Freelance Lessons: Finding Balance
During a yoga class a few weeks ago, my instructor was talking about balance. I know, it was yoga so of course we're talking about balance...bear with me...
She was referring to choosing happiness and having inner peace with where you're at right now. Right now in your life. So many of us have these huge expectations of ourselves that are constantly pushing us forward to where we want to be. And that's a fabulous thing, right? Most definitely! BUT. When it rules our lives? When we are always wanting... wanting to see immediate results, to make more money, to check all the things off your wish list as soon as possible? That's a lot of pressure for one person.
Happiness doesn't come from constantly running 100 miles an hour, trying to get to the next thing. There needs to be a balance between being content with wherever you are in the process and having ambition to reach for more.
This made me think about my recent leap into full-time freelancing (woohoo!). I wouldn't be where I am without pushing myself hard, working the long hours, piecing together my income with multiple jobs and handling the stress that came with it all. That being said, I started realizing I need to take better care of myself and remember that the process - and the learning that comes with it - is just as important as the destination.
My new motto for the summer (and beyond):
EMBRACE THE PROCESS. EMBRACE THE MESSY. EMBRACE THE FACT THAT THERE'S ALWAYS ROOM FOR GROWTH, AND THAT'S A BEAUTIFUL THING.
I'm actively learning how to really LOVE where I'm at in this awesome stage of my life, while continuing to set goals and move forward. And believe it or not, I'm already feeling the effects of this change in perspective. It's quite an amazing, freeing feeling! So, I thought I'd share with you some things that have helped me - and continue to help me - in this journey.
5 WAYS I HAVE CREATED MORE BALANCE IN MY LIFE AS A FREELANCER:
1. VALUING DOWNTIME
Work/life balance is always a struggle for me, especially because I work from home most days and my office is feet away from the rest of my living space. I used to sit down at my computer and work when I was home during evenings and weekends (when I didn't really need to), check my email on my phone waaaay too frequently during supposed downtime (and promptly feeling guilty not responding immediately, regardless of the level of urgency), and constantly filling up my evenings and weekends with projects (again, regardless of urgency or timeline).
Because I love what I do, these habits didn't seem like a big deal. But, in fact, my downtime was seriously lacking and I ended up feeling like I was always in working mode. Which is not a healthy place to be!
HOW I'M FINDING BALANCE: I'm now more intentional about my project schedule and how I plan out my weeks. I made it a rule for myself to not work on the weekends aside from special circumstances. I turned off email notifications on my phone, so I have to actively go refresh my email to check - something little that has lowered my stress level in a huge way and really given me more quality and relaxed time with my boyfriend, friends and family.
I've also come to realize that just because I take time for myself and make an effort to have more balance, doesn't mean I don't care about my clients... I care a whole awful lot! What it means is I'm looking out for my well-being so I'm the best designer I can be when I am working. And that involves downtime.
2. TRUSTING AND LEAVING ROOM FOR GROWTH
Prior to leaving my part-time day job, I saw my business really starting to grow and projects starting to get booked out quite a few weeks in advance. I felt that the time was near when I would need to take the leap with my business. But what if I don't make enough money? What if the work doesn't continue to come my way? It's not that I didn't believe in myself. It was that I was afraid to make a wrong turn and, frankly, end up strapped for money and needing to backtrack.
I continue to have these worries, even now that I'm freelancing full-time. I'm often fixated on all the things I should be doing to market myself, build my client base and improve some of my processes. My long-term to-do list is long and it makes me feel anxious that I haven't gotten to half of it yet.
HOW I'M FINDING BALANCE: Slowly but surely, I'm learning to trust myself and trust that things happen (and sometimes do not happen) for a reason. There are only so many hours in the day and I'm a one-person shop. I know that I'm working hard, doing my best to prioritize my long list of to-dos, learning to navigate this freelance world, and all the while making the best decisions I can. Timing is everything and if I can't seem to get to planning out journal entries or social media marketing for myself (true story)... you know, it's okay to put it on the shelf for awhile and come back to it when I'm ready.
Plus, if I got everything I wanted at once, where would I go from there? Leaving room for growth gives me the opportunity to breathe, learn about myself and actually experience my journey more fully. My dad would call these "character building years" and character building they are.
