Freelancing Woes and a Direction for Personal Growth

Last week, I had my first unhappy customer at the shop I’m freelancing through. I ended up taking the project back, spent hours being as perfect as I could be, stressed myself out knowing what the outcome would be, and the woman was still unhappy. So I charged her only half what I was originally going to charge her, for the work that I had done that she was satisfied with, and politely told her to bring it somewhere else. I did show my work to the manager of the store before showing it to the customer, and she verified that it was well done, but I had a rough couple of days. I hate when people are unhappy with my work because I get really invested in whatever I do, I was mad that I only averaged maybe $1.50 per hour on the job and hours away from my son or my other creative work, and I had this momentary desire to give back the dozen or so other projects for other customers that I have in my work room. A sort of “Fine, I don’t wanna play anymore!” The store owner emailed me and told me that this is a fairly regular occurrence, that I am really talented at the work I’m doing, and that it can be a brutal industry. This week, I have kind of a similar case, where one of the customers is a self-confessed OCD, but she’s a bit better about it than the other lady. So fine, it’s not like I planned on doing this forever, but in the short term, I need to make this as stress-free as possible, for my health and my sanity.

Here are the areas I need an attitude adjustment:

  1. I need to remind myself daily that “I am not my job”. I was born a ‘hard worker’. That phrase has been on every single elementary report card, stated in every parent-teacher conference, and been in a lot of Thank You notes that have been written to me. If I got a bad grade on anything, I would beat myself up over it so badly that my parents felt bad for me. I don’t know how to NOT work hard. And I don’t do it for accolades, or to be “the best” at anything (I was never top of my class but usually had straight As), but out of a desire for personal mastery. I also battle my own perfectionist tendencies ferociously. When something like this happens, it tends to reinforce the self-debasing side of myself that can come out, which then fuels stress and all the side effects that it brings with it. But this freelance work is just a job, and I am not my job. I have to keep telling myself that – even though it involves some creative work, even though I’m working with my hands, I am not my job. Hard to convince myself of that.
  2. I need to learn to turn off my empathy radar, or at least to crank it way down. I’ve talked in this blog before how much I pick up on the emotions and motivations of others, so when someone is unhappy with me, I REALLY feel it, and it REALLY sucks. I’m able to hold it together during an altercation, and my core of steel has never let me capitulate just to make someone happy with me (what’s the point, right?), but the experience is enough to majorly stress me out. And my inner radar has been going wildly with all the personal and creative growth I’ve gone through the past six months. Great for the artistic projects and tapping into energy I might not have, not so great for personal relations at times. One thing I feel might be helpful with this is seeking solitude and time in nature.
  3. I need to allow myself time to learn and be kind to myself when I have to redo something because I’ve never done it before. Right now, my breakdown per hour varies wildly, from being lucky if I gross minimum wage up to $25+ per hour, and I never know on a project just how long something is going to take. Rather than say, well at least I’m averaging $12-$15 an hour and learning new skills, I get really frustrated on the jobs that seem more trouble than they are worth.
  4. I need to resist the urge to walk away sometimes. For the past six or so years, if an individual or group of individuals created a sour experience for me, I would let it spoil the entire project or situation. Again, that “I don’t wanna play anymore” attitude. This was something I really started doing in CA, where I embraced the laid back atmosphere. I only half-kid that moving from upstate NY to SoCal helped remove the stick from my butt. So I refused to tolerate any poisonous people and learned to duck out of stressful situations. Which is good, to a certain extent, but I took it too far. Part of the reason I practically dove into the office job when we first moved back east is because I was fed up with the field I had gotten my MFA in. I had several bad experiences in a row, but I realized earlier this year that I had allowed a handful of individuals (across several months and many different projects) make me decide to turn my back on what had been my dream career – one that perfectly combined my creative side with my love for research; one that allowed for up front collaboration, then let me go away and do my work in peace without having to answer to any middle management, and then let me come back for further collaboration; a job that had a hard deadline that had to be met, regardless of whether the completed work was “perfect” or not; a job that gave me the opportunity to really help other people do their jobs. Granted, with the collaboration, you have a wide range of creative temperaments, some of which thrive on craziness and stress, and it is an industry I often compare metaphorically to an abusive relationship (when it’s good, it’s good, but when it’s bad, it beats you to within an inch of your life), but the trick is finding people you do enjoy working with and making it fun-crazy instead of mean-crazy. So I was so angry at myself earlier in the year at this realization. I don’t regret taking the office job because it allowed me to have my son (I knew when I was 12 that I wanted my first child when I was 28, and taking the job allowed me to make this happen), but I do regret that I allowed my “Fine, I don’t wanna play” attitude to trap me. In any situation, I really need to question whether the urge to walk away is coming from a place of wanting to maintain my health or because I’m letting my ego get in the way. Which brings me to…
  5. I need to let my ego go. I need to learn not to want the pat on my head and the gold star for a job well done. If I am going to be able to thrive getting back into the industry I left (which I’m starting the creative work on my summer test projects now), then I have to absolutely come at it from a place of doing the best work I can, but then letting it go once it’s out there.

That’s a lot to work on, long term. Short term, to heal myself from the self-induced stress of last week, I’ve been making sure to exercise, get outside for a walk with my son, and do at least a five-minute deep breathing session daily. I’ve started drinking nettle tea daily to fight the inflammation (also this is how I fight my spring allergies). And I made up a bone broth from a local free-range organic chicken carcass I had in the freezer. Earlier in the week I made an asparagus egg-drop soup out of some of it, and tonight I’ll be making a lentil stew – both full of lots of vegetables. It seems to be doing the trick, and I’m glad to have not made myself literally sick from the stress last week.

I don’t know how long I’ll be able to stand doing the freelance work for the shop though. At least long enough to figure out if we’re staying or moving, I hope, and for me to make up my mind on what I want for the next stage of my life.

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