June: Turning down the volume on the freelance noise
It’s not about making them quieter, more about what you choose to hear
Sitting in the garden on a sunny Sunday (the last Sunday in May), I realised something was different – there was more noise. The sound of music (not the actual film, just tunes), laughter, chatting, lawnmowers, the crackle of a barbecue and pop of a cork from a bottle. Normal summer sounds, of course, but ones I hadn’t heard for a long time at such volume, because of lockdowns.
Outside the house, the traffic on the road is noisier, the rumble of engines, whizz of bike wheels and the chatter of groups of people walking into my local town. Then, in town, more noise, from the movement of tables outside pubs and cafes to children in a nearby playground or the bark of a dog.
It’s unavoidable - living in the UK, where lockdown has been easing, life is getting noisier. While it’s strange, I don’t mind it. The signs of life coming back to the community are more than welcome. I moved to Oxfordshire from North London (I’m from Surrey, originally), during a break in the lockdowns, in August 2020, and it’s wonderful to see the town opening up, business doors flung open and pavements filled with people having drinks and catching up. It’s challenging to have two dogs in the mix as I walk the pavements or navigate the field where we walk, which was often emptier. But, on the whole, the noise means life is getting back to normal and that can be no bad thing in the long run even if it’s a challenge short-term as I adjust.
‘Real life’ noise is one thing, though. But the other place I’ve noticed more noise is online, particularly on social media. It seems to me that, lately, everyone is turning up the volume on their freelance noise. Whether it’s sharing new Reels to Instagram with the most popular tune, doing a ‘live’, dancing on TikTok or posting on LinkedIn and Facebook – the noise on my social media has gone up alongside the gardens and traffic. There’s a lot of ‘look at me!’ and ‘I’ve done THIS!’.
And it’s not so pleasant. The noise from other freelancers can feel deafening, and it’s often so loud – and so many voices at once – that it can really damage our wellbeing and mental health if we let it. We might not be prone to comparing ourselves to someone, but the more they shout, the more we end up hearing them, and then the comparison begins.
Lately, I’ve found that I’ve been distracted so much by other people’s noise, that I’ve veered from my own to-do list or path, wondering if I should be doing more of what they’re doing. One person’s noise has made me question my entire business plan, while another’s has made me wonder if my podcast is any good! I sit, scrolling, letting the volume get louder and louder, as if the scroll itself is a volume button with no limit.
But, hold on. It’s not their noise, or them that’s made me think or feel those things. Arguably, it’s me. As freelancers, we choose to listen to their noise, and we choose what volume we have it turned up at. So I am striving not to silence them, or turn down their noise, but to turn down the volume at which I listen to it.
With freelancing in mind, this is so I can try and focus on what I’m planning, making my own way and doing my own thing. Is that putting myself in a bubble? I did wonder if it was. I’m also aware that I make my own noise which might, in turn, bother other people or cause them to veer off their path. There are the corks popping in my own garden, my own music on the stereo with the window open. My car driving down the road, my dogs barking (Roger!).
The idea of my freelance noise upsetting someone bothered me because I would hate to think I’d caused that. It’s a fine line between making enough noise to build a business and keep your own goals in focus, and not shout so loud you become like a giant foghorn, in everyone else’s faces.
So, how to find balance? For me, turning down the noise from other people starts with how much I listen to it, at any volume. That is to say, ‘tuning in’ to their frequency by following them on social media, specifically on the ‘stories’ part of Instagram. Stories is often where people shout louder, it’s more of a running commentary on their lives and, if social is a showreel, Instagram is the outtakes, script, and promo material.
Secondly, I am reminding myself that people only shout about the good things. It’s easy to forget that. Someone might be up to their highest volume both on their dial and yours, about a project, some kind of win, or a challenge – but in reality, there are a lot of other things they’re not shouting so loudly about. We never seem to shout loud about the failures, or the upsets, do we? I guess that’s social media, in many ways.
Third up is choosing which ‘stations’ you listen to. If other people are radio stations on a dial, or in your digital radio, you can programme which ones you listen to as priority. Setting your ‘alarm clock’ to someone’s noise about their business could really wake you up into a bad mood. If you are going to listen in, make sure you listen in on your terms – when you’re open to hearing what they have to say. Choose the stations that work for you, and if they don’t suit you, tune into others. Follow new people, make connections with people who make the right noise that’s music to your ears.
The only true way to turn down the volume you hear other freelancers at, though, is to turn off the stream of sound. Take a break from social media, or the places you hear from other freelancers. Is that the advice I’d give you? It’s very personal – I do think a break is important, as well as choosing when you listen. I enjoy social media and like spending my time on there, in general. I see it as a good tool for business and I enjoy seeing other freelancers thrive. But there is an argument for only checking at certain times, and always coming back to that knowledge that people are only shouting louder about the things they really want you to hear. Remind yourself that the one shout they’ve done that deafens you could be the only thing they’ve said in their otherwise rather silent day.
READ, LISTEN, SUBSCRIBE
Listen: This week my guest on the podcast was chef, pub owner, author and presenter Tom Kerridge on the Freelance Feels podcast. He was so entertaining, honest and fun to talk to and I’ll always be so chuffed he made the time to speak to me. A longer piece with some quotes from him will go live on the Freelance Feels blog this month.
Subscribe: Two for you this month! I appeared with both these ladies on a panel in May, so I’m sharing both their newsletters
1) Rachael Davies runs Failing Publicly, all about her ‘freelance fails’ as a journalist.
2) Mixed Messages is a ‘weekly newsletter all about the mixed-race experience’ with interviews by Isabella Silvers.
Some upcoming things from me… (said at the end in a quiet voice, not too shouty!)
My one-day workshop for coaches who want to know journalist tips, and work on press coverage that suits their coaching business and niche still has places left for June 11. There are 30 listed on Eventbrite because some have booked with me directly - if you do so you can have 10% off the price! (It’s £350).
I’m a guest speaker on diversifying your freelance career for IPSE’s National Freelancers Day on June 17
Going Freelance with Confidence runs on July 10 at City, University of London
If you’ve enjoyed this newsletter please do share, and tag me if you’d like (@freelance_feels). If you enjoy the podcast, please rate and review it!