Freelancing can be a really cool lifestyle choice. It’s interesting and fun, it’s fluid, and it’s self-propelled.

It can also take a lot out of you. It’s sometimes stressful and lonely, and it involves taking on a lot of responsibility. Including, ultimately, the responsibility for your own happiness.

I’ve been working as a freelancer for over 5 years, and these are the 3 steps I’ve found most important to building freelance happiness. I wish I had taken these from the very beginning:

1. Cultivate Patience

As my long-suffering significant other would tell you, I am the most impatient person alive. I would rather walk twenty blocks than wait two minutes for the subway.

I have been known to abandon entire carts of groceries at the sight of a long Whole Foods line. And don’t even start me on the doctor’s office. I will hack up that lung before I stomach sitting there for a full half-hour.

Developing my naturally weak Patience Muscles has been integral to my freelance happiness.

It took a good two years of working freelance gigs on the side before I became a full-time freelancer. Since then, it’s been slow but steady growth: becoming pickier about gigs, slowly raising rates, concentrating more and more on the work I enjoy.

If I had quit in (understandable) frustration at the beginning, I’d never be where I am today.

Building a strong freelance practice takes time, and it never ends. There will always be more to do, more to learn. That doesn’t mean you should settle for gigs or duties that make you miserable, it just means that the path to your ultimate happiness may be a little longer than you might prefer.

The good news is that the more you can embrace the process of growth and remain calm under duress, the happier you’ll be.

2. Grow Every Day

If achieving your freelance dreams takes time, then how do you find happiness in your day-to-day work?

For me, the key is trying to learn and develop and grow – to do something challenging or new or scary every day. This moves me closer to my goals, but it also keeps life interesting.

I take inspiration here from my father; despite having retired after a long career, he’s continually learning and trying new things. Embracing the unknown is how he makes himself happy, and he’s one of the smartest, most interesting people you’d ever meet.

If you continually try to build your skills and expand your mind, you’ll build confidence and resilience. You’ll keep your brain flexible and your concentration engaged – but you’ll also experience a pleasing sense of forward momentum towards happiness.


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3. Finding a Support System

Human beings are by nature social animals. Yes, even you, Self-Proclaimed Loner On Computer who is reading this and thinking: “Except for me, sucker!” We all have differently-calibrated social exposure dials.

You may need less interaction than others, or you may recharge with alone time. That’s cool, but at some level, you need human connection – something that can be challenging for freelancers.

Trust me on this: without finding a support system of some kind, you will not ultimately be very happy.

Everyone needs somebody (or somebodies) to turn to: people to confide in, people to connect with. A support system can be family, friends, roommates, – shoot, it can be an online chat forum about video games, a drum circle, a Frisbee team, a yoga class.

Find the support systems that best suit your needs. These are your avenues to catharsis, to escape. Fend off burnout by reaching out to your support system for rejuvenation and perspective.

Life is too short to go through it alone – building community is an important component to building happiness.

After many years of working as a full-time freelancer, I’m still always working towards personal fulfillment… although I notice that the goalposts keep moving. Unlike finite goals, these three objectives are always workable: you never have to stop growing, building community, or developing patience.

When I keep these steps in mind, I notice that my life becomes fuller, more interesting, and more expansive – and that’s closer and closer to my idea of happiness.

What do you think is the key to freelance happiness?

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.