3 Surprising and essential tools for freelancers [Are these in your emotional toolbox?]

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One thing recent months have shown me is the value of an emotional toolbox, both personally and professionally.

Without doubt, working as a freelancer micro business owner, there’s a need for resilience at the best of times. Working solo for most of the time, handling clients, projects, cashflow, and being creative can be challenges in themselves.  Add the layers of complexity brought about by the recent global situation and I found the fortifications I’d developed over recent years left me wanting.

Actually, it went further than wanting. I found myself hitting a definitive low.

Why have an emotional toolbox with essential tools for freelancers (or any business owner)?

For as long as I can remember, anxiety has been a constant companion for me. Sometimes excruciatingly so. At other times, just as background noise that would hang around when I had enough to distract me.

A family joke frequently shared was my default to ‘panic first’.

There was the time, aged four, when I fainted because a neighbour’s tiny dog ran up and barked at me, leading to a long time fear of dogs.

Then there was my hypochondriacal obsession about being sick that kept me awake at night in my pre-teen years.

If there was something to worry about, you can be sure I’d be on the case. And even if there wasn’t, I’d be on it anyway.

Perfectionist tendencies and an addiction to keeping everything ‘under control’ hasn’t helped either, although it’s great if you want a project done well and completed on time. Clients certainly appreciate it.

Through a series of jobs, businesses, and relationships, I’ve experienced my share of personal development and gained a lot of wisdom. With a commitment to overcome and learn from the experiences, I’ve tried a myriad of therapies, supplements, medications, alternative modalities, breathing techniques, diets, doctors, and exercise regimes.

Some have worked better than others; some not all.

However, even with all these efforts (all of which I approached with type-A diligence), my recent all-time lowest bottom made me sit up (or rather, lay down in bed for three days) and finally look at anxiety, something I hadn’t done before.

Not immediately mind you, but over the ensuing weeks, I gradually realised ‘it’ – the anxiety – was a thing to be faced honestly. I also concluded life wouldn’t be any different, if I didn’t do things differently and I just could stand that thought.

I decided I was just sick and tired of being so addictively anxious all the time. Like an alcoholic who’d had one too many binges, I’d had enough. It was time to clean up and break up with anxiety.

Why is this relevant?

It’s relevant, because if you’re a freelancer like me, or a small business owner (or even a big business owner), chances are you’ve experienced your share of anxiety in recent months.

Maybe it’s been a financial struggle. Perhaps you’ve had to rethink your business completely. You might even be wondering what’s next. Maybe you don’t have a business anymore. You might have even felt like me and ended up in bed for a couple of days, having to do something you’ve never done. Or perhaps you own Zoom, a hand sanitiser, loo paper, or mask making factory, and things are going swimmingly.

Wherever you’re at, there are a few things of which you can be certain. This too shall pass. And whether you’re up or down, you will always need an emotional toolbox for business and life.

In the hope offering a little light to others, I’m sharing my freelancer’s emotional toolbox here for managing anxiety.

#1 Honesty (Admit there’s a problem)

Honesty is the first tool to add to your emotional toolbox because without it you cannot admit there is a problem. This is something which has taken a lifetime to accept.

Always busy (I’ve come to dislike this word and way of life), distracted, and unwilling to look at it, anxiety always seemed to slip through the cracks when I was ‘working on myself’. I was never honest enough to look at it. What I’ve realised is that being anxious was my ‘normal’. Honestly, I didn’t even consider responding any other way.

As I’ve started walking the road to recovery, I’ve learned how much anxiety has been a conditioned response to just about everything, including the good stuff. In fact, it wouldn’t matter what the situation was, my automatic response has been somewhere on the anxiety barometer. I’d been stuck in a groove and realised that unless I changed my approach, all I could expect was more of the same.

Facing the fact anxiety and addictive thinking have indeed been a problem was a significant first step. Realising it was time to do something about it was another.

If you’ve found it hard to look anxiety in the eye, I get it.  It’s hard. However, if it’s a different-better life you want, I now know that even the tiniest amount of willingness to look at your willingness opens the door to change.

Take one step, then can take another, and another. You may find like I do that you take two forwards steps and then one back, but you’ll discover that the general trajectory is towards a healthier way to manage life and business.

#2 Humility (Get the right help)

Perfectionist freelancers and business owners try to do everything themselves.

I know, because I’m a recovering perfectionist freelancer.

That story you tell yourself – I have to do everything – is bullshit.

