Friday, November 30, 2007

Finding Self-Employed Serenity in a Workaholic World

My name is Heather and I'm a recovering workaholic.

As far as I know, there are no 12-step groups for people who are simply chronically stressed. But if there were, I would have been a great candidate for one three years ago. As a newspaper reporter, I lived deadline to deadline and was so consumed by the thrill of the hunt for just the right source or just the right turn of phrase that I forgot about things like food, sleep and exercise. You know, the usual casualties. It's what I learned early on. My journalism school was littered with professors with monumental minds and fabulous success, but without anything beyond work to give them a sense of wellbeing.

In the last few years, all that changed. When I started freelancing in 2005, I realized I needed to make some changes. I needed to put myself first, as hokey as that sounds. What I really mean is that I had to figure myself into the equation at all. I couldn't keep living as if I didn't have personal, spiritual or physical needs. I was, in two words, burnt out.

As a self-employed person, finding this balance is deceptively difficult. It's so easy to carry over the habits that made me a successful (if harried) news reporter in my new line of work. And all evidence in the culture would suggest that continuing on that path would make me equally successful.

But it's my deep belief that working that way doesn't serve anyone. It certainly doesn't serve me to sleep fitfuly, wake in a panic over work poorly done (or at least not done to my high standards) and approach my to-do list defeated, already feeling behind at 8 a.m. But, perhaps most relevant as a self-employed person, it doesn't serve my clients. When I set limits on my work, when I treat myself well, I return to my desk refreshed and energized, excited about my next assignment and able to put my full focus on it without keeping a running tab in my head of all the things I'm not doing by doing this assignment.

We all know this, though, right? We've been told a million times in magazines and by self-help gurus to take so-called me time. I don't know about you, but for me, that conjures images of Calgon commercials and scented candles. I'm allergic to scented candles. The point is that knowing doesn't make it any easier to actually create serenity in our lives. So how do we do it? How do we achieve serenity when we're entirely responsible for our financial and professional wellbeing?

That's what I aim to find out with this blog, but talking to well-balanced road warriors and entrepreneurs who don't sacrifice their sanity for their bottom line. I'll also try techniques for centeredness and consider the myriad tools commercially promoted to improve our lives. I hope you'll come along for the ride and offer your own ways of staying sane in an insane world.


Beth Hawkins said...


My name is Beth Hawkins. I'm in Minneapolis. Last May, after 20-some years of being a salaried writer various places I quit. For a variety of reasons--creative stagnation not the least of them. I've been freelancing ever since. My first few months were all about getting enough work lined up. Funny thing the human mind, because as soon as my calendar filled, I found myself on what sounds like pretty much the roller-coaster you're addressing with your genius blog. I can relate to pretty much every post--from feeling like turning in a piece that's not perfect will spell the end with a client, to the difficulty of building in time for essentials like exercise.

But I'm getting long-winded. What I really wanted to say was that I found your blog on a day when there were so many gremlins of self-doubt loose in my psyche I had worried myself into a hole. Your reassuring thoughts on the topic totally hit home. Just knowing someone else grapples with the same thing really made an immediate difference. I sent your URL to a friend who also struggles in her search for serenity.

So, thank you for taking the time to craft such eloquent entries. Rest assured, I'll check back often.

Heather Boerner said...

Hi Beth,

Girl, I feel you.

Thank you so much for your kind post! I think this is the (maybe not-so-secret) truth of self-employment and I'm glad to be able to share my experience and offer suggestions!

Please keep coming back!