Loneliness, Mental Health, and Diversifying My Income As a Freelancer

Beverley Pack Your Passport

Career trajectories are meant to go one way: up and to the right. You begin in an entry-level role, work hard, get promoted, get a raise, find a new job that pays more, work hard, get a raise. You’re constantly reaching for the next rung on the ladder, strategically trying to find the kind of position that challenges you whilst also covering your outgoings and making you happy.

Being a freelancer is the same.

You take the leap into freelancing, something people do for many reasons: maybe you hated your job, maybe you got made redundant. You start out small with a few clients, work hard, take on more clients, work hard, find more clients, put your rates up.

While a freelance career can be unstable, and the feast/famine cycle is one many self-employed people will have experienced, there’s still this expectation that once you’re established as a freelancer your career will follow the same trajectory as traditional roles. That if you keep pushing, looking out for opportunities, and increasing rates, success will follow.

When people take a pay cut so that they can move cities (like I did when I left London) or concentrate on a job they love rather than one that just pays the bills, it’s often seen as a step backwards.

But worse still, in a world where the first thing a stranger tends to ask you is what you “do” and it pays, socially, to have something good to say, is the attitude towards those without “career jobs”.  The idea that those who work in retail or hospitality or any other sector that doesn’t require you to commute to an office everyday must not have tried very hard in school. That they lack ambition.

It’s a horribly classist attitude, because any job is a proper job. People who work in retail or hospitality aren’t just biding their time until their big break into office work comes about. These jobs, while traditionally attracting students or those who require flexibility to care for children or relatives, aren’t just stop-gaps. They pay the bills and put food on the table. They’re proper jobs too.

Perhaps the reason I get most angry about the way we talk about careers, the way we put high-flyers up on pedestals, and the way some jobs are seen as ‘stop gaps’ while you look for something better, is because for the past few months I’ve been bankrolling my freelance career with a job at a local independent cafe.

Let’s skip back a few months.

Freelancer Loneliness and Diversifying Your Income - Beverley, Pack Your Passport

In June 2016 I left my digital PR job in London, moved back to Leeds (where I’d gone to university ten years beforehand) and started a new agency role. When I lost that job, in January 2017, I decided to utilise all the social media, copywriting, and digital PR skills I’d acquired throughout my career and went freelance the next day. I was lucky; I secured a contract with the company I’d worked for in London and spent the first couple of months of my freelance career working remotely.

Those first couple of months were exciting and terrifying in equal amounts. I booked my friend Jo, a local photographer, to take my headshots, booked another friend, Bobbi, to re-design my website (I’d bought the domain name years beforehand but never done much with it) and in between running this blog and completing client work I went to as many meetings in Leeds as I could, just to get my name out there.

I think if I didn’t live alone, if I wasn’t single and solely responsible for rent and bills, it would have been a lot less scary, but I threw myself into my new career anyway, making enough in the first six months to cover my rent, bills, and more.

I worked out that, if I continued as I was, I’d be on track to making the same amount of money in twelve months of freelancing as I did in a full time role in London.

I revisited Amsterdam, said yes to a press trip to La Rochelle, spent my birthday in Berlin. Life was good and I was happy, for the most part.

But there was a side to freelancing that no-one really talked about: isolation. And that took its toll not only on my mental health but also on my finances.

Freelancer loneliness

When I first went freelance, I loved getting to my desk in the morning. I’d moved into my flat six months beforehand and bought a table that would serve as both a dining table (when extended) or a desk, and used it mostly for blogging in the evenings.

Now, I was excited to use it everyday. To make my morning coffee and get shit done.

That lasted for months. I’d wake up, shower, get dressed, make coffee and breakfast and be at my desk by 8:30am or 9am. I was happy with the work I was doing, happy with the money I was earning. It felt good and empowering to be earning money that’d come about through no-one else’s work but mine.

But working from home five days a week when the only member of the team is you has its downsides.

Working alone has never been a problem for me. In fact, in some ways I prefer it. Especially because I was always the child in school who groaned when I had to take part in a group project.

