Finding my feet as a freelance creative
It took me a long time to figure out how to approach life as a freelance creative. This is because I thought my freelance work would look and feel like my previous nine to five, and if I wasn’t at my desk during the traditional ‘office hours’ I wasn’t doing a ‘proper’ job!
I left my job in August 2015. At the time, I was the Alumni Relations Manager at an Oxford University college, a post I had held for seven years. When I started working freelance I couldn’t wait to get stuck in, and for the first six months, I worked every day – including weekends! It was fun to begin with but not sustainable and as a result, my work-life balance disappeared.
To get things back on track, I decided to implement a routine, after all, I’d thrived for 20 years on stability and I was sure it was all I needed. I got up early, went for a walk or workout and made sure I was at my desk at 9am each day.
This structure worked when it came to completing the administrative tasks – accounts, emails, planning etc. But when I had to style photographs, write or do anything creative, it took me a long time to find my creative flow. I was getting my work done but it felt like something was missing – pretty ironic after spending my entire career yearning for a more creative job!
Investing in business coaching
I began to wonder if there was a secret formula to a creative freelance life! I reflected on my time as a fine art student and I chatted with my creative friends about what worked for them. Each had different strategies ranging from not doing anything creative at the beginning of the week, to simply pushing through the warming up phase.
In January, I booked a session with my coach to see if he could help me with the feelings I was having. We looked at my current reality, reflected on what had worked in the past and I completed the wheel of life exercise to address all areas of my life.
After looking at my working week, I noticed I’d drawn a line between work and life. This had worked in my previous jobs because there was a clear distinction however, creativity isn’t a job for me, it’s a fundamental part of who I am.
‘Creative isn’t the way I think, it’s the way I like to live.’ Paul Sandip
I realised that it wasn’t about making clear-cut distinctions or setting specific work times, but about creating when it felt right and being a little more open and receptive to new ways of working. While allowing my life and work to strengthen and complement each another.
A moment of clarity
Despite thinking my only issue was structure, I also identified that I was lonely in my work. Having managed and worked alongside teams of people for 20 years, I was missing the connection – office banter, putting the world to rights over a morning cuppa and having people to share my ideas with. My situation wasn’t enough for me and as a Myers Briggs ‘ENFJ’ personality type, my drive to support people and encourage their growth was no longer being fulfilled. It was an insightful couple of hours!
Nine months on and I’m approaching things very differently. I’m easier on myself, I don’t force my creativity and as a coach, I’m able to use my gifts and put my years of people development to good use. There’s a harmonious balance and on the days when I’m not meeting a client, I tend to catch up with a fellow freelancer or work in a cafe – friendly banter box ticked!
On occasion, it still feels a little odd to have so much freedom but I’m guessing it takes time to change the habit of a lifetime and the ingrained expectation of what a job and work should look like. I’ve learnt that no matter how much planning you do, it’s impossible to predict how you’ll feel until you get there. And if things aren’t working it’s okay to ask for help because nothing is set in stone and most things can be tweaked or changed.
‘The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.’ Socrates
If you’d like to redefine your working week, here’s a little exercise to try. In addition to this, you may wish to complete the wheel of life exercise for an even greater insight – many helpful examples can be found online.
Building a week that works for you..
~ What does your working week look like?
~ Does it work for you? If not, why do you think this is?
~ Is there too much/little of anything?
~ How does your working week make you feel?
~ What is preventing you from creating your ideal working week?
~ Have you tried to make changes? If so, what did you learn from them?
~ Can you recall a time when things worked well? If so, what were you doing differently?
~ Is anything missing?
~ What would your ideal working week look and feel like?
~ Would you like more/less of anything?
~ Would you like things to be added/removed?
~ Does your ideal week align with your values and lifestyle?
Create and grow
Hopefully, the questions will help you to identify some key messages and with this insight, you can begin to build your week. Feel free to try things and experiment until you find what works for you. It’s good to remember that creating new ways of working and forming habits can take time, so be patient and gentle with yourself along the way.
If you’re planning to modify your weekly routine I wish you the very best of luck!