3. CARVING OUT TIME FOR EXERCISE AND BEING HEALTHY
You hear people say it over and over..."you'll feel better if you have regular exercise and eat healthy." Well...it's true.
I've always felt lucky to have dance in my life to keep me active and my heart full at the same time. I love teaching and performing with Out on a Limb throughout the year! But the whole "eating healthy" thing was (and still is!) a toughy for me. A "grab and go" meal was the norm, feeling lazy about planning meals was an always and being good to my body was not a priority.
HOW I'M FINDING BALANCE: Honestly? I just decided to put on my big girl panties and make some changes. Changes that were reasonable and doable for my lifestyle right now. Healthier trips to the grocery store (my rule is my cart must be full of more fruits and veggies than carbs), making at least one really yummy and healthy meal every week that gives me leftovers for lunches and having small snacks throughout the day while working at home.
I also have made time for yoga again, which I'm missed so very much. Dance and teaching help keep me active, stretch my creativity in a different way, and give me a social outlet throughout the week. But weekly yoga practices provide "me" time away from work, energize me in a different way and help me slow down, reflect and be in the moment. It's just so darn good for my soul.
Since making these changes, I've seen my productivity and energy levels increase. As hard as it is, just getting into healthy habits and carving out the time to actually be loyal to those habits (and your body!) go a long way toward feeling better and more balanced.
4. TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE PERKS OF BEING A FREELANCER AND NOT FEELING GUILTY ABOUT IT
There are tons of articles out there that discuss the best and worst things about being a freelancer. I'm loving the freelance life so far - so obviously, I think the pros outweigh the cons at this point. That being said, I've actually had the most trouble with some of the perks and allowing myself to enjoy them.
HOW I'M FINDING BALANCE: I'm not sure if it was an unconscious fear of burnout or a little angel on my shoulder... but I started thinking to myself, "Hey! Self! You are doing this! You've worked incredibly hard to get here. Your work ethic is great but stop and smell the roses once in awhile."
Some specific freelancer perks that I'm learning to embrace and NOT feel guilty about:
Taking time off. Now, I can't just jump up and take the afternoon off whenever I feel like it. But, if I want to have lunch with a friend or I have family in town? I can usually make it work. If I want to take a long weekend or plan a vacation? With careful planning, I can make it happen. It's a perk and it's wonderful.
Scheduling my day in whatever way makes me most productive and/or happy. So yes, I'll go to that 9am yoga class and just work a little later if need be. It's a perk and it's wonderful.
Saying No. "No" if adding something to my plate will make me stretched too thin. "No" to new projects where I don't think the client and I will be a good fit. I have a choice and it's mine to make. It's a perk and it's wonderful.
I'm still working on truly feeling good about these freedoms. I will eventually get there, but I frequently need to remind myself that I pay for my own health insurance. I do my own bookkeeping and administrative work. Taxes are the bane of my existence but I do them myself. I manage all aspects of my business on my own. There are trade offs! So I need to take the good with the bad. And ironically, the good is the hard part sometimes.
5. CELEBRATING THE LITTLE MOMENTS -AND- BIG ACHIEVEMENTS
I have these moments when I'm working on a project or I'm just thinking about work, and I have this overwhelming feeling of excitement. Excitement about the project, the client I'm working with or, big picture, the way things seem to fall into place and how happy I am with where I'm at.
Unlike everything I've talked about above, this is something that I've always done in multiple facets of my life. I take note of the little things AND the big accomplishments that happen on a daily, monthly, yearly basis and, in my own way, celebrate them. Booking a big recurring project, hitting the nail on the head with a marketing piece, getting a fantastic testimonial from a long-term client... these may not all be considered huge victories, but they are all reassurance that I'm doing something right and making an impact on people and their businesses.
I believe that this positive outlook and attitude is one of the reasons I've gotten to where I am today with my business. It keeps me going. I will work hard to continue to give importance to those seemingly little achievements, as they seem to bring joy when I really need it.
The freelance life isn't always glamorous and I certainly don't look at it through rose colored glasses. But it is pretty wonderful. I'm happy to be where I am in this weird, in-transition, beautiful phase of my journey.
HOW DO YOU STAY BALANCED IN YOUR LIFE?
I'd love to hear about your journey, whatever it may be!