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When it comes to being a happy freelancer and person, I more or less know what I need to do. I even have 6 rules I'll share with you in a moment. That said, knowing what it takes to be happy as a freelancer and being happy are different things: I've failed myself, others, and my best intentions more than I’d care to mention. Accepting the messiness and the constant struggles of the creative life is part of what it takes to be happy.
I keep these 6 rules on the Evernote application on my smartphone, so I can read them anytime, anywhere. When I’m feeling anxious or afraid, I open up my app and read them. These 6 rules remind me about what's important in life and connect me to my better angels. Actually, these “rules” might better be called “reminders,” but I hope they help you too:
1. Listen more and better, to what is said and what isn’t said.
And listen not just to hear or acknowledge, but to understand and connect emotionally. Observe myself and others carefully, from a distance if possible. Take the world in, and understand that you play a role in this world, but not the central role. Offer space for others, and include them. Work to develop more patience, because you'll need it with some people, at least until you better understand them (and maybe then too).
2. Express concerns when needed.
Don't sit silently by and accept what the world offers you, but value yourself enough to be an advocate for what will sustain you, creatively, financially, in relationships, and in every other way. You can ask for help. You can ask for more. If you feel in your gut that something is wrong, it probably is. Speak out. Advocate. Raise the issues. This is true for myself as a freelancer and in the way I collaborate with others during the creative process. I matter. My work matters. Use your voice, but listen to others use theirs.
3. Be more social.
As a person, I tend to be socially anxious, like so many writers (and plumbers and bakers, too), I often want to withdraw from social situations. Try not to, if you can. I need to work with intention and awareness to build community around me. Invite people to lunch. Show appreciation for the strength and caring of others. Trust. Share. Listen.
Recognize social and personal ruts and force yourself out of them. Walk with others. Walk in their shoes. Explore strange places. Sit at the back and the front of the bus. Drive it on occasion. Most of all, get the heck out of the house, because it's a big world out there and you need to inhabit it, to see and be seen. In this way, you grow creatively and join others in community.
4. Accept bad days.
You (and others) have the right to have a bad day. To be sad, even depressed. To occasionally sing the blues. You are as vulnerable as anyone in this never-ending-emotional challenge we call the creative life. It’s hard to be creative, and live the creative life. As the Nobel-winning Irish playwright Samuel Beckett once wrote: “I can’t go on; I’ll go on.” Exactly.
Value positivity, but don't push away sadness when it comes. It is you working through loss, as all humans must work through loss, even the temporary loss of faith or self-belief or your car keys. Stuff happens, but resilience can be built, strengthened. Remember rules 1, 2, and 3 -- that reaching out to others can help, although silent reflection can too.
5. Monitor and value your physical health.
Be active and try to practice good nutrition. If you can, cut back on sugar, soda, chocolate (yes, chocolate!), and processed foods in general. Prefer fruits and vegetables to "fake" foods. Eat real food. Not too much. Get outside and walk and run. Put on your favorite music and dance up a sweat on occasion. If you're feeling sick, call your doctor. Get things checked out. If you have better physical health and more energy, your mind works better too, which helps you create better.
6. Pursue passions.
You are at your most creative when your heart and head are engaged in what you’re doing. To be creative, follow your passions and curiosities. The places they take you, scary and joyful and everywhere in between, will become your identity as a creative person. All people seek a sense of purpose to drive them forward, but can only find it by tapping into their deepest selves, then reaching out to find community with the world. That’s what creativity is, a deeply hopeful and unique act, something that only you can bring into the world. Follow your passions to drive your creative expression.
Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a business writer and brand storyteller for B2B brands such as General Electric, ADP, Office Depot, Cintas, the National Center for the Middle Market, and many more. He's also been published in print publications such as the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle.