August: Location, location, location?

Moving from the city to the country is giving me some strong freelance feels

As August begins, the world is not completely working from home anymore. We were all – whether freelance or staffers, on a contract or hustling – suddenly working from wherever home was due to lockdown. And now, as lockdown eases a little (depending on where you live, of course), freelancers have gone from a total Work From Home scenario to perhaps going back to a (socially distanced) co-working space, or a local café.

In my world, there’s an even bigger move afoot. On August 6th, after many, many months of to-ing and fro-ing, I’m leaving London behind and moving to the Oxfordshire countryside. And one big topic that’s come up when telling people is work. Will I still do what I do? Will I do something else once I’m not in London? Will I work for the same brands and clients? Can I be a journalist and writer outside of London?!

Of course, they’re questions I have also asked myself!

You see, I’ve been self-employed on and off for nearly 15 years, but I’ve often not worked from home. Over the years I’ve done a lot of what’s known in my industry as shifts. I would be booked for anything from a week to a month to three months, to work in-house on magazines and newspapers. I’d take the role of a writer, doing anything from a topical piece for the magazine’s website to a longer report piece for a monthly mag. I would go into the office, be part of the team, sitting alongside them, sharing tea rounds and the stationary cupboard.

I loved the mixture of shifts and working from home that I built as a freelancer. The office world reminded me how lucky I was to work from home sometimes, while being at home reminded me what I enjoyed about the office. I could juggle different projects – being on ‘shifts’ didn’t mean that I couldn’t write for anyone else, so I’d often find myself doing a week or month of shifts, with writing for other brands or clients in the evenings and at weekends. I might go to a café on a lunch break to do a phone interview, or stay late to research something new. I was busy, kept on my toes, and usually enjoyed the commute, either reading a book or writing something on my phone, making notes and plotting away.

As lockdown began, I was on a three-day-a-week contract, and it was due to last until mid-May. Thankfully, they kept me on for the contract and I really enjoyed the work. Suddenly, though, the shiny new office I’d been going to (which even had a sparkling water tap! The dream!) was off limits to all of us, and I was ‘on shifts’ but working from home. It was a huge adjustment for all the team to work remotely, I know, but I also felt sad as the ‘office’ part of the role was suddenly not there for me.

Now, with moving imminent (or done, depending on when you read this), I won’t be able to do shifts anymore. Gone is the commuting option – my new place is nearly two hours from London. And it’s got me pondering on whether it matters where we work from as freelancers. In particular, whether London – or any big city - is ‘the’ place to be, and if we can thrive as self-employed businesspeople outside a ‘big smoke’.

It didn’t take lockdown for freelancers to realise that working from home can leave us anxious, lonely and depressed. A survey in November 2019 (which I was asked to comment on, no less!) found that 64% regularly feel lonely. Even working in a big city, we can feel isolated as freelancers. I’ve wondered if working in a more rural setting will be lonelier - or if I’ll make more of an effort to connect because I’m not in the city.

Confession: I don’t love working from home!

Do you feel the same? For me, the variety of going into different offices on contracts, or even choosing to work from a library or café, was what brought balance and, in turn, a calmer sense of wellbeing and better mental health. Flexibility, routine, seeing other people, interaction, sharing ideas, laughing together, feeling part of something; it all added up to a happier work/life balance for me.

During lockdown, I truly saw for the first time, as I think many freelancers did, what it was like to work from home 24/7. And it’s hard. It’s really isolating sometimes, and being in your own work head day after day can create a tornado of confusion, anxiety and over-comparison. As I see it, the big change for freelancers during lockdown was the choice. It’s one thing to choose to work from home, another to ‘have’ to. As freelancers, not working in a dedicated office doesn’t mean we never leave our homes!

I know that once I move I’ll need to find a place to work that isn’t home, to bring variety. In my dream world that’s the fancy Soho Farmhouse… but it could be a local co-working space or even the local library or café. I know I need to mix things up to stay balanced, that’s for sure.

Working from home aside, people also wondered if there would be less work once I quit the inside of the M25. Research and networking so far has shown there will be clients and new work. I’ve realised that London seemed to be the place where all the work was, but actually that was only because that was the work I sought out. I was in a catch-22: Living in London so finding work in London. Will it be the case that living outside of London, I’ll seek out work elsewhere? Well, that’s the plan!

And I hope to be an example of non-city freelance living, for sure. And that by writing about this people who are planning to quit the city will feel like they aren’t alone.

As a journalist, London was where the magazines were – all roads led to London if you wanted to work on a mag or even be a freelance features writer. But is that the case anymore? And is it the case with other industries, too? Shifts have become fewer and father between in recent years and, in my industry, the day rate has barely changed. So what was quite a good day rate ten years ago is not so now.

Moving away was part of a work decision – I wanted to ditch the shifts. To stop relying on them as a source of income, so effectively I forced myself to generate income elsewhere. Scary, but very empowering!

Removing the lure of those shifts has made me think more about other income streams. In turn, that’s given me renewed confidence in my abilities. After all, if you choose not to be paid a small amount anymore, you’re effectively saying you’re worth more, right?

Furthermore, not interacting with a client you don’t want to work with – in this case, the ones offering shifts – is a big freelance step and one that’s challenged me. But it’s felt good and I’m glad I’m going for it. Has that happened for you in some way, too?

Moving has given me a lot of space and time to think about what I do, how I work from home and how that works for me. I have to say, for the first time in my life I feel like I’m truly ‘Freelance’! And lockdown has been a good test for me, of what’s to come. Can I really work from home 24/7? I’ve found a better balance, now, through practice, and I’m glad that I had the chance to try that out before the big move.

There’s definitely a kudos associated with London – or is it a fake kudos? Plus, there’s financial pressures that come with living in a big city – not everyone can afford city rents or prices, and it seems more and more ludicrous to me, in a post-lockdown world, to expect people to try and pay the rent in London or another big city to make it in their industry. If you’re freelance, surely that means by its very definition that you can work from anywhere? Why put up with the stresses of city living when we operate on Zoom and via email?

The positives of working from home

For many of us, working from home is a mental health godsend. The lovely Fiona Thomas speaks about this for the launch of her book, Out of Office. There’s an extract here.

I enjoy working from home for many reasons: I can be free to be me without having to worry about how workmates see me. I can have a stamp and a cry if I want one! I can stay in bed later not worrying about the trains coming and going from the station that I should perhaps be on. There’s no manager looking over my shoulder at what’s on my computer screen. Nobody tells me when it’s ‘put on your bra o’clock’.

I enjoy having my own desk – many of the places I’ve ‘shifted’ used hot-desking and it felt quite impersonal to me. I am seeing more and more that there are plenty of ways to be freelance and not live the big city life. In fact, two of my podcast interviewees, Caroline Corcoran and Bec Evans, both speak about leaving the big smoke for more rural climes. Spoiler alert: Neither regretted it! In fact, I don’t hear much about people regretting the move out of a big city.

I hope – and I already feel this to be the case – my business, brain and heart, will have time to breathe, to take stock and to make new plans. I’m glad I’m being forced to think sideways when it comes to my work. Yes, much of my industry is still in London. But especially now, in the pandemic, that’s changing. There are also work opportunities where I’m going that I haven’t found in London.

We worry about being remote, but as people who work from home, are we remote anyway? Does it matter where we plug in the laptop? Indeed, can plugging it in somewhere less city-based be a good thing for our mental health? There’s no denying that the traffic I hear outside my current office window will be replaced with countryside sounds, and that I’ll have a bigger garden to sit in and have my morning coffee. Get ready for a lot of countryside views on the Instagram Stories!

Will moving out of London be the death knell for my media career? I have struggled with that, and a look at a relevant jobs site for my industry says LONDON LONDON LONDON when it comes to jobs. But then I read a little deeper – most of the jobs on that site are contracts, or full time jobs. Freelance jobs that are listed as London are contracts, and I’ve made peace with the idea of not doing those ‘shifts’ anymore, which is often what a contract is.

But I am keen for the challenge, for the non-city adventure, and to show others that there’s more to freelance life away from tube lines, open-all-hours shops and the speeding buzz of the mopeds that’s the soundtrack to my working day. Freelancing is an adventure in itself, and I hope that this is just another adventure within that.

Do let me know if you live in a city or made the move and what it means for you! If you’ve related to this, do share on Twitter or Instagram: Tag @freelance_feels for both platforms.

Insta links to make you think will be back in September.

In the meantime, do follow some of my latest podcast guests on instagram! Episodes are all on Apple Podcasts. I’ve spoken to luxury wedding planner Sarah Haywood about the wedding industry right now (she’s very passionate about it and has started the hashtag #whataboutweddings) and Hannah Read-Baldrey spoke candidly about loss leading to a business decision in her episode.

James Withey shares some amazing practical tips for dealing with daily anxieties, including wearing kooky socks. His book, How to tell depression to p*ss off, is excellent, too.

Please do rate and review the podcast if you enjoy it!

There are two more episodes of the podcast coming for Season three, and then it’ll be back in September, as will this newsletter, looking at ‘going back to freelance school’ and whether we should invest in training, how we carry on learning as freelancers and whether we can ever stop learning in our world…

Click below to subscribe and get it straight to your inbox in September!

Podcast of the month: Linking in with Louise

I’ve been using LinkedIn more and more. Did you know that there are LinkedIn trainers?! That they can help you build a better profile that showcases you more?!

I did a weeklong challenge by Louise Brogan and really found my eyes opened to how LinkedIn can help us as freelancers. LinkedIn can be quite Marmite, but especially now we are all working more remotely, it’s key to connect. I am sure I’ll be using it more as I make the move out of the city and look for freelance opportunities more local to me.

Louise has loads of great advice – things you might think are obvious but that you don’t do.

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July: Let's all go on a Freelance holiday...

Or just take some time off!

It’s July! It’s holiday season! Let’s talk time off, downtime and freelance holidays! Ok, so you’ve picked yourself up off the floor from all that ROFL-ing… but this is something I really want to delve into.

I know, it seems like THE WORST TIME to talk holidays and relaxing, right? The world is trying to take a holiday at a very different pace to what we’re used to right now. For many, holidays are cancelled. For others, they’re just a dream – whether because of location, work, finances or time.

My summer holiday was going to be glamping at Glastonbury – clearly, I didn’t go. But did I have those days off anyway? Nope, I worked. It’s like we just can’t give ourselves permission to have time off. We’d tell others to have some downtime, wouldn’t we? I say it to people all the time! But myself? Well, ‘just one more email’ I say, ‘one more pitch’… ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. But what happened to PLAY while the sun shines? Or do nothing all day while the sun shines?

Freelancers are perceived as having loads of flexibility, and we don’t have to ask the boss for time off, right? Well, in theory, yes…

I heard you all say ‘no!’.

The brilliant folk at IPSE have research on this, from August 2019, and found that the average freelancer takes 24 days off a year – that’s four less than employees are entitled to.

One in six take no time off for the birth or adoption of their child (AKA parental leave).

78% of us work while on holiday.

9% took NO days off in the year before the survey.

78% want to take more time off than they do.

I could go on, but you can probably guess there is a theme here. And you can download the full report on IPSE’s website.

Thing is, 92% of those polled also said that time off had some positive effect on them.

Hold on, one more. This survey from Dinghy, an insurance firm for freelancers, found that 98.3% admitted to checking in on emails and projects on their time off.

So how can we find some balance?

Holidays

At least when it comes to the ‘big’ holidays, we can set the out of office and have our work cleared. We might get a call from a client we have to fob off, but generally if we are ‘strict’ with ourselves, we can take time off and know we’ve earned it.

‘Earned it’ is a strange concept to freelancers too, though, as we don’t get paid holiday, right? We have to work harder before and after the break to make up for the time off. I guess that’s just one of those freelance things, but at the same time, it does make switching off harder. What if you miss THE client email or THE most important offer while you’re sunbathing/cocktail sipping/wrangling the kids out of a banana/rowing boat? Or just in a caravan somewhere, kind of isolating, because of the whole world situation. In fact, might it be worse now we aren’t having ‘big holidays’ because we use that time to work?!

Days off

I am good at having days off. I am good at saying ‘I’m not working today!’ or ‘I’ve set my OOO and I’m OFF!’. Then I go somewhere – to see friends or family, to the garden centre, on holiday - and I ‘don’t work’. AKA I do things that are ‘sort of work’. You know, social media. Writing an idea on the back of a receipt. Basically, I have ‘fake days off’.

Familiar? It’s hard to resist because often we see emails and being sat at a desk as work, so anything we do away from the desk is ‘not really work’. Only it is. And it’s dangerous for our mental health to never switch off.

Even with downtime, we tend to take work with us. Yes, I’m talking to you people who take your phone in the bath, or on a dog walk. If you, like me, read a magazine on an aeroplane (although I know at the moment that’s less likely) and turn down the corner of a page because you want to pitch to that section, you’re not 100% switching off.

My biggest ‘question to self’ this month is whether it matters if we are often ‘on’. Does it matter if I respond to a tweet while browsing the cactus section at the garden centre?

