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In which we have not yet lain in the street

…but I tell ya, it was a near thing.

This has been an aMAZing year for me. I finished my part-time salaried/in-house job at the end of last year and this year I’ve become a full-time freelancer. To distract from the raging maelstrom of low-level panic that makes the background of your average freelancer’s mind, I’ve been doing a whole lotta new things, and a few things I’ve always meant to do. I’ve had two clarinet performances, including one unaccompanied performance of Paganin’s Caprice No. 24. I went to hear Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson speak on the wonders of the universe. I went to a sexy circus show and marvelled at people’s abs. I went to a masquerade party and a film noir party and dressed up for both.

I did this:

Leg tattoo

Inked up with letters

Which was hella exciting and much less painful than you’d think.

I’ve climbed a couple of mountains and taken on two new career paths. It’s been a fair old year, as my Nan would say, and we’re only three-quarters through.

And one of the big things to learn has been about stress and fear. I’m talking your everyday stress here: the kind that is compounded of pushing yourself, challenging yourself, working a bit too hard and not resting enough. I hadn’t realised how insidious it could be. Earlier this year, for reasons that mean nobody was the bad guy, I had some work arrive a bit later than expected, with no option to move the deadline. So I hauled up my pants and dived in, and worked through two weekends straight and delivered on schedule. Yay! The work was fun and I was doing great, if feeling a bit knackered. Then came the day to rest and I simply unravelled. I fell into a dip hole of pointlessness and weeping and nobody enjoyed that day at all. M kindly provided hugs and chocolate biscuits until I started to stabilise and I realised how drained I was. Point learned. Weekends are for resting. Just because your eyes aren’t bleeding doesn’t mean you’re not overworking.  And burnout isn’t just something that happens to surgeons and teachers.

It’s an interesting lesson, and one I think that’s stuck. As I become more aware of my possibilities and the directions my life can move in, I become acutely aware of boundaries. I mean them in a very positive sense: they define where I’m at right now. If I work without pause on weekends, I quickly grind into a heap and cannot do anything, not even the fun stuff. If I try to lift too heavy a dumbbell, or do too many reps, I won’t be able to lift at all tomorrow. In the context of my work, boundaries mark the points at which I have pushed beyond comfort and wellbeing, which means they can be judiciously challenged and redefined. I’ve had several jobs this year that did just that, and I’m better at what I do as a result: but I have to be mindful that, like physical challenge, you can’t push your boundaries too far in one major shove. You gotta increment that shit.

The temptation for freelancers, I suspect, is to keep pushing and pushing. If you’re not working, you’re not earning, and so you feel like you should work yourself dry, into the nights and over the weekends. But if you’re dry, you can’t do a dang thing until you’re refilled. So now I work a set amount each day, take weekends off, and get to bed early. And it’s wonderful. When Monday morning comes I’m excited to work, refreshed and ready: it’s amazing how much difference those two days off make.

So here’s my life hack: take lots of breaks and get plenty of rest. Huh, doesn’t sound as ground-breaking as it is.

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