Throughout lockdown, with many of us now working from home, there has been a subtle yet important shift when it comes to the concept of freelancing. What was once seen as a vague and elusive form of working has become a necessity, as we’ve all developed our own habits, styles and preferences when it comes to remote working. People are becoming more empathetic of the freelance experience, are adapting to working alone, and, most importantly, are discovering some of the great benefits of the self-employed career path.
From being able to create a more flexible schedule to having the freedom to dictate your own working environment, it’s been great seeing so many sharing their own small joys from their homes. Freelancing is set to gain a new surge of popularity after lockdown, and whilst that’s fantastic for our growing community, it does come with questions. For those of us who struggle with mental health problems, taking the plunge into freelance life isn’t quite as easy as it might seem. So in today’s blog post, I wanted to explore what it’s like working as a freelancer with mental health and sharing my thoughts on just how much self-employment is affected by good or bad mental health.
Can I be a good freelancer/solopreneur with bad mental health?
Instinctively, my gut reaction is ‘yes, of course!’. I’m a firm believer in not letting your mental health hold you back, and so generally, whenever I’m asked this question, I always try to look at it with a positive mindset. However, having worked as a freelancer for a while now and having seen first hand the highs and lows of living this life, I’m not sure I can totally agree. As much as I wish it didn’t, anxiety is often my biggest weakness when it comes to being a successful freelancer. It can hold me back, and make me question my decisions, make me worry about future moves, make me nervous when it comes to new clients. I can drive myself insane waiting for feedback, and beat myself up when it comes back negative. I can spiral, uncomfortably, when it comes to quiet periods between work, and then terrify myself with the prospect of running an entire business all by myself. There will be obstacles for you to overcome when you work as a freelancer. Dealing with difficult clients, managing your finances, finding new work, motivating yourself into action, networking… It’s not easy.
Whenever anyone asks me whether they should become a freelancer, there are a few questions I always ask them in return. So why not answer the following questions honestly, taking into consideration your mental health and your own awareness of your abilities and see what your outcome is.
- Could you educate yourself fully on taxes and finances, and stay organised enough to pay them on time and in full?
- Could you attend networking events, and hand out business cards and connect with potential clients?
- Could you attend meetings and cope with video calls with clients on a regular basis?
- Can you handle negative feedback, and respond to it in a constructive way — even if just to the client?
- Can you cope with working alone every day of the week?
Don’t worry, however, you answer ‘no’ to any of the questions above. If you’d asked me over a year ago, I would’ve answered no to almost all of them. Because mental health is not something that remains constant forever. Your triggers and your down days and your reactions change over time, and experiences — both positive and negative — can force you to adjust. So instead, think about how your mental health would react to the above questions, and how you can help yourself to feel more confident about them. Could you practice networking, just for the experience? Could you do a trial run of working from home, to see how it feels? Could you start running some small freelance side projects, before going full-time? There’s no rush to jump headfirst into a full-time freelance career before you’re ready. But if you are ready to make the commitment, it’s also good to think about the positive benefits that freelancing can have for your mental health.
Being able to schedule your working hours around your own mind is one of life’s greatest luxuries. Find your productivity period, and use it to the greatest effect. Give yourself the agency to work when you want to, rather than when the world says you should. This means taking time to meditate, practice your mindfulness, take your medication, have your therapy session, and call your doctor without worrying about wasting any company time.
For me, one of the biggest benefits of working for myself was the ability to control how I worked. I got to make the policies, I got to determine my rates, I got to frame my communication in a way that felt right for me, rather than for my managers and bosses. With no one above or below me, I get to do what feels right when it comes to handling my clients, without worrying about the inner-office conflicts between. In terms of my mental health, this meant less anxiety overall, less stress, less late nights and less obsessive Slack-checking at 1am.
Working Space and Working Pace
As any sufferer with mental health will understand, confinement and oppression make for a pretty bad environment of positive mental wellbeing. Being able to hop on a bus and work in a coffee shop, or take a walk in the park, or even just shuffle between my desk and my sofa opens up so much more space in my head for me to feel productive. Without needing to ask permission, or even forgiveness, for wanting to work somewhere else, the options are literally endless.
Sometimes, quite without warning, our mental health can impact us in a really big and ugly way. Whether it’s a panic attack in the middle of the day, a mid-week depressive episode, a month-long bout of insomnia or a PTSD trigger at your desk, public mental health symptoms can be incredibly uncomfortable to handle. With even the most sympathetic of colleagues making you feel humiliated or embarrassed, it’s a difficult situation to explain, particularly with the stigma of mental illness being as challenging as it is. Working as a freelancer, however, grants you so much more privacy to handle your illness and your symptoms in your own comfortable space without the eyes of the office on you. You can take a breather, grab a drink, take your tablets, calm yourself down without anyone knowing, and still appear professional in front of your clients.