Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Living today, one eye on tomorrow

One of the things about being a freelancer is that it's a life is that trades off stability and certainty for flexibility and independence. Not many salaried people get to just take 6 weeks off over summer to spend with their kids and recharge their batteries - but I could, because I ruled off my job book and didn't take on new projects in that time. Not many salaried people, working fulltime or close to fulltime hours, get to be there for school and kinder pick up almost every day, and fit in short daytime volunteering tasks at school, kinder and in the community, but I do - I can opt to use an hour at midday doing these things and just pick up the time later in the evening. All of this is great and lovely, and one of the primary attractions for me of contracting.

However, the flipside is that as a freelancer, your income and work-life pattern is only as good as the next job - and you never really know when, or what, the next job will be. (And many freelancers, myself included, suffer from the conviction that every job you get will be THE LAST JOB EVAH, despite any evidence to the contrary). If you are, like me, a sole trader, without business partners to push work out to, and with many family responsibilities, this is also complicated by the fact that you need to be careful not to take on too much at any given time, otherwise you are at risk of not delivering (which is very bad) or really burning out (a fate I escaped by a whisker last year, in fact). So while you need to start thinking about the next job/s while completing the current job/s, it's also important not to jump too early and start quoting or or accepting work while heavy-duty projects are still in full swing, especially very time sensitive ones.

It's a fiendish balance to try and strike - keeping one hand in tomorrow while still giving today all of your energy - and I think it's the freelancing skill that is coming hardest to me. I have quoting, reporting, liaison, project managing, billing and delivery fairly well sorted now, but I still struggle to intuit the right moment to start looking for, or saying yes to, new work. I have to keep reminding myself to build in not just my work commitments but periods of peak demand with family things (ie C's 4th birthday is coming up later this month, and the time required for party planning, food preparation and logistics has to be factored into my calculations about available working time).

On the other hand, I think it's good for me in a lot of ways. I am such a risk averse person - cautious +++, as one of my high school teachers fairly described me once - and the absence of certainty about my work future past the end of my current booked jobs in early May is both challenging me and also growing my capacity to deal equably with change, risk and variation. Learning to cast my line into tomorrow without knowing what I'm going to catch is quite invigorating, and teaches me skills I can use in the chaotic system that is family life (where every day is a box of chocolates ... you never know what you're gonna get).

It's funny - I never expected to embrace uncertainty, but here I am, pointing it sunny side up, as I continue in my freelancing life.

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