Working in the management ranks of a busy tourist attraction was good for my CV and my bank balance, but it wore my mental health down to the quick. A rigid schedule and endless boardroom meetings left me feeling exhausted, meaning evenings and weekends were often spent catching up on sleep or vegging out on the sofa.
Since then I’ve pivoted to freelance writing and have a successful career and two books under my belt. Although I’ve always dreamed of being published, I was also drawn to the world of freelancing because of the opportunity to manage my own workload. I’m not alone. Forty-five percent of Brits say that they want to make the move into self-employment to achieve a better work/life balance. [https://smallbusiness.co.uk/why-self-employed-boss-work-life-balance-money-2543737/]
I’ve written at length about the highs and lows of freelance life in my new book, Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss, whilst trying to be the best boss to myself at the same time. For me, the highs far outweigh the lows.
I get true flexibility, the choice to work from any location at any time that suits me. I can work-out in the middle of the day, clock off early to take care of those annoying life admin jobs (hello, Post Office) and this means that my time really feels like my own. There’s no pressure to be visible in an office, something which contributes to my mental decline in the past. A study by the University of Birmingham found that this kind of autonomy at work can lead to greater job satisfaction and reported levels of wellbeing.
You’d think that being responsible for my own wage packet would keep me up at night with anxiety. But any savvy freelancer knows that this worry can be alleviated by diversifying your income streams, which I’ve done gradually by implementing new ways to earn such as online courses, podcast sponsorship, paid webinars, and public speaking. With large companies looking to trim costs this year, freelancers are in a prime position to snap up short contracts and one-off jobs to top up their income. I find that having several clients to serve instead of one employer to rely on has made me feel more financially stable (and therefore a lot less anxious) than when I worked in traditional employment.
Being able to work on new projects at the drop of a hat means that I’m rarely bored at work. I write for various industries and work with a range of clients from different backgrounds which makes every day different and no two jobs the same. This feels freeing, and I rest easy in the knowledge that if I begin to feel monotony sink in I can pick up new projects to keep me creatively satisfied.
There are plenty of downsides to freelancing too. There is loneliness, constant comparison to your competitors, and the fear of never doing enough. It’s a lifestyle choice. But for me, the mental health benefits have made me more emotionally resilient than when I worked for someone else. That’s a gift I’m not willing to give up.
Fiona Thomas is author of Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 And Be Your Own Boss, published by Trigger, out 1st October 2020, £9.99.