There’s a certain happiness you can only get through acceptance. Accepting the things that have happened, the people as they are, the moments that have created your life – all these things help us feel less stuck and overwhelmed.

As a working freelancer, it becomes tougher over time to be a happier creative. Money and income goals take precedence. Making sure you have enough money to survive and then thrive (or continue to survive as it may be for some) becomes all-encompassing.

Add the clients, the contradictions, the wondering about the bits of the job you never considered, like the marketing, accounting, admin, debt collection and client management. Then the businesses, startups and fellow freelancers who keep thumping you with information on how to do it all better, faster, leaner, and be like them.

At times, it can be positively bamboozling.

When thinking of happiness as a creative, think of it as that moment where you feel connected, joyful, open to the creativity. That moment when flow flies through the window and sits like a blue feathered robin upon your desk, watching, waiting for the words to come down and nourish them.

There comes a time where acceptance needs to be a part of the equation. Here are some things you need to accept to be a happier creative

Everyone has an opinion. Most are subjective

Part of the not-knowing in freelancing is that we try to figure out what to do next a lot. It is draining and fatiguing. It becomes attractive to reduce all that heavy decision making and self-direction by outsourcing it. And you can find places, blogs, people, coaches and many others that will help share their experience of the freelance journey.

And that’s where the problem lies.

Opinions on freelancing are influenced by:

·       Personal experience (not objectivity)

·       A vested interest in you buying what they are selling

·       Bias (everything from gender to experience of wealth, privilege, and money)

·       Circumstantial evidence (that may or may not be applicable)

·       Frustrations, judgements, and desires 

A little selectivity and discernment goes a long way when receiving advice from your fellow freelancers.

Perfectionism isn’t that healthy

A lot of freelancers shape their entire freelance identity around perfection. And it usually brings about their downfall in the end.

Such a bold claim isn’t made in isolation. Despite the utopia status given to perfection in life and creativity, it’s actually a sign that you’re engaged in:

·       All-or-nothing thinking

·       Stuck on unrelenting standards

·       Consumed with a fear of failure

·       Self-judgement and criticism

That plus the pain of perfectionism increases and is potentially unbearable over time makes perfectionism much less of a benefit than the PR campaign discusses. It also makes you a lot harder to create and work with.

Consider the following questions:

a)       Do I use projects, feedback, and excellence as proof of external validation?

b)       Have I convinced myself failure is not an option? Is that relationship with failure stopping me from creating, experimenting, learning, and/or developing new things?

c)       Am I demanding perfection from myself and others because I want to raise us up? OR is it because I need to feel superior to feel better about myself?

d)       Have I got ideas and projects I am scared to try because I am worried what other freelancers will say? Where is that fear coming from?

The key here is understanding the difference between striving for excellence and being caught in a maladaptive coping strategy. And giving yourself, and the other people around you, more compassion as you create!

The work is a magic pudding

Freelancing is the magic pudding. You think you’ve finished a slice and then another slice appears.

There’s always more to do. On client projects, acquiring clients, our marketing and self-promotion, on the blog, with opportunities, learning new techniques, tweaking your SEO, changing something on your website, trying new things, the latest software, what group to be a part of, the place to be, the work in the week – everything.

The thirst for freelance underlying “this is what I should do” is never-ending.

Happier creatives though have worked out that while the responsibilities and the obligations are endless, we have the power to call a halt to them.

Freelancers need to develop ways of making sure that the work isn’t all-consuming. That can look like:

·       Taking a break after delivering a major project to refresh, work on creative projects, tidy up after the long haul, or have a holiday

·       Exercising the art of finishing through putting breaks and holidays in the calendar first and using them as artificial completion deadlines for everything

·       Refusing to look at the emails and computer after hours and on weekends

·       Using accountability partners to keep not only your creative production in check, but also make sure you are working in balance with self-care

·       Booking in seasonal reviews of your freelance business

·       Big batch scheduling of social media, self-promotion, and marketing

·       Committing to incremental progress per day (like this blog with accounting) only using it with marketing, administration, community management or client communication

·       Working on your boundaries and remembering no is a complete sentence 

Workaholism isn’t dedication

Like most addictions, workaholism is a compulsion, one that can take over your health, mental health, relationships, and life if you let it. Unlike most addictions, workaholism is socially acceptable. It’s also glorified by hustle culture and capitalism.

But like smoking, cocaine use, prescription medication, and drinking before it, people realise that workaholism is poison in pretty marketing wrappers.

Workaholism is defined by:

·       Spending time that’s meant for other activities consumed with thoughts of and/or engaging with, work-related activities

·       Working beyond your economic requirements or pay off

·       Over-investing your self-worth and value in your work

It often feels as though work and the production of work will somehow radically alter your current fortunes. You’ll feel happier, gain more control, find a financial nirvana, and climb to the pinnacle of some summit that makes it all worth it.

But no matter how hard the workaholic works, the thirst for more achievement, more application, more inventiveness, more production is inescapable. The freelance workaholic becomes consumed with marketing, launching, meeting client demands, and defining themselves in terms of money, visibility, production, client praise, and prestige.

Under capitalism, this looks like a go-getter attitude. It has the hallmarks of dedication and tenacity. But usually, it’s someone who feels incomplete on the inside and fills a gaping, insatiable hole with more and more work. And the problems mount when burnout becomes a feature as the mistakes creep in, the clients sense the attitude is a little off, and every problem, every change, every obstacle, feels like a boulder on an already rickety road. Because of a lowered window of tolerance and no time away from obligation, the norm becomes depleted petrol in the tank. It becomes a hamster wheel of endeavour, circling not the dizzying heights of achievement, but the unseen swirling of an emotional drain.