But there’s a difference between working alone and being alone all the time.

Sometimes I’d go to cafes to work, but I was loath to spend all my hard-earned money on coffee and I didn’t want to be that person who buys one flat white and hogs a table for an entire afternoon.

I looked into co-working spaces but it seemed like an unnecessary expense when I had a perfectly good desk at home.

The black cloud had been in and out of my life for years, but got worse when I got back from celebrating my birthday in Berlin in July.

A large contract had finished a couple of months beforehand and, while I’d succeeded in bringing in more clients, financially things looked a lot different to how they did in February or March. I began to doubt myself and my abilities, feelings of failure set in, and suddenly getting out of bed and sitting at my desk wasn’t as exciting anymore.

In fact, I began to dread it.

I still got my client work done, still jumped on calls with potential new clients, still loved freelancing and the variety of work I was doing. But something had to change.

Financially, I needed some stability. And, for my mental health, I needed community. If I could find a solution that would help with both of those? Even better.

Admitting this to myself was hard, because look at the way we talk about female entrepreneurs, about being a ‘girlboss’ and not stopping until you’re a success and quitting your mindless 9-5 to go and do something you *actually* love.

None of it takes into account the everyday logistics of working for yourself and often seems to come from a place of privilege. We can’t all live at our parents’ rent free while we get on our feet. We can’t all ask our partners to cough up a little more money for rent every month while we start our own businesses.

And even if we go it alone without those privileges, a lot of the rhetoric around working for yourself is entirely unhelpful. It focuses on the endgame:your eventual success, while most of us are still down here in the trenches trying to figure out how to write a contract, organise your finances, and celebrate winning a new client when the only thing you share your workspace with is an aloe vera plant.

Financial stability, community and diversifying my income

I sent my CV to a few local cafes, even though I hadn’t worked in a coffee shop since I was a barista in Melbourne in 2011 and crossed my fingers. And it gave me hope, because at the time even though I had clients on the books and money coming in, I needed stability and to feel part of a team again in some way or another.

Of all the cafes I applied to, I heard back from one. My interview took place in a dry store on two stools wedged between shelves of brown paper bags and plastic jars full of baking supplies.

I talked about how I’d worked as a barista in Melbourne, about my job at a pub in Leeds while I was a student, about the waitressing I did during my A-levels at the restaurant in my hometown.

I explained that I still wanted to be a freelancer, but that I missed working with a team. How a job like this would help me out, financially speaking, without impacting too much on my existing client work in terms of headspace. I showed a passion for coffee and customer service and two weeks later I was tying an apron around my waist and starting my first shift.

A couple of months after that, the cafe hired me on a freelance basis to help with their social media and marketing and found myself planning out social media, taking photos, writing newsletters, running Facebook competitions and Instagram stories, and helping out with their blog. Suddenly I had the best of both worlds.

beverley we work

I could have gone back to an agency. Could have said goodbye to freelancing altogether and found myself a stable, high-paying job in PR or social media, just like I had in London. But the idea of sitting in an office again day in day out again didn’t appeal to me. The whole point of finding something part time was so I could diversify my income, not replace my freelancing income altogether.

Right now I get the best of both worlds. I get to do a couple of day’s work with an incredible team of interesting, hard-working people where no two days are the same (and drink flat whites – hello, have we met?), I get to manage the marketing for the cafe on an ongoing freelance basis, and I also get to do my own client work back at my desk at home. The desk where it all started.

I’m still a freelance social media manager and copywriter, still taking on clients, but my freelance life looks a little different now than it did six months ago, and that’s OK. I went freelance with a day’s notice, no prep-time, nothing. I’m alright with not having everything figured out yet.

I thought people would think I was a failure. That, by not following that up and to the right career trajectory I was somehow less of a success. And, with so much of my life “online”, doing something so obviously offline felt like it didn’t fit in with what most people know about me.

But diversifying your income and bank rolling something you love doing with something else you love doing is actually kind of sensible when you think about it. I feel quite lucky to be able to do a few things that make me happy instead of having to choose just one.

