How to be a freelancer when disaster strikes

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Part of being a freelancer and self-employed is the freedom to choose your time off. Want a 4 day weekend? Do it. Want to go on a long hike? Done.

It’s the great dream of the modern worker. Technology has allowed us to take a step away from the office and still be productive. Working for yourself at home gives you the feeling of crazy empowerment. It’s the power of choice underheard of.

I can say no to potential clients that aren’t a good fit.

I can determine the scope of projects.

I can set my own hours.

I can take a 2-hour break and go to the gym and play fetch with my dog.

It’s the best case scenario for those us who are useless at the 8 hour work day. It’s the best case scenario for those of us who struggle with depression and sitting in an office just makes everything worse.

Marian Schembari, copywriter extraordinaire, has already written a fantastic article on How To Run A Business When You Have Depression. If you haven’t read it yet, please go do so right now. Anything I say on this subject will just be repeating her great article.

 

I’ll wait.

 

Depression is hard. Depression is not something that just goes away via logic, exercise, or hugs. It takes a multi-pronged approach to find balance in your life when you are going through a depressive episode.

I found a massive amount of freedom as a freelancer that has helped my depression in ways I couldn’t even have imagined.

That freedom is beautiful.

But.

What happens when tragedy strikes, when a family member or dear friend passes away, when there is an emergency? That’s different than an every-day depressive episode. I know how to cope with depression. But an emergency? A death? That’s totally different.

It’s more than taking a few hours off to reset.

An emergency is days of incapacity.

I don’t think freelancers talk enough about how to balance work and life when disaster strikes. It’s really hard to figure where to go and what to do.

Sure, the pro is you don’t have to go through the hard part of emailing your boss and then bracing yourself for the wash of pity you’ll receive.

The con: you don’t have a boss or a team to push your work off on. You’re on your own.

 

Let’s face it: emergencies happen.

Loved ones end up in emergency rooms, heck you could end up in an emergency room. I’m writing this blog not be a total Debbie downer but to help all of you come up with an “in case of emergency plan” for your business. That plan includes understanding how you will react to an emergency and what you need to put in place so you can focus on what matters (ie NOT your business).

 

Just one month into freelancing full time I lost a dear dear friend.

This is what it looked like for me.

Day One:

I felt free. I could just turn my computer off, lay on top of my dog, and stare at the ceiling as long as I wanted to. I could cry and feel my grief as fully as I needed to. I could rush off for hugs and drinks and community. I could be there for my friends. I could be there for myself.

I cleaned the house and ate mountains of comfort food. I sent one email to a client informing them the project won’t be completed that day. Cried some more.

 

Day Two:

The anxiety started creeping in, the pressure of answering emails and sending out proposals.

The “OMG if I’m not working I’m not making any money holy shit how will I pay the bills this month but I can’t even think about work because grief is huge and my computer looks like the devil” moments started happening.

I felt lost. I didn’t know how to properly balance my time. I was blind with grief and was trying to pull my body and mind back into some sense of normalcy. I felt like a total failure because I couldn’t do both grief and work. My grief was clouding my judgment and I kept trying to open up my computer.

My inbox was staring at me, hurting with neglect.

I had to write my other clients and let them know that hey, things might need to be pushed back on the timeline because...tragedy.

It’s even hard writing this now.

I spent a good full day freaking out about work on top of coping with grief.

That’s a lot of feelings packed into one little body. Even though your logical brain is telling you “Hey, it’s fine. Work will still be there when you come back,” your emotional brain is in overdrive.

Honest moment: I spent most of day two either eating chocolate, downing coffee so I could feel like a functional human, and then drinking at night with my friends who were also grieving. In between those moments I was walking in circles trying to force myself to work.

Looking back it’s clear that trying to work was pointless, but again, how could I not? I was running my own business and if I wasn’t working no one was.


 

Day Three:

I forgave myself for not working.

If you start your own business you have to have a crazy entrepreneurial drive. It’s constantly moving your forward, egging you on, pushing you to grow. Turning off that instinct feels like failure. It feels like you’re not going to succeed or meet your goals.

But you know what? While having that drive is healthy for your business, it’s not always healthy for, well, your health.

Forgiveness is really key in these situations. It is ok to stop for a moment. Your business will not fall apart if you take a few days off to properly grieve, to give yourself time. If you have found the right clients they will understand.

If your client pitches a tissy that the deliverable will be pushed back a couple days because life happened, then you aren’t finding the right clients in the first place.

After forgiving myself I could finally take a deep breath and find a better sense of balance within my grief. It gave me the space I needed to really begin to heal.

 

The backup plan

As a solo-preneur, it’s my responsibility to my business and to my clients to have a backup plan, and since I had the bad luck of experiencing an emergency so soon after launching, I’ve learned my lesson.

I know what an emergency looks and feels like, and I have a plan in place for when it happens again.

Plan:

  1. Take time off.
  2. Templatize my message. I wrote myself a template that I can just drop into an email so I don't have to agonize over the text of explaining to my clients why things will be pushed back. 
  3. Give myself space. Forgive myself. Be with my feelings.
  4. Start again when I am good and ready.

It’s important to think about these moments so you aren’t completely lost. I want my Day Two to never happen to you. I want you to have a plan in place so you can take the space you need from your business and just be with your grief.

If that looks like writing yourself an email template, or a little note you can pull out to remind yourself taking a break is ok, or whatever self-care you do- do it now. 

There is no need for you to be experiencing anxiety about your business on top of everything else.