“Do you want to go Black Friday shopping with us?”

“I have to work.”

“You are always working. When do you get a day off?”

Well-intended and caring family members and friends may not truly understand the life of a freelancer. The canary in the mine typically presents itself during the Nov-Jan stretch of holidays when people are making plans and mapping out things for the entire family or a group of friends to do.

This is not necessarily an easy time of the year for many freelancers. We don’t get PTO (paid time off) and depending on our industry, this may be our busiest season of the year. So, some of us find ourselves in quite the conundrum when it comes to working during the holiday season and making time for our loved ones.

My first few years of freelancing, I felt torn and even obligated to explain in great detail why I couldn’t join everyone else. Now, my circle of friends and family understand if I have to gracefully bow out of events.

So, what did I do and what can you do?

Explain What You Do

Believe it or not, not everyone is familiar with how freelancing works or why some of us opt to do it. The holiday season is a great time to talk to your family members about what you do. If you are able to show them your work that’s even better as it brings home the tangible aspects of your profession.

When some extended family members found out that I stopped teaching full time, they’d typically respond with, “I am sorry to hear that” or “You’re just going through a phase.”

Demystifying what I did for a living was the antidote to awkward pregnant pauses at the dinner table. Once I started sharing my blogs and even clients’ books with them, they had greater clarity about my career shift.

Now, some of my younger family members are intrigued by the entrepreneurial aspects of freelancing and will ask about current projects or for advice.

Prioritize Your Time

When I taught a freshman seminar course at a small liberal arts college, I would often begin by sharing with my students that time was one of their greatest resources and the management of one’s time would become a life-long skillset. This is particularly true as it relates to freelancing over the holidays.

To the extent that you can, prioritize which projects you accept or ask for some flexibility in terms of turnaround times or deadlines. For example, I avoid having due dates that are within a three day window of a holiday. This gives me some wiggle room if the project takes longer than anticipated and it also frees me up to have a couple of days to relax. Is this always possible? No, but it does help tremendously with avoiding burnout and guilt.

Have Clear Boundaries

Family and friends are an important part of having a healthy and balanced life so you don’t want to negate the importance of setting aside time to spend with them. Some family members may misconstrue your absence or lack of sociability due to work obligations as being rude or anti-social. By being clear about what you can/cannot do, you create healthy boundaries and expectations. This is particularly important if young children are involved.

For example, my nephew is my ‘go to date’ for most G and kid-friendly PG movies. If it were up to him, we would spend his entire week(s) long vacations hanging at the movies. My compromise is that he can pick two movies and I pick the two days that we go. I intentionally select days when my work load is lighter so that I can truly enjoy my time with him. It is a win-win.

My greatest advice is to be true to yourself by making sure that you are not adding additional pressure or creating unrealistic expectations for yourself or others. Remember, the holidays don’t have to be stressful and you can maintain your sanity.