Your goals with freelancing may not extend past the first year, and that’s okay. Freelancing may have been a break for you, or just something to try in-between roles. But if you find yourself in the same position as me, you want to freelance long term, and you want to thrive doing it.
I’ve been independent for the last three years, and I don’t see myself changing my working structure anytime soon. I set out to work independently very intentionally. My three core reasons for freelancing were:
Your reasons may be different, but bottom line is that you want to work for yourself long term. We’re going to talk through some final considerations to take with you in the first year of freelancing.
Working for yourself, and particularly when you work from home, means that it’s easy to work all the time. Even if you’re not doing work, you’re thinking about work, or planning work, or worrying about work. This is a good thing and a bad thing. One of the benefits of putting in extra work as a freelancer is that you are rewarded for that work. When you finish a project early, or excel on a deliverable, that reward is felt directly. This structure of working rewards you for taking on more, delivering more, and doing more. But more can quickly become too much if you’re not careful. Just because someone is offering you money to do something, doesn’t mean you have to do it, and if you accept every offer that comes your way, you’re going to burn yourself out.
In the first year of freelancing, I would have flexible boundaries when it comes to what is ‘too much’ work. This is a fairly critical period to build up your portfolio and your reputation. Taking on slightly too much work in the first year will help you figure out what your 100% effort is, and teach you when you need to scale back. But after that first year, overwork isn’t worth it. If you want to play the long game, you’ve got to keep a solid head on your shoulders.
I had a lot of trouble with this lesson. I’m a people pleaser and I hate conflict. I was okay at saying no to potential clients I didn’t know, but when a previous client or someone I knew came to me, I found it really difficult to decline the work. This often led to periods where I thought I had perfectly planned my schedule, only to have 2 or 3 previous clients come back for more work, and then my schedule was overflowing. I actually had to do some personal work with a counsellor to work through this. I was so overwhelmed with work that I would go through periods where I was crying almost daily. It wasn’t cute. I knew that if I wanted to continue working this way, that had allowed me to bloom in so many ways, I had to cut out the weeds.
This brings me to my next consideration - create a support system. When I overworked myself to an almost-breaking point, I ended up working with a counsellor for a year, and she helped me feel better about being in control of my work and helped me set boundaries for myself. If you’re working for yourself and you aren’t happy, you are the one in control of changing that situation. No one else is going to come save you, and you have to recognize when you need to reach out for help. Creating a support system for yourself can look different depending on your situation. I was able to have a support system in my family and husband, but they were mostly there to listen to me vent, and didn’t always have strategies for coping or advice on what to do next. Seeking out a neutral third party was a game-changer for me in building my support system. I sought out a counsellor that specialized in mental health for working women who ‘wanted to have it all’, and we worked together for the better part of a year. We talked about work, but also my personal life. She listened, and made me feel validated in my feelings. She also helped me see that I had control over the situations in my work that felt wildly overwhelming, and allowed me to see a path forward that didn’t include the work that was weighing me down. I would highly highly highly recommend finding someone to talk to if you are struggling. It made a world of difference.
In the ‘growth’ chapter we talked about the case against constant growth, and how you don’t always have to keep growing. I found and still find this concept really difficult to actually put into practice. I am an overachiever, I always want to be productive, I always want to be planning for what the future holds. But honestly, it’s exhausting. You’ve probably seen the studies that poll people on what is ‘enough’ and no matter what their income is, they always say about 2.5x what they currently make. I really think that the only antidote to this constant chase of ‘more’ is to practice gratitude. And I don’t mean that in a surface level way where you say ‘of course I’m grateful’ and then immediately go back to work without a second thought. I mean it in a way where you sit down at least once a week, preferably once a day, and think about all of the good things in your life, everything that had to go right in order for you to be exactly where you are, all of the pieces of the universe that aligned to bring you here, to this moment, and all of the power and agency that you hold over your life to make the changes you want to see for the future. It’s amazing. I loved this tweet I recently saw from Tim Ferriss where he talks about how Type-A personalities (like me) have goal pursuit as their default hardwiring. We achieve, but we’re anxious. And all that the achieving does is check a box of what we’re supposed to do in life. To get past this, and to actually find happiness, you have to want what you already have. And the only way to do that is with gratitude.
I’m so proud of you. I’m proud of you for believing in yourself enough to consider freelancing, and I know that you have the potential to find success in this way of working. I want you to trust yourself as you embark on the journey of freelancing, because you are the only one who knows what you want in life, and you have the power to make it happen. I hope that this course has been helpful, that you’ve taken some lessons from my mistakes and triumphs that you can reference when you come across them for yourself and think ‘Grace talked about this, it will be fine’, because at the end of the day that is the truest thing - scary parts, hard parts, fun parts, it will be all be fine. And likely, it will be even better.