You'd think that after a decade of being an independent income-earner I would have already gotten rid of old corporate habits, mindsets, and reactions. But then I have been employed for much longer than I have been independent so it will take some time to completely wash them out of my system.
The good thing is, I am much clearer now on the details of it. Before it was just a hazy idea of an ideal. Now I actually have the practical empirical data gathered from the past years.
When I left my job more than a decade ago, one of my goals was to have more time for things other than work. I was never a traditionally ambitious career person. While I valued the paycheck that came with an elevation of role or title, I still ended up wanting more than the material benefits. I wanted time to rest. I wanted to have time of my own that was not always somehow linked to being on the lookout for things that could benefit my work -- being in advertising meant being on 24/7 because one has to be always in the know and keeping up with the market. It was exhausting on so many levels. Add to that the fact that there were clients who expected you to "live" their brand. It's the kind of work that never really leaves you even after you clock out (10-12 hours a day average). Essentially I lost myself and I wanted myself back. I wanted to see and live from my own perspective instead of a brand perspective. I want to be able to personally enjoy and endorse products and companies I actually love. I wanted a life that was not defined and dictated by my job because that was how it had become.
In the first three years of being independent, I burned out just like when I was employed. There were two important things I realized then:
1) I didn't have to work like I was still employed. I can change how I work and still provide good service to my clients. I had to change my core habits and system if I actually wanted to significantly improve my life as an independent income-earner.
2) The dayjob that I continued doing was not what I actually wanted to do for the rest of my life. Yes, I was independent and could have the luxury of some decisions and choices BUT it was the same old job and I realized I was no longer happy in it. This was around the time I was rediscovering my art and creativity. My insomnia, anxiety, and panic attacks developed and my stress tolerance for the dayjob decreased which resulted in my getting physically sick more often than usual.
I used to work up to 16 hours a day. Weekends were not spared when the project was urgent and it always was. I was mostly afraid so I took jobs even if my gut told me to reconsider. I went a lot of extra miles to please clients. I was also a bit of a perfectionist as I felt I had a reputation to protect and to promote. I kept telling myself, just this once, just this once, except the once became countless. I had a lot of denial of how I was really feeling and told myself my feelings were wrong.
Hence the years after those epiphanies were essentially a long process of reconciling the realities of my life with what I want it to be. Guilt and old conditioning caused me much pain. I shifted my whole lifestyle, endured losses, made very tough choices. But at the same time, I came across allies and new friends, and even new clients. I also reconnected with certain old friends in new contexts. I compromised. I negotiated. I won a few, I lost a lot. E v e r y t h i n g c h a n g e d.
Fast forward to now.
This is how I have been reshaping my daily life:
I have reclaimed Mondays and Wednesdays. So essentially I only have three weekdays that are fully open for sideline work. If there is no sideline then the days immediately become studio days. Mondays become un-dreaded days and they are for everything that always gets pushed aside and deprioritized during the week -- whether it be chores, rest, or more studio time. I have made Sundays as sacred rest days again. Saturdays are the active rest days and errand days. Wednesdays are mid-week pauses and also replenishing the link to the forest.
I still do some sideline tasks on Mondays and Wednesdays as needed but no meetings, and I only work the minimum hours (4-6).
I've finally fixed my professional rates because I now realize that I deserve to be compensated well for my years of experience and unique skills. Hence I do not need to work so many long hours just to meet a target paycheck.
I've loosened up on perfectionism. Why punish me on something I would rather not do in the first place if it were possible? I retrained myself instead to hone my skill in delivering excellent output with just the right amount of energy and effort.
So I am working with fewer hours -- a maximum of 8 if it can't be helped but the norm is 4-6 a day. I have been coming up with process tweaks to simplify tasks. Most importantly I recently discovered the huge significance of working with my own flow.
Early mornings are my most productive so I put heavy tasks there. Most results with minimum exertion. In the afternoon I can only do up to 3 hours before working becomes a waste of resources. No evening work at all. I stop working before the sun begins to set.
I like having energy left in the evenings for, you know, the rest of my life.
I struggled with these changes because deep-seated programming says it's wrong and that I'm not "doing my best" or "hustling" enough. (I HATE the word hustle, by the way.) But I weaned myself from the comfort zone of busyness as a means to prove my worth and justify my pay.
I took chances at changing the kinds of jobs I accept so they can fit with the schedule that's best for both of us and so I can provide a sincere service too. In the process I learned to recognize my own skills and strengths and gained the confidence to explore and accept jobs that I would normally not even consider. I let go of the ideals in my head because I told myself this is not my career path anymore. Art is now the center of things and these sidelines are support. A drastic significant shift in perspective and values. It's a scary position to take a stand in because everything around me counters it. I am risking so much and yet I still do it and stand my ground. I still hear the nagging in my head that I should do better and do as others do. Sometimes they keep me up at night for many long nights.
But then I get up in the morning, and the sky tells me it's going to be alright.