From an outside perspective, freelancing seems like the ideal job. You can set your work hours. Choose the kinds of projects you want to work on. No nightmare bosses or useless teammates. On the other hand, as a freelancer you miss out on the peer relationships, constructive feedback from managers, professional development and all the paid leaves.
A 2004 Australian study found that self-employment is associated with relatively few mental health benefits. So the question remains; how does freelancing impact your wellbeing, and why is it important? With freelancers being predicted to represent 50% of the American workforce by 2020, it is key that there is sufficient awareness of the mental health challenges faced in being self-employed, and an open dialogue on how to stay sane while becoming successful.
Burning out – When should you stop?
One of the most common reasons for burning out is the inability to say “no” – especially when you’re starting out. The irregular nature of work, not knowing when it might dry up and lack of regular pay checks can cause uncertainty leading you to take on more than you can manage. On the other hand, many freelancers would admit that taking time off means you’re losing money.
A solution is to find freelancer peer groups. People who understand the work you do and the decisions you have to make. As motivational speaker Jim Rohn once said, “We are the average of the five people we spend the most time with, and your peers play a vital role in helping you share the burden and telling you when it’s time to stop”.
You could expand your network through workshops, seminars or from co-working hubs. Social media is another great tool and Bawabba has a community of freelancers across a number of disciplines that you could reach out to for networking and support.
Learning to value your own time
As a freelancer, time is your most valuable asset. The flexibility you get with managing your own time can be incredibly freeing, but also very restricting. You might find yourself constantly working, with no thought to taking breaks, or working during your breaks.
The lines between “professional” and “personal” begin to blur. As a freelancer, this inability to switch off can affect your interpersonal relationships. A 2008 Dutch study also showed that individuals who expressed the inability to detach from work also reported more aches, pains and physical exhaustion.
When you work from home, it can get difficult to separate yourself from your job. Understand your peak productive hours, be it 9am or 3am, and establish set working hours around that time. Create a routine for yourself, and make the most of the hours in between work to participate in extra-curricular activities that help you detach. Show that you take your time seriously as a freelancer by setting up late payment fees, rush fees, and clear billable hours.
Constantly remind yourself of why you decided to become a freelancer, and accept that you don’t need to spend every waking moment working, to make it worthwhile.