Freelancers are a rare breed. A lot of people envy us. The full-timers envy us because we can operate at our own time and do not have to deal with the same faces which we may dislike every day. Business owners wish that they don't have to bear the start-up costs or overheads like us.
We freelancers, on the other hand, look at full-timers, thinking how awesome it is to a stable income that pays on a specific date, without us having to chase for it? Wouldn't it be nice to focus on our tasks at hand, instead of taking up responsibilities typically performed the sales, human resource and accounts department as well?
We look at business owners, wishing that clients would treat us the same way they treat them and pay us the same amount, or at least on time!
Hence, the road to becoming a freelancer isn't easy; especially because we have to deal with all our issues alone. According to Epson research published in this article, 25% of freelancers experience depression, while slightly more than 1 in 5 (21%) freelancers experience suicide.
If you are one of those freelancers struggling with mental health, I want to say that is you are not alone. As a freelancer for nearly a decade, I have had several experiences that cost me my mental health and sometimes, almost my life. As the decade is drawing to a close, I had the time to reflect my experiences share what helped me overcome my psychological distress and emerged stronger.
I will be dividing this sharing into 3 different parts - mind, spirit and body. Part 1 covers how we can train our minds to prevent unfortunate mental breakdowns as a freelancer. I placed it as a top priority because how can we deal with mental health without dealing with our minds?
A word of caution - if you are suffering from severe distress, kindly visit a professional. Whatever I will be sharing is based on what worked for me, and can never replace professional medical help. Moreover, these tips that I will be sharing serves more as prevention than healing purposes.
Let's move onto tackling our minds for better mental health.
CONSTANTLY ASK YOURSELF TOUGH, BUT IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Pursue your passion. The money will eventually come.
That is the mantra prescribed by many people. While it tickles the fancy of idealists, without tough but necessary soul-searching, it's almost as good as saying, stay in your bed 24/7, the money will eventually come. It's either you confront yourself now or let reality overwhelm you later.
I had the opportunity to pursue my childhood dreams of being an actor. Not many people would be able to say likewise. I used to feel sorry for those who are not able to pursue their childhood dreams. Yet, it was me that I would eventually feel sorry for.
I went into acting, not understanding the size and potential of the market. Neither did I realise the hard truth about the industry - You still have to look the part for the role. Your success in getting jobs also depended on certain variables you cannot change.
While I'm not considered bad-looking by people from both genders, I am bald. This factor immediately puts me into the category of character actors. Yes, I will get jobs, but the rate of getting jobs are like 2-3 roles every month, while sometimes it's the other way round, 1 role in every 2-3 months.
I still recall back in September 2017, when my income was down to S$200. It was a humiliating sum of money for someone in his 30s. I fell into severe depression, so bad that I contemplated suicide. I asked myself if this was what I wanted to do in the long run. I had friends in the industry who are getting the same amount of jobs as I do, but they are willing to stay on despite the incredibly low pay. Yet for me, I realised that I prefer the feeling of...earning more money. I did not dare admit it immediately, as I always thought that the concept of making money was evil.
You see, back in my 20s, I was a die-hard romantic. I believed in the idea of pursuing one's passion for living a happy life. Additionally, in my earlier years, I had a few terrible encounters with entrepreneurs who were into nothing but earning money. I've seen how bad they exploited and ill-treated young people. I thought that people who are into making money are dirty, evil and soulless. I went into acting as defiance to the typical money-making journey without doing much research into the industry.
The desperation of $200 per month caused me to wake up and took up jobs that I usually would not do - including making door-to-door sales. I started to earn commissions and the feeling of making money using my ability instead of depending on some variable I could not control excites me. I worked hard at the job. Eventually, another opportunity to help me to earn even more money called in - hosting.
This year, I am making many times more than $200, living comfortably, and has also travelled to 3 different countries. I love hosting, and I also love the fact that I am still a freelancer who could afford to invests my time into learning new, high-income skills. The joy of learning beats the pleasure of pursuing my "passion".