And I don’t want to be a high-flyer, I don’t want to be a “girlboss”. What I want is more important than that: stability and community. And, above all, I’m happy, which is more important than anything if you ask me.

Beverley x

 

All photos in this post were taken by my wonderful friend Sam Sparrow while we were at WeWork Tower Bridge, London.

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Comments

  1. says

    I haven’t commented on a blog post in ages, I know shame on me, but honestly this is such a fantastic piece that I couldn’t just read and run. I know you and I have talked a lot about freelancing life, and with most things both know the importance of talking about things and being open when life isn’t rosy.

    You’ve done a great thing here, not only have you shared with us, but you’ve given a lot of people the permission to also be honest about their feelings when it comes to work/life and that is priceless.

    Much love & respect as always

    Emma

    • says

      I really, really hope it helps anyone who’s currently struggling with their feelings about freelancing, work, or life. I think there’s a lot of shame that comes with not ‘killing it’ as a freelancer and I really want people to know that success doesn’t always look the way we think it does. Success is so subjective.

      Thank you so much for your lovely words, Emma, it means a lot.

    • says

      That’s so lovely (and comforting) to have you say that, Kariss, because for so long I felt like I didn’t know my own mind at ALL. Everything felt so foggy and I couldn’t really move forward with anything, let alone do any freelance work. Life is busier now, and sometimes it feels like I barely have a moment to chill (although I’m making a conscious effort to on Sundays now), but I’m loving the variety and being out of the flat more has definitely helped my mental health.

  2. says

    Oh gosh Beverley this speaks to me so much. Firstly, you’re doing amazing. Secondly, freelancing is so hard and online it seems like everyone loves it and is having a great time. But deep down, it’s isolating and keeping having to get work in is tough. I’ve been thinking about doing something else for one or two days a week and this might have just made me take the plunge! I want to feel part of a team! Plus…..HELLO coffee.

    • says

      Sophie if this post inspires you to go do something else for a couple of days a week that’s honestly the biggest compliment EVER. Honestly, I can’t recommend it enough. I missed being part of a team, but I didn’t want the office job that went with it. So, for me, it’s perfect. But you’re right: to outsiders freelancing can seem like a total walk in the park. You get to work from home? Amazing. In your pyjamas, potentially? Brilliant! But the freedom to do exactly as you please a) wears off after approximately 2 days, and b) is such a small part of the actual reality of working for yourself! Give me a shout if you do take the plunge, my love, I want to hear all about it :)

  3. Colin says

    You hit the nail on the head there…glad you found a fix, not sure how to implement a similar thing for me, have all the same problems.

  4. says

    I’ve been in a place for a while were in freelancing sort of part time and working in a shop part time due to being scared of the leap of just dropping it all together. It’s nice to know you have even just a tiny bit of security and I also think I’d go mad if I barely talked/saw anyone day in day out. Your post has made me feel a lot better about my situation and that there is no need for me to rush out of it.

    • says

      Absolutely no need to rush out of it! :) Honestly, Hannah, if you’re happy and it’s giving you that financial security you need then there’s no pressure to put all your eggs in one basket. I’m so happy this post has made you feel about things. Hope freelancing and working in the shop is going well x

  5. says

    This is now one of my favourite blog posts. Was a great read, thanks so much for sharing this. Blogging about the isolation that comes with freelancing is such a huge help for me <3 I’m so glad that you’ve found a happy medium.
    jenny | http://www.jennyrosee.com

  6. P says

    Hey B,

    It’s kind of weird reading your blog and also being in it!

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing this piece, I like to know the ‘outside of work’ you a little bit more.

    We all feel really lucky to have you working with us at the cafe, I know that’s downstairs on the floor and upstairs in the office too. I love that you still want to work the floor because it makes you so much better at the other.bit – plus you are great at it.

    Your timing was perfect, the combination of circumstances ideal. Fate?

    Napoleon said:

    “I’d rather have a lucky general than one who is good”

    I think in you we got both.

    See you tomorrow.

