I have a new contact form on The Spike, which you may have seen, which has the prompt “Ask The Spike”. My plan was to use you, us, the collected Spike Brain (“brain”) to solve readers’ problems. A bit like Mumsnet but with fewer acronyms DYKWIM?
Up until now it has been used for people to just generally get in touch with me but today I’ve had an actual question! From Gail!
What do you do when you’re not sure what you want to do with your freelance ‘career’ any more. Because really it’s become stale, boring and shoe horned in around looking after your kids. How do you find that next ‘spark’ and make it work – and pay?
And I went WOW. This has literally been my life at many points over the last seven years. And, actually, at times my husband’s life. So, I’m sure, many other peoples’ lives.
Personally I choose to take a deterministic view of stuff like this. Do you remember the bit in Bridget Jones’ Diary where they talk about that slightly bogus thing of “struggle” and “flow”? It is bogus, but there is definitely something there. All it means is that sometimes the universe fights you when you try to make things happen, but if you just kind of sit there, bobbing along on the surface of life, something will come along eventually and you just have to be primed and relaxed to grab that opportunity.
I also very much subscribe to cosmic ordering – i.e. visualise what you want to happen, what you want your daily life to look like and concentrate on that and think broadly positive thoughts “Isn’t the future exciting?!” as opposed to “Why am I not as successful as X. Why am I not Y?”
Obviously at times I am the Queen of Negativity. I am crushed by feelings of helplessness and what do I think I’m playing at? I am Moaning Myrtle, my aura is toxic, I can barely leave the house, everything I touch turns crumbles to dust, I am right at the bottom of Fortune’s Wheel, my arse bumping along the bottom with the dust and the crap and the bits of plastic. And that state can last for hours, or days, or weeks. Once it lasted fully six months!
But sometimes just knowing that it all goes in cycles, combined with visualising what you want, rather than despairing over what you have, is one step towards a change. And, as my husband sometimes quotes from Rocky “It’s not about hard you can hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
How about you? What do you think? Let’s help Gail. Let’s help all of us.
I love the idea of “Ask the Spike” and I love this question. I feel I could write a whole essay in response- a rambling and entirely subjective essay.
I started my career in the City, had children after about 8 years then realised that I couldn’t carry on with my old job in a way that worked for our family. Now I’m doing my old job freelance and part time, studying part time and trying to finish every day by 4ish so that I can also be around with my children (who are now school age- it’s obviously much harder when they are smaller). It should be great but, like Gail, I sometimes find it stale and boring and also resent the fact that it’s all shoehorned around the kids (even though this is what I chose to do). Also think that, coming from a traditional career, I still think in terms of linear progression and having opted out of that sort of progression I feel like a bit of a failure (again, despite the fact that this is something I chose to do- what a wally).
At the risk of sounding a total wanker, I have been trying to adjust the metaphors I use to think and speak about work. It’s really easy to use metaphors of linear progression and climbing- career ladders, getting on, getting ahead, rising through the ranks etc etc. I’m not sure these metaphors are very helpful if you’re doing something other than a traditional job. Have instead been trying to think in terms of richness and variety and these being valuable ends in themselves. Not always v good at this though.
I keep reading about a book called The Multi-Hyphen Method. Has anyone read it? I have resisted so far as most work self-helpy books I’ve read just seem to state the obvious and tell you to network more (urgh) but would love to know if this one is different.
I’m in a different position as I’m contemplating a return to work after being out of it for a time, and I’m not one for self help books usually but recently I read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat Pray Love and The Signature of All Things) – it’s about work and life and how to approach both in a creative and meaningful way, based on her own experiences. As the title suggests it’s a little bit woo-woo, but mainly it deals in the application of hard work and good sense, how to let go of good opportunities but perhaps make way for better ones, and find fulfilment in ways you might not expect. It was inspiring yet grounding at the same time and all about chasing the spark, I really recommend it.
Tabitha Coupe says
Esther I love this and couldn’t agree more. Wise words and beautifully written and a bit of Rocky is always good in life. The very story of how Mr Stylone (sp?) strived to get that film made and be the lead is inspirational itself. Tabitha
Kate W says
Thank the lord for Gail sending this question. Admittedly on first reading it I did find myself having a small panic at being confronted in black and white with such a perfect summary of my so-called freelance so-called career, and instinctively went to hit delete Delete DELETE before even looking at the response. But then I reminded myself I am 43, a trained and qualified executive coach (I know right, the irony), and re-read the question and the rest of the post.
