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Artwork by Üma Kleppinger

Freelance Like A Boss Part III

Written By Üma Kleppinger | May 14, 2019

Working for yourself can be irresistibly alluring. Many unsuspecting creative professionals are drawn to the promise of freelance freedom. Freedom to set your own schedule, to wear pajamas all day, to pick and choose your clients and your work. There is little doubt that self-employment and freelancing offer quite a few plusses over conventional J-O-B jobs.

Eleanor Roosevelt cautioned against taking freedom for granted. “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

This is no less true for a freelancer today than it was in 1960s when the former First Lady wrote it. In this part of our Freelance Like A Boss series, we explore how self-care essential for career success. If you missed Part One or Part Two, get caught up.

Part Three: Self-Care Is A Superpower

As someone who has been an independent contractor for 95% of her career, I can attest to both the perils and pitfalls as well as the perks that come along with it.

When your earnings depend on how good your hustle is (and market indicators, and time of season, and a lot of other things) it can feel self-indulgent to walk away from your desk for a few minutes, or hours, and yes, even days at a time.

I’m pretty sure if there’s a mistake that one can make in their freelance career, I’ve made it. But I try to learn from my mistakes and you can, too. And one of the biggest mistakes you can make is to ignore, deny, or diminish the importance of self-care.

The pressure to perform is great. Competition for good paying work is tough. Deadlines can be stressful. And when your earnings depend on how good your hustle is (and market indicators, and time of season, and a lot of other things) it can feel self-indulgent to walk away from your desk for a few minutes, or hours, and yes, even days at a time.

We live in an always-on, 24/7 kind of world. But the most successful creators know the importance of downtime. Not only does all-work-and-no-play make Jack a very dull boy, it also contributes to stress-related physical and mental health issues.

Take Don Draper and the entire Mad Men ethos. Out of 92 episodes, how many showed scenes of the cast engaging in anything unrelated to work? Virtually none. What it showed us is a bunch of driven, ambitious creative professionals who were functional drunks.

That climate of relying on alcohol as a client lubricant and a workplace stress reduction method is still very much alive and well in most creative agency environments. I’m not going to knock drinking. I love me a quality bourbon (neat, thank you) or a beer at happy hour with colleagues and clients, but not as an everyday occurence and certainly not as a coping strategy.

SPOILER ALERT: The series concludes with Don Draper sitting in a lotus position on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, chanting OM and getting in touch with his higher power (presumably, though, knowing Don he was just running away from reality again through spiritual materialism).

If Don Draper can find value in self-care, you can too. Here are some ideas that I try to live by that have contributed to my long-standing freelance career (and again, this applies to anyone with a beating heart and brain who works for a living):

Take breaks. Your brain and body both need to not be stuck in a position for too long. Try the Pomodoro method of organizing your time, energy, and attention. Set a timer. Work for 25 minutes on one individual task, then take a five minute break. Re-set the timer for another 25 minutes on the same or a different task, followed by another 5-minute break. Repeat as necessary.

Learn to cook. Seriously. Nothing adds up faster than eating lunch out everyday – both in terms of cost and calories. Batch cooking on weekends provides leftovers that can be frozen and reheated throughout the week, so you always have something healthy on hand. Learning to cook can save you money and help you live a healthier lifestyle. Don’t just order a Turkey Club from the deli next door. Inserting some variety into what you eat is a subtle way to break up monotony at work.

Make your bed. Look, if big, strong, tough NAVY Seals can learn to make their bed every morning, so can you. Why does it matter? It’s about discipline, for one. Starting your day the same way every day creates a ritual. Rituals ground us. And then there’s the fact that when we walk into our bedroom in the evening, a clean, welcoming, calming environment in which to slumber awaits us.

If you’re one of those creatives that thrives amid chaos, don’t worry about your bed, but DO find some ritual to begin your morning with. A favorite coffee cup. A walk around the block. Reading 2 chapters of a business advice book before checking email. It almost doesn’t matter what you choose to do as a morning ritual, and the great thing about freelancing — you get to decide what that ritual will be.

Drink water. Drink more water. I asked a friend who practices naturopathy how many people in her Seattle-based practice were chronically dehydrated. “All of them,” she said. I thought she was joking, but no. The contemporary American diet is dehydrating. Breathing stale, recirculated air can also be dehydrating. Chances are if you’re reading this, you’re dehydrated. In fact, stop reading and pour yourself a tall, cool drink of water right now.

Move your body. Stand up and stretch during that 5-minute Pomodoro break. Talk a walk at lunch, even if it’s just for 20 minutes around the neighborhood. Do something besides sitting there all day trying to be a creative genius. Humans evolved to run, not to sit on our asses all day, every day. Not only will your body be happier, your beautiful, artistic brain will be, too.

Like a three-way Venn diagram, self-care, self-knowledge, and self-discipline co-mingle and overlap to create a center which is where real mastery comes from — freelance or not.

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