    P x

    • says

      Paul, thank you so much for your kind words.

      I feel really lucky to get to work with such an awesome team and do what I love both on the floor and in the office.

      B x

    • says

      I’m so jealous, P seems like an amazing person to work with.

      So I don’t know if I told you about my job before but I go into schools and I tell students where we need more people working and what they should be doing to get great jobs. Yes, we don’t have enough scientists and engineers, but also we don’t have enough people working in retail and hospitality. Especially here in Cambridge, there’s a massive skills gap, and a manager of Costa earns more than I do.

      I would beat with a baseball bat ANYONE who looks down on those who do jobs that aren’t at a desk. Fuck them. They’re probably sad eating their sandwich answering the 20th email from Sharon in accounts. You’re doing a brave thing (something I wish I could do but – being single and poor – do not dare to do).

      I’m so sad to hear that the black cloud has been fogging up your screen for a while. If there’s anything I can do, let me know.
      Sending all the love. You’re doing an amazing job.
      Charlotte Steggz recently posted..Friday Links November 17thMy Profile

  7. Rebecca says

    This is so beautifully articulated – thank you. I worked as a chef for many years and set up my own small cake business 2 years ago (which I loved) and worked part time for my friends financial software business which allowed me to work from home and be flexible (but was not ‘me’ in the slightest, and I hated it). Whilst it was an amazing opportunity, I found I badly missed the buzz and energy of working as a team – it was a difficult decision to walk away from all that I had built – but I knew I needed to make a change. It’s so lovely to hear someone speak out about the plus points of balancing two different careers – wishing you the best of luck and hope your success continues :)

    • says

      Rebecca, thank you so much for your lovely comment. I feel as though there’s so much pressure to just do “one thing” when, so often, juggling a few things brings with it so much variety and the chance to work either alone or with different people. It sounds like you’ve done some amazing things, and I hope whatever you’re doing now is bringing you lots of happiness x

  8. Katie says

    I’m so happy for you Beverley! This is actually exactly what I was thinking of doing as well. I don’t want to sit at home all day freelancing, and I used to love making coffees and serving people so once I get my Green Card in the US and semi-settle down (we are planning on settling for six-eight months of the year and traveling the rest), I want to get a part time cafe job as well as my freelancing. Sure, I could get back into being an Executive Assistant – my old career job – but I would much rather continue freelancing and also work in a cafe. I don’t give a crap what career-focused people think – to each their own and I have never been a career-focused person. As long as you are happy, that is all that matters :)
    Katie recently posted..Creative Fatigue & FireworksMy Profile

    • says

      I completely agree, Katie! Having a career that “looks good” is so much less interesting (for me) than having one (or two, or three!) that actually make you happy :)

  9. says

    This post encapsulates the highs and lows of freelancing so well! I love having the freedom to write what I want, and work when I want, but after so long working on staff at a newspaper, the thing I miss most is having colleagues, or a community, as you say. I’m really glad to hear you’ve found a balance that works for you, Beverley :) Thank you for being so honest and open here – as a fellow freelancer, I really appreciate it xx
    Katie MacLeod recently posted..10 Top Experiences for a Girls’ Getaway in the Finger LakesMy Profile

    • says

      Katie it was so scary being so honest, but I’m genuinely so glad I got it out there because it’s so nice to hear that other people relate and that it’s not just me who struggled without a community!

  10. Diana says

    Good for you Beverly! I love that you went and applied to the cafe, I think I would feel the same loneliness as a freelancer. I absolutely love writing and doing this work on the side, but it’s nice to work with other people and I think that’s where I do best. It’s great that you recognized how you were feeling and changed your environment, it does sound like now you have the best of both worlds!

    http;//mylovelierdays.com

    • says

      I definitely have the best of both worlds and I feel very lucky to have that :) It’s not always easy, still, but things have definitely improved since I decided to diversify my income!

