Riding the Tide of a Freelance & Entrepreneurial Life

I recently confessed that I don’t belong in employment. Quite a bold statement. Some might call it career suicide, but it was a necessary hammer to the misguided backup plan shaped wall that I was hiding behind. Keeping one toe dipped in the employment waters was just holding me back. Since though, I have been thinking ‘how do I follow that?’ Then I realised I should just keep sharing the things that I wouldn’t usually admit.

One of those things is that, while breaking free of employment was right for me, there are a bunch of other challenges that I battle everyday. It’s not the holy grail to happiness. One minute you are desperate for work, accepting anything and everything. The next you are over capacity and struggling to get everything done. Today was one of those days. After a day drowning in work and wishing for more time to work on my own business and artwork the magazine (that was due last month) – I felt it was time for another confession. An addictive form of therapy for me it now appears. So here goes…

Being freelance, a millennial and having an entrepreneurial spirit can suck

It can be amazing, but sometimes it really is exhausting. I am continually balancing a craving for financial security (as the idea of ‘babies’ enters my late thirties brain) with an explosive sense of urgency to innovate and break ground with my ideas. The worst part is that I can’t blame anyone else. No ranting to colleagues or blaming the boss. It’s all you and the buck stops with you.

A millennial entrepreneur you say?

Yes. It’s taken me awhile to accept it, but the evidence is resounding. Bag me up and tag me, I am a millennial and I am an entrepreneur. When I think about it, my journey as both started long before I even knew the words ‘entrepreneur’ or ‘millennial’. Words that always seem unnecessarily complex to me. No matter how many times I write them I am faced with the dreaded squiggly red line. Ironic really that the words are as difficult to accept in their form and spelling in my subconscious mind as I was to accept my association to them. From the very beginning of my journey to ‘adulting’ in a real job I felt like a fish out of water. I was always twitching and gasping for air in employment. Impatient and ambitious, frantically wiggling away in the hope of a dip in the ocean, where I could be part of something bigger. I always had big ideas, but I was too young and inexperienced to be heard or taken seriously. As I got older and more experienced, I got excited ‘maybe now they will listen’. But my restlessness over the years meant that no matter my experience, I hadn’t remained still long enough to command respect. Throw gender in the mix and at every turn I was going against the tide. I was blocked, frustrated and too afraid or weakened by the swim to break down the walls and discover what was on the other side. Wow, I like water analogies. I digress…

Accepting this about myself has helped me better understand who I am and how I work. Leading me towards greater fulfilment and success both personally and professionally, but that doesn’t mean the road has been easy.

The riptides of a freelance life

I used to think that my anxiety at work stemmed primarily from restricted working cultures and pressure from employers or colleagues. While these elements didn’t help, I realised quite quickly after going freelance last year that I was the one piling on the majority of the pressure. A pressure to be my best self. To be perfect, get it right every time and fulfil my own, unrealistic and unforgiving expectations. It turns out my inner voice is often not very kind. They seldom are. That said, I would say the biggest challenges for me have been isolation, self-discipline, financial security and focus:

  • Isolation: if anything goes wrong or you have a bad day, there is no colleague to perk you up. No peer to look to for guidance or rant with over coffee.
  • Self-discipline: waking up first thing on a Monday with no boss to answer to is not easy. You are the master of your own routine.
  • Financial security: sometimes clients don’t pay when they say they will, if at all and sometimes things just don’t go to plan.
  • Focus: clients are unpredictable, expectations and priorities change and you have to adapt with that change, without compromising on your own goals

I have tried varying techniques to overcome these challenges. Some of them have worked, some of them have made it worse. What I will say to anyone considering going freelance is that, like anything, practice makes perfect. It’s also worth pointing out that these issues were definitely worsened by my relentless craving to conquer the world and think big. Being an entrepreneur and a freelancer combined, is definitely harder to crack.

What I have learned along the way

There is no one solution or pattern that is going to work all the time. Things change, goal posts move and solutions expire. Based on my experience, here are my top tips for riding the waves of a freelance and entrepreneurial life:

  • Create short-term realistic goals and make small tweaks

Don’t become victim to the pressures of your own expectations. Set yourself small short-term goals and make small changes along the way. Set yourself some realistic daily and weekly goals. If you do XYZ then you are on track. If you struggle with anything make small changes to fix it. For example, I recently got caught up in a pattern of working late and waking up late. While I was still doing an eight-hour day I always felt one step behind. This added unnecessary pressure and anxiety to my day. I started to correct my behaviour one hour at a time. This eventually led to a more healthy routine.

  • Attend events and make an effort to be around people like you

When you are in employment you are forcefully surrounded by your ‘tribe’. When you are freelance you need to make a conscious effort to network. Every single person I meet at an event or catch up with over coffee inspires me in some way. Whatever the meeting or event, there are always opportunities both professionally and socially. Think of yourself like a Sim and remember to top up on your social… and go to the toilet. Peeing on the floor is frowned upon at these events.

  • Keep track of the clients and tasks that make you the happiest

I have a mood tracker on my phone that allows me to customise tasks during that day. Each day I track my overall mood and add the types of tasks and clients I work with. If one client or type of task consistently leads to a bad mood I review my position. Is the client the problem? Do I like doing that anymore? What do I need to do to alleviate the pressure in that area? How can I be happier more consistently and remove factors that drain my energy?

  • Keep the momentum going with one eye on new opportunities

I tried two extremes in my first year as a freelancer. At first I took anything and everything that I can do and became miserable under my own reign. Then I stopped saying yes and started chopping down my client list to a chosen few. I became reliant, comfortable and fell into ‘employee employer’ dynamics. So comfortable I stopped writing my own content and turning the wheels on my own business. In the New Year I lost pretty much all of my earnings for varying reasons out of my control. It was a wake up call. Thankfully, I have a huge network so I was able to hustle up some work pretty fast. I then vowed to never let that happen again. Always remember you. Keep writing content and building your network. Keep that momentum going and don’t get too comfortable. Keep reading, learning, working towards your own personal and professional goals – even if you are helping others reach theirs.

  • Be brave, keep reviewing and adapting along the way

There is no single solution or precise routine that is going to work for you all of the time. Life is unpredictable and things change. All you can do is keep reviewing where you are at and coming up with new ways to adapt along the way. Sometimes a problem just needs a new perspective. If you get stuck rally the help of someone in your network for a chat over a coffee. You don’t have a boss, but there is nothing stopping you creating your own ‘review’. Talk it out, explore the options and let go of anything that doesn’t serve you anymore. Be brave, make the right choice and move on.

Here’s to finding the right balance

I still get it wrong and I am still working on finding that balance, but I am getting better. All of the clients I work with now make sense to me. They inspire me and align with my own values. My own business? Well, all I can do is focus on one task at a time and do what I can. The magazine will still happen just not as fast as I would like. Contrary to my intermittent caffeine fuelled beliefs, I am not quite ready to conquer the world just yet. But, I am a damn sight closer than I was last year.

This article was original published on LinkedIn Pulse

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