Flexibility: The Secret to Freelancing HappinessPosted on: Sep 10, 2019
The first title I wrote for this blog was ‘Flexibility: The Secret to Freelancing Success’. Then I replaced the word ‘success’ with ‘happiness’. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learnt in 7 years of freelancing, it’s that success is a slippery concept.
Because what does success even mean? Billing six figures a year? Hiring a team of people and becoming some sort of benign overlord of your own company that doesn’t do any actual work? Jetting off to foreign climes four times a year and creating a carbon footprint that even Elton John would be embarrassed by?
I’m much more interested in being a happy freelancer.
That’s my idea of success. Building a career for myself from nothing is the achievement I’m most proud of in life, but I would give it up in a heartbeat if I wasn’t happy.
So back to the title. Why is flexibility so important to being a happy freelancer? Put it this way: change is going to happen whether you like it or not, so you might as well embrace it. Freelancing, more than any other career path, is defined by a lack of boundaries. It can be difficult to flourish without them, so you have to be flexible.
Over the years, my ability to adapt has been tested many times.
The following situations in my freelancing career have required me to be flexible and rethink my goals and expectations:
Working from home in a tiny spare room with my partner who is a remote worker (I would describe this set up as ‘cosy’)
Working on a client site once a week (a 2-hour round trip)
Finding and renting affordable office space (with the emphasis on ‘affordable’)
Hiring (and soon firing) an accountant
Trying to sell illustrated products online and at craft fairs (more on this here)
Parting ways with clients
Attending networking events and trying various methods of self-promotion (AKA how to get over yourself and blow your own trumpet)
Dealing with The Loneliness Factor by taking on another job
Basically, nothing has ever stayed the same for very long! But I can’t imagine I would have been very happy doing the same work for the same clients from the same location for the last seven years.
Flexibility, along with hard work and some good old-fashioned luck, has been the secret to freelancing happiness for me.
And the last point in the list above deserves some expansion. What no one tells you about renting an office is that it can be just as lonely as working from home. If you’re a Lone Wolf who thrives on solitude, this isn’t a problem. Me, I need a closed door to concentrate but also human interaction. I go a bit funny if left alone for long periods, like a sad avocado that’s been on the side for too long and is too squishy to salvage.
From a mental health point of view, I was beginning to question the sustainability of the whole freelancing thing.
So I made a decision. I would try and find some extra work in a totally unrelated field. This would have two benefits: it would give me some relief from the stress and responsibility of running my own business, and it would allow me some much-needed socialization.
I totally lucked out on both counts! I’m a patient of a chiropractic clinic a mere 5 minutes’ walk from where I live and always enjoyed a warm welcome from the reception staff and the friendly atmosphere. In the waiting room, I pondered how nice it would be to work there. Well what do you know, they were looking for someone to fill a few hours a week and thought I would fit the bill!
I love it: the interaction with patients, the fact I have colleagues again for the first time in years, the feeling that I can go home at the end of my shift and not worry about what’s going on behind the scenes. Will working there make me rich? No. Will it directly make me more successful as an illustrator and designer? Probably not.
But right now it fills a very valuable purpose: it helps me stay a happy freelancer.
And it’s ironic that my new workplace also promotes the importance of staying flexible. After all, if you’re not careful you could completely seize up, and nobody wants that for their career or their body!