  11. Marie says

    Nice post! Damn right! I totes hate this “successful career” BS. What a neoliberal-capitalist-nonsense. I would MUCH rather work in a lovely cafe than for a corporate machine any day! (In fact I sometimes dream of having a lovely cosy little tea room/cafe with lots of nice books, cakes and plants.) I find it so liberating to know that I don’t want to be part of the ‘rat race’, that I don’t particularly want to manage people, that I don’t want/need lots of money, that I’d much rather do something creative, intellectual, fulfilling or just fun. And the sense of community is so important, as you say. Happy for you that you have found a nice balance. Honestly it sounds great to me! Please be proud! :-)

  12. says

    I’ve been freelance for 8 months now and for the most part I love working from home too. It’s great having so much flexibility (and wearing PJs all day), but I definitely need the social interaction. Until 3 weeks ago I was living in a flat waiting for it to sell and feeling like there wasn’t much point being sociable because I would be moving ‘any day now’. I’ve realised I get very depressed when I spend so much time by myself and now I’ve finally moved to Bristol I’m taking every opportunity to get out and meet people. Life is infinitely better! Sounds like you’ve fallen on your feet with that cafe job. I might just look out for something similar!
    Arianwen recently posted..Autumn Adventure Activities in KuusamoMy Profile

    • says

      Ugh I’m completely the same! I need time by myself to be creative, independent, and recuperate after lots of time spent with other people, but I get really down if I spend too much time alone. And feeling depressed really doesn’t lend itself well to getting work done. It makes me want to just lay in bed and do nothing and unfortunately that’s doesn’t pay the bills.

      So pleased for you that you’ve finally moved to Bristol. I hope the move went well and that you’re enjoying it so far :) x

  13. says

    Great story and sentiment Beverley. I’m so happy it’s working out right now. I had a bit of a panic a few months ago that it wasn’t working out and ended up applying for a few jobs – one of the employers ended up taking me on freelance so it all worked out for the best. No harm in having a look around and following other interests and skills. There’s no one way to be a freelancer and it’s great you have so much diversity in your week. And get flat whites of course 😊.

    • says

      Vicky I hate that you had a panic but I also kind of love that it’s not just me! It’s so easy to think that everyone else is just coasting along nicely and (ugh) “killing it”, and it’s comforting to know that we all have our ups and downs and sometimes other people are struggling financially too. I love what you said about there not being one way to be a freelancer. That’s so true.

  14. says

    Such a great piece!
    I gave up a pretty good job a few years ago to live and travel around Europe. As I’ve moved from country to country I’ve taken on part-time work to supplement my freelance income, but also to get myself out of the house and meet new people. I always worried that people would look down on me or think that I’ve taken a giant step back, but most people are really supportive (some even jealous). It can be so hard as an entrepreneur/freelancer to be home alone all day every day. Good for you for knowing what you needed, going after it AND getting a contract out of it!
    Kate recently posted..Expat Life: How To Find A Flat AbroadMy Profile

    • says

      Thank you so much, Kate! I agree with EVERYTHING you’ve said. I also thought people would look down on me but I’ve decided to just…not care. Like you say, being a freelancer at home alone all day can be so hard and sometimes you just need to find a balance between freelancing and getting out there and meeting people. I feel like I’ve definitely found what allows me to do that :)

  15. says

    I totally agree, Beverley. This is my first year doing remote work, which is fantastic. But I also worked casually for a sports stadium in Vancouver. I know it wasn’t a career, but I enjoyed going to work and listening to concerts on a weekly basis in the summer. It didn’t feel like work, and I got that social interaction I needed. I’m glad you’re doing you and feeling good :)

    • says

      THIS exactly Hayley! You get that social interaction, do something that actually doesn’t feel like work a lot of the time (because you enjoy it) but you also get to do your other remote or freelance work. Best of both worlds :)

  16. says

    This is inspiring. My job has flatlined and I’m in the midst of trying to find a new one, change fields, or figure out something else… I’ll be keeping your points about diversifying, daily structure, and loneliness in mind.

