Lessons From the Freelancing Life: Everything Expires Eventually

Courtesy of techpreview.org

As a freelancer, change will be a constant in your life, so learn how to embrace it and grow.

I am a freelance journalist, copywriter, and more recently, tour guide.

The day before yesterday, I heard from two new prospects – a magazine, and a travel agency – and despite telling myself “don’t count your chickens till they’re hatched”, I took out my calculator and tabulated how much more income I would be making this year if I added these two potential contracts to my existing monthly retainers. I was excited to see that, should these new jobs materialise, I would be making about a third more than I did the previous year.

It crossed my mind that I would be taking on too much. That my health, relationships, and other meaningful pursuits would suffer as a result of being stretched too thin with work. However, working under pressure is part of the territory for a freelancer, and the thought of a fatter monthly paycheck flooded my body with endorphins. I went to sleep dreaming of a busier, wealthier, and more in-demand version of myself.

Then yesterday morning, I received an email from one of my biggest clients – a design magazine that I committed about two-third of my workweek, and that contributed to more than half of my income. I had been working with them for two years, and had come to depend on them for the bulk of my bread and butter, but yesterday, they regretfully informed me that they were downsizing, and had to let me go.

For about 15-minutes, my heart sank to the pit of my belly, and I started to worry about how I would pay the rent and bills. “I shouldn’t have bought that bargain-priced Kindle yesterday,” I chastised myself. But then slowly, I felt a sense of relief. I have always saved, so I’d have rainy-day money to get me through this lull.

I would now be free to take on new challenges, and jump in to the potential new projects in a less frenzied, and more engaged way. I would also have more space, time, and mental energy to refocus on my creative writing, which had taken a back seat to income-expansion. Perhaps quitting the design magazine was something I should have done, but was too afraid to, and this was the universe’s way of looking out for my best interest.

The last time something similar happened – with a travel magazine that provided me with half of my monthly income for 1.5 years  –  it took me almost 24-hours to get over the disappointment and fear. For the months that followed, I tighten my belt, and researched other possible income sources such as tutoring. It was during this time that the opportunity to lead specialist food tours on a freelance basis came my way, and today, tour guiding has become a rewarding, second income source for me aside from writing-related work.

The funny thing is, before the tour guiding gig was presented to me (soon after losing regular work with the travel magazine), I had been aware that one of my biggest professional and personal shortcomings was that I liked to isolate rather than interact and connect with other human beings, and I had a feeling that this was something that I needed to work on and change. Of course as a guide for small group tours, I get to meet, talk to, and be of assistance to new people regularly, and though this was a certainly a learning curve, it has brought me out of my shell, and altered my personality for the better. 

As a freelancer, I’ve learnt a few things about the nature of taking work where you can find it, and life in general:

  • No matter how hard or well I perform, I am not indispensable.
  • There’s no point taking anything personally. There are always things going on backstage (in the big corporations and boardrooms) that I will have no control over.
  • Everything has an expiration date, so I shouldn’t be too surprised when a good thing comes to an end.
  • Rejection is God’s protection.
  • If you want to live outside of the rat race (9-5 office structure) and be master of your own time, you have to give up on the concept of financial stability and security.
  • If you show up, always take initiative, never deign to do any type of decent work (even that which may seem tedious, challenging or unfamiliar), and you develop a genuine love for labour, you will be taken care.

In one of the beginning scenes in the movie “The Sound Music”, Julie Andrews’ character said, “when God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window”.

In the 10 years that I’ve been freelancing, I’ve found this to be true, and often, the views are much better from the new window perspective. Through it, you might even see the beginning of roads that you would never have thought to look for if the door hadn’t been shut on you in the first place.

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