My First Year Freelance
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I wake up at noon. Suckle golden milk from the fresh teet of an expensive coffee machine. I then take to my garden to perform some ‘early morning’ yoga ritual which immediately hydrates me and leaves my skin glowing. Then I answer 3 emails maximum at a time, go for a 4 hour business lunch and come home to nap on a pile of free clothes and money.
Except that’s not my life.
And the freelance life is and isn’t exactly what I dreamt it to be.
I’ve been ‘working for myself’ for just over a year now. A year without reports to write, homework to mark, kids to calm and 90 minute commutes to take.
And I’ve recently been reflecting on how this year has gone. I’ve mentioned before that I find it really hard to positively reflect on anything. It’s something I’m working on but often it is physically impossible to look at any ‘achievement’ and see it as such. So I take a more pragmatic approach. Have I improved my mental health? Yep, somewhat, because I have time for self-care. etc etc
But looking back, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about working for yourself – so I thought I’d share them here.
Clean Your Dusty MacBook Before A Photoshoot
I mean, am I OK?
A Stable Job Always Seems Like A Better Option
For the first few months of working for myself, where I couldn’t buy a coffee because I would worry I couldn’t pay rent, I berated myself for leaving my steadily salaried teaching job. Going back, having a monthly pay packet and the same routine day after day seemed a way more sensible and calm way to live life.
But I was recently privy to a conversation amongst close friends that discussed, ‘core hours’, ‘dress codes’, ‘toilet break policies’ and ‘fridge rules’ and I realised I’d rather spend all month worrying about money than if the shade of the colour of my jeans were appropriate, if my tattoo was on show or if my home-made, left-over curry was too stinky.
I’d obvs rather not worry about money but show me a freelancer who doesn’t worry about money and I’ll show you a grade A Tarquin.
It has taught me to get on top of money though. And not be a, ‘meh it’ll be fine’ sort of soul. It has also taught me a lot about breaking free from a ‘scarcity mindset’ (over-worrying about money) and adopting a, ‘money isn’t everything, personal growth and happiness is’, way of thinking.
It Can Be Horrifically Lonely
Just call me Eleanor Oliphant but DAMN the freelance life can be lonely. It’s not uncommon to go 3 days with no human contact, except Ben and one of 4 baristas I see regularly, and that is tough.
In my previous teacher life, I couldn’t get a moments peace in between the long shrill whines of, ‘Miiiiissss’ or requests for some piece of pointless paperwork to be filed by term-end but now, often it’s only JVN and the Queer Eye boys for a water-cooler chat about how to pronounce ‘squirrel’. Except it’s just me, talking to the TV.
Luckily, going freelance has forced me to make new friends. I make it a weekly priority to see Laura. We’ve grown really close this past year. And it has also encouraged me to step outside of my ‘social anxiety bubble’ and organise meet ups and events for London based bloggers. Through this, I’ve met and kept some incredible new friends who are there to inspire me, motivate me, chuckle with me and share the love of Java Chip coffees with me.
As much as freelancers and ‘solo-preneurs’ often feel like they’re doing it all alone – you really can’t get anywhere without an army of support, love, understanding and community.
Which reminds me, my Facebook group has been an absolute RESOURCE for that.
The PRESSURE Can Be Unbearable
One of the main things that people tell me holds them back from wanting to make something ‘more’ from their online platforms is the pressure. And I fucking get iiiiiit.
Suddenly you feel like you absolutely have to be a ‘brand’, with a huge amount of ‘influence’ and that you need to ‘create content’ all the damn time.
And just typing that has exhausted me.
But that’s how I operated for a good 99% of this year.
What should I make? How can I get to the top? What is everyone else doing? Should I be doing that too? How can I elevate my brand to make more money? To have more ‘success’.
But the lesson here isn’t about pressure.
It’s about how I learned that my definition of success, of personal branding, of growth was completely wrong.
Because here’s what happened. When I went ‘full time’, I read every piece of content, listened to every podcast, took every course and webinar, all desperate to learn about ‘how to be successful’ and ‘how to make money consistently’ and it zapped me of all of the love I had for my platforms.
