I’ve been living the freelance lifestyle for well over a decade. Sometimes, from the outside looking in, it may seem like I have everything in perfect balance. But sometimes things go “off track,” and I have to work on getting my life back into order.
This time last year, I was thoroughly miserable – and as proof that money doesn’t buy happiness, it was a time when I had plenty of it in the bank. I’d just enjoyed a lavish Christmas and showered my young son and various other family members with generous gifts.
In truth, I was spending for two rather messed-up reasons. The first was that my work / life balance had gone to shit, and I was trying to cheer myself up; The second, which was of far greater concern, was because I was feeling guilty for not spending enough time with my son because I was frequently away on work trips. When I wasn’t away I was often shut away upstairs working, or glued to my phone dealing with work-related Slack messages in the evening.
I’m glad to say that, since then, I’ve got my freelance lifestyle into far better balance. (My bank balance, on the other hand, is slightly less healthy, but that’s another story which will become clear as you read on!)
A couple of months ago, I was reminded of how much I’d let things slide in terms of my personal priorities, when I saw a status I’d posted to Facebook:
After posting this, it took me another three months of agonising before I made the changes I needed to make. (I discuss this further in one of the first articles I ever wrote for this site).
The changes I made were pretty drastic. The reason my freelance lifestyle had slipped so far from my original vision was that I’d ended up selling far too much of my time to one client. It was entirely my own fault for allowing this to happen, but it’s easily done when you’re caught up in the day-to-day work and the money keeps coming. But I was ending far too many days feeling unhappy – not to mention starkly aware of how quickly my son’s “toddler years” were drifting away.
I’d also forgotten a golden rule of freelancing, which is never to put too many eggs in one basket.
One strong argument plenty of people have against taking up the freelance lifestyle is that it’s unstable and financially risky. I actually disagree with this in a fundamental way. If you have six clients, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll lose all of them at once. If you have one job and can lose that, that seems rather more precarious to me.
However, if you work freelance and rely on one client for too much of your income, that puts you in a very risky place – and one I’ve fallen foul of before. The thing is, you don’t have to do something wrong to lose a client. I once lost a huge proportion of my income because my main client was successful enough to be bought out by a larger company who didn’t need IT services. Nothing lasts forever.
Anyway, I digress. I resolved to get back to the freelance lifestyle I initially intended, which required me to step away from the majority of work I was doing for that client, and also step away from the guaranteed income.
It was a big and scary step – perhaps even one that more “traditional” readers may view as slightly irresponsible, but I did it. And I’m glad to say that I don’t regret a thing. Sure, I’ve had my fair share of wobbles and the occasional “existential crisis” when business slows down – but I’m back to having business and income coming from multiple directions. Perhaps most importantly, I have back the freedom and excitement of the freelance hustle which, at least most of the time, makes my working days something to look forward to instead of something to dread.
I didn’t really allow myself to realise that my bold/risky plan had worked out until several months later, when I had a chat with an old friend on the phone. I’d seen him that Christmas and had a good rant about my compromised work / life balance. I told him how I now played with my son every evening, made a home-cooked meal several times a week, and how I’d started eBaying some of the clutter I’d accumulated during my “retail therapy” phase!
What I didn’t talk about was money, even though I was earning less and needing to spend more carefully. Of all the adjustments I made, this was a surprisingly easy one (although I can’t deny that in terms of preparing for any kind of retirement, I probably put myself back a good couple of years!)
Sometimes you don’t fully recognise how embedded you’ve become in a situation until you escape from it, and I can’t now believe I’d somehow slipped into feeling comfortable with giving my son overpriced gifts from airports instead of my time and attention. I’m so incredibly grateful I made the changes when I did, because children are only pre-school-age once! You don’t get the option of reliving those years when it’s more convenient.
My Current Freelance Lifestyle
If you want to know the true meaning of panic, imagine how it feels to make a monumental life decision like the one described above, only to discover a few weeks later that you have another child on the way.
Well that’s what happened!
Suddenly my resolve crumbled, along with some of the plans I’d made for my newly revamped freelance lifestyle. But, determined not to roll back my intentions (and with considerable moral support from my wife and others) I ploughed on.
I did have to tweak my plans a little bit; I’d hoped to free up enough time to work fairly solidly on this website, but had to accept that I’d need to balance things rather more in favour of client work that I’d be paid for!
As things stand at the moment, our beautiful new baby is less than three weeks old 🙂 Thanks to considerable planning, my wife, despite also being freelance, has been able to take something close to proper “maternity” leave, with me helping do the work required by her clients.
While there are inevitably some days when I can’t “be Power Rangers(!)” with my son the second he walks through the door after nursery, I’ve been able to share the “school runs,” do the cooking and some other chores, and – most importantly – fit work around my life instead of fitting life around my work.
My freelance lifestyle means that there was never any question of me missing my son’s Christmas carol concert. It meant that there was never any need to explain myself to anyone when a combination of flu, a sickness bug and adjusting to having a new baby in the house last week meant that I was both working and sleeping at some seriously unusual times.
This makes me realise just how much of this freelance lifestyle stuff is so many worlds apart from what I always call “working for the man.” Nowadays, I actually find it hard to relate when friends tell me they have to “check” if they can get a certain day off. I can’t imagine not being able to drop everything without any permission – for any reason from a child being unexpectedly home from nursery due to illness, to an unexpected trip to the pub because a friend happens to be passing through!
HomeWorkingClub has never been a website intended to help anyone get really rich, although plenty of freelancers do very well for themselves. For me, the freelance lifestyle is about being rich in ways that go far beyond the financial.
When I was getting the balance all wrong a year ago, my evening meal was often a hastily-ordered and expensive takeaway. Now it’s more likely to be something made in the kitchen from economical ingredients, while my son buzzes around my legs or grabs me to show me the latest thing he’s seen his baby brother do!
I’m not going to pretend that every day is stress free, because that would be nonsense. Nor would I try to claim we don’t have days that still end with a hastily-ordered takeaway – because that would be utter nonsense! But I have moved myself a LOT closer to the freelance lifestyle I had in mind over ten years ago when I started working for myself.
The key thing – and the point of this article – is that money really isn’t what we always need to work for.
The Monday just gone was apparently “blue Monday,” said to be the most depressing day of the year. I felt pretty low at the start of this week to be frank; I was ground down a little by the sleep-deprived realities of being a dad for the second time, only just starting to recover from a run-in with the flu, and going through the inevitable January panic that always happens when clients take a little longer to start sending you work than you expect them to!
So I went for a walk. One that ended at my first son’s nursery as he finished there for the day. He ran and flung his arms around me as he does every time I pick him up, and his happy chattering all the way home made it all-but-impossible not to shake off my January gloom.
Looking back to how I felt this time last year, there’s no amount of money I’d accept from any client that prevented me being able to enjoy those moments. That, to me, is what the freelance lifestyle is about, and this site exists so I can help more people move towards it.
To find out more about the moment I decided to change my freelance life beyond recognition, read this article, which was written at the time!