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!)