#2153 The curse of the freelancer

Thom Browne at Pitti Uomo. Photo: Trendland

I am guilty of glossing over the realities of day-to-day life as a freelancer on this blog – the struggles, the anxieties, the endless emails to potential employers, the too-good-to-be-true projects that invariably fall through and the occasional long stretches of time when you don’t have a single job on the horizon. When you’re starting out in this industry, it pays to present a rose-tinted view of your life: ‘Look! I’m in Paris backstage at Lanvin,’ or, ‘A free suit pour moi? Thanks!’ Sure, it sounds a little wanky, and in a way it is wanky. But it follows that whole philosophy of dressing for the job you want, not the job you have.

Due to my proclivity for the aforementioned, I’ve often been accused of being: a trustafarian with access to unlimited funds on Daddy’s credit card; a lucky jerk who never had to work hard for anything; and a barracuda who’d burn anybody to get ahead. The reality is far less glamorous: I did the menswear circuit seven seasons in a row on an absolutely shoestring budget and still made a loss every time (though the relationships I made were worth far more than money); any successes I’ve had or jobs I’ve gotten have been the result of persistently chasing people to the point where they realised I wasn’t going to take no for an answer; and ensuring that the work I produced when I finally did get an opportunity was of a high enough standard that I’d get hired again.

One of the pitfalls of being a freelancer is the amount of time you spend sitting around contemplating your own existence between jobs. Downtime is, after all, the enemy of success. About three times a year, usually during a slow period, I get seized by a panic attack that I’m not achieving enough – if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards. This happened to me these past two weeks. I was home alone, sitting in my room for hours at a stretch and literally freaking out that I’d never work again. It was ridiculous – I’d just completed an amazing contract for a new client, I had some regular writing jobs due, I was shooting a video with Lacoste in a few days time and I’d just experienced a hefty traffic spike on the blog. But once the Lacoste job was wrapped, I had nothing upcoming besides a 50/50 shot at an all expenses paid trip to Coachella (which fell through yesterday). I started to freak out.

For about 10 days straight, I panicked. The more I thought about it, the less work I did, and the less work I did, the more I panicked (it was a self-perpetuating cycle). I lost track of anything positive going on, and focussed solely on the negatives. It was counterproductive, self-indulgent and obviously nothing was achieved.

After a while, I started to put things into perspective. It’s crazy, but if I’d spent half that negative energy coming up with ways to get out of the funk, I would have probably allowed myself one day of wallowing, then just gotten on with it.

So I’ve devised a list of things to do the next time this happens, that I hope might assist anybody else who finds themselves in a similar rut:

1. Call someone who will have the patience to allow you to complain about your life for about 20 minutes, and the good sense to tell you to shut up and get over it.

2. Have a shower, get dressed and leave the house. Unplug the TV, log off Netflix, shut down Facebook, stop browsing the blogs, Twitter and Tumblr and go do something productive. Work out at the gym, go for a run, volunteer for a charity, have lunch with a friend.

3. Maximise your contacts. Email everyone you haven’t talked to for a while and meet them for a coffee. You never know what might come out of it.

4. Set some goals. But make them attainable.

5. Count your successes – have a look at the great things you’ve achieved over the past six/12 months. Think about how you got those opportunities, the steps you took and the skills required to get ahead. Utilise those skills.

6. Repeat one through five until desired results are achieved.

Best of luck.


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  1. Pbmca1 says

    Nice one Isaac. We’re all human and have those moments. They’re meaningful and happen for a reason.

  2. Jenny says

     All very real – and good advice thanks. The best way to get something done is to do it. Which sounds so simple but can be so daunting at times.

    The journey of a hundred miles starts with a single step.  Kia kaha!

  3. Meghan M Adair says

    Love it. I will be using these skills when I get in my “what have I done with my life??” funks. Yay you!

  4. Erica says

    Hi hi from New Zealand !
    That’s just what I needed right now. Also looking at what you’ve done can pep you up a bit. I sorted through my whole portfolio this morning and am pretty chuffed of what I’ve achieved even if I’m not doing too much at the moment. 

  5. nataliecantell says

    step #6 is, in fact: get completely over-dressed and take yourself to lunch. if you’re broke, get completely over-dressed and go for a walk.  in other words, dress as awesome as you wish you felt and get the funk out of the house. go outside and let things happen to you.
    (never fear, come june we can routinely wig out together.)

