Being a freelancer guarantees weirdness. Unpredictability is the only constant and the bizarre twists and turns of everyday life constantly squash efforts to create that ideal professional/personal balance.
How in the hell are you supposed to balance your work with the rest of your life?
Sure, writing copy so beautiful it brings tears to your eyes is mega-fun/rewarding, but so is making homemade spaghetti sauce, catching an afternoon ballgame on getaway day, dancing to the Godfather of Soul with your kid, making out with your spouse and, to a lesser extent, keeping your house somewhat tidy.
What’s the big secret to separating the wild yet wonderful world of freelancing for a living from the rest of your life?
If you want suggestions, they’re easy to find. Drawing the work/life line is constantly buzzing topic. You can find freelancers who’ll suggest setting regular hours, dressing as if you’re actually heading off to a day at the office, putting up signs to keep your family away while you work and a million other things.
You’ll hear lectures about time management, recommendations about working smarter instead of working harder and pleas to turn off your phone, computer and everything else even remotely related to your profession during the weekend.
My Failure to Divide…
Some of that stuff probably works for some people. It hasn’t worked for me. Not even close. This is my experience:
The need to run to Price Chopper for diapers can shred a well-planned schedule. A weekend free of work sounds ideal until you chop off the tip of your index finger with your favorite Wusthoff on Wednesday (just try writing anything other than “ewoek/lifer supaeratioij u s so dalmn haard” at three a.m. with a bandage on your hand).
The idea of dressing for traditional success makes me a wee bit queasy and all of the smart work in the world can’t solve for an overflowing toilet plugged with a small stuffed giraffe and three plastic Strawberry Shortcake figurines.
If you can tidily separate your work from the rest of your life and that’s what you want to do, congratulations.
I’ve given up. Completely and intentionally.
Integration vs. Separation…
I realized that I don’t really want a separation between the professional and the personal. I don’t want regular hours, a regimented schedule or a sign on the door of my basement office.
Screw separation. I want integration.
I love working for myself for a number of reasons, but the biggest weight on the scale is freedom. I spent a long time being a damn good employee who secretly hated being on the payroll because I didn’t have that freedom to do what I wanted to do how and when I wanted to do it.
The joy of freelancing isn’t just the money or the satisfaction of those occasional moments of copy perfection. For me, it’s the fact that I can do things on my terms.
After wrestling with time and experiencing a never-ending series of scheduling snafus, I realized something. I don’t wear suits for a reason.
Weddings, Russians and Realization…
Let me explain that last part about suits. A few weeks ago, we were up in Iowa for a wedding. I decided to dress appropriately. I was standing in front of the mirror, wearing a suit and marveling at just how freaking weird I looked. My wife says I look snazzy in a suit. Maybe she means it. Maybe she’s just being nice. All I know is that I think I look like someone else. I hate the damn things. I have broad enough shoulders without the jacket’s enhancement. Neckties are too silly (and phallic) for my tastes. I generally dislike shoes and hold particular animosity toward dress shoes. I dislike them on an almost visceral level. They conjure up feelings of conformity, caste and rigidity.
Unless I’m at a wedding, a funeral or taking the stand in my own defense, I really don’t want to wear a suit. I don’t like them.
Then a question occurred to me.
Why would someone who hates suits make an effort to run his business as if he’s wearing one?
In what turned out to be a happy coincidence, my websites and email accounts were serving as a playground for a few Russian hackers while I was standing in front of the mirror. When I returned home and surveyed the damage, I decided to burn things to the ground instead of repairing them and to start anew.
Authenticity and a Liberating Integration Casserole…
On a superficial level, this switch freed me to blog about things like the death of Jose Lima, my status as a victim of Exploding Head Syndrome and Kalae All Day–things I usually would’ve avoided because they didn’t match “The Brand”. It allowed me to tweet about the lapse in sanity exhibited by Royals third base coach Eddie Rodriguez last weekend and to dial back the formality of my client communication.
We talk the authenticity talk more than we walk the walk, I think. At least I did. Not any more. I’m retiring from thinking about being authentic. I’m just doing it.
That has included embracing my inability to maintain traditional, set hours and all of the other stuff that usually goes along with separating work from the rest of one’s life.
I’m not separating anything anymore. It’s all just one big crazy, gorgeous, wacky, depraved, enlightened, messy, tasty casserole. Yum.
It’s been a liberating experience. I’m bobbing between work and parenting. I’m weaving between being a husband and making a living. I’m cool with a two-hour client call on a Sunday and I’m just as happy to tell someone that I’m too busy buying diapers and freezer pops to take a call on a Wednesday afternoon.
Interestingly, this new outlook isn’t creating waves with clients. It’s allowing us to float closer to one another. It’s breaking down barriers and encouraging more human connections. It’s as if we’re all actually having fun for a change.
I’m sure someone will find this kind of authenticity worrisome. Discovering a blog post that includes a piece of Haiku about a baby kicking my ass may very well dissuade someone from doing business with me. There are traditionalists who want appreciate that sort of thing. I can accept that.
It’s a small price to pay, really. Besides, who knows how many ultra-cool people might actually like it?
An Alternative to the War of Separation…
If you’re fighting and losing a bloody war of attrition in the effort to defend or establish a dividing line between work and home, consider waving the white flag and walking away from it. It may not be the right fight. Consider integration instead of separation.
It’s okay if your peas touch your meat, folks. That’s true whether you hate shoes like me or if the idea of dressing like a corporate bigwig gives you a thrill.
At least that’s my experience.
What’s yours? Are you having a great time keeping your freelancing career and your personal life separate or do you feel like a struggle? If it is tough, do you think it’s a fight worth having? Can you imagine surrendering to overlap and to integration?
I’d love to know. I see many people writing about keeping things clearly delineated and very few, if any, advocating wholesale integration. It probably won’t change my perspective, but I’d like to know if I’m a nut-case.