You Are Not Your Income
Money is important. We need to be able to pay for the roof over our head and the food on our table. When you go indie as a freelancer, there is often a dizzying array of business expenses to contend with, not to mention all the little “perks” you now have to pay for yourself because guess what? Your employer is now you!
But here’s the deal: you must not let the daily grind of managing your cash flow encompass the entirety of your identity as an independent worker. You are not your income. The money you bring into your business is very important, yes, but there are many other important activities you should give yourself permission to engage in. They may not directly provide monetary benefits now–or ever–but they are investments in your creativity, health, and general well-being. And becoming a better you will inevitably pay dividends down the road.
Here are just a few activities you might want to consider that are as vital to the success of your business as making progress on client projects and bringing in revenue.
Getting Outside and Meeting People
Networking, networking, networking. I’m not necessarily talking about a “business networking” group where you expect to get immediate referrals, although that can be beneficial depending on your industry.
No, I’m talking about generally finding tribes of interesting people and meeting with them. Meetup.com is a great way to find and join cool groups of people getting together to do stuff. Pick a hobby, a side-project, a sport–could be anything really. Then see if there’s a local community of people interested in that topic. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might even decide to start a meetup of your own!
Having friends and seeking relationships throughout a diverse set of communities and perspectives will make you a more well-rounded person. Plus, nothing fuels creativity like novelty–you never know how trying something entirely new might inspire you!
The pressures of having to work for and on your business and needing to plan every minute detail of what your business is doing…it makes it very easy to get locked into a pattern of only learning what you need to know to get your immediate business done. For me, as a web designer & developer, that often means I’m only learning skills directly related to the projects clients have given me. But what about other skills? What about technologies that interest me but I have no way of knowing if they’ll be relevant to my work any time soon? What about other subjects that aren’t even technological in nature?
Steve Jobs once told a story about how he became interested in calligraphy and took a college course where he learned all about serif and sans-serif fonts and other aspects of typography. He wasn’t a graphics designer. This was ten years before the development of the Apple Macintosh. He just thought the subject was intriguing. Years later, however, when he headed up the skunkworks team that created the Mac, all he had learned came flooding back to him and fueled the advancement of typography for personal computers.
I recently finished binge-watching Mad Men (thank you Netflix). The aspects of creativity and how ideas form which the show explores I find absolutely fascinating. But what was most amusing to me was the way Don Draper at times would seemingly fall off the face of the earth (leaving his coworkers utterly befuddled), only to resurface later with a burst of new creative energy.
Now I’m not suggesting you drink way too much booze and then suddenly go on a road trip across America without notifying anybody. But I think there’s something extremely true about the notion that–sometimes–the only way you can produce great work is to stop working.
As a creative individual, the quality of your output is directly related to the quality of your life as a whole. And the older you get, the more this becomes apparent. If you’re only 22, you can probably get away with staying up until 3am and eating ramen noodles and still manage to crank out some cool stuff. But if you’re rapidly approaching your 40s (ahem, such as yours truly), you become painfully (literally!) aware of the need to sleep well, to exercise regularly, to eat right, and to take time for spiritual self-care. You can only abuse your body or your mind for so long before your quality of life suffers–and your work right along with it.
So give yourself permission to go on that week-long retreat. Give yourself permission to take a day off and catch up on sleep. Give yourself permission to reschedule meetings later in the day so you can work out at the gym in the morning. Your future self will thank you for the care you put in today.
Freelancers: Nobody’s Taking Care of You. So Take Care of Yourself!
The hard truth of independent work is realizing that nobody else is spending cycles thinking about how to take care of you. If you work for a good employer, there are people who get paid to figure out how to keep you happy. Sure, business is a cutthroat world and loyalty is hard to find, but if you’re lucky enough to find a company that really values its employees and treats them well, you can reap the benefits of that.
But as a freelancer, the only person in the world who cares about you (business-wise) is YOU. Healthcare? Your problem. Time management? Your problem. Cash flow difficulties? Your problem. Sales & marketing? Your problem. Clients driving you nuts? Your problem.
Everything is your problem. In some ways, that’s a blessing. It means you have direct control over everything that’s happening in your business! (And, being a bit of a control-freak, that’s why I enjoy being a freelancer!)
But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. You have great power over your life as a freelancer. You also have the great responsibility to care for your life, celebrate it, nurture it, and be thankful for it. Money is important, business is important–but at the end of the day, just remember:
You are not your income.