Four Rules for a Successful Freelance Life: №2 of 4

…in which we discuss the emotional pitfalls of freelancing and their delicate relationship with time (and travel) management. The second in a four-part series of self-help for the self-employed.

Rule №2: Be here now.

If you’re like me and grew up in the care of open-minded and semi-bohemian parents, you’re undoubtedly familiar with the phrase “be here now.”

The idea is that by focusing on the moment at hand, you let go of any thoughts about the future, and since it’s thoughts about the future that tend to make a person anxious, letting go of them will instead make you feel peaceful in the present. Or so they say, because if you’re like me you also grew up with the expectation that life would be filled with big accomplishments, and so you find it hard to let go of your thoughts about the future, since it’s those very thoughts and the careful plans that followed that have helped you attain whatever measure of success you can currently claim. If you’re like me, the very idea of letting go of your thoughts about the future is enough to make you anxious — and yet, I encourage you to try, for if there’s one consistent thing about freelance, it’s that it’s never, ever consistent.

As far as I can tell there is no rhyme or reason to the quantity or timing of work I get. Sometimes I’m swamped; other times I’m twiddling my thumbs; often it’s somewhere in between. I work frequently with big clients who send me lots of little projects — product identities, packaging copy — and they almost always call just when I’ve given up all hope and started toying with the idea of going back to grad school to finish my psychology degree. And then when they do call, they inevitably want it back tomorrow.

Last summer I got a rush project the morning I was supposed to fly to L.A. to visit my best friend — this after three weeks of little to no work. I was not happy. I was not “here now.” I freaked out.

“Why does this always happen?” I asked the cat, who took time out of his demanding nap schedule to look up at me with that bemused attitude of his before sighing and tucking his head under his arm, only to fall back asleep in the sun.

I took the job, finished packing in a whirlwind, and started typing furiously, stopping only to slide my laptop through the security screen at the Oakland airport and then during take-off and landing, and by the time I reached L.A. I had nearly finished.

The point is that you never know what’s going to happen. Plans will be ruined, work will ebb and flow without warning, you won’t be able to establish any sort of routine. Accepting this is your first order of business.

You must also accept that your checkbook will fluctuate wildly. Toward that end, I try to apply the model of good government I picked up somewhere along my educational trajectory, whereby I save when my personal economy is strong and can support itself and then spend on research investments (shopping) and social programs (spa treatments) to keep the outlook positive during the slow times.

Once you’ve learned how to stop hyperventilating when three jobs hit your desk at once, to go ahead and meet your friends for dinner at that fancy restaurant even though you haven’t had a paying gig in weeks, to get on that plane to L.A., then, and only then, will you know you’ve arrived.

Send me a postcard when you get there and let me know what it’s like.

A longer piece that included this and my three other freelance rules was originally published on Medium last Friday 9/16/16. But with an 11-minute read time it garnered zero views by end of day Monday, so I’m republishing the four rules now, each as separate posts.

When I figure out my rules for success on Medium, I’ll have to remember to include the one about keeping things short.