The Human Freelancer

Happy and honest self-employment for conscientious newcomers

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Disclaimer: These ongoing posts about how I’m trying to recapture my passion for freelancing are all written after I’ve done or discovered something. It’s pretty hard to write about a process when you’re in the midst of it and don’t know what the results will be. So what I’ve been doing is experimenting, reflecting then willing myself to write about it afterwards.

Our story begins with the realisation that I’ve lost my mojo. By that I mean my meaning, my purpose – the why that drives me to write, or do and make things, that contribute something to society. I lost this in my basement somewhere and knew I had to rediscover it again.

How come? Well that all began when I reasoned that some psychotherapeutic might help. Friends had tried it and it’d helped them come to terms with those little niggles we all pick up along the way. It felt like a sensible thing to do. So while I searched for the right therapist to deal with my shit, I picked up a few books recommended, incidentally, by friends.

The first book was Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life. Like many books that promise to have all the answers, it didn’t quite live up to the hype. It didn’t really reveal any secret, nor did it advise on how to find your Ikigai. What it did do was underline the importance of finding your meaning, and making that intersect with what you do for a living and what society needs. It then gleefully glosses over any subsequent mention or exploration of that premise.

However, what it did do was mention, albeit briefly, something called logotherapy. This is a kind of psychoanalysis that focuses on finding meaning, it says that if you get that, you can put up with any kind of suffering. This pointed me in the direction of getting a specific kind of help, so I sought out a local logotherapist and tried a few sessions.

Another false start, I’m afraid. Or was it?

I was under the impression that therapy alone would reveal all the answers. What it actually did was signpost me to the next step of the (what is turning out to be a) journey. And the next stop was the philosophy of Viktor Frankl, encapsulated in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.

I read this book, along with a couple of his essays and thought-pieces shared by the lady therapist. In it I discovered some new ways of thinking – new values I suppose, or more specifically shortcomings in the ones which clearly weren’t working very well for me anymore. I realised that there are other ways of looking at things, and that my way of thinking was perhaps a bit too black and white (unusually, for an irreverent Yorkshireman).

I’ll do a separate post on these useful observations of Herr Frankl another time, though I will post a couple here to illustrate a point. Firstly, that work is just one way to reach a mission in life, it’s not what you do but how you do it that makes work more meaningful. More importantly: that no one occupation is the sole road to salvation.

That’s when I realised you don’t have a meaning. It isn’t single and steadfast. It can evolve and manifest itself in myriad ways. Here’s another stand-out quote:

“The personal and specific elements which constitute the uniqueness of our nature need to be expressed through our work to make life more meaningful.”

By this point it was obvious what I need to do. I must stop being so philosophical, occasionally scrutinising these mental values in the same old ways. I had to ascertain what Vik’s ‘personal and specific elements’ were: what makes you tick.

The main reason why I haven’t done this ‘properly’ yet is because the sort of analysis feels self-indulgent, selfish and a surefire route to misery. They say that putting yourself under the microscope always ends in depression. And that’s true, if you’re being critical of your behaviour and holding yourself to some unattainable standards. But if you’re just challenging yourself, getting to know yourself better like you would a new friend, than I supposed that that’s OK.

So I gave it a chance.

Now we move on to the actual exercises. I’ve never tried this before. It always felt sufficient to do it all in my head. But, as with writing, getting it out on the page manifests things into reality.

Five exercises I worked through (during a nice sunny holiday in France, which made them all the more enjoyable) were:

  1. Imagine you’re 109 years old, looking back on your life. Everything went well. What did you imagine? Now you come back as a time traveller to give advice to you now. What would you tell yourself (to do)? Finally, what are the top 3 things you need to act on.
  2. Write 10 defining personal stories of either when you felt fulfilled and happy, or lost and low. Write brief outlines, then go through and underline any recurrent themes (these could be events, people, activities, responses, feelings).
  3. Design your perfect day. What would it look like, what would you do and why?
  4. Similar to 3. Write a list of activities that put you in a ‘flow state’ where you lose track of time and yourself – things you’d do regardless of whether you get paid or not. What are the common themes?
  5. Draft your ‘Why statement’ in the format of ‘To X so that Y’ where X is your contribution (e.g. to the lives of others) and Y is the impact of that contribution (e.g. so they can live happier lives)

Doing these, I realised that which exercises you choose isn’t important, nor is the output (there’s no right answer). They all do roughly the same thing. They’re just vehicles to get you focused and thinking – getting you in the mood, setting you on a course of discovery – the process of hunting for wherever the answers might be. It’s a cumulative process of making your values real, examining them, and letting your creativity do the rest. It gets you thinking and tunes you in.

This was my next revelation: the search for meaning is the enjoyable bit (not necessarily finding the right meaning in itself). By that I mean the process of self-development, experimenting and putting your suspicions to the test by getting out there. This alone has already lifted my mood.

What came out of these exercises was the realisation that putting other people first – serving them with your talents is a fundamental ingredient for fulfilment. Just look at Action for Happiness’ 10 key steps. I drafted Why statements over and over again, playing with words along similar lines (for me that’s about fixing things, finding useful/practical solutions). I knew I was along the right tracks because I felt excited. I felt like I was making peace with the compulsions inside myself, giving them something to focus on; expression. I know it’s not right but I’m going to run with it and see what happens, modify, update then report back.

Where we leave this post is at another deciding what next junction.

It feels like next logical steps are to:

  • Look closer at my life story and experiences – figure out how that’s valuable
  • Think about how to communicate that value to others – finding work
  • Come up with some aspirations of the kind of people I’d like to help – again based on my experience and interests
  • Set some life goals – this makes my piss boil but people do it so it must work, time to swallow my pride
  • Rebalance what I’m already doing so they’re focused on my Why – like copywriting

Meanwhile, I’m bearing in mind that this is still an ongoing experiment.

I’m also mindful of what old Viktor said earlier – that purpose has many different manifestations and applications. There isn’t just one occupation I should be aiming for. There’s no right answer. What we’re looking for is where I can manifest my Why and get the conditions just right, so I’m pressing as many of my buttons as possible, yet in the service of others – all the time experimenting and enjoying the process of it evolving.

It seems to me that all these things I’m learning aren’t really answers, they’re just signposts to the next juncture – be that an experiment, an exercises, a setback or a victory. That in itself is what’s making this enjoyable and not an entirely self-indulgent bit of naval-gazing.

I’ll report back soon.


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