Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Serenity Privilege

I just got off the phone with source for an unrelated story. When I mentioned this blog and somewhat self-satisfiedly mentioned that my goal with it is "encourage people to do work they love, and that will increase serenity serenity," she dropped this bomb:

"Well, you're coming from a place of privilege, then, aren't you."

Ouch. And, true.

Once I got past my eensy bit of offense, I understood what she meant: That to be able to choose work you love is a privilege in a culture where most people have to take any job they can to pay the bills. She added that it takes a lot more work to find serenity in the latter situation.

I mention this here because I think a lot of self-employed people are in this position: We may be the masters of our domain because we can add or drop clients at will, but most of us aren't making enough money to drop any client who pisses us off, doesn't respond to emails promptly or pays late. Most of us need to take the work offered to us because we aren't making enough money to even live on. In my industry, I've heard that the average yearly income is something like $5,000. So people earning that amount don't really have the privilege to say no.

So, two thoughts:

First, I think it's important to differentiate between the anxiety of deprivation and a true inability to support yourself. I know a lot of freelancers take work that doesn't feed them because of fear, not reality. To them, I still say letting go of work can create serenity.

But second, this source said that it's still possible to find serenity if you're in a position of being unable to choose your clients. "It's more Buddhist," she said. "It takes a greater strength of character."

Not long ago, I was earning considerably less than I'm earning now. And I still worked on my serenity. Some of that serenity came from just knowing that there was a real reason for my stress. Yes, I don't have enough money this month. Yes, I need to spend more energy finding stop-gap solutions to my cash flow problems while also focusing on the future.

During that time, harm reduction was especially important for me. I tried to contain my overworking. I took baths. I gave myself enough sleep and healthy food. I tried not to make things harder on myself. That, to me, was the closest I could come to serenity.

Then, I focused on what I could control: how many queries am I sending out this week? Am I targetting higher paying clients or the same old clients who aren't paying me enough right now? Where am I spending what little energy I have left?

What are your ways of creating serenity when you are trapped by your income?

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