What freelancers can learn from kids

Mar 25, 2015

I am the proud aunt to nine fantastic nieces and nephews. In my early twenties, I also worked long stints as a tutor and nanny, caring for and teaching kids of all ages. That means that over the years, I’ve spent a lot of cumulative time around children.

I really like kids, and I often think that they have great lessons to teach adults – and particularly freelancers.

Below are 6 things freelancers could learn from children... in life, in work, and in play.

1) Learning is a process

The nice thing about kids is that they’re generally excited to learn. They’re naturally proud of their accomplishments, and excited to try new things. Given the right encouragement, they often display resilience and patience with themselves – and can look back at their growth with pride.

After we’ve graduated into adulthood, we often feel like our education “should” be over – and that it’s somehow shameful to still be working on weaknesses. The best freelancers, however, continually try to learn and develop. They know that education is a long-term, evolving process rather than a results-oriented sprint, and that you have to be patient with yourself in order to grow.

Learning new things (particularly if they’re challenging or complex) is the best way to keep flexible and build strengths… and it keeps your brain young!

2) It’s okay to “fail”

When kids screw up, we’re generally kind to them and focus on the constructive lessons learned from “failure.” That’s why we don’t play catch with scissors, right, buddy? The baby falls while learning to walk, and we don’t discourage her from ever trying again. We tell her that she’s okay, and help her to stand back up.

Why, then, are we so harsh to ourselves every time we slip up?

Be kind to the child within yourself. Try to view “failure” as proof of growth, as experimentation – as sometimes inevitable and often forgivable. There is no progress without failure; kids know that, and freelancers should, too.

3) Playtime is mandatory

A child without time to run around and go a bit crazy is a dull, tantrum-prone, unhappy child. Now think of the most miserable, over-serious, anxious grown-ups you know: I bet they also don’t take much time to indulge in harmless, silly fun.

Work and structure is important. A kid (or freelancer) without anything concrete to do is often irritable. But playtime is just as important. Make time to do things you really enjoy: time to be creative, unstructured time to indulge in silly nothings. Odds are your work and your life will benefit.

4) Health is important

Have you ever been around a sick kid? They’re just miserable fountains of germs. They don’t want to do anything but recuperate, really. They certainly aren’t at their best.

We try our best to feed kids nutritious foods, encourage them to exercise, and take care of their health. But when we grow up, we often act like our physical bodies are just robotic vehicles for our hard-workin’ freelancing brains. We power through sickness and take negligent care of ourselves, ignoring our needs until we get very ill indeed.

Take a tip from the childrenz: if you’re sick, make time to take care of yourself. If you’re not sick yet, take care of your health and body now – don’t wait for a crisis. You, like a child, cannot do your best work if you’re not paying attention to your physical health. Adults have almost as many pressing physical needs as children have: nurture yourself as much as you would a kid.

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5) Sharing makes you happy

How often have you seen parents firmly tell a toddler to share? How often have you watched older kids happily playing kickball or another game together, nicely sharing the ball? We impart lessons about generosity and community early, but we often forget them when we’re older… to our detriment.

Building communities (or “networking,” if you choose to look at it that way) is key to a healthy, supported freelancing life. Communities can help you if you fall, and ensure that you don’t become too solitary.

Sharing is one of the best ways to build communities and create strong, happy freelance relationships – and it makes you feel good, too. Help other freelancers out. Keep a professional eye out for friends, recommend peers for gigs that you can’t take, give advice to beginners, collaborate with people you respect.

It’s the best karma imaginable – and odds are the other grown-up kids will want you on their kickball team.

6) You don’t have to fit the mold

I have, as I said, nine nieces and nephews. They’re all very distinct people, with inclinations and personalities that seem to have been present since birth. One of them is naturally outdoorsy and likes roughhousing, while another prefers poking around in the garden with her father. Another is a social butterfly and desperate to do school plays, while yet another is bookish and shy. None of them is exactly alike.

My nieces and nephews would be miserable if their parents forced them into the exact same activities and expected them all to act the same way – because they all have different needs. Fortunately, my siblings celebrate their kids’ differences, and encourage them to find their own paths to happiness.

There is no predetermined formula to your freelance success or your sense of fulfillment in life. Don’t feel obligated to follow other people’s rules or take their advice (yes, even this advice)! Experiment with different paths, and then pursue what makes you bloom. You are an absolute individual, and your happiness is just as distinct as you are; don’t get forced into somebody else’s mold.

The truth is, there’s not a concrete time when you automatically become A Real Adult. At some level, we’re all just children in grown-up bodies, at various stages of development, trying to make our way in the world.

Take a page from the kids you know (and the kid you used to be) to navigate this crazy planet. Be kind and nurturing to yourself and generous with others, and your freelance life may become the stuff of your childhood dreams.

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.