This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
I can’t imagine there is anyone who isn’t glad to see the end of this horrendous, tumultuous year.
Thinking about it, our first and immediate reaction must be to feel compassion and sympathy for those who have lost loved ones.
We know the toll has been devastating. Whole lives and families have been torn apart, never again to return to normal.
Below that level of profound and irreversible loss, there has also been a superabundance of illness, financial instability, mental anguish, fear, loneliness, anxiety, relationship turmoil, and political unrest.
Additionally, we have all witnessed countless displays of both incredible kindness and complete idiocy.
It is always easier to read about history than to live through it. Living through it offers you no certain ending or easily compartmentalized chapter headings. Living through it means you have to make the best you can of whatever you are given, with no guarantee of outcome.
So some of you might be confounded at first by what I am about to posit:
Many freelancers, given enough time, and assuming they have not lost any loved ones, nor suffered permanent ongoing illness, may one day look back at this turbulent period in their professional lives… as golden.
If you want to be one of them it is almost entirely up to you.
The good old days
Whenever I chat with seasoned colleagues, and there’s been a lot of that these days, sooner or later we get around to discussing various “good old days” in our professional lives.
It might surprise some of you but the days we speak of most fondly, most passionately, with the most laughter and delight, were usually professionally pretty grim.
Not entirely unlike today.
They were days of struggle, hardship, uncertainty and sometimes great sacrifices.
Under frequently hostile circumstances, our ingenuity, creativity and resourcefulness were pushed to the limits.
When the first installment of my freelancing radio career came to a grinding halt, desperate measures were required. Times were tough and jobs were scarce.
So I moved. To a different country.
It meant leaving behind family and beloved friends and starting anew. (This was in the pre-internet era). It was emotionally heart-wrenching as well as physically demanding.
While attempting to resurrect my radio career there (which I did) I found much more freelance work as a writer.
So mostly I became a professional working freelance writer. (Not for the first time in my career nor the last.)
The move triggered in my imagination a torrent of stimulating creativity and many new stories and ideas which I employed to maximum effect.
Work dried up again. As it does. Desperate times again required appropriate action.
So I moved countries again. More upheaval, more turmoil, more discontinuity.
I found radio work which eventually, after much hard struggling, pivoted into a lot more writing for television.
Again, the change triggered a creative recharge within me that produced new and different ideas and stories.
And so on and so on and so on…
… for a whole lifetime of freelancing. (Although not all work crises required a new country each time!)
Ready or not…
Please note: I am not advocating you move during a pandemic. Nor am I comparing life during a pandemic to life without one, but demonstrating the sometimes drastic career modifications required to stay afloat as a freelancer in both situations can have parallels.
Maybe there are a few lucky freelancers who have lead an uneventful life pursuing their goals. I know of a couple, they have been very lucky, indeed.
Many of us committed to long term freelancing, however, have literally lurched from one professional crisis to another. A crisis usually meaning the end of work – either because it was changing or because it had moved elsewhere or because our interest in pursuing it had altered.
These developments were both expected and unexpected. A veteran colleague, used to a lifetime of surmounting such challenges, expresses it this way: “I’m ready; I’m ready; I’m not ready!”
It was our willingness to adapt, adopt and improvise our careers that kept us afloat. And a certain mental toughness that insulated us from the harshest consequences of our choices.
Sometimes it meant learning or expanding new skill sets.
Sometimes it meant taking a demotion to a less desirable gig.
Sometimes it meant moving in order to stay employable.
Sometimes it meant taking on other jobs to pay the bills while our freelancing work was in transition.
Sometimes it meant switching (called “pivoting” today) into a different kind of gig that used many of the same skill sets we brought forward.
It also required a blind faith in ourselves and in our choice of work and lifestyle. A “blind” faith because common sense (as well as some well-meaning friends and family) often tried to undermine our confidence and determination to carry on.
Of course, if what they said ever made sense then a new direction other than freelancing might have been indicated. (I’ve written previously about knowing when to leave it).
All of this still holds true today.
Overcoming obstacles against all odds is the stuff of the happiest work-related “golden age” recollections among many of my established colleagues.
Of course, you never know you are living through a golden age. You only know it long after it has passed. But you can work to ensure its hue by refusing to be bowed down by adversity and by rising to the occasion and finding opportunities when all around you is chaotic.
Listen to what the universe is trying to tell you!
It’s not easy and it’s never guaranteed. It may mean massive changes and disruptions to the continuity of your current life. Those very changes, however, may also bring forth new ideas and stories from you that will directly inform your career’s next phase or incarnation.
I believe there will be much such original thinking and story-telling coming out of 2020 that will help define a generation. Some of it will be dark and sad but the most popular, I believe, will be upbeat and heroic: epic tales of achievement and ever-resourceful humanity.
And so if you can find your feet during our current difficulties you may find yourself creating your own golden age, work-wise… something you may share one day with your colleagues, friends and family when you look back at this time in history.
It’s all in how you look at things.
And what you’re prepared to do about it.
This post marks my 134th appearance on the pages of this website, rounding out nine years as “The Born Freelancer”.
It has been a privilege to share my thoughts and experiences on the freelancing life. (Thank you as ever Karen Wirsig for starting me on this excellent adventure, all those years ago.)
I hope over the years I have given you useful information to aid in your freelancing choices and on occasion some thoughts which might challenge your assumptions about them.
You can see a list of all my previous posts in reverse chronological order right here. In my 133 previous posts you will find many topics and ideas of interest and use to anyone considering or actively pursuing the freelancing life.
In these endeavours I have been assisted by a handful of awesome individuals. Mostly notably my editors; the staff dedicated to serving freelancers (first of the CMG and now of the CFG); and those of you who have reached out to offer your thoughts in response. My thanks to all of you for making my task so rewarding.
A final special thank you to Don Genova for guiding the CMG Freelance branch into its exciting new life as the CFG. It will be a great benefit to all freelancers going forward. Please consider joining.
So let’s talk again in 2021…
Meantime, as B.C.’s Public Health Officer Dr Bonnie Henry reminds us… stay safe and calm and be kind.
That says it all.
POSTED IN: Features