I rarely post to my Instagram grid because of the pressure I felt for it to be about ‘creating content’. And it’s all wrong.
The lesson I learned from the pressure I put on myself is this…
Deliberately ‘creating content’ without any intention of authentic story-telling and sharing of experiences, is not for me.I haven’t installed that fancy ‘Click to Tweet’ thing yet but feel free to turn this into a meme and tag me.
Which brings me to a lesson I’ve learned about ‘success’.
Success Isn’t What You Think It Is
Success with a personal brand, your platforms or a small business isn’t about numbers, metric growth, recognition or necessarily pound signs on a spreadsheet.
It’s not about working with the best brands. Going on fancy trips. Being invited to every event going or having everyone shout you out as being an inspiration.
Especially when you still feel a huge lack of confidence in your abilities, inside. Or like the biggest imposter in the world.
I want to teach others how to be a ‘success’- not my version of ‘success’. Not ‘Blogging 101’s’ version of success. But their own.
For some, success is waking up every day. For others it’s establishing a routine. For using their voice. For creating something they’re proud of. For growing as a person. For being happy. Or it might be that they find success in Instagram likes, blog hits or collaboration offers – that’s fine too.
Success in building a personal brand, small business or online platform is one thing and one thing only – completely individual to the individual.
I learned that my version of success is important to me and me only. All I can share is skills, experiences and to follow in my footsteps – and if that’s not right for someone, that’s because our versions of ‘success’ don’t align – and that’s absolutely fine.
Routines Are Tough
I remember, for about 5 days on the bounce in February, I woke up at a ‘decent’ time, tidied the house, went for a run, grabbed a coffee, sat at my desk and created resources and content I was extremely proud of.
I had so much extra energy to give to others because I finally had enough for myself.
But that was a flash in the pan. Suffering with your mental health and being a freelancer is tough. Sleep is always more preferable to work. Netflix is always a happy distraction from low self-esteem and your pillow isn’t going to subtweet about how shit you are at what you do.
So whilst routines can be really tough to stick to. They are so, so necessary. Not only for productivity, for business and for personal growth but also for a calm mind.
It’s a lesson I’ve learnt but find near impossible to implement. I’ll keep you updated though!
No One Takes It Seriously…
I’ve found that in some circles, I’m rarely asked, ‘how has work been?’ and this could be because no one understands what my ‘work’ is, but it could also be that they know what it ‘is’, they just don’t deem it, ‘real work’.
And for someone absolutely riddled with self-doubt, you barely have the energy to justify your work existence to yourself, let alone others.
But you must. Whether you title yourself as an, ‘entrepreneur’, a ‘CEO’ or a ‘blogger’, ‘digital creator’, ‘influencer’, you must give importance to what you do, because it’s important to you.
And then you need to start taking it seriously! Especially if it is becoming a ‘part-time job’ or a ‘side-hustle’. You are building and making something that is completely yours, from the ground up, based solely off of your own personality and talents – and that is something to be taken seriously!
…Least Of All, You
The AMOUNT of guilt I feel for, ‘being at home all day’, whilst Ben is ‘at work’ when I haven’t emptied the dishwasher or put my clothes away is outrageous.
Let alone if I then go to a fancy event, get taken out for lunch, have a sexy package delivered or experience something that lots of people don’t. How can we then feel like we can call that work?
But I’ve learned that it is. That I put so much energy, heart, creativity, passion, love and tears into what I’m making and trying to build and that’s ‘work’ even if I don’t come home crying about a shitty boss or the colleague that eats my Nakd bars.
Working for yourself can be messy, unpredictable, oft-unstable, stressful, and energy-zapping but it’s also wonderful, freeing, life-affirming, fun, and it gives you the space to prioritise a way of working that suits you best, as the person you are.
Could I ever go back to working for someone else again? I’m not sure. Is it the easiest transition to make? Hell no and I’m sorry if I have ever made out that it is. Does it mean I can prioritise my mental health, personal development, idea of success, relationships and happiness? Abso-fucking-freelance-lutely.
Here’s to a second year! I’m excited to see what lessons I’ll learn about myself next.
Are you working for yourself? How do you find it? Would you like to? What’s holding you back?
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