Being self-employed is like trying to manage a strong-willed toddler. Except you are the toddler. And whether or not your bills get paid is on the line.
Being too easy on yourself will see you broke — fast. However, being too hard on yourself can also lead to burnouts, poor quality work, and make you about as good for conversation as a toddler. It’s a fine balancing act. Some will tell you the key is unwavering discipline and sacrifice.
I’m inclined to agree with them. However, after several years as a freelancer — and a great deal of trial and error — I’ve realized cutting yourself a break is just as crucial to long-term success. So when is the right time for each approach? These constants have kept me sane and housed, and I believe they can apply to anyone.
1. When You’re Sick, Let Yourself be Sick
Picture it: Horseback riding accident. A severe case of whiplash. Impending deadline — that day! As soon as I got home from the doctor, it was a feat of engineering to create a makeshift desk out of an ironing board, books, pillows, and two laptops so I could work while in a neck brace. An otherwise simple project was painful, tiring, and while I delivered on time, I’m not sure I delivered my best.
On the flipside, there’ve been times where a simple headache was a tempting excuse for calling it a day. It shouldn’t be.
It’s important to set yourself a standard. Know your limits, and push yourself to take Advil and keep trucking if you can. However, if a week-long case of the flu strikes you — don’t force yourself to inch through work. When you are well and truly sick, embrace being well and truly sick. Allow yourself to heal. You’ll come back mentally and physically fresh, delivering better work.
2. Carve Out Time for Dating, But Don’t Let it Inhibit Your Work
Notice I said “inhibit,” not “interfere.” As a self-employed professional, you quickly learn how valuable your time is — and how little you have of it. Every hour you spend with friends, family, or a romantic partner is an hour you could be making money, completing work, or tapping into new business opportunities. Personal life always interferes with work — that’s a fact. But with such limited time, you surely can’t afford to spend it on dating, right?
Yes, you can. Sure, that’s a Saturday you could be spending on a deadline, but instead, it’s one where you made a meaningful connection, had some fun, learned new things, and recharged your social batteries. It’s alright to exchange “potential work time and attention” for “meaningful personal experiences.”
But here’s where you have to get hard on yourself: it can’t make you turn down work. It can’t make you miss deadlines. It can’t make you lose your drive. If you wouldn’t schedule a hangout with a friend on Fridays, because that’s when you crunch for deadlines, then don’t do so for a romantic partner.
All relationships “interfere” with your work — but if romance isn’t “inhibiting” your work, then it’s a wonderful thing to embrace.
3. Talk About Your Work — But to “Work Friends”
Separating your personal life and work life is difficult when you’re self-employed (and sometimes even when you’re not). Since you’re the captain of the entire ship, when things are going well, it’s all you want to talk about. During my first year, I had thoroughly annoyed my family into a hatred of my job, since I couldn’t leave work at the non-existent office.
The key isn’t to never speak of work, as if it’s a deceased relative. Instead, it is not expecting everyone else to suck it up.
I’d made friends in the business, and had friends considering self-employment as well. These became my “work friends” — the only people I would speak about work with unless otherwise prompted. Think “a quick beer with the colleagues after 5 o’clock.” They cared, it was relevant to them, and it was on our list of topics — unlike other friends. Once a week, I was allowed to do a rundown on how things were going as a freelancer. Cut yourself a break and talk about your job — it’s important to you. But be hard on yourself with the time and the people.
4. Have Fixed Holidays — Go Hard on the “Fixed,” Lax on the “Holidays.”
There will be times where you’re mentally drained and looking for any excuse to take a day off. That excuse comes in a perfectly-wrapped St. Patrick’s Day, or Grandparent’s Day, or Batman Day. It’s a holiday after all, and you’re allowed holidays off like any other working class individual, right? The problem is, every calendar date has a brainless holiday attached to it if you look hard enough.
It’s important to observe holidays! Even if you’re not huge into festivities, use it as an excuse to take a well-earned mental health day, so you don’t snowball into needing a sick-day.
The balance to be found is in the “fixed” aspect. Evaluate all the holidays throughout the year, and identify which you actually care about. If you wouldn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day normally, or really aren’t into Christmas, then to you, they’re not holidays — they’re just another Tuesday. Work like it. Take advantage of the clients who’ll want you in a pinch while others are celebrating. Don’t give into the temptation to observe the holiday if you don’t believe in it, but then be relaxed enough to fully enjoy the ones you do.
5. Be Understanding of Lull Months — But Never Poor Work
Being self-employed guarantees a fluctuating income. If you’re not making enough, it’s likely because you’re not working enough. So when you come across a slim month — or series of months — this can be a sign that you’re slacking. It’s time to push yourself harder.
However, in every industry, there are high months and low months; seasons where clients come out of the woodwork, and seasons where you can’t find a job to save your life. It’s easy to blame yourself for this — but instead, it’s important to realize when these seasons are, and plan for them. Rather than working yourself to death in the lull season, take this as an opportunity to breathe. You’re doing fine, and a high month is coming.
Alex Reddle is an online dating specialist. He got his psychological degree at Kent State University, specializing in the subject of interpersonal relationships, love, and finding a partner. He likes to study human behavior and ways of communication. As Chief Editor of Flirt.com‘s blog, he conducts his own studies and shares his experiences.
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