Hello Brave Ones,
So when it comes right down to it, the truth is I prefer to freelance as a designer and creative. I enjoy the flexibility, running my own show and having some control over projects. However, there have been times in my life when I have embraced a regular ‘job job’. In 2016, after almost six years of freelancing, I made the decision to go back to the 9-5 grind.
Above pic: finding some rejuvenation on the West coast of Ireland, Spring 2017
This decision saved my sanity - and my health.
My freelance life was going pretty well from 2010-2014, but seemed to start a nose dive towards 2015. In retrospect, I can see how it all started to fall apart. There was a lot going on in my life that I felt I couldn’t control: my husband’s work situation was tumultuous, I had some legit PTSD from freelancing at a toxic design agency, I had lost all motivation to be a designer and build my business, and most notably, I was drowning in the stress of dealing with my mom.
This last point - dealing with my mom - was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the catalyst for a rapid breakdown of my sanity and health. I now refer to 2016 simply as my ‘shitstorm year’ (hey, we all have them at some point).
While I’m not feeling ready to share all of the details, the Coles notes is this: I have an extremely difficult, challenging, and emotionally abusive mom. She is in and out of the hospital and, for decades now, she has been ‘not well’ (her words, not mine).
Because I was freelancing and usually working from home, it was more often me - and not my sister - who was summoned by my mom for attention and crisis management (she lives alone). This was familiar territory for me as for years I had been sucked into her warzone, but in 2016 it got a hundred times worse. Finally, I could no longer ignore the stress it was all taking on my life and health. My body revolted. I got super sick, super tired and super depressed. I was having a meltdown emotionally and physically. While this was not the first time I had buckled from the stress of our relationship, combined with the other stuff going on, it was just too much for my mind and body to handle.
Sidebar: I am sure a ton of freelancers can relate to this - when you work from home or have a flexible schedule, people assume you are available 24/7 for a chat, a favour or a coffee. Um, no…actually I’m working…
I started to feel like a carcass, constantly picked at. My anxiety reached an all time high and I was having panic attacks regularly. I wasn't sleeping at all. I was snappy. I was often unable to eat because my stomach was crazy inflamed. I looked gaunt. Now I was spending a ton of time and energy trying to manage my own health, while my mom was still dragging me into her ongoing health drama. Enough was enough. I couldn’t take it anymore. I hit the breaking point where I needed to change my situation - asap.
When I finally made the decision to go back to a day job, it was because of this:
I needed to become less accessible.
Becoming less accessible = boundaries.
Boundaries = freedom.
I needed to take control of my life again and ironically, the easiest way for me to do this was to commit to a 9-5 job. I needed structure, routine, and consistency. The time had come for me to be less available and build castle-like boundaries around myself in order to prevent further decay.
It is important to note that I was not running to a day job out of fear.
I was running to a day job out of a need to rebuild.
This was not an easy decision for me to make. I felt like a failure for wanting the safety of routine and a steady paycheck. In addition, I was still experiencing debilitating anxiety (with physical symptoms such as chest pain, pins and needles, confusion, cold sweats and low blood pressure) and I wondered if I could make it through long days at an office among new, strange faces. I was scared, but at the same time I knew it was something I had to do.
I would like to say it was easy to find a ‘job job’, but it took me almost eight challenging months. This doesn't surprise me since I was in an extremely low vibe place. But I kept going, kept freelancing, and didn’t give up. By the end of 2016 I was deciding between two solid job offers. I decided to take the job that had a short 1 year contract (no major commitment), paid well, and seemed best aligned with my core values. I made the right decision. It turned out to be one of the most positive work experiences of my entire career - for reals. To this day, I thank the stars for this unexpected, life-altering opportunity. It was a life-changing experience that, looking back, brings me so much gratitude.
What this job allowed me to do was recalibrate. I felt like I got my life back. I had a clear purpose and focus every day and I was distracted from family drama. If I look at my life now, I can see that this job - and this period of my life - was the beginning of a huge upswing. From 2016 onwards, my life got better and better.
Was it easy? No.
My anxiety didn’t disappear overnight, nor did all my stresses melt away. My mom was still dropping grenades of destruction left, right and centre. Oh - and our new rescue dog Dolly almost died at this time too, but that is another story… she is all good now.
But I was able to slowly get back on my feet and feel ‘safe’. I was also able to renew my faith in both people and my design career. How I needed that.
Being a creative - and a human - is messy. Like everyone else, my career and life has had epic highs, catastrophic lows, and uneventful flat roads. My point in sharing this 3-part blog series is to remind you that we all hit career challenges, whether you freelance or have a steady paycheck.
And everyone has a story.
As I write this today, I can truly say I have found peace in all of the paths I have chosen. There is simply no right or wrong way to navigate your career. If you commit to being self-aware and keep showing up, your path eventually makes sense - pinky swear.
To your brave success,