I often write on the subject of creating meaningful work environments. I’m also a big advocate of working with purpose and engagement, and I mean every word I say.
Not so long ago, I had the pleasure to lead a team, and I’d like to believe I wasn’t too bad at it. I genuinely believe happy people are better employees and working harder isn’t necessarily better or effective.
So when I became a freelancer, it never occurred to me I would have to make a conscious effort to be a good boss—for myself. I assumed it would just happen naturally.
When I worked for other people, I would fantasize about what it would be like to be self-employed. I imagined long morning coffee walks in the sun, making my own work schedule to fit in the things that fill me up (drawing, writing, nail polish, baths, books, friends, walks, binge-watching Gilmore Girls), occasionally working in my pajamas and playing good music as loudly as I pleased.
No, the dream wasn’t to become lazy (and trust me, if you know me, you’d know I’m simply not wired for it). The dream was to have the freedom to schedule my day so I could do all the things I love, and still get sh*t done.
The dream was perfect.
Now that I am freelancing, and almost four months in, I’m a little embarrassed to report that I’ve hardly utilized the perks of being self-employed. The only thing I’ve really taken advantage of has been the freedom of making my own schedule. A really busy schedule.
Okay, I may or may not also be on my way to mastering the art of working without pants. But the rest? Not so much.
Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been miserable, disengaged or unfulfilled with my life as a freelancer. Quite the opposite. I have been having the most fun I’ve had in my entire career. I am learning new things daily and to top it all off, I’ve had the opportunity to cultivate incredibly meaningful relationships.
What I’ve also been doing is overworking. And that, my friends, sooner or later becomes a problem for all employees and bosses, even when you work for yourself.
I have no idea how that happened and I have every idea of how that happened.
As my own boss, I had allowed myself to have amazing benefits. The problem was I wasn’t using them.
I was loving what I do so much, I would work on it passionately, neglecting to take breaks or rest. I had become the employee that works really hard and almost never takes a lunch break, goes on vacation or takes time off. And you know what happens to that employee? Eventually, she burns out.
I am grateful I didn’t burn out, but I was starting to feel like I was on my way. And I was baffled! I mean, if doing things I absolutely love was becoming harmful when I was just getting started, what would happen when things got even bigger and busier?
I didn’t want to find out.
I knew it was time for another adjustment, and I am so grateful I reached out to an established fellow freelancer. She is also a trusted friend and mentor. What I wanted to ask was, “How on earth do you schedule your day to maintain work-life balance?” What I actually asked was a lot less sophisticated: “so, when you go for coffee with a client but you really like them and you talk both about business and personal stuff, do you consider that work or play?”
These were real life struggles for me and I was dying to get an answer! She smiled as she usually does, probably because she understood what my question really was: “If you are enjoying it, is it okay if it also counts as work?”
Her answer was surprising and insightful. She said she only does things that are meaningful and important to her. In her world, there is no such thing as “work.” She only does what she loves. Some of it is remunerated. Some of it isn’t.
I admit I had to think about this for a bit. Was she trying to tell me that taking a bath (if that’s your thing) is as important as preparing a presentation, or a report (if that’s your thing too)? My mind was blown.
I never believed work should be unpleasant and painful. Not at all! But making enough time for other kinds of “fun” or making them as important as “paid work”? Well, I just thought that was too much. Waaaay too much to ask for. Likely, impossible.
I am glad I was wrong.
My friend was living proof this worked, and she had a really good point. What if everything we did was meaningful? What if rest was just as important as hard work? What if enjoying everything we do was one of the best ways to become successful? What if we had to become our own bosses (even when we worked for someone else) and that meant being our own reminders that taking it easy and having fun are just as important as getting stuff done?
So as my own boss, I decided I needed an upgrade. I had to start treating myself like I was my most valuable employee. Because I am.
I knew what to do, and I started by drafting my new work manifesto. Except we are removing the word work and instead, we are calling it life. Because I am now too, on the bandwagon of humans that only do things that are meaningful and important to them.
This is the Freelance Life Manifesto:
In life, we do things that matter to us, and we genuinely enjoy doing them.
We prioritize time to rest and wind-down, just as we would prioritize a business meeting.
When we are sick, we take sick days. We don’t push through because we know that’s not being effective, or kind.
We take days off and we go on vacation, and we do it responsibly and without guilt.
In life, we schedule our day every day, and when we take on a task, we commit to it fully. When we are done, we put it away.
We believe in daily baths, lunch breaks with Jimmy Fallon and working with an endless supply of sparkling water.
We are fans of good music (unless we are writing) and we play it loudly.
In life, we have all the time we need to cook healthy meals, and have clean (and folded) laundry.
We also believe in the power of nature walks, naps and spending time with friends.
In life, we don’t work hard, we work smart. We are able to do great work with focus and passion, without burnout.
We have freedom to set our own schedule and work at our own pace. We always get the work done, but never at the expense of our well-being. That always comes first.
In life we believe in the power of gratitude and recognition. Every day we write a list of things we are grateful for, and we make sure we recognize our accomplishments, no matter how small.
In life we work without guilt or shame. We know our worth, we embrace imperfection and we learn from our mistakes.
We are effective and successful, and part of that means taking time to do the things that fill us up, daily.
In life, we are totally certain that we deserve this. And so do you.
I am excited to put this manifesto into action. And who knows? Maybe one day I will work with a team again. When that day comes, wouldn’t it be cool if we could all live together like this?
Now, my question to you is this:
If you had a magic wand, what work environment would you create for yourself and others?
And most importantly, what’s stopping you to make that happen?
Author: Angie Coates
Editor: Travis May
Photo: Flickr/Chris Roos