So, I have adapted Esther’s question, ‘What do you think?’ to, ‘What would I say to a coaching client who was paying me to support them with this?’ I would ask questions to explore the following: the ideal scenario (including nitty gritty practical details); the current scenario and what’s wrong with it (and what consciously and sub-consciously contributes to it not being ideal); and finally what three things are possible to change that would make a positive difference / step towards where you want to be.
Thanks for prompting me to give myself a bit of self-coaching. And thanks, Esther, for The Spike – proud to call myself a Spikopath (if that’s not making light of a serious health condition?!).
SPIKOPATH! I love this
Gail, I totally sympathise. I write TV scripts for a living and sometimes my cup flows over and creative juices are flowing and it’s all hunky dory. Then, no work, bills to pay, feeling like I’m scrabbling around for ideas and inspiration and mainly browsing twitter and pretending to work. So my tips over what feels like a lifetime of feeling exactly as you describe above: 1. Find a new angle – maybe if you have always done/worked for/written for X – how about Y? 2. Can your skills be transferred to another form of the same thing – just in an area you haven’t thought of before? For example, I also write for blogs – I’ll write for anyone pretty much who wants to throw £ at me. 3. Could you teach what you know to others? 4. Think outside the box – write a list of all the things you love about what you do and then see if any of those can be used in other jobs? 5. Hit up your mates – maybe they need your skills or know of someone who would. 6. Go for a walk. Go somewhere you don’t normally go. Take in the view. Let yourself relax. 7. Write down any idea no matter how loopy in a notebook – keep it by your side day and night. 8. Finally ask all those you love what they think you are best at – what they say will surprise you. You have skills you didn’t even know! 9. It all works out in the end. I promise. x
Ooh how pertinent, this is EXACTLY me right now. Just packed the youngest off to school but now totally demotivated with regards to upping my freelance work. Simply cannot be arsed.
Haha. Isn’t that the question every mother with an arts degree who wants to pick up her kids from school has? I can’t even get to first base, I. E. Make any money at all, so fat lot of advice I can give. I’ll be folding my hand soon and heading off back to shitty 13 hour days in the city doing bullshit work that doesn’t matter, and having my thirs child call the nanny Mummy, just like the others did.
This is me, too.
Btw my first step is to seriously budget everything to see if we can survive on one income and I can still look after the kids. Problem is, much though I want to spend time with them, they do my head in, so I want some sort of WFH gig that isn’t total BS, but I can’t actually find the time to set anything up, because I’m looking after the kids all the time. Urgh…
I’m older than I think a lot of the commenters and I really don’t think that I’ve ever called myself a freelancer. I was a mum that was determined never to go back to work, in the formal sense and now at the age of 62 I’ve succeeded, I never went back to work. From the age of 27 I created my own work, none of it paid highly but I saw my job as not just to earn the money but also to hold on to the money we had.
It sounds really housewifey and harking back to the 1950’s but I saw the value of the old motto of a penny saved is a penny earned but scaled up to the nth degree and saw my value to our home partnership in basically being a tightarse and learned that there was pleasure to be had in the simpler things in life and made sure that any money that left the house was for the right reasons. No flashy cars, no flashy holidays, no flashy clothes and certainly no keeping up with the Jones’s. I never missed an opportunity to save money, to me that was as valuable as actually earning it.
The kids had their own bank accounts at 12 and a monthly budget to spend on everything they wanted and needed (apart from school stuff) and they soon learned that if they wanted Kickers they had to save until they got their next allowance, or maybe they’d choose a cheaper brand of shoes – and more often than not they went with the cheaper option.
I never missed a school play or assembly, if they were ill I was home for them and they never came home to an empty house. I wouldn’t change any of it.
I’m only slightly younger than you (58) but this is also so totally my life but my god I’m reaping the rewards now as are my family. Sometimes you’ve got to play the long game even though it’s beyond crap at the time.
