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Surviving Freelancing

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.

{ 3 trackbacks }

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Alice June 22, 2009 at 9:00 am

Good for you! I’m glad you’re aware of what’s happening — your steps to deal with it sound sensible. I hope you’re able to relax and be calmer this summer!

Miranda June 22, 2009 at 9:08 am

It can be a hard decision to cut back. My husband is pointing out that the recent large cutback by a major client of mine is actually a blessing. It has already opened up new opportunities, and I’ll be able to work a little less. I was beginning to feel a little trapped. So, good for you to recognize that changes may need to be made!

Miranda’s last blog post: Saturday Staples: Personal Finance Reading

SP June 22, 2009 at 10:38 am

Good to hear! Micah is right, there is nothing more important than your emotional (and physical) health. I hope your steps help you figure out the balance that works!

mapgirl June 22, 2009 at 10:47 am

Cutting back on the freelancing is a great idea. As long as your are making enough to take care of your life, do you really need all the extra jobs for accelerated debt repayment?

At what price health and sanity? 🙂

Take a break, you need it.

Diane June 22, 2009 at 12:28 pm

I think you’ve already got this figured out, but I’m going to offer you some reinforcement.

Paying off debt is important, having enough money is important, and working hard is part of the path to financial security.

BUT, balance is key in life, in love and in work. The focus on paying down the debt has gotten you out of balance and its definitely time to recalibrate.

Your mental, emotional and physical well-being require a balanced life and so does your relationship with Micah.

You’ve made wonderful progress in paying down your debt through hard work. In time it will all be paid off.

For now, I hope you’ll enjoy taking some time off, relaxing with Micah, maybe reading some good books that will help you regain the balance and joy in your life. You deserve a joyful life and its up to you to find it!

Vered - MomGrind June 22, 2009 at 2:17 pm

Re-balancing your life makes a lot of sense. Sounds like a great plan!

Four Pillars June 22, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Great post – I have to restrict my blogging or I will just do it all the time. 🙂

Four Pillars’s last blog post: Win A FREE Driving School Session In A Formula 2000 Race Car!

mrsmicah June 22, 2009 at 10:23 pm

@Alice, thanks. It’s been a while since I haven’t had a very busy summer–Mom + work, wedding plans, finding work, freelancing. I’d like this one to be different.

@Miranda about this time last year, I had a similar situation where a client cut me loose (no more budget). It scared me but turned out to be quite freeing and help me take the plunge into more consulting.

@SP thanks! 🙂

@mapgirl indeed. The best reason to pay off debt is to make your life better. If it’s not, then something’s not quite right.

@Diane I’ve noticed that sometimes this takes a toll on Micah as he has to support me through minor breakdowns or just deal with my being too busy. It had been bothering me for a while.

@Vered thanks. One of the great things I’ve learned from your blog is that you can be quality without being daily.

@Four Pillars I know, it’s very habit forming–writing, reading, tweaking posts or code…and I want to keep enjoying it, but if I don’t use moderation, then I don’t enjoy at all.

Kristy @ Master Your Card June 23, 2009 at 12:12 am

Good for you! Many of us who’ve been in freelance understand that survival mode and once it kicks in, it’s hard to get out of. But, it does take it’s toll in other areas of your life. It’s important to take care of yourself, so I’m glad you realized the need to slow down a little. If reducing your workload means that you don’t starve and are still comfortable financially, then it’s important to do so or you’ll end up burnt out…something I’m staring in the face of at the moment. It’s time to recharge the batteries!

Kristy @ Master Your Card’s last blog post: It’s The Climb

Miss M June 23, 2009 at 3:32 pm

I have the same work ethic and drive, I feel like if I’m not putting 120% in all the time that we’ll never get anywhere. But I get some satisfaction from the stress, oddly enough. I feel more fulfilled when I’m busy, at least until I burn out. Then I burn out hard! I hope this new balance helps you emotionally and physically, it sounds like your body is telling you to cut back.

Miss M’s last blog post: Knowing Your Partner’s Credit

cybele June 24, 2009 at 4:30 pm

maybe we can find some time to talk…in Maine… and I can share what I’ve learned…having had many of the same fears, instincts, reactions, re-reactions, drives. Til then. XOXOXOXOX

MLR June 26, 2009 at 2:55 am

That explains the eye twitching comment on Twitter the other day!

Good luck! You will be fine, of course. All you have is time, spend it wisely 🙂

MLR’s last blog post: Cash for Clunkers: Is It Worth It?

Nicole June 29, 2009 at 9:18 am

I was wondering how you did all this stuff! Sanity is a good thing, and it’s good you and Micah have kept the conversation open. Good luck, and whether you write once a day or once a week, I’ll continue to read…

Carol July 1, 2009 at 2:57 pm

Great idea. I just thought since you were young, you could handle a workload that would exhaust us old folks. Glad to hear you are finding balance but wondering if I’m an old enough client and my project is simple enough (I accidentally let my domain expire but have now renewed) to help. Only if/when it is convenient for you…..

Patrick July 8, 2009 at 11:10 pm

I know exactly what you are going through – I face it all the time because I put in a lot of hours.

My wife and I recently had our first child and I took a week off from blogging and three weeks from work. Best decision I ever made, and it has made me realize that I need to value my time more.

Patrick’s last blog post: Cash for Clunkers Bill

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