.

In a demoralization manifestation, I went to a genealogical workshop yesterday to see whether I could qualify to join the group. I spent months and hundreds of dollars my senior year of undergrad finishing a project that proves that I am related to people from an era of history to which this group adheres. From looking at their database and the documents required, yes, I could qualify if I provide my information and pay more than a hundred dollars for someone else to check my work. (Ouch!) Just about the money, not about checking my work. I expect more documentation for my clients than these people expect in a prestigious group, so that’s not the issue.

My introduction to this group was as a professional genealogist. I see that I will need to prove my worth to their leadership, but the insulting thing was that when I mentioned to their local genealogist that I was self-employed, she later mentioned that most of the young women who were part of their group worked, or had little children and since I didn’t have a job, so I should be able to attend many meetings.

I grew up respecting this organization and felt a desire to be part of them. Now, I am not sure. I deeply hope that this lady meant her statement to sound differently than it came out. Self-employment is NOT for the weak or the wimpy! It takes more than showing up, being in a cubicle and doing the work that someone else gives you all day. You are HR, Marketing, PR, legal, accounting, deliverables, administration, and all of that rolled up in one! You have all of the responsibilities that anyone else has in a large firm shrunken down simply to yourself. You make every decision, and have every liability. There is no such thing as a vacation. Your clients are on your mind 24/6, since in my case I try to use the Sabbath for a rest and do not regularly work on genealogy for hire on Sunday because of it.

This is hard work. I don’t have an MBA, but I know my field and I look up more information on a daily basis. I listen to anyone who has something to say, especially for my grassroots basis in my city where breaking into the field may as well be breaking one’s teeth. I may need dentures by the end of this, but I’m not giving up. I have to be the meat-punching, stair-training Rocky here.

Yes, I have a job where I have to be kind to get respect. I have to deal with under-valuation from a portion of society that should be familiar with my field and regularly doesn’t have a clue. I am frustrated, but have to be patient and gentle with people who have painful issues as I do surgery on their family’s wounds and help them figure out who in the world they may be. It’s a hard JOB, but someone gets to do it. (Me!)


Unexpected Consequences of the Government Shutdown: National Archives Closed

The government shutdown was easily preventable. Whether blamed on legislation or on one party or another, the whole thing is an imbecilic and catastrophic effect of the brinkmanship between the President and the houses of Congress. There are enough complications in the matter that no “good guy” appears.
in all of it. However, there are representatives of the United States people involved. I don’t care about their “big business” connections. I care presently about whether I can run my business and whether I can get to my needed resources to get my business done.

I am a genealogist. Without the National Archives open, I cannot do my work, specifically if I need a historical naturalization, it is nice and locked up. No one seems to have access if no one is working there. Conservation is not happening. Cataloging and all those things that the government does to attempt to have free and open access to public information stops. The government is, of essence, breaking some of its own laws without sufficient access to documents allowed by the Freedom of Information Act.

Case in point: Yesterday was the first time I tried to contact the National Archives since the shutdown. Although the phone line at the Chicago Branch rang, no one answered. I tried the National line and heard a voice mail about their being shut down due to the government shutdown. It’s so nice to hear that the nation’s archives, as formed as part of the Constitution, is non-essential. Isn’t that pretty?

I tried contacting my house representative first seeing as there were more representatives, maybe I might get a tiny touch more time than the Senator’s offices allowed. I found out who my representative was and emailed Jan Schakowsky.

From there, I looked up my senators. Mark Kirk and Richard “Dick” Durbin. Mark Kirk had someone there to help me find his email form and to allow me to voice a concern. Dick Durbin’s office may as well have not existed. His pre-recorded message indicated that his office shut down. So he considers himself “non-essential” personnel? *stunned silence for about three seconds* HOW DARE HE! I am one of his represented constituency. That means that he should ALWAYS be open and available. If not in an emergency, then when? There was an emergencies only line available and I called that and left a message. Apparently he does not want contact. If you are representing ME, you had BETTER want my contact and be willing to respond and to reply. No matter how well-connected in Washington you are, it does not matter if you do not pay attention to, listen, and field the concerns of your represented people.

Is he just a crony for policy, or does he truly consider himself “non-essential?” I have no problems making sure that he is non-essential if he does not consider contact with his constituency of enough influence to have even one person to staff a phone or field an email.

Whether or not Dick Durbin is attempting to make a point with shutting down his office in showing what the government looks like without workers, he is allowing the idea that he does not want to work for me. So fine, don’t work for me. I’ll find someone who will.

As for Mr. Kirk, he kept his office open and some nice people took my comments today. As for Jan Schakowsky, I called her today, left some contact info, and expect to hear back before the end of the day.  Whether I get SPAMMED or not, at least there is someone there to work for me instead of packing up and forgetting who got him or her to Washington in the first place.

And no, I have no problems in performing daily emails, phone calls, and even writing physical letters. I have no problems in organizing and going to their offices if necessary.

Messing with how I make a living and how I feed my family when you supposedly serve me makes me upset enough to do something about it. I would not be an activist if not driven to it.