Self-employed by 17 and the lessons it taught me

I enjoyed learning, worked hard and got *fairly* good grades, far from what I would associate with someone who drops out of school.But at 17, I did just that. I walked away with my half completed A-Levels into an industry I knew nothing about. And somehow I was self employed.

Looking back, I struggle to remember much from the end of my school years. There were no defining reasons which made me leave, but I decided it was what I was going to do. And when I decide to do something, I do it, or at least try to.

As a naïve and enthusiastic 17 year old, I was thrown into the deep end of full time work. The deep end is somewhere I find myself often, and a place I’ve learnt to love, because when I’m so overwhelmed with excitement at the feeling of “new” and challenge, my mind doesn't have time to feel intimidated or scared.

In the deep end, you either learn to swim pretty quick or you drown. My life motto is “fake it till you make it” and I plan to keep it that way until I learn everything ever. 

The deep end is rich in life lessons, and I'd love to share some of mine with you...

Money isn’t everything

This one took a while to realise, and to admit. I did all the things you’d expect for a teenager with a healthy income. I bought a new car, overpriced laptop, ‘work’ phone (it was just an excuse to have double the amount of data…) and generally treated myself whenever possible.

I’m not a ‘stuff’ person, but within a few months I realised I was surrounded by ‘things’ but no people. Money is no fun when you’ve got nobody to share it with. This brings me onto my next point well…

People are important

Sounds simple right? But I had no idea how much I relied on the structure of ‘school’ to give me a social calender. As an introvert, I was surprised at how people deprived I felt. It was a quick lesson to learn, but I learnt to reach out, start the conversation and make conscious time for the people I loved. Without people to enjoy the journey with, whatever you’re working on can begin to feel lifeless and without purpose.

If you’re at school – be grateful for how much you see your friends! Soon enough you’ll be working around university timetables and work schedules to find time to hang out.

Here's an important friend in my life. (You're never too old for fair ground rides).

I have never used Trigonometry BUT school is valuable

Now, this isn’t a black or white answer here.

Have I ever utilised my ability to balance scientific elements in my work? No. But in my opinion, it’s less about knowing these skills, and more about the qualities they develop in you. Homework teaches discipline, detentions teach accountability and complicated math equations teach persistence and hard work. School teaches character, just as much as skill.

Sure, I felt fully unprepared in the topic of taxes, car insurance, money management or bank accounts. But I can thank school for many other things.

I missed school

This was the most difficult one to admit. As somebody who had defied everyone else’s opinions and marched away from school, it felt like failure if I admitted that I missed it. For the first year, seeing friends hang out at school together, attend parties and celebrate results day, whilst I sat behind a computer for what sometimes felt like days, hit a nerve.

Now that my friends are spread across the realms of university, work and travel – it doesn’t feel like I’m missing out on a club hang-out. Despite not being in contact with everyone still, it brings me joy to see each of them pursuing their dreams in their unique way, even if that’s just taking a year out to explore the world and enjoy life.

Saving is so important

I am SO grateful I learnt this! Being self-employed means un-certain cash flow, random pay days and variable income, so it’s more important than ever to track spending and save money. When I was diagnosed with depression earlier this year, my savings enabled me to take 6 months off work and take time to find my happy place again. I’m thankful to past me for making that happen! I don't know where I'd be right now without that time off.

I wish school had taught me something about budgeting/saving, it makes me cringe thinking of all the money I wasted in that first year. But hey, I’m grateful to have learnt a lesson. 

Would I ever tell someone else to leave school?

I’m always sceptical about sharing my journey, because my story can’t be condensed into a ‘3 steps to working for yourself’ eBook (sorry). It was a traditional mix of hard work, unexpected opportunities and an innate desire to prove everyone wrong who doubted my decision to leave school. Looking back, it was a risk, way more of a risk than I realised at the time, but I couldn’t be more grateful for 17 year old me following through on the decision.

I still consider myself a student in many ways. I study part time in Accountancy and will forever be educating myself. I’m also still not great at money management or eating healthily…

 so you could say I live like a student too.

My advice would be to work hard wherever you’re at and don’t let other people tell you that your dreams aren’t realistic.

Blog, Real LifeAlice Benham