Well, I guess, yes. Because then we’re not present. And our old friend over-comparison along with his close pal anxiety can turn up. You go from ‘chilled and looking at plants/paintings’ to a quivering wreck wondering if there’s a toilet because yep, now you’ve got stress tummy ache, too.

There was a very popular tweet recently from the lovely Fiona Thomas – it struck a chord with many of us.

It’s so true, and it goes from ten minutes off to an hour off, a day off and a week or more off. We forget to give ourselves the breaks we give others. I’ve written before about how we forget to praise ourselves and celebrate our own wins, and this is the same but with downtime.

And while we’ve got so much of this freelance life nailed, I think the one thing we are all a bit rubbish at is switching off, taking time out and being kinder to ourselves in the non-work time we do claim.

The difference between time off and downtime

Holidays are one thing, and days off, but what about some downtime? An afternoon, or even a real lunchbreak. I know! Imagine! But there is a definite difference, and I think it’s important.

Downtime isn’t complete OOO status, but it is taking a break. And we need to be sure that we take a break properly. Not (as I often do) yoga with the phone in the room which I check straight afterwards. Not (as I don’t do, but I know many others do) a bath with the phone. Argh, it’s the effing phone, isn’t it?! Maybe it would be better if it DID drop in the bath!

Downtime with access to work stuff, over-comparison feeds and general communication isn’t always good.

Things to do in your downtime which will boost your mood and hopefully get your emails out of your head and your phone out of your hand (well, apart from the first one):

Calling a friend

Meditation

Yoga/exercise

Dancing

Singing

Guilty pleasure TV

Napping (although I always wake up from a nap more tired, do you?)

Baking/cooking

Drawing

Games with the kids

Sunbathing

Watching an old/new film

You get the idea.

Introducing the #Freelanceselfcarechallenge

So, with all this in mind,I’ve decided to set us all a challenge – throughout July, it’s time to embrace some downtime with the Freelance self care challenge.

Here’s what you need to do:

·      Decide on your FIVE self care non-negotiables I’m going to share mine on Instagram as I’m still deciding but they’re likely to include getting fresh air, houseplant tending, friends, herbal tea (good for the tummy and hydration), dogs and taking my gummy vitamins.

·      Write them down somewhere that works for you. Could be a piece of A4 paper, could be a notepad, might be a spreadsheet. You might draw them, type them… up to you.

·      If you have a moodboard, write them down and pin them on, too!

·      Pledge that you’ll try and do your five things as often as you can all through July

·      Every time you practice one of your freelance self care non-negotiables, tick next to it. Use cute felt tips if you want. Or colour code that spreadsheet.

·      Share your lists and self care wins by tagging me on Instagram @freelance_feels and using the hashtag #Freelanceselfcarechallenge

·      If you’re feeling brave, share a pic of you DOING the challenge! Selfies on walks, yoga pics, a bar of your fave choc or the TV screen with your guilty pleasure show. Is time with the kids one of your downtime wins? Get it on the list! It might be singing, dancing, gin, non-alcoholic gin, playtime with a pet… definitely share pet pics!

I’ll do the same! So I’ll post my self care non-negotiables on July 1st, and then keep checking in. Looking forward to seeing them all!

Insta links to make you think

@digita1women Digital women – I’ve been attending some webinars from this group recently and they’ve got a lovely inclusive vibe.

@maddy.shine SEO Queen, soon launching a ‘Blogging for Gold’ course. I’m halfway through her ‘Show Up’ challenge and loving it.

@selfworthacademy We connected at National Freelancers Day and now chatting about collaborating – a win for online networking!

On @45not_out Una Cottrell brings insight into life for women in their 40s who are ‘serious about their career and not finished yet’. I’ll be on her podcast soon!

@therepairshop.tv I love The Repair Shop and it’s essentially lots of very creative freelancers! I think they have a new show coming soon and I’d love to interview host Jay Blades on the podcast.

Podcast of the month

The Media Insider by Helen Croydon (who is also a recent guest on the Freelance Feels podcast) focuses on advice for pitching. It’s a great way to get inside the heads of editors if you’re a writer, and clients if you’re pitching in general. Episodes include advice on what makes a ‘thought leadership article’ and how to make your PR pitch stand out as well as insight from magazine and website commissioning editors.

Thanks for reading! Please do share with others and on social and I look forward to seeing your #freelanceselfcarechallenge posts!

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Mid-June Musings: National Freelancers Day

Sharing the love on this day for the self-employed!

