One of the privileges I have as a long time freelancer is that I have very little 9 to 5 work baggage to get over. Speaking to friends who spent many years in a more rigid and traditional work environment, it’s clear that many have a residing feeling of guilt over their freelance life not looking like they think it’s supposed to. But freelance work doesn’t have to mean an 8 or 9 hour work day, 4 weeks holiday a year and a set time to down tools and begin the evenings or weekends.
Many traditional jobs look the same week in, week out, and when our freelance careers don’t, it can make us feel like we must be doing something wrong. But does balance really mean that every week should have just the right amount of work, family time and rest in it?
I don’t think so at all.
When we expect our freelance lives to be tidy and balanced week in, week out; to emulate PAYE jobs; we’re in danger of setting ourselves up to feel like failures.
When I’m deciding which opportunities to say yes to and which direction I want to go in with my work, I don’t expect each week to look the same. My work as a photographer is naturally seasonal, with commercial brand work falling into two distinct seasons — Autumn/Winter and Spring/Summer — and editorial work largely happening from mid-spring to mid-autumn (when the days here in the UK are long and the light holds out long enough). It’s not exact, but year-on-year I can see patterns in my work that repeat.
There are fast times and slow times, sowing and reaping.
Sometimes I’m going through a crazy patch of work trips, long shoot days and juggling a handful of different childcare situations to make it all work. I can take a deep breath and remind myself this doesn’t happen every week. I can recuperate in a few weeks time when my diary suddenly has the wide gaping holes that send freelancers into a cold sweat. When my daughter complains about yet another school pick up I’m missing, I remind her of the coming weeks when the nanny will be going on holiday and I’ll be resuming school run duties and sticking to a 9 to 3 work schedule.
When we expect our freelance lives to be tidy and balanced week in, week out; to emulate PAYE jobs; we’re in danger of setting ourselves up to feel like failures. Whether it’s an intense work load, a partner on an extended work trip or illnesses rendering school attendance impossible, life just doesn’t follow a perfectly balanced road. Sometimes we don’t have enough childcare, or money, or time in the day.
How my year looks is a much better reflection on how well I’m doing than how any given week looks.
But when we do, we need to seize it with both hands. At slower times in my working year I read a lot more, I take lunch breaks, I work on projects just for the hell of it, I hang out more with my kids. Those busy times come rolling around fast and before you know it, it’s late evenings and three different forms of childcare once again to keep everything afloat.
The seasons of my industry have led me to look at my life in seasons too. When I’m looking at whether I have the balance right in my life, I pull back and look at my whole year — how my year looks is a much better reflection on how well I’m doing than how any given week looks.
Weeks look messy and that’s OK.
Aside from a couple of deal breakers that I cling on to to keep me sane — mainly at least some time alone, which as a single parent is essential for me — my weeks can look wildly different. And that is the beauty of life as a freelancer. Variety, freedom and the abandonment of the 9 to 5 mentality. Embrace it.
Photograph by Penny Wincer.
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