Why I freelance: working to live, not living to work

Not losing sight of the flexible lifestyle that led me into independent work in the first place.

A year ago today (according to my Facebook Memories) I was aboard a cruise ship with my family, spending a week sailing around the glorious warm seas of the Western Caribbean to celebrate my mom’s birthday. I enjoy the absurdity of cruises: a giant hotel on the water bringing you from place to place with thousands of your new closest friends, all while forcing you to disconnect from your land life by rendering your phone data all but obsolete.

The photo of the computer above was taken on the very same cruise, sitting in one of the lunchtime cafés. I had purchased the highest-level internet plan, and was currently sitting on that ship in the middle of the ocean, indoors, alone, working on perfecting the design for a client project.

This sounds like the start of a tale lamenting a lack of work/life balance, but it’s not. In fact, I consider it to be quite the opposite. I knew my cruise had a reasonable amount of downtime, and that I tend to be a restless person when I can’t be productive. All of my clients had been notified that I would be unreachable for a week, so no new requests were coming in. While my family was off napping, or playing Bingo, or something else I had no interest in doing, I spent a couple hours here and there solving some interesting CSS problems while enjoying live music and people watching. I had already purchased an internet plan because I wanted to keep in touch with people and post updates to my social networks, so I figured I might as well use it for a little paying work. When it came time to do something fun at one of the ports, my computer was back in my room without a second thought.

It wasn’t always like this, of course. I spent the first few years of my freelance career hunched over my screen, burning the midnight oil with constant work, and putting the needs of my health at a far distant second to building my new business. I think this is something that every new entrepreneur goes through as they try to get their work off the ground, but one thing I noticed as I met more and more people in the industry is that many of us never leave this hustle mentality. We become so consumed in collecting markers of success that we never stop to reprioritize ourselves.

I started seeing my friends who had begun their entrepreneurial endeavors long before me start to suffer the health consequences of their actions, and I realized I was getting there too. The long hours and bad posture, combined with weak structural muscles from lack of exercise, exacerbated the chronic wrist and back issues developing from overuse. My body was less able to tolerate the low-nutrient, high-junk diet I’d been feeding it, and I started feeling sluggish and fatigued from constant low-quality fuel and lack of sleep. I realized I was at a crossroads, and I was either going to end up like my friends, or need to make a drastic change.

Going on this health and fitness journey has really served to reinforce the reasons why I started working for myself in the first place. When I left full-time work to pursue my own career a decade ago, my primary motivator wasn’t necessarily money or growth, but the ability to be able to live my life on my own flexible terms. And one of the most important parts of that is the ability to prioritize movement, nourishing food, and even sleep!

There is always an ebb and flow to independent work. Sometimes deadlines and obligations mean that client projects will take priority. But, because flexibility is my guiding mantra, these times will always be temporary as I work to get back to a balanced life. And I’ve developed enough good habits to find small ways to fit healthy decisions into a chaotic schedule. Reminding myself of this philosophy enables me to set boundaries even on the busiest days.

I’d love to hear about your freelance philosophy – why did you want to decide to work for yourself, and how do your daily choices reflect that?

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