I think it’s great that you and Gill (above) did this, there’s too much pressure not to just be a housewife and mum these days, if that’s what you choose. I’m really interested in what you mean by reaping the rewards now – what are they?
Yeah me too, I’m imagining that her kids are millionaires and cook her Sunday lunch every week, or she’s a bestselling author, or she does cookery shows for a living!!
What an interesting question! It could be my dilemma too and clearly it is for loads of Spikers. As woo-woo as it sounds, the universe has a uncanny knack of knowing what you need and providing it through serendipity. BUT you need to be open to it and that means thinking about what you’d like to do, and what gives you satisfaction. Really noticing the ballache bits and the bits where you do get into it.
You might need a bit of time off to do this. It could be a yoga retreat or a girls holiday to Mallorca or just some time off pottering at home. But it’s helpful to give your mind some sort of basic task to occupy it while at the subconscious level it’s pondering more fundamental issues.
If time off isn’t going to fly, I use Emotional Freedom Technique at bedtime to work through tricky problems. Have had a lot of success with it.
Once you have a clearer picture of what that would look like, then you can turn to practicalities like how much money you need or would like to earn and how much childcare you need to do that.
Tapping into old contact networks is easier than one might think. I find being quite explicit and specific is helpful (hi! just wondering if you know anyone who’s looking for X type job/ person?).
My experience has been to admit to myself that I’m in phase where I no longer have time for pontificating (I used to work for think tanks/ consultancies). I’d rather just Get Shit Done. So I’ve swapped into project management. Initially I was really worried that this was less…. ‘glamorous’? But there’s a lot of satisfaction in getting shit done, especially for clients I care about and who are doing their best.
Good luck XX
Just wanted to say how much I agree with the comment about being explicit about what you want. I don’t know whether this is something more common in women than men but I think sometimes one can be tempted to make contact and then just hope the other person suddenly offers you some work, rather than saying what you are looking for. Sort of “if I’m good enough then they will ask me off their own bat, and if they don’t then I’m not good enough”. But this is of course nonsense.
Such an interesting discussion and I really wanted to add something insightful and profound – but I absolutely can’t. So I’ve have mainly been hitting refresh on Instagram to see if Esther has provided another story in John Lewis which I would have found comforting while procrastinating about the work I absolutely have to do.
I can just add that I am sort of freelance and sort of not. Can’t recommend any ways to get the spark back into freelance work and find new work. But two things from the above really strike me as important more generally. First, Lizzie’s point about getting away from the ideas of linearity associated with traditional careers. That can be really difficult to do because it is SO engrained in our notions of ‘success.’ The fact is though that men are still much more likely to have linear careers than women and obviously that is partly why they are found at the top of corporate life etc. But … for me, although my so-called career hasn’t been remotely linear (or at least, definitely not in a consistently upward direction!) I am grateful overall for the opportunities to combine work and life afforded by that which I think of as (different) kind of a success. (Also my husband has a fairly ‘successful’ linear career and the poor thing is nothing but a corporate drone).
I think a good metaphor which characterises the working life of many women is career as labyrinth. Sort of one step forward, two back, a couple sideways, and then perhaps up again. With some false starts and dead ends. This may not be entirely positive in terms of status and pay etc (if those things matter – pay probably does!) but if it’s at least partly a choice, I think acknowledging that this type of career is quite ‘normal’ can be helpful. And then I think as Esther says, in my experience these things definitely come in waves or cycles. I have had periods where I have achieved a lot and done exciting new things but inevitably I wouldn’t be able to sustain that pace at all times. I do think though that when you become aware of a slow bit and want to change, a little bit of reflection and active planning is required, while recognising that life happens when you are making other plans etc.
Thank you Esther! For reasons far too boring to get into, this was EXACTLY what I needed to read this evening…
It’s almost creepy how in sync with my own thinking (stale bread/career) this is. I hope for even more advice on this!
I started reading the Multi-Hyphen Method after looking through the (really helpful) comments here and have to say that although I am so not a ‘self help’ book type of person, this is a great read. It is totally changing my mindset about what success means and has made me feel so much better about my work situation, and I guess my life generally. It’s full of really interesting stats too. (God, how ‘booky’ does that make me sound?!) Anyhow, I would heartily recommend.