Today (June 18) is National Freelancers Day. So I wanted to mark it with another mid-month newsletter.

National Freelancers Day is such a great event – I went last year for the first time and it was one of those ‘wow’ moments where I realised (perhaps a little naively, but you might relate) that there were SO many other freelancers outside of my own industry.

Thing is, the media can be quite closed off, as an industry. There’s fewer contact sharing, less collaborating. We journalists often operating in a bubble of anguish and fear as work can be really competitive. Then I met loads of freelancers from other industries who opened my eyes to the idea of collaborating and sharing. Quite the day!

I proudly told everyone that day that I had launched Freelance Feels – one year ago today. So yep, one cacti mama writing this. I’ve made some cacti-shaped gingerbread biscuits which I can’t share in person, but you can see on my Instagram. Safe to say I won’t be giving up the day job to start a business decorating biscuits!

A bit of content from me for National Freelancers Day…

I wrote for the Telegraph (I know, get me, ooohhhh etc) about freelancing, with quotes from the ever-brilliant Ed Goodman and Steve Folland. Read it here.

The future as a freelancer is positive in many ways. I say that because while there are lots of unknowns, we can diversify and choose new routes, new angles for our work and for that I feel lucky. If we were in staff roles we might have to face redundancy or still be on furlough. A silver lining of freelance life right now is that we can pivot, look at new ways to build our business or take things sideways.

And the lovely ladies at Audrey Online, who I met on their webinar, let me loose on this piece this week...  It’s a tongue in cheek look at things you should avoid as a freelancer – like expensive biscuits or putting off your tax return.

The Freelance Feels podcast with IPSE and Freelance Corner

I interviewed Jess Hayden, from Freelance Corner and IPSE, for the podcast and the episode has gone live today. We discussed the world of online networking and socialising – she told me about virtual co-working, which I’d never heard of! Apparently, you work ‘together’, using Zoom or similar, and then take breaks ‘together’. Check out more pieces including one on that at Freelance Corner.

She also explained how freelancing can be like student life (resonated for me!) and the importance of self-care when you’re freelance.

Listen to the episode and others on Spotify and Apple Podcasts (and please do review if you like it!)

Shout outs to other freelancers today

But as I learned last year it’s not just about blowing your own trumpet. So I want to mark National Freelancers Day with some shout outs to other freelancers in the spirit of the day, now I’ve shared some of my own bits and bobs. And a thank you – to anyone who has supported me through the past year, sent a message saying they like Freelance Feels or shared on social. I appreciate it!

Here are some others who are doing great things in the freelance world:

Sarah Townsend today launches her book Survival Skills for Freelancers. It’s such a great read and I know Sarah has worked really hard on it, so massive congrats!

Fiona Thomas has published her book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and be your own boss which looks like a great one for those considering a freelance life.

Third on the books front is Sue Belton, a coach who I’ve interviewed for the podcast and has a new book ‘Change your life in 5’ which is ideal in the current ‘ARGH WHAT NOW?’ climate!

For some networking inspo, I’m joining an online chat or two with The Freelancer Sessions – follow on insta for updates.

Congrats to award-winning Natalie Trice, AKA The Good Enough Coach, who has been named ‘Most influential woman in PR coaching’ this week. Natalie spent an hour chatting to me about her life as a coach which was invaluable!

A shout out to a specific bunch of ladies – my co-admins on the No1 Freelance Media Women Facebook group. I set this up with another freelancer about 12 years ago now and it’s grown a lot during lockdown. We’re nearly at 6,000 members. If you work in media, journalist, writer, designer, PR, photographer… then do request to join (there are four questions including a button to click for the rules).

Podcast of the (mid)month – Freelancing For Journalists.

While this is called ‘For Journalists’ I’d say the topics are for all freelancers. They cover things like networking, pivoting and branding. I’m hopefully going to be a guest with them soon. Well worth a listen as it’s run by very experienced journos who’ll give you more insight into our world, too.


I hope you enjoy National Freelancers Day, and that I might see you there in person next year. In the meantime, come find me on Instagram (button below) and I’ll see you for the July newsletter where I’ll be exploring the themes of time off, holidays (yeah, right, this year?!) and taking a break. If you like the newsletter, please do share and encourage others to subscribe.

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June: Over-comparison and Happy Birthday to Freelance Feels!