  6. Hollie Doar says

    Love this. I’ve just moved to Melbourne from NZ, and this pretty much sums up how I’m currently feeling about being ‘between jobs’. Going for walks and meeting up with friends for coffee are pretty much what’s keeping the panic at bay. Thanks for sharing – nice to know I’m not the only one who freaks out!

  7. says

    (sorry, didn’t finish my comment)

    I’ve just started doing freelance graphic design work so I’m starting to understand. Sometimes it feels a little dirty “pretending” I’m this big shot designer but you’re right that it’s often required if we want any jobs. Everyone’s trying to fake it til they make it and there’s no shame in that!

  8. Emma says

    Thankyou so much for posting this- while I’m still studying, I did find your tips at the end really useful!

  9. AnAndrewHibbert says

    Isaac, this is your best post in a while my friend. I miss you mate.
    – Andrew HHM

    p.s  your car is still going strong
    p.p.s  I ran over a nail the other day.  
    p.p.p.s the windscreen has a crack in it. 
    p.p.p.p.s I lied about the first p.s. Sorry.

  10. Ray - Morphic Clothing says

    Your list of things to do the next time this happens has become my list of things to do… now! Thanks for the inspiration. Today I focus. <3

  11. Kat says

    “if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards”

    My work paid for us to see a talk by these 2 NZ rowers who had competed in an around the world race. They were massively inspirational in heaps of ways but especially in their telling of one particularly horrendous night they encountered. The weather was terrible and they were faced by 2 choices: 1. put down an anchor type thing and get dragged backwards but get a rest 2. row all night and stay in the same spot. They chose the second option and had to row hard out all night and get nowhere. But then in the morning they found out that ALL the other teams had chosen the first option and so they were way ahead. They ended up winning the whole race by pretty much the exact distance they had gained that night.

  12. MG says

    Oh wow. I needed this. I just moved to NYC to freelance makeup, after years of hard work to build my business in my hometown of San Diego. I have insane bouts of “what the hell am I doing???” all the time. I spend more time worrying about how I’m going to pay rent & bills than anything else. I’m bookmarking this to remind me to go do something productive when I start freaking out. We are our own worst enemies! But I am so glad to hear I am not alone!

  13. isaaclikes says

     Preach! Good luck with everything, I’m rooting for you. It’s true, we are our own worst enemies. The only thing holding us back is us. So don’t hold us back!

  14. Jen Z. says

    Thank you for this. I go through periods like that every couple months where I go “What am I doing? This is pointless.” Usually just need a metaphorical kick in the ass… thanks for the kick. :)

  15. says

    I just started freelancing/my writing “career”  a little less than 6 months ago and when one contract went from being about 30 hours worth of work/week to about 10, I went into one of those horrible episodes of depression to which I’m genetically inclined. Now that I make more of an effort on my own blog (posting 5x a week), I feel much better & even get more work thanks to increased productivity & optimism. This is great advice, especially the part about getting dressed & leaving the house. That seems like such an obvious thing to do, but sad-sacking is so much easier. Thanks for sharing!

  16. says

    I want to start out as a freelancer, but the idea is so terrifying that I spend far too much time thinking about it, rather than actually doing what it is that I need to be doing to get started. Thank you for this post, it’s very helpful and encouraging.

  17. Kirsty Helen says

    This came at exactly the right time for me.  I’m a fledgling blogger/aspiring author/poor student, who freaks after a good run and then spends an embarrassing amount of time watching bad day time TV.   I swear once Dr Phil started talking about unemployment and I cried.  Real tears.  Oh the shame.  Thanks for this post I will be keeping the six step plan on hand for the down times in future.  Love your ways.

  18. Kalhu says

    Phew, I thought I was the only one, haha! As the saying goes, a body in motion stays in motion but a body at rest stays at rest. This phrase always creeps up in the back of my mind whenever sales start to slow down and I start having more free time. It’s truly terrifying, but it’s good to know that I’m not alone. Thank you for writing this article!

  19. midnight and jeremiah says

     all of this has been described by Emile Durkheim,  famous sociologist from the 1880’s, calling this plight the burden of the  man who finds himself in an unknown territory, left on his own in a world without close ties, love and intimacy, and therefore getting a feeling of marginality;  always having to draw on his own resources; depleting without renewal.

    missing the simple pleasures like playing with the young kittens in the sun in the backyard with your grandmother, has MUCH more impact than we care to admit ; yet this is really a ‘withering disease’

    you have got to find what is important to you;

    if money is tight, it is not easy, but then  you might relocate, and be surprised by new opportunities – never forgetting you have many true friends and people keep you in high regard for all the good you have done,

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