Freelance Life Law #4: It Starts with You
Believe in your deepest self that your career’s worth taking seriously. It’s like negotiating price with clients: Waffle too much and they’ll question your value. It may mean having some reality check conversations about what you need. Freelancing has a natural elasticity that can help, too:
Make Home/Family Responsibilities Fit Your Schedule, Not Vice Versa.
“I incorporate chores and errands into work breaks so I get them done bit by bit, get some exercise, and can relax later.”
Control the Input.
“I have two phone lines: an unlisted ‘home’ line for family and close friends, and a ‘business line’ for everyone else. I have a ninety-year-old mother who lives at home with caregivers and two grown sons with children, so if the home line rings, I usually answer. I’m more discriminating with the business line. Caller ID is a godsend. If it’s not urgent or I don’t recognize the number, I’ll let it ring into my voicemail and answer or e-mail at my convenience.” Other freelancers I know flip it: They screen personal calls and pick up business ones.
Build In Small Efficiencies.
Work efficiency is important, but it also matters in most aspects of your life. It could be getting your groceries delivered, paying bills online, scheduling and grouping appointments into particular days, starting a carpool or babysitting co-op.
Small efficiencies add up, opening your time, easing your mind, freeing you from the busywork of life so you can engage in the important work of living: comforting a friend, tending a child, untangling a parent’s finances, helping at the fund-raiser, training for and completing your first 10K, fixing up a room to rent out, planning a surprise party for your mate or best friend.
Expect Things of Others.
One freelancer says: “When I worked in the corporate world, my marriage went down the tubes—I spent all my time at work. It was important to me to have a life when I worked on my own.” Marriages do better when there’s an agreed-upon division of labor and R & R time built in. That same freelancer says, “Now my husband and I go to the gym together in the morning, after the kids are off to school.”
Kids can have responsibilities when they’re ready: “My kids are ten and twelve. When they get home from school, they’re expected to do their own thing until my work time ends. I think it sets an example of a work ethic. And the kids have a chance to manage their own time.”
Look for some reciprocity. Example: Your neighbor asks you to take care of her dog while she’s on vacation (or water her plants, or whatever). When you take yours, ask her to return the favor. Is she too busy, or does she grudgingly agree, or mess it up somehow? You will, in the future, be “sorry, just too busy” to help her out.
Write a New Job Description.
Company workers can’t. You can: “When my kids were young, I shifted to a kind of writing work that didn’t require such rigid hours.”
Rethink Your Freelancing Goals.
If the push-pull between work and family is a continual stressor and your strategies for managing it just aren’t working, maybe it’s time to revisit your freelance goals: Can you afford to be a part-time freelancer so you’d have more time for family? How might you economize so you could work less? Can you save money to hire household help? Are you charging enough for your services, so you could conceivably work less but earn more? Can you develop a specialty or passive income streams to help increase your income?
Live It Like You Mean It.
Others will take their cue from you.
If you’re a new grad starting to freelance, do you talk about it in ways that say this is your chosen career path?
If you’re freelancing while you job-hunt, have you made it clear that your freelance work and your job hunt are your jobs?
If you’re transitioning into full-time freelancing, do others realize this isn’t an in-between thing until you find a company job?
Keep a schedule (no one needs to know if you change it a lot). Slip it into conversations “. . . so after work I went to the box office and got tickets.” “I finish work at six—I’ll give you a call then.” “Let’s meet after work.”
Look the part. I’m not saying you should sit at your desk in a jacket or heels, but just be aware that people make judgments based on appearance. (See Personal Appearance.)
When you say no, be polite but don’t make excuses: “Unfortunately, I’m busy.” Or be specific: “Sure, I can take care of your dog while you’re away, if I can do it before nine a.m. and after five p.m. No? Then, I’m sorry I won’t be able to help.” Or offer to do something that adds to your work chops: “I won’t be able to help at the silent auction, but I could design the poster.”
Freelance Life Law 5: Be Mindful
Think before you commit your precious time, care, skills, and resources. That goes for the gigs you take, the friends you hang with, the money you spend, the causes you join: “My husband and I both do volunteer work. We feel it’s very important to do that. He plays guitar and sings for hospital patients, and I teach knitting there one afternoon a week. It gets your mind off yourself, and you realize there’s always someone who’s worse off than you are.”
When you willingly give your best, your all, your awesomeness, everything you touch will shine. And so will you.