A year ago this month, I remember launching on National Freelancers Day, which is run by IPSE. They have a big event in London and I attended, telling people that I had launched Freelance Feels and my plans for it. Serendipitously, I was asked if I wanted to talk on camera for a round up video they were doing (you can watch it here).

It felt like I was really setting off, really beginning something.

I didn’t make a one-year plan, per se, but I did have hopes and targets – launching the podcast was a big one, as was exploring the idea of coaching and workshops. I hoped, and do hope, for a book deal for Freelance Feels.

As the one-year anniversary comes up (June 18th), I have been reflecting back and I think it’s something we don’t do enough of. We are often so busy planning the future that we forget to look back at the past and see how far we’ve come.

Looking back is important and I urge you to give some time to it this week or month. You could even make a list of the things you’ve done in the past year - big and small. Keep adding to it as things come to mind, and you’ll end up with a list of your wins for the year which will help you decide what you want the coming year to include or be, as well as a reason to pat yourself on the back, which we really need to do more often!

I’ve learned a lot, looking back. I’m proud of how far the platform has come, each message that it makes a different to someone’s day. I’ve learned that there will always be feast and famine and I’ll never get used to it! That there will always be tears (maybe I’m just a cryer…)

And that sometimes I will feel like freelancing isn’t for me… I have felt that a few times in my career and I think we all do, sometimes?

Most of all, I’ve learned that I’ll always compare myself to others. And that’s something I want to explore in this edition of the newsletter.

Comparing ourselves to other freelancers

Over-comparing has cropped up loads in the past week, so it felt like it was the right part of that ‘what I’ve learned’ list to explore further. I have been feeling so overwhelmed lately by feelings of self-comparison. It’s something I always experience, but I have wondered about whether it’s exacerbated during lockdown. Does the lack of ‘life’ distraction mean that other people posting their wins and articles online strikes me harder in the feels?

Funnily, it then came up twice on the morning I was finishing this newsletter. First of all, in another newsletter, Hair Rollers in London, where Jess Evans explored whether or not Twitter is an essential to us, particularly as journalists but also as freelancers.

Then, I spotted this article on Freelance Corner, about how to stop comparing yourself to other freelancers.

It’s got some great advice, including some apps which limit your social media time and the writer, Megan Tatum, talks about how we can compare ourselves to people who are in a different league, so to speak. Eg comparing your week’s work to that of an award-winning writer…

I often do that – for example a podcaster says they have a hugely popular guest and I think ‘why haven’t I?!’. Reality check: The podcaster has been going for a long time and is really well known…

With podcast over-comparison, I have to check myself, too, and remember that many people have their podcast edited and produced for them. It’s no wonder they get all those episodes out if they’re not editing it themselves!

It’s a good thing to remember to do – cross check what you’re reacting to. Ask questions instead of taking what you see at face value. Are they a super famous podcaster? Well of course they have that guest then - they have the kudos to bring them to the party. Is their work part of a job they do? They might have that ‘commission’ or client of dreams, but it could be they’re ex-staff for that company and have a ‘hotline’ to the boss.

The biggest thing to remember is other people are all comparing, too. Oscar winning actors will be comparing to those who’ve won a BAFTA on top. Gold medallists are berating themselves that they haven’t also broken a world record.

I remind myself, too, that people are allowed to share, it’s how we react that needs to change. And of course, I share things myself, always wary that I might be giving someone else the over-comparison feels. I hope I don’t! But it’s possible, I guess. I am mindful about it, which is something we can all do as the ‘poster’ rather than the ‘postee’.

It was like I was meant to read those two articles, they both really spoke to me. I have been almost in tears lately with the over-comparison. It’s stopped me physically doing things, from pitching or emailing a new contact, to podcast editing. That voice which normally whispers ‘you’re not as good as them’ has been almost screaming.

An example: Recently, on Instagram, someone tagged me and said they liked my article in the Sunday Telegraph. What they had meant to do was tag the podcast guest I’d spoken to who has written a piece.

This was around 10am, I’d just woken up on a Sunday morning.

I went back to bed with feelings of disappointment and failure.

Why hadn’t I had an article published in the Sunday Telegraph?! Why had they tagged me? I felt wounded, a thousand self-judgemental thoughts filling my head (which hadn’t even had a brew yet).

I feel the need to unpack this as I think the calm after that spike of ‘argh!’ is important. Why did they have a piece? Well, for a start they pitched it! I haven’t been pitching, as, following a contract which was quite intense on idea creation, I’ve had a couple of weeks not pitching, to re-set.

