Thanks to the extended coronavirus lockdown measures, more and more people are having their livelihoods threatened and could face unemployment for the first time in their career.
This, coupled with drastic changes in routine and social isolation rules have taken its toll on the nation’s psychological health, according to mental health charity, Mind. But could these uncertain times also be an opportunity to hit the reset button?
As a freelance producer in the media industry, I’m no stranger to any of these circumstances. I’ve had bouts of unemployment, long periods of time at home alone, anxiety, and fear surrounding how I would make ends meet, and struggles with my own mental health.
Thankfully with over six years of freelancing under my belt, I’ve picked up some tips along the way:
Firstly, give yourself a break. When you’re not working, there is an unspoken expectation that you should apply for a gazillion jobs, network with all your contacts, set up or update your website, think of new business ideas, exercise, learn a new skill, get creative, the list goes on and on.
These are all wonderful offshoots of additional time at home, but sometimes the most productive thing you can do is nothing. It can be a shock to the system if you’ve never been out of work before, and I’d advise against watching news around the clock, scrolling through social media endlessly, or comparing yourself to anyone else. All this does is further compact that feeling of hopelessness.
It is often in the stillness that you become inspired and are able to think clearly about your next move. Sure, be proactive if you feel like it’s flowing naturally but don’t put too much pressure on yourself or fall into the trap of being unkind to yourself. You are not alone in this.
Establish core values and beliefs. I’ve often questioned facets of media and whether it is positively contributing to a healthy society, as well as what brands, products, and channels I believe in. By having the breathing space to ponder such questions, I’ve been fortunate enough to determine which jobs align with my values and turn down the ones that don’t.
Some advertising and reality TV jobs, for example, didn’t align with my core beliefs. Sometimes, we don’t have the luxury to choose, but we have the option to function consciously within the role, and step away if our morals come into question. I’ve determined that purpose, freedom, and flexibility are important to me, so I’ve pursued freelance jobs that match my desired outcome and allow me to work remotely, or could offer me flexible working hours.
Perhaps, reflect on what projects you had felt most passionate about in the past and what it was about them that kept you so interested. Furthermore, think of what projects you couldn’t wait to finish and what it was about them that made you feel uncomfortable. This will help you compile a list of values, and ultimately help you determine what jobs are likely to be a match from the offset.
Work smarter rather than harder. Being busy all the time does not necessarily signify success. If anything, it could indicate that you find it hard to be alone with your own thoughts, or you have problems with setting boundaries. This was certainly the case for me. I used to work insane hours, please people, and use work to mask the unhappiness in other areas of my life.
The more I was forced to slow down, the better I got at listening to my inner guidance system, and making smarter choices that have allowed me to lead the life I actually wanted to live. I’ve now created a wonderful “six month on and six month off” system, which enables me to travel for half of the year and work the other half.
It’s taken me a while, along with some trial and error to establish this vision, but it works perfectly for me at this stage of my life. I will keep reviewing this vision as my priorities change. Productivity is easier when you’re less stressed. If you don’t have enough hours in the day, are tired, or under pressure all the time, it’s harder to deliver at your optimum.
Let go of control and take a leap of faith. Letting go of control does take practice and I have only reached this point through my own fair share of hard times and panic. If only I would have known that back then, I would have trusted in the journey more. There was one particularly bad time quite early on in my freelancing journey when my unemployment lasted for five months. I ran out of savings and began to struggle to pay my rent.
Since I was in another country, benefits weren’t an option. As someone who had been in consistent work up until that point, and viewed that as a rock bottom circumstance, I panicked, then slowly slipped into what I can only describe as a depression. I eventually accepted the situation, took a friend’s advice, and rented out my apartment to become her sister’s au pair for a few months. This meant I could live rent free, earn a bit of money, and do something completely out of my comfort zone.
The point is, something always shows up. Perhaps not in the way you imagined, but you make whatever you need to work in that circumstance, even if it’s doing something different while you get yourself back on your feet.
Remember work is not your identity. After much resistance to becoming an au pair, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I regained my self-confidence and had a reason to get up for—it was extremely rewarding. I stopped mindlessly applying for jobs I didn’t even want, and realised that I’m not defined by my job title, it was just my ego standing in the way.
As it happened, I’ve returned to the media industry, but used the time out to help me move into another sector. I’ve been trying to move away from using work as my identity for a while, and in my opinion, anyone worth knowing doesn’t actually care about what you “do” for a living anyway. Unless you’re a key worker or helping to change the world, then you deserve all the praise and accolades you get for your job title.
But, however meaningful your job is, it still doesn’t signify your self-worth. That said, if you’re feeling completely lost right now, ponder how much balance you have in other areas of your life—family, fun, giving back, physical activities, internal growth, and so on.
Now is the perfect opportunity to pivot yourself, and be whoever you want to be. Perhaps you’re already doing your dream job, but you aren’t working the hours you want.
We are being forced to live frugally, consume consciously, and live minimally. Does that need to change when things resume? Can you survive on less money and be happier?
Technology advancements mean we are no longer confined to the traditional office, 9-5 concept, and companies cannot claim that you can’t work from home anymore.
This is the time to connect with your loved ones, but more importantly to connect to yourself, and what you really want.