  17. Julie says

    This is wonderful, B. I’m sorry for the loneliness you went through but I’m so impressed with how proactive you were about finding a solution that worked for you. I have a full-time job but we’re a very small office (just myself and my boss) and seeing only one other person for most of the day really gets to me after a while. I started volunteering on the weekends at a bookstore/cafe that’s run by a charity here in New York for the same reasons you wrote about, and it’s done wonders for giving me that social contact and activity that I was really missing. And I’m totally with you – more access to flat whites never hurts, right? 😉 Anyway, I think talking and being open about our feelings and mental health struggles is one of the most important things we can all do for ourselves, so thank you for contributing to that so eloquently! xx

  18. says

    I’m in a similar situation but for different reasons. I love my freelance work but didn’t have enough coming in to support myself. So I had to get a part-time job to make ends meet. I found something at a shop I love, and I was really excited to start. However, it was awful. I hate it. I feel physically sick at the thought of having to go there twice a week. I wish I could get enough freelance clients so I could leave. It’s really affecting my mental health.

    I loved this post though, because you sound so happy with what you’re doing, and that’s great.

    • says

      I am happy, Cheryl, thank you so much for your kind words. But I’m sorry to hear that the part-time job isn’t working out like you planned. Is there another part-time role you can go for somewhere else? Hope you start feeling better about your situation soon :) xx

  19. says

    This was such an interesting and inspiring read! I personally would love to work for myself one day, but I know I would get a bit lonely too and your solution sounds like the perfect compromise! It sounds like you’re a lot happier too.

    I also really love what you said about “real” jobs. I’m a receptionist (albeit now in an office) and every time someone asks me what I do, I feel the need to somehow explain it and I feel that people expect that to be just a stepping stone to something else. I have no idea what I want to do with my life, but right now I love my job – I get to leave on time, I really like my colleagues and most of all, I feel confident in my position. Not everyone has to be super career-oriented. xx

    Laura // Middle of Adventure

    • says

      I’m definitely a lot happier. Took me a while to figure out how to make things right though :)

      I also think it’s totally ok to not know what you want to do and, honestly, as long as you’re happy it doesn’t matter what you do. Like you say, not everyone has to be super career-orientated. Your mental health is more important than that.

  20. says

    Hi, Beverley!

    So so damn happy to have found your blog.
    I am a final year student in college and I have zero aspirations when it comes to having a ‘career’. What I want, instead, is the freedom to travel, space and time to grow, flexibility, and to cultivate character and social responsibility. All of my friends are going for professional degrees or getting jobs and I am here like ‘naaah. Sitting at a desk ain’t for me at all. I am not going to go that.’ I doubted my decision in the beginning, but as I saw 2 more of my peers going for the same thing- their dream with no guarantee, I said fuck it to the generally accepted plan of a career.

    at 20, I am not worrying about a career. Or settling. I am just beginning to freelance and I am completely okay with having jobs for the rest of my life instead of a stable career (which feels utterly boring).

    Here’s to following your heart! And thank you so much for this inspiration. I’ll be coming back to this space more often now. <3

  21. Sandra says

    Hi Beverley!

    I found you thanks to Sarah von Bargen over at yesandyes.org and, girl, am I happy I did! This post really hit close to home.
    The last couple of months I’ve started freelancing as a translator and really hope to be able to turn it into a job. I love the fact that with only a computer and an internet connection I can work with people all over the world! I’m still in my “honeymoon phase”, loving to sit down at my desk and immerse myself in the World of Words… However, even though I don’t live on my own but with hubby and daugher, I can see a point where I will eventually feel the need for socialising as well. We’ll see…

    I have been struggling with depression most of my life and, yes, “I began to doubt myself and my abilities, feelings of failure set in,” is not the place where you wanna be when you’re freelancing and gotta believe in yourself!! I currently have no idea if there will be enough money to be made in this line of work for me BUT I love how you solved your situation because it suddenly became clear to me that I wouldn’t have to choose either/or! If I reach a place where I can’t rely solely on freelancing, I can side hustle somewhere to get the bills paid and still do what I love. And that felt so liberating and took some pressure of me…. so THANK YOU!

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