I considered, for a moment, the process of pitching. She might have sent that idea to ten editors before that one said yes.

And then I thought ‘well done her!’. Because I know that will mean a lot to have that commission to that person.

It’s good to try and remember that what we see in front of us isn’t the whole story. It’s easy to forget to be happy for someone when we are being jealous, which I was.

Finding balance with over comparing on social media

Avoiding social media completely isn’t something I want to do, but I know I need to control my emotions around it better.

One thing I’ve done is move Twitter from my first page of my phone to the last, to try and make the break from checking it so regularly. I’ve also muted some people who give me over-comparison anxiety, rather than just unfollowing. It feels childish to do it but at the same time it’s helped me find clarity.

I’m also trying to only check Twitter during work hours and it’s a time thief I do not wish to dance with out of hours anymore.

Instagram is harder because I love it! But, again, trying to not check in the evenings is something I want to do. Or first thing. If I check social media before I even have a cuppa, what’s going on there? It’s hard not to over-compare, but there are ways of managing what we see, for sure.

When comparing can be good…

Why do we compare? I think for some (me included) it can spur us on. Seeing someone else succeed can make me take action. For example, I’ll be pitching to the Sunday Telegraph Magazine, as they’re clearly commissioning!

Seeing someone else succeed can make me think that there’s a chance for me, too. That if I try hard (or harder), I can also find that success that I see them achieving.

I’m competitive and comparing can give me a drive that I’ve been lacking. So, I think there is a power in comparing ourselves to others, in some way. It’s a fine line, but one I tread because I know I can be spurred on or inspired by someone else’s win.

Insta links to make you think: Five accounts I’m loving this month

The Happy Sloth Club @thehappyslothclub

Loads of great little reminders to be kind to yourself!

The Happiness Project @thehappinessprojectuk

Raising awareness to mental illness, again with some lovely quotes.

Emily Clarkson @em_clarkson

Em’s body positive posts on stories have really got me through lockdown! She writes about loving yourself as you are, and her own challenges which I relate to.

Charlotte Reed, AKA @maythethoughtsbewithyou

Gorgeous illustrations of wise characters along with inspirational daily words from Charlotte who drew to help find balance with her own mental health struggles.

Locksmith @locksmithrudimental

I loved SAS Who Dares Wins with celebs trying to cut it in the mad world of SAS training. Locksmith was one of two successful candidates and as a Rudimental fan it’s been fascinating to watch his journey. I’ll never forget the day they had to leave the stage at Glastonbury because of a lightening storm!

Podcast of the month

A newbie on the block from one of my fave facebook communities, Freelance Heroes has launched a podcast! It’s led by Ed Goodman who has also been on the Freelance Feels podcast. Listen to their first few eps here.

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Mid May Musings: Kindness in the freelance world

Hi! This is a mid-month special newsletter to mark Mental Health Awareness week.

The theme is kindness, and it’s given me plenty to think about.

To mark the week, I interviewed Chris O’Sullivan from the Mental Health foundation and it is such an interesting conversation I wanted to share some of his insight as well as a little of my own.

You see, I’m very unkind to myself as a freelancer. Self-judgemental, putting myself down. I’ve used words like useless and failure… I often berate myself for time-wasting, or not getting the to-do list done, or not posting enough on social media, for being a bit crap with spreadsheets.. the list is ENDLESS.

Do you relate to that?

But I also have a kindness barometer, I think. I am kind to myself, sometimes, and I’m not totally averse to believing in my own work or congratulating myself when something goes right! I try to return kindness when it’s been given to me. There’s a reciprocity there, for sure. I’ve also had to learn to be kinder as a freelancer. To share more, to collaborate when before I was perhaps closed off to it. I try hard to make sure I practice self-care – to be kind to my body with good food, exercise and bubble baths, too.

The idea of being kind isn’t a simple one. We can’t just be kind all the time, sharing our energy and contacts. We’d burn out. It’s something that came up with Chris.

You can listen to the full episode with Chris on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.

Kindness with client relationships

It can often feel like a client is being unkind. Well, I think so, anyway! It can feel like we’re being taken advantage of, as they ask for extra amends or work that’s outside the contract remit. Or a call that’s not in the usual working hours you agreed. Some clients have, recently, unceremoniously let freelancers go.

Some, though, have done so much more kindly. Perhaps you had a contract cancelled with the promise of renewing later this year. Or perhaps they called, rather than emailing, to say they needed to cancel the contract. A little nod to kindness like that can make all the difference as it gives a feeling of respect.

