Freelancer winter survival guide

Short dark days are punctuated by swaths of bright snow. The city’s filth is muffled in white, faintly lit by streetlights. I admit, I have struggled through the last few months. It feels like I’m finally turning a corner, but between the “holidays”, the cold, and my wavering conviction that what I’m doing for a living makes any sense, this winter has posed some challenges. Freelancing is great when you’re feeling up, but excruciating when it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. I haven’t found a magical solution to this, but plugging away at various initiatives on a regular basis seems to help:

Sign-up for something new: So this January I started taking a “house music” dance class at Urban Element Zone. Just saying this makes me chuckle. I’ve always loved dancing, especially to electronic music, so it seemed like a natural choice. My coordination skills don’t quite match my enthusiasm, but trying something new, in a context where income, education, language, and outfits really have no bearing on anything, has been refreshing and liberating. Now I just need to work up the courage to participate in our end of session performance later in March, will keep you posted…

Fabricate a routine: It’s really tempting as a freelancer to sleep in (guilty), work from home and take “me” time as you see fit. While I have done all of the above at times, generally I try to stick to a 10 am — 6 pm schedule, and not work from home. Although I am by nature independent and somewhat introverted, I do love office banter, and the comfort that people around me are also working. At home I am more likely to do laundry, play with my cat, and wonder what is going on in other people’s offices. I am forever in debt to EyeSteelFilm for allowing me to pretend like I work there.

Get help: There is no way I would be able to do what I’m doing without the support of my friends and family. As loving as they are, there are limits to how often I can lean on my husband or good friends to prop me up when I’m down. So this January I amped up my therapy sessions from once every two weeks to every week. While I don’t love going to therapy this often, the benefits are indisputable. If there are no systems in place at your work to deal with mental health, consider recommending getting involved with Partners for Mental Health. They have many resources for companies to raise awareness and take concrete action towards creating healthier work environments.

Cross-country skiing at L’Escapade in Rigaud this January.

Get outside: While many of us start thinking about travelling south around this time of year, the freelance reality doesn’t always allow for lavish travel. I’m still working on ways to get to SXSW Interactive somehow (maybe next year), in the meantime I am trying to content myself with enjoying the snow. I actually really like winter. Perhaps instilled in me by my adventure-seeking father, I find the idea of downhill or cross-country skiing, skating or sledding quite appealing. While not all Montrealers share this enthusiasm, I find the benefits of a little fresh air to go a long way when we’re otherwise hibernating at home or at work.

Hamming it up with CreativeMornings ladies

Volunteer: Freelancing can be isolating, let’s face it. I’ve been involved with CreativeMornings Montréal almost since it’s founding in 2013, and haven’t looked back. Not only does this ever-growing community provide me with a network of people working in some of Montreal’s most innovative fields, it’s also allowed me to significantly expand my content strategy and writing portfolio. While volunteering has it’s challenges, i.e. occasional clashes in working styles or objectives, overall, like in anything, you get out of it what you put in. If you’re looking for new ways to invest your time, consider joining the board of a cultural organization throughMontréal Arts Affaires, or check out Bénévoles Affaires, which matches up professionals with non-profits. Whatever you choose, make sure that it maximizes your strengths and challenges you, otherwise it will not likely stick.

Image: Richard Ibghy & Marilou Lemmens “The Prophets” at the BNLMTL 2014.

Take stock: The aspect of freelancing that I find most difficult is managing fluctuating budgets and saving for taxes. While I can sometimes float through a few months without paying too much attention to the big picture, I’m trying to take the bull by the horns and be more pro-active about managing my money. I loveFreshbooks for bookkeeping, and my accountant Dan Lacroix is great at recommending strategies for the self-employed and small businesses. I also recently signed up for Mint.com, in an attempt to actually create and stick to a personal budget. Any suggestions on how to do this better and less painfully are welcome.

Visit your local library: When not braving the cold in the winter months, I love a good novel. Frustrated with trying to manage annoying Adobe digital rights issues in borrowing library books with Kobo, I have been making visits to both the amazing Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec and my more modest local Parc-Extension Library. (I just found out that I can return BAnQ books at my local library actually, which will hopefully save me from my usual library late fees!) I just finished Boris Fishman’s A Replacement Life, which I would highly recommend. The protagonist Slava, a young writer, struggles to accept his Russian Jewish heritage and relatives in Brooklyn while attempting to establish himself in Manhattan at the fictionalCentury magazine. When his grandfather asks him to write letter to claim restitution funds for holocaust survivors, Slava is faced with a moral dilemma. The characters’ mix of pride in their heritage, and humour in facing day-to-day struggles feels eminently relatable. This novel explores some of my favourite issues — the blurry zone between fiction and non-fiction, in how we frame our past, present ourselves to the world, and tell our stories.

Don’t be so hard on yourself: Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, as an eager self-critic, I need to be reminded not to take myself overly seriously and analyze my choices to death. It’s difficult to be your own champion when things are slumpy, but I try and take things one day at time. I still worry about my future, how my career choices will impact my relationship, keeping my clients happy, and diversifying my client base. Some worry is normal. Paralyzing anxiety is not. So try and celebrate your successes, even if this means framing success differently than what you imagined as a child. In my case, it’s not working for a prestigious company, making the big bucks, or dressing in fancy clothes that bring satisfaction, but the knowledge that I’m taking a risk everyday to do what I love.

This post was originally published on my blog Collected Fictions, on February 20, 2015.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Rebecca West’s story.