Why I Left Freelancing for a “Real Job”

Why I Left Freelancing for a “Real Job”

In 2017, I wrote an essay for Levo called “The Lunch Hour That Made Me Rethink My Next Big Career Move.” In the piece, I explained that I’d decided to leave traditional work in favor of freelancing.

I initially made the jump so I could offer myself time and space to heal from the trauma that was messing with my life. I decided to re-prioritizing my health and knew that most jobs would never give me the flexibility I needed to truly do that.

At first, freelancing was, well, freeing. All I had to do was hit my deadlines. I didn’t have to show up anywhere at any specific time. I could turn down work if it didn’t jive with my schedule or ethos. I could take a few weeks off to travel or work on my personal projects, or just take breaks if I needed to. Best of all, I could regularly attend the wellness center where I was receiving treatment without having to worry about work interfering.

But soon, the pressure began to mount. I quickly realized that if I didn’t produce work, I couldn’t get paid. I didn’t want to turn down projects because I was afraid if I did, I wouldn’t be able to afford my bills.

Gradually, I became obsessed with earning money and started overworking myself.

I knew that my mindset was unhealthy. But I felt so much pressure to make ends meet that all I could think about was smashing goals, getting new clients, and proving to everyone that I could do it and I could be a success.

And by all measurements, I was a “success.” I built a sustainable freelance business. I always paid my bills on time. I worked with some amazing brands and media companies. I did a few bucket list projects, including working at Vox to help make Divided States of Women, producing two historical docu-series for PBS, and producing the MAKERS podcast.

But my precious personal projects fell to the wayside. I convinced myself I had no time for them because time was money. I figured I only had so many hours for creating in one day, so I’d better spend them making paid content.

Every reason I’d gotten into freelancing started backfiring on me:

“Flexibility” turned into working around the clock, and feeling anxious when I wasn’t producing.

“Autonomy” turned into isolation, with no one to tell me that actually, I was doing great, not failing on all levels like I always assumed.

“Space for healing and personal projects” became a daily internal battle between what I wanted — and needed — to be doing for my well being, versus what I “should” be doing.

Basically, my high-achieving self got the better of me.

To be clear, I know that this mess was a mess of my own making. My whole problem was my own destructive mindset.

Theoretically, I knew that I needed rest and balance. I knew that making time for personal projects like my blog, my poetry and my as-yet unpublished memoir essays would make me happier and more productive. I knew that I shouldn’t expect myself to work around the clock, and that doing so would ultimately be a recipe for burnout.

Yet I couldn’t help myself. With all of the learning and researching I do about neuroscience and psychology — not to mention all of the therapy — you’d think I’d be on top of this stuff. But the truth is, knowing something and putting it into practice are two entirely different things.  

Predictably, I burned out.

One week, after furiously writing around the clock to fulfill two massive projects for different clients, I started to hit a wall. I’d made enough money to last me for a month or so. I figured I’d spend a few weeks wholly dedicated to my personal projects before getting back to the grind.

Only I couldn’t stop sleeping. I couldn’t even make it to my desk to write. My personal projects fell to the wayside as I struggled to take even the most basic care of myself.

I felt awful. All I wanted was to give space to the voice inside of me that I kept stifling to make room for paying client work. But I couldn’t. I had nothing. So I slept some more.

Soon, I left on my summer trip to Scotland, a bus tour through the Highlands with my best friend Bonnie. The trip was amazing, but I came back more exhausted than when I’d left.

But I also had a spark of hope: a financial technology startup was interested in bringing me on as a full-time copywriter.

The work was remote, flexible, and well-paid. The company claimed that you could “bring your whole self to work.” I was skeptical, but had nothing to lose by interviewing.

A few weeks and several rounds of interviews later, I took that job.

On my first day of work, I felt a deep sense of calm wash over me. I didn’t have multiple clients emailing me requests. I didn’t have invoices that needed to be sent out. I didn’t have spreadsheets that needed updating or pitches that needed following up on. I didn’t have to worry about how I’d pay my bills.

I had a fresh start. I had one job to focus on. A job that starts and ends at a specific time.

Space. Sweet, sweet space.

Today, I’m about six weeks into the new job, and my responsibilities are starting to pick up. I’m learning to balance a different kind of workload. But I still feel the sense of space; the comfort of knowing when my next paycheck is coming, and roughly what each week will look like.

Slowly, I’ve started giving more time to my neglected personal projects. I’m giving myself permission to create whatever speaks to my soul. And it’s been such a gift.

My poetry is taking off. My blog is coming back from the dead. My health is actually improving (and frankly, so is my writing).

For now, that’s more than enough.

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