If you know me personally or follow me on social media, you know I jumped into freelancing full-time about a year ago almost to this week. Last May, my now-husband John graduated from grad school with his MBA, and we packed up our stuff into a POD before driving from Nashville down to Austin for him to start a new job.
I’d been freelancing a bit in Nashville, plus nannying full-time to supplement our income, but when we moved, we decided it was a good transition time for me to jump into freelancing for real. And oh man, that was a trip (and I’m not talking about the move from TN to TX). First of all, going from working for other people to working for and relying on yourself is a whole mindset mess that I still have a hard time wrapping my head around some days.
The self-employed conundrum
I would feel guilty for pausing my day at 11 a.m. on a Monday to go to the grocery store after realizing our fridge was basically collecting cobwebs. I felt like anytime someone invited me to lunch or coffee, I was betraying my new mission of my DIY career if I said yes because I wasn’t sitting at my desk all hours of the day.
But it was also incredibly freeing to finally have all this flexibility and open air to breathe and pursue the projects I wanted to pursue. My list of clients started growing slowly, with just a handful of people and brands that signed me for a few hours of work a week at first. I count myself extremely lucky that John had a solid job that supported us as I built my freelance business from the ground up last summer.
Finally, around the beginning of this year, I started gaining some more momentum that actually surprised me a bit. I’m not sure what shifted exactly. We got married last October, so the chaos of wedding planning was far behind us.
Then something shifted…
I also think I wasn’t putting so much pressure on myself to try to make my work-from-home freelance career look like a traditional 9-to-5. I got better at embracing the midday errands or sudden urge to go workout in the middle of the afternoon, and made up for it by waking up early the next morning to crank out some work at 6 a.m. with a cup of coffee or spending a few weekend hours tackling tasks.
I love those obscure work times when I feel like the distractions are at bay (or asleep) and I can focus on knocking out whatever is next on my list. I’ve never been a “balance” sort of person because I don’t really think a perfect balance exists. But grace and space to enjoy my work stuff and the rest of my life stuff is my goal.
So, when I signed three of my biggest clients earlier this year, two in the same day to my shock and delight, I finally started to feel validated that my step into freelancing wasn’t entirely crazy or hasty. I matched, and then passed, my past highest salary while working from a spare bedroom in our home and wearing workout pants with my hair piled on top of my head most days.
It felt freaking good. I was on a high for a few weeks, almost in a state of disbelief that I am actually doing this, and doing it pretty well. Then, the high gave way to big, overwhelming, gut-punching fear, and lots and lots of fearful questions to follow. How am I going to sustain this? What if a client’s needs shift and I lose one, or all of them? How can I continue growing and scaling my business when I’m an hourly worker who trades time for cash?
My fears gave way to a big realization
I don’t have all the answers to these questions. I still worry about them more than I probably should. And logically, I know that I’m in the right space, I’m still gaining momentum, I’m continuing to learn strategy and time management, and I don’t need to have it all figured out right now.
But illogically… I want it all figured out right now. It’s a weird situation, you know? And I’m sure for any other creative types out there who have built careers around using creativity to help other people build and scale their businesses, you might have experienced similar questions and worry.
Then finally, literally today as I listened to a podcast about working less (lol, ironic?), the truth hit about what my routine is missing. See, while I don’t do the whole balance thing, I am very much into protecting my routines and boundaries. I read a devotional every morning to spend a few quiet moments with God before reading some sort of career or personal development book for 10 minutes.
I usually walk my dog after that and make time to exercise at some point during the day. I plan out our grocery lists to have mostly healthy meals throughout the week (okay, with some ice cream or pasta tossed in here and there). I’m not saying I have my whole life perfectly figured out, but I do think my intentionality has allowed for a very cozy, positive lifestyle. Yet, I would still feel a sense of unease about my work, and here’s why.
If I get to work for myself, then I want to pursue some of my own projects
When I sit down at my computer, it’s to write someone else’s blog posts. Or a company’s social media strategy. Or launch copy for a new brand’s website. My entire creative life revolves around other people’s creative goals and dreams. My bio on Instagram is, “I create compelling content for businesses that want to grow, and for people who want to grow, too,” for crying out loud!
And that is so the thing that fills me up and makes me feel content and purposeful… at work. But my creative outlet has always needed something above and beyond work, whether I love the work I’m doing or not. That’s the original reason I started writing my own blog, anyway. But I think when I was starting to freelance and building my client list, I would feel guilt anytime I’d use my creativity not on pursuits and projects that supported my career and income.
And then once my income was in a good spot, I didn’t want to write for me because I thought it would be “wasting” my creative juices. Excuses are hilarious things, aren’t they? So I’ve been spending all my work hours shelling out interesting, passion-filled, captivating content for all these businesses, and not giving myself the permission to fill up my own creativity cup, so to speak. Even though I have this platform right here at my fingertips. Even though I have valid, valuable stories and lessons and insight that I absolutely love sharing with the world.
If you’re in a similar spot, if you’re allowing your work to overrun your creative ambitions or staying in a place of discontentment because of excuses you know are bologna, consider this an invite to join me in taking back our time, creativity, and purpose. Inside and outside of work.