Though I started working full-time 6 months ago in December, I have maintained my consulting business and continued working on the side. In many ways, this has been fulfilling–I often enjoy the work, the money aids in getting out of debt. I’ve recently come to see something bad happening underneath all that. I’ve been getting frequent migraines, having trouble sleeping, and feeling constantly as though I’m overwhelmed by everything around me. I’ve also been slipping into a more depressed place for longer periods.
On Sunday, I asked Micah “Do you think I work too much?” His response:
I think you work way too much. I think you work like there’s something more important than your emotional health or your sanity. I think you’re working like you think we’ll starve in the gutter if we turn down a job.
Ah. That made far more sense than I wanted to let myself believe. Just the day before had been asked by a friend & client via Twitter:
You ever relax? You seem to go 110% all week long.
I do. I put in at least 60 hours a week – days, nights, & weekends – maybe more. Yet I know perfectly well that we won’t starve in the gutter if I don’t do any freelancing at all and earn nothing from my blog. We wouldn’t even have to start living on ramen. So what was this coming from?
After talking with Micah about it, I concluded that I’m approaching freelancing with the same attitude I had last year, when it really did make a difference. It’s not bad to always be on the lookout for work if you’re a full-time or most-time freelancer. That’s part of the job. But when I’m already working 40 hours a week, it’s a problem.
My mind had never gotten off the work = survival track, or had never let on to the 40 hours a week that I was already doing. It was telling me that if I didn’t try to keep up with the rate I’d been doing before, then I’d fail, end up in the streets, and starve.
But it’s not true. Instead of being helpful and keeping me working, this once-helpful mental track is driving me off the edge (some days).
So, what do I do?
I asked Micah to help me make a realistic plan, since my own judgment of a healthy amount of work is obviously not quite there.
We both sensed that it worsened around the time Micah stopped teaching for the summer, which led me to feel like I had to earn more, even though we’d planned for this. So the first part of the plan was to spend some time talking through the facts of our financial situation. We’re prepared and Micah has a contract to teach in the fall – he’ll even be earning more than this year. I plan to journal about this, as something to help me whenever I start to feel this solo-earner panic again.
Concrete steps I’m going to take include:
1) Cutting back on blogging here to 3 days a week. This will start as a summer thing and we’ll see how it goes. I’d already cut back on my blogging as a way to regain control, and 3 posts a week should mean better material for my readers.
2) Taking a temporary break from consulting altogether. I’ll be taking this break from now through the end of July. I want to re-assess my goals (for consulting, for my library career, and for my hobbies). I may help out some of my long-time clients, as long as it’s not a huge project.
3) For now, I’m going to run projects by Micah before I accept them. I’ll provide a written or oral assessment of exactly what’s involved, a history of how I’ve done or not done this before, and estimates of how long it’s going to take. Telling him is mostly for my benefit, as I’ll still be the one who decides whether or not I take a gig, but I think it’ll help a great deal to have someone to process it with.
I’m hoping that this will bring me greater fulfillment in my freelancing and blogging as well as in the rest of my life.