In fact, about half the stories we tell ourselves are not true (fact); that’s just the way the mind works. I know this too because I’ve spent most of my life living anxiously and almost none of the crap I’ve worried about has come close to happening.

Humility can pave the way to finally accepting you do not need to do it all on your own. Ever. We’re not meant to.

Just remember that when it comes to help, there is help – and the right help.

Working out the best help for you doesn’t need to be a complex exercise. Look at where you’re struggling or overwhelmed and get the back up needed.

This might sound simple, but when your default is DIY and hyped on anxiety, even admitting a little help could go a long way can feel like a bridge too far.

It took me a long time to ask for help and to receive it (reluctantly). I realised that behind this resistance sat a big pile of shame. How did it get to this, that I needed help?

Why can’t I just do it? Shouldn’t I just be able to get on with it? I found that none of these questions were helpful, especially when I used the answers as a way to beat myself up (another self-defeating program).

Here’s my suggestion. Reach out. Ask for help and be willing and gracious enough to accept it.

In these times when dollars might be short, consider doing an exchange of services. If you are clear about the parameters of the exchange, these arrangements can work really well. When do this, I like the test and measure approach. Start with a small job and see how it goes. If it’s a good fit, take another step; if not, everyone’s free to move on with no hard feelings.

Most recently, on a personal level, I’ve needed help from medical professionals, family, and friends.

At such a low point, I really didn’t have anything in the tank to give. In business, I maintained the supports I’ve had in place for some time – bookkeeping, accounting, website development and graphic design. Personally, I rely on any number of virtual mentors whose material I study (thanks to technology). A long time coach regularly reminds me we’re not meant to do things on our own, and it’s only our story that holds us back from getting the right help. Hello!

Leaving it too long before you access the right help can cost you dearly – your health, business, and happiness. And as I was reminded – it a waste of life. On the other hand, timely help can bring perspective, set constructive change in motion, and restore much needed equilibrium.

Remember too that receiving is the other half of giving, and maybe right now it’s your turn.

#3  Moderation (Slow down)

Like a lot of people I’ve known, work addiction has been a feature of my professional life.

Needing to be busy, overworking, pummelling myself into the ground, reacting to the demands of a boss or client, putting up with, and working ridiculous hours. That was me. Until I just couldn’t do it anymore. Thank goodness.

But the need for moderation – or slowing down – doesn’t just apply to work. It’s relevant for our approach to everything, because how we are in one area of life is how we are in others.

Out of necessity I’ve come to appreciate the value of taking a little more time for most things. I’ve discovered it allows me to do things better and with more care. Not every client appreciates this, but we usually don’t end up working together for long, and that’s okay.

I’ve learned that by slowing down in all areas, you can actually save money. And make more money.

It allows for more creativity and for more conscious communication too. We’re better able to pick up the nuances of what’s said or not said, which means we don’t miss things like we do if we’re stressed, busy, and under the constant strain and pressure of overworking. You can gauge more quickly if a project or client is right for you or not. Being able to discern this can mean avoiding costly mistakes.

With a slower pace I have seen changes in both work and personal relationships. A big lesson I’ve learned is my presence can be the present in any situation. In a distracted and harried world, this kind of attention is invaluable.

If you find slowing down a challenge, you’re in good company. A lot of professionals, including freelancers and business owners, feel like they ‘have to’ keep going, always moving onto the next thing, but the truth is, you don’t have to. You may choose to, but you don’t have to.

I have found that quarantining my work to certain hours and days is helpful. If I come across an idea I feel could help me work more productively, I’ll give it a go. Instead of thinking there’ll be a step-change-silver-bullet-solution to increasing my output, I look for the one percent tweaks.

Of course, from time to time, there are exceptions to the slow rule when a surge of effort is required, however this should be just that; an exception, not your MO.

Making the shift to slowing down will require a mental adjustment first. It may even take several ‘fails’ before you truly embrace the change, as well as regular reminders about the implementation. With practise though, it can become your new way of doing things.

The take-away

Now some way on the other side of persistent anxiety, I have a few trusty tools like these in hand for managing freelancer life and business with more confidence and a bit more calm.

Having ways to manage the emotional aspects of life makes for a better business and healthier business owner. It also leads to more creative outputs and the capacity to respond to life’s challenges with greater resilience and strength. And you could end up enjoying yourself more – and that is so worth it.

Looking for more essential freelancer tools for your business toolbox? Find them here. Get the support you need by downloading this free guide for growing your business as a purposeful freelancer committed to creating conscious content.