Freelancers have the worst bosses. When you are the one holding you accountable for everything every day, denial and self-deception often run rampant. In an effort to hold my own feet to the fire, here is my confession. This is how I lie to myself.
To-do list anxiety. A lot of professionals deal with it, but for the self-employed, it’s a particular challenge. Between all of the things that need to be done for clients and all of the things that are important to do to promote oneself and all of things to do to keep long-term, unpaid creative projects moving forward, prioritization can be…what’s the word I’m looking for?…a complete %@*^ing nightmare.
I like consistency. I like daily consistency. While client work always gets first billing (because that’s the only way I get to do any billing), it is important to me to tweet, keep up with my online content sources, blog (ahem), work on my own writing, stay on top of my email and read a book every single day. And because I pretend I believe in balance, I tend to believe working out, walking the dog, trying a new recipe and a nominal amount of housework should also be daily activities.
Obviously, I don’t do all of these things every day. I just intend to, and then feel like a failure when I don’t.
Sometimes I have a bit of an enthusiasm problem. I hear about a thing, I get excited about it, and I just sort of decide I’m a person who participates in it. I absorb it into my identity without actually executing the thing. There are just too many super cool things in the world and not enough time or energy for implementation. Maybe by listing some of them publicly I will pressure myself to do some of them. Or, at the very least, relieve myself of the guilt of pretending I do them, because look, I said it here once that I don’t.
Painting my nails on a Wednesday afternoon always feels a little scandalous. Never mind that the last 48 hours were an intense marathon of working from waking up through Daily Show time. Or the fact that painting my nails takes ten minutes, and I’lll go back to working when I’m done. It seems indulgent. And I feel guilty about it.
Even though freedom is the number one reason freelancers cite for choosing to work for themselves, it’s difficult to get cozy with it.
There is a certain degree of chaos that I deal on a daily basis. If you’ve met our dog Lois, you know what I mean. But there’s also chaos involved with any type of freelancing, which varies from day to day, but is always around to some degree. Sure, being a freelancer frees you from the overbearing boss and demands for your presence that aren’t necessary, but those annoyances are replaced by others. And generally, chaos is the theme of most of them.
One day recently, I was yelling at Lois for licking the dishes in the dishwasher (which she always does, despite always being yelled at for it), and I thought, “Why isn’t Lois allowed to lick the dishes?”
Before becoming self-employed, it never occurred to me to assign a dollar value to my time. I suppose that was probably to the advantage of my employers. When self-employed, however, it’s crucial. One you’re past the I’ll-take-every-assignment-that-comes-my-way-oh-god-please-don’t-let-me-starve phase, you absolutely have to know what your time is worth to assess whether an assignment is worth taking, which gigs have priority over others and which jobs (or clients) are simply sucking up too much of your time.
That said, there are traps one can become ensnared in after growing comfortable with the monetary value of one’s time.
You can undervalue the jobs that take longer and pay less, but are always there. Big paying jobs often come and go. Part of the monetary value of the hours spent on the “regular stuff” is made up for by not having to search out new work.
It’s easy to begin counting every hour of your life in monetary terms. Is going to the movies really worth it? Sitting there and losing money for two hours? Is taking a three-day weekend totally insane? If you add money lost per hour to the cost of getting away, you will literally never leave your house. And especially when you work from home, you really need leave your house sometimes.
Monetizing time overvalues efficiency and undervalues things like connecting with people in person, careful editing, making time to think creatively and exploring new ideas.
Again, not to get all contradictory or anything, but knowing the monetary value of your time is an absolute must. Knowing which hours to measure and why, however, is just as important.
Mike recently installed a pull-up bar in our house, and I’m happy to report that, 13 years after high school phys ed, I am exactly as proficient as dangling and grunting and collapsing into a ball on the floor as I was then. Still got it!
Being amazing at pull-ups has fortunately never been a goal of mine, but that’s not to say I haven’t had goals I’ve failed miserably at attaining for years and years and years. My deal is that I’m super goal-oriented, so once I set a goal, I have a really hard time focusing on anything else until I reach it. For example, there is a part of my brain that still thinks I can hit a goal weight I never even reached in college, back when I worked about nine days a week. I truly let go of that goal consciously years ago because a) I’d rather have balance in my life than obsess about exercise, and b) it’s craziness. The fact that it was a goal and I never reached it though, still sticks with me. BECAUSE I LIKE SUCCEEDING AT MY GOALS.