If you’re not a big fan of human happiness, putting yourself in a state of prolonged subjugation is the best way to go about avoiding it.
By subjugation I mean modern slavery; not the being locked in a basement fed on a strict diet of faecal matter kind of slavery. I mean being hostage to employers, debt, work and all other modern vices people seem desperate to crush their tits and balls in, for most of their miserable lives.
Signing away too much of your time to other people can breed simmering resentment, helpless apathy and a general malcontent that isn’t quite painful enough to act urgently on, yet is just enough to stifle our everyday joy. Some call it Monday mornings, you’ll also hear it as ubiquitous workplace grumbles about other places we’d rather be, other times it manifests as the tragic elation before an expensive week in the sun.
Why are you so bitter Chris?
I write this after a prolonged period of working solidly for a long-standing client. Seven years ago I’d have fisted my own windpipe for the security of a retainer and a steady stream of work, so I am grateful for a retainer.
Yet this time I’ve fucked up and overtipped the balance; right now freelancing’s practically a part-time job.
That in itself is only half of the problem though.
The other, possibly more significant, part of the problem is I’ve sacrificed variety for security in what I spend a large chunk of my time doing, professionally. Routine, consistency, predictability like this works for well some people – but not the free-thinking freelancers we know ourselves to be.
Bordering on drone territory
So, with those two factors combined, you have got the perfect ingredients for a shit-packed bake-off. It wouldn’t be so bad if it were for a month or two. As things stand, I’ve just passed 12.
The net effect is a situation like mine, which smothers creativity, and other priorities soon suffer too – like your wellbeing and your personal projects. I don’t believe it’s healthy to make other people’s priorities number one most of the time.
The addition of money means you feel doubly beholden to clients, like you can’t let them down, because they’ve bought your undivided attention.
I’ve enthused about the Human Givens approach to mental wellbeing before. It’s founded on the premise that people get sad and depressed when they aren’t getting what they need. We’re not talking objects here, we’re talking psychological buttons that need pressing to keep us content.
That’s the underlying psychological issue you risk running into, if you over sell-out – like I have a bit. It seems we can only sustain meaningful commitment to work on behalf of someone else for short period before discontentment sets in.
That’s why standalone, pick-up-and-put-down freelance projects for different clients who come and go, feel more manageable, and thus are better for our health.
That’s the problem nailed: now what?
I’m reluctant to let a client down – which human freelancer isn’t? So I suspect the solution lies in rectifying that imbalance I mentioned earlier.
To fix this, I’ve vowed to allot bit of time each week to myself. Nothing heavy, just a few flexible hours to pursue my own goals – during the productive hours of the day which you’d usually reserve for client work.
Before you accuse me of undermining everything I spout in The Human Freelancer book, I already do this for things like exercise and finishing early to toss it off. The distinction here is using my talents for my own ends, rather than someone else’s.
That isn’t happening enough. Most freelancers will tell you the same too.
It’s as if when you expend your creative energy on work for other people, using a particular ability, you have little left for your own activities in the same ilk. With me it’d be writing – that’s how I relate to the world. You’ll know what yours is.
So I’m writing little stories from my youth that I’ve carried around for years. Tackling that is satisfying in itself because they’ve become a bit of a burden.
Doing it during the most productive part of the week plays to that awkward streak that flashes through every independent-minded freelancer too. Writing my own stuff, when the system says I should subjugate myself to others for money, is an act of protest.
It feels like it’s helping too.
Now, like how I handle client projects, this demands discipline and commitment to keep it up.
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