We often go over and above for a client, perhaps out of fear rather than immediate kindness. Chris revealed that he spoke to some of his freelance friends for the podcast episode, and: “One of my friends was saying that they had squeezed meetings in amongst jury duty, one stuck a smart top over their PJs to do a Skype interview for a job whilst sick,” he said.

They told him they’d done in-depth interviews whilst in bed and completed reports from a hospital bed. Chris said: “If you have the kind of razor-sharp client focus that you need to succeed as a freelancer, it's very easy to write yourself a check that you can't cash on your boundaries.”

Too right! We just keep going, don’t we? How many times have you done things for a client that aren’t on the brief? Kindness to them might, in turn, be unkindness to yourself and your own mental wellbeing. If it impacts on time you’d spend on other projects, or with family, or frankly, vegging out, is it kind? Or are they unkind for asking?!

Kindness during the coronavirus epidemic as a freelancer

It’s a real challenge to keep ‘doing your freelance’ during lockdown, Chris added. “There is a certain flexibility but there's also precarity, it can be really hard to make a good living or support a family depending on what your freelance is and what you're able to put in. Lots of people choose self employment for the flexibility, which is great, but sometimes, and obviously, increasingly, people are choosing freelance and entrepreneurial careers as a way to rebalance corporate careers or after a period of illness or after a period of change.”

Is it kind to choose self-employment, a better way of working with more flexibility? Or are those who go for it (especially those who might be choosing to do so during the pandemic and beyond), being unkind to themselves and giving themselves a huge challenge?

“I think I think if I were to go self employed, the idea of freedom would be great, but the practicality would be a real challenge. And so I doff my hat to people who are able to do that,” says Chris.

I doff my cap to you, too, and you should doff your cap to YOURSELF!

On doing favours as a freelancer – kindness doesn’t mean giving all your time for free!

One big thing which came up during my chat with Chris was the idea of confusing kindness with doing everything for other people and burning out or getting nothing back in return.

He alluded to Brené Brown and her concept of ‘Clear is kind’. You can read her blog post on it on her site brenebrown.com.

Essentially, taking those out-of-hours calls from clients, doing all the amends, perhaps an extra day’s work because they need it, isn’t kind to you. And it’s not kind to the working relationship. Instead, the kind thing to do is to be firm and say you will need to discuss terms for the extra work. I know it’s hard, as there’s a fear of losing the client or the work, but we must try to do this. It sets the tone for future discussions.

And this includes working for free! If a company is struggling right now and asks you to do work for free, the answer has to be no. You are not being kind to yourself by working for them for free. They are not being kind to you by asking. Now, more than ever, freelancers need to be paid for their work!

Chris says in the podcast: “You know, freelancers are often asked to do people favours or mates rates, pro bono work. Or a couple of hours extra, but we can't pay you for it, but it'll set you up for the future… That can quite quickly change from this idea that you're giving skills or time as an act of generosity to feeling a bit used. I really like this idea of authentic collaboration and showing vulnerability appropriately. Be altruistic if you want. If you're a broadcaster, and you could go help a community group set a podcast up. But recognise how that is fitting in with your business and don't give away your business and all the time that you have.”

How you can be kinder / Sharing the kindness as a freelancer (with balance)

Do you find it hard to share your freelance contacts and work? I often have and I still do. We get protective. But sharing can be done in a way that brings a lot of kindness and can bring kindness back onto you, too.

Chris O’Sullivan has some great advice. “You could you can go and make a recommendation on someone's LinkedIn. You can send someone a note, when you've seen that they've done a bit of work and say, ‘I really liked that piece of work, I saw your name on it’. And if it's a rival, you can you can send it to a rival and say, ‘I wish I'd got that piece of work or I bid for that piece of work, but I'm glad you got that’. I see that's a real challenge. Because then there's an element of transaction. Are they going to see that as you poking at them? You know, does it matter?”

Try responding to posts on Facebook groups more, tagging a contact or freelancer on twitter when you see a shout out. See if you can lend your skills to someone who asks in a forum.

Being kind in this way will add up, little by little. And you never know who’s going to (hopefully) be kind to you in the same way in return.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs until Friday 22nd May. To find out more, go to mentalhealth.org.uk. Chris is on Instagram @chrisosulligram and the foundation is @mentalhealthfoundation. Share your thoughts and this newsletter, if you think it’s something people will enjoy using the hashtag #KindnessMatters

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