There's no right or wrong answer in pursuing a job that does not pay well. However, you have to question yourself regularly about your motive of doing it. Does it truly make you joyful? Will you be at peace with the downsides of the career? You have to realise that it's okay to feel that you have made the wrong choice. You have to realise it is okay to change your path or services since we are freelancers when it's no longer serving your goals and values. Deep down, I love travelling around the world and having more money to pay for things like quality yoga classes and exotic Middle Eastern and Mexican fares. I love the feeling of being able to learn new things instead of doing the same old roles again. I love those more than I love acting. It was my ego that said material kinds of stuff are superficial.
On saying that, I want to say that I'm thankful to be an actor. I get to see and do a lot of things which regular people don't. I also met some of the nicest people in my life. I may get back into acting again when I reached a new level in my career and have some extra time to spare.
BE REALISTIC ABOUT WHAT YOU ARE WILLING AND NOT WILLING TO DO
You want to earn more money each month. Are you willing to wake up early in the morning to hustle and head to bed late at night? Are you ready to go to tonnes of networking events, dealing with some potentially nasty people before securing a deal? Are you willing to charge more and risk losing your existing clients? Are you ready to introduce new services to capture a more significant market share?
If you say...
I don't want to stay up late.
I don't want to go to networking events because I'm shy.
I don't want to jeopardise my relationships with my clients.
I don't think I am talented enough to introduce new services.
Then my next question is, are you willing to lower down your expectations? Can you be at peace with it?
When I was at a stage where I was disappointed with the limited amount of acting roles given to me, I had 2 other options. The first is to venture overseas. Next, is to create my series of short films starring putting myself in roles that I want. I didn't go for any of them because I do not wish to head off to a foreign land with lows fund and not having any connections. Neither did I want to spend lots of money and time on a project that may not get any response. Films are very subjective.
You may say that I 'chickened' out. You may say that I disappointed 20s self for wanting to live a heart-led life. Yet, on the contrary, I think I helped my younger-self realise that that's not what my heart desires. I can also provide myself with the luxuries I couldn't afford back then.
I am at peace. Period.
Everyone wants the best with minimal effort, but burnouts happen when people set way-too-high expectations and fail to meet them. Stop benchmarking your goals against Social Media Influencers if you are struggling to even type in the first button. Start with small goals. Earn your self-respect by completing these small goals so that you can be confident enough to take up more significant tasks.
If your goal is to maintain the status quo, that is fine too! You like to have a work-life balance, and what's so bad about it? Just be at peace with it. You don't have to follow suit to what other 'more successful' people do.
BE ATTACHED TO GROWTH, NOT YOUR IDEA
We, freelancers, are always conscious about our branding towards our clients. We don't want to change our services too frequently to avoid looking fickle-minded.
However, remember this, the economy is changing. People are continually picking up new skills now and then to stay relevant in the industry. Your services might be obsolete in years to come. Trust me, you wouldn't like to start learning again when you have no income. Start picking up new skills whenever you can. So don't worry about your current offerings. Stay ahead in the game. Think of the big picture.
I spent my non-hosting hours honing my writings skills, as well as learning SEO. Learning has boosted my self-esteem to the max - I never knew that a person from an arts background could be so well-versed in technical stuff.
So what's the downside of focusing on your idea? Look at shows such as Shark Tank and Dragons Den. Hopeful entrepreneurs come in with strong attachments to their ideas, only to be torn down by venture capitalists. Eventually, they broke down emotionally in front of public television. Had they done their research and focus on how their business could expand instead of how revolutionary their ideas were, they would not have ended up in such an embarrassing predicament. While on my binge-watching spree, I've seen people coming in, telling these VCs, that they spent millions of dollars for a product as simple as a brush even though it's losing money EVERY DAY! They're still attached to the concept that they are 'special' and their idea is going to make it 'big' someday.
TO HAVE A STRONG MIND. YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT TOUGH LOVE
You are probably expecting that the tips I will be sharing would feel more nurturing, such as take a break. However, I also believe that a healthy mind is one that can handle tough conversations. The tougher the discussions are, the clearer we are with our goals and expectations and the more peace and joy we will have in our lives.
However, those look for more nurturing tips, check out my next article as I move onto the segment of 'spirit'.