Some Internet People may read the title of this post and say: “What? I have NEVER let a personal crisis affect my work, ever!”
To which I will say, with a sad sigh: “… maybe not yet.”
Freelancers are often loath to admit that personal crises can affect their work at all, but it does happen.
So what do you do when a crisis IS affecting your freelance work?
1. Be honest
If a real crisis actively affects your freelance work, it helps to be honest.
It is my experience that people are often understanding and kind – especially if you are generally reliable (as you probably are).
You needn’t go into specifics: There are some situations about which you may use to wish discretion, or retain your privacy.
Fortunately, you can find generic phraseology that doesn’t go into too much detail. Reasonable explanations for various circumstances include:
“There is a family crisis.”
“I lost a loved one.”
"I have to arrange a funeral.”
“Pressing personal circumstances have temporarily changed my schedule.”
“I am caring for an ill family member.”
“I am dealing with some serious health problems.”
Make sure that you calmly and honestly express when you’ll be available again, or how much additional time you’re requesting on a deadline.
Giving specifics about your return tends to calm client fears. Be sure to tell them when and how you’ll be working again (if indeed you will be).
That being said, there’s no need to hide your crisis under some Stoic Wall of Silence; if you cannot help something affecting your work, you might as well be honest about the cause.
You may be surprised about the compassion you receive in response.
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2. Be realistic
No matter the crisis, be realistic with yourself about how much work you can get done in X time – and how much you need to focus on the crisis.
You may, in fact, wish (or need) to get right back to work! That’s absolutely your prerogative. But be a little gentle with yourself about timelines.
Personal crises don’t schedule themselves conveniently, and they often take up more of our time than we might choose.
Freelancers get personal days, too, okay? You don’t always have to relentlessly produce through your tears and panic attacks.
Be realistic about how much time you may need; communicate openly with yourself and others about it.
3. Be kind
You are a human being, not a Freelance Work Robot. Try your best to treat yourself as you would your best, best friend who was going through this crisis.
Being relentlessly mean to yourself will NOT HELP YOU GET THROUGH A PERSONAL CRISIS.
Trust me, there has been extensive experimentation in this arena. Instead, give yourself the gifts of patience and compassion; try your best to make healthy, constructive decisions, and forgive yourself mistakes.
Allow yourself space for mourning, anger, confusion and upset.
You cannot always be a relentlessly upbeat, faultless freelancer; you sometimes get to take a little time off to rebuild and heal.
Life happens. Emergencies happen. Be honest, be realistic, and be kind to yourself.
At the end of the day, the most important part of your freelance business is YOU, the freelancing human being. Take care of you.
I promise: this too shall pass.
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.