Breaking up with workaholism means:

·       Understanding what is behind the desire for this external validation

·       Digging deep at problems and triggers to find out where they originate

·       Greeting yourself with self-compassion and with a focus on reconnecting with yourself

·       Looking to other sources for feelings of support and connection

·       Developing strategies to balance priorities – at work – and work in concert with other aspects of living

·       Beneficial lifestyle and hobby changes that lead to well-balanced creativity

·       Addressing triggers and traumas related to childhood achievement and parental expectations of excellence

And challenging the rhetoric that we are what we do in large and small ways to find happiness outside our ability to be productive.  If you need help breaking up with workaholism, a counsellor or psychologist is your best bet. 

You suck at time estimation

Time estimation is a major issue for freelancers. It affects our ability to scope out projects. It means we routinely underestimate how long a task will take us. It also means we’re often spilling across our own timetables and creating a domino effect with our client projects.

Throw in the client’s inability to keep to a schedule and their knack for underestimating time, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

Once we accept that we’re really bad at judging time, it becomes easier to manage it effectively.

Happier creatives tend to:

·       Give them some wiggle room in their schedule for projects and tasks that might go over time

·       Include timelines and go-no-go dates within their project planning and scoping

·       Aren’t afraid to explain the difference between the best- and worst-case scenario for the project timeline

·       Use data smarter and track how long it takes to complete tasks to build better estimates 

·       Recognise the clients benefit from accountability. Which means leaning in on transparency through timelines and deadlines

·       Leaning in on client management. Use a carrot and stick model to keep clients more accountable with time dependent tasks like providing assets, paying deposits, and project delivery

Always remember: no matter how much time you leave, you’ll always underestimate somewhere. So, plan accordingly.

Other creatives won’t like you

There will be moments when you find a creative tribe. There will be moments when you’re better off working solo. And there will be other freelance creatives who, no matter what you say or do, simply won’t like you.

Humans are social creatures, but we also love a good bit of hierarchy. That means sometimes, people will have opinions on what you do and how you do it that don’t reflect you. And that may even hurt quite a bit. Social exclusion is a real pain that we can all experience from time to time. Creativity brings with it a certain isolation.

Creative dislike is fuelled by many things we can’t control:

·       Our view of ourselves in relation to others (comparison)

·       The subjective nature of success (what it means AND the form it takes)

·       How capitalism enacted the shift from quality to proliferation  

·       What creativity receives funding and what doesn’t

·       Social media algorithms and data-driven ranking

We may also struggle with:

·       Our natural innate preferences for people, personalities, forms of creativity, etc

·       Our tastes and our exposure to different experiences

·       Envy, jealousy, and rejection

·       Self-doubt, creative courage, and our own emotional centre

·       Previous experiences of past, trauma, and exclusion

·       Mental health and personality disorders

·       Identity and self-perception

·       Our creative lives and worth under capitalism

If someone is subjecting you to their dislike, that’s on them. Not you.

Use creative rejection by:

·       Transforming it as a fuel for your creative works 

·       Flagging the inner work you need to complete

·       Making it a bedrock for hobbies as expressive therapy

·       Getting to know yourself through a written or video diary or journal

·       Challenging assumptions through research, essays, or new works

·       Generating intelligent commentary on industry subjectivity and perception

·       Engaging in physical activities like drums, car bodywork, or sculpture to release energy

·       Taking the absurdist bent and turning it into comedy

·       Creating inclusive communities and memberships for other marginalised creatives

·       Focussing on the people you want to attract and share with them instead

·       Learn the art of practiced indifference – and just get out there

Remember, just because someone has an opinion of you, doesn’t mean they are correct. Or that it’s a view worth investing in.

When you love yourself, work follows

There’s a lot of rah-rah designed to keep you disconnected from your work, shilling to marketing, building content for the audience, and pretending to be something you are not.

But the interesting thing about most happy creatives are:

·       Original and quirky

·       Trendsetters, not formula followers

·       Content with creation

·       Connected to purpose

·       Trying to say something

·       Self-challengers

·       OK with improvising

·       Reaching flow on a regular basis

Although words like authentic and connected are over-used, this is about feeling through your creativity and making sense of a world in which you live. It’s about taking risks.

A couple of optimistic little secrets for you to keep you going:

·       No one can be a better you than you. They can copy, they can cajole, but they can’t be you

·       The best way to attract clients to you is to be you. That way, you don’t attract clients that simply aren’t suitable

·       Experimentation wins. Once the marketing is a trend, it’s no longer appealing or likely to convert through over-saturation 

·       Vulnerability is attractive. In a world where everyone’s crowing about how together they are, people feel comforted by knowing they are not alone

·       Contentment is a good standard. If you feel OK with your weeks and feel more inspired and empowered than kicked around, you’re on a good wicket

·       Make your version of a good living. You can be eking out a small living and be really content and be making big bucks and dissatisfied and miserable

·       People mean well, they’re just mostly oblivious. Very few clients or freelancers you encounter are true villains. Mostly, they’re just over-invested in their opinions and processes and get a little carried away

No longer a happy creative?

Freelancing isn’t the only way to kick it. If you’re sick of the grind, tired of the clients, could do without the politics, or have reached the limits of what freelancing can teach you, there are other opportunities available to you. You just need to be brave enough to look for them.

If you need help to figure out what that next step might be to be a happier creative, get in touch today.

The Freelance Jungle has a Facebook community, virtual catch-ups for stress reduction and networking, and a commitment to education via podcasts, blogs, and online learning.



Mailing Address:
The Freelance Jungle
PO Box 68
NSW 2528