Tactics for surviving as a freelancer are everywhere and I bet some of it is probably helpful. However, the essential component of freelancing is you. You’re the engine, inspiration and resource for everything you do and because of that, the essential tactic I want to share is a bit of self-love.
This is what comes to mind when I think about the latest quote from Eno’s and Schmidt’s ‘Oblique Strategies’. These are a series of cards that aim to provide a bit of an inspirational nudge for creatives.
“Go Outside. Shut the door.”
Distance from what has filled your mind and vision is what’s called for sometimes. This is especially true when you’re stuck creatively or starting to fiddle with details that don’t matter. This is when surviving as a freelancer is important because you’re now unproductive. Time your most precious commodity is literally ticking away with every unfocussed mouse click. This is why we all need a bit of distance from the creative coal face, as it helps look after that most essential freelancer. You. I often think I’d never treat an employee the way I treat myself. Hence the self-love phrase I just used. I think in psychology it’s known as positive self-regard. Either way, it helps.
It helps to get perspective – not decaying but sparkling
Getting away and coming back to something you’re creating allows you to see things with new eyes. I was recently creating some icons for different services for a dentist. I’d been using their original logo as a basis and reusing parts of it. You can see the original logo below and some examples of the service icons I created on the left.
Getting away and coming back to them as I reloaded the file it struck me that at a smaller size those little stars look more like decay! This is not a good look for a dentist service promoting oral health. I redid them with a white inner and slimmer outline. They look much better. I’d drawn them as sparkle like stars so that’s what I was seeing when I created them. The distance allowed me to get the perspective of fresh eyes, before the fresh eyes of the client saw them.
It helps to keep you fresh – not sleeping but talking
Getting away from the creative output to re-energise yourself can mean many different things, for example it could even be a different type of creative output. For me the break allows me to recharge so I can love the stuff I love doing. I went to see my brother in the New Year and it was a great break, partly because I didn’t do anything that could be considered work. Maybe taking some photos that might become paintings at some point – but that’s a nice break too. When I arrived I was looking forward to seeing my bro but despite this as soon as I arrived and sat, down I feel asleep. Stopping can do that to you. He didn’t leave me sleeping and it wasn’t long before we’re up and out, eating, drinking and most importantly talking. I know … a real live person.
It helps to keep personal perspective – not despairing but daring
Abstaining from any self-love either through neglect or oversight causes me to lose a bit of personal perspective. Things start to get a bit darker around the edges, in similar fashion to a radial gradient adjustment layer for life. Except it doesn’t make the subject pop but makes me worry about stuff I don’t need to worry about. It makes the inner dialogue a bit more despairing rather daring. Surviving as a freelancer means taking action to keep that dark vignette from affecting your personal perspective.
I’m usually very upbeat and am therefore most likely to hear my inner voice saying “You’ve got this”, rather than “Why are you even bothering?” When this happens it’s a sure sign that I need to practice a bit of positive self-regard and treat myself like a friend.
Surviving as a Freelancer Strategies
Here’s a few of the things I do to give me that perspective and space I need to get the most out of what I love doing.
Get some sunshine on your face
It doesn’t have to be going outside and shutting the door as maybe outside your door is stuff that isn’t going to help you re-energise. For me there’s a little pocket park, which I’ve decided to consider as my own front garden. One that others are welcome to walk through. I take a big cup of tea and my book and go and sit their sometimes. I wonder what people think as I’m sitting there on the park bench, with my massive Sports Direct mug of steaming tea. Twenty minutes to half an hour of that with the sun on my face and everything feels possible.
Give your favourite music your full attention
I enjoy listening to music and would love to have a dedicated listening room, so putting on whatever I love and giving it my full attention is therapy for the soul. Sometimes I dance around as I know no-ones looking. I’m embarrassed a bit even saying that but sometimes music moves you and you shouldn’t fight it. Whereas other times I just sit and listen with a drink – no phone scrolling. Listening with attention is the equivalent of going outside and shutting the door, so no tech to distract me, no reading the lyrics. The ears have it all to themselves.
Indulge in your guilty pleasure
For me and I know some people will judge me for it, I play Skyrim, after all it’s a virtual outside and I can close doors and open them. I can also cast spells, slay dragons and wield a battle-axe, which are three things I don’t do in my day job.
I only recently bought it as I’d had friends who were massive fans but I’d considered gaming a bit of devourer of time and a habit that’s hard to break. That’s a bit harsh, I realise as it definitely has its benefits. I only have another three levels to go and my smithing skill will be 90 and I can make Deadric Armour. Whatever that is. I’m a recent convert but this is my guilty pleasure and I love it and love how it gets my head out of work and away from it all.
Apparently this is really good for you. I’ve always found it a little overrated and so has my body as it often reluctantly wants to sleep. However, I was getting my eyes tested this week and was chatting with the lovely woman doing my eye exam. She asked about any problems and I said that sometimes I get a bit of confusing almost double vision. She asked some more questions but said nothing more of it. As the eye-test proceeds, she comments that she can see why I get this. Apparently when my eye muscles get tired and I switch from close up screen work to distance my eyes have a habit of wandering away. Especially when one eye can’t see what you’re looking at, like when you turn your head or the sight line is blocked for one eye. I can’t take my eyes to the gym but I could do with giving them a bit more down time.
Essential surviving as a freelancer advice you can take anywhere
There you have it, my essential advice for surviving as a freelancer is to “Get outside. Close the Door.” It can look like lots of different things and I suspect it does, but it helps. It helps, because it gives you creative perspective, keeps you fresh and maintains that all-important personal perspective. As I began by saying, I’m the engine, inspiration and resource for everything I do, and because of that I need those energising places. Go on and treat yourself like your favourite employee, and deliberately create ways to keep you loving working for you.
As always, sharing is caring and I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections. If you think this post will help someone else, then pass it on too. Until next time.