I’ve gotta be honest, lately, I’ve been feeling the burnout. My business is approaching its first birthday. Instead of being all smiles and celebrating all of my (deserving) successes, I’m stranded on an island of emotion, confusion, and exhaustion. I’m not trying to complain or seem bitter, quite the opposite actually. But there’s a lot of things about being a freelance outdoor writer that no one talks about. So for a brief moment, I’m going to stop putting my brand first, and get real with a few confessions of being a freelance outdoor writer.
It’s HARD Freakin Work
Yes. I know what you’re thinking. Sure Meg, it’s so hard for you to be going around getting paid to travel and go on adventures. Let me play a swan song on my tiny violin for you. Before you begin your symphony, I’m not discounting the value of the experiences I’ve had. However, the trade-off for always being on the go means I’m smashing 50-80 hours of work in four to five days each week often without pay. Oh, and I don’t get PTO. I don’t have benefits. There are no raises, bonuses, 401k plans or happy hours with colleagues. Often times, I’m on trips where I spend more than I make and that means when I get home I don’t get to lazily sort through emails and get over jetlag, instead I’m hitting it hard. I’ve gotta sort through my expenses, tend to my clients, produce work AND find more projects all at once without the promise of steady pay.
Interested in what it’s like to live on the road? Check out how this vanlifer makes a living as a freelancer.
I don’t get to just leave my office and forget about my work (yes, I have a house and a mortgage and adult bills). My work is me. That goes with me everywhere. This means when I’m out adventuring and traveling, I’m also working. I’m constantly developing content, thinking about a story, or trying to leverage my experience. Just ask my friends, who so lovingly support me and allow me to shoot photos of them constantly.
Social Media is Hell
There I said it. It’s out in the open now. For as much as I thank social media for some of the best friendships of my life, many aspects of social media breed unhealthy outlooks on our own lives. Just because you work in an industry that cultivates itself on social media, doesn’t make you immune to its damage to your mental health. Unfortunately, it’s one of those necessary evils I’ve had to learn to deal with since I find a lot of work on socials. But it’s a balancing act. I don’t know how teenage kids can deal, no wonder the younger generations are throwing back Tide Pods like it’s going out of style.
Prepare to Be Vulnerable
In order to be a successful writer, you have to make yourself vulnerable. That vulnerability comes in many different forms, but it’s there each and every day. Eventually, it’ll wear away and expose things about yourself you either didn’t know or haven’t seen in a long time. I’ve thought about my childhood and teenage years often throughout this process, which was something I never really wanted to relive. But when you have ultimate control over your workplace, everything and anything that’s ever held you back comes up. It isn’t a gentle stream, it’s more like a volcanic explosion of self-realization. And there’s no stopping the emotional vomit until it has taken out a good chunk of the foundation you’ve built. Only then, can you begin to rebuild yourself and move forward.
This phenomenon is not strictly reserved for freelance writers. Every small business owner I’ve ever talked to has a story about the personal struggle of launching a business. Everyone experiences something different and no one is immune.
Don’t Forget Why You’re Doing This
I started my own business as a freelance writer and photographer in order to align my passions with my job. I spent over six years working in a corporate environment as an architect. Some days I was so miserable it felt nearly impossible to get out of bed. My ultimate goal is to obtain the freedom to be my own boss, set my own hours, and work hard when I need to.
Since quitting, I’ve experienced the awesome power of being in control of your own life and your own freedom. A friend once told me, “freelancers are horrible at capitalizing on their downtime.” It’s true. We panic about money, numbers, followers, stats, proposals and totally forget why we got into this biz in the first place. I’m beginning to learn how to let go. In fact, I had no deadlines this week, so I packed my bags threw the dog in the car and headed out to Utah, where I’m writing this post.
It Sounds Like I Had a Kid
I know that any mom reading this is probably laughing at my naiveté here (or scowling, remember: the reaction is up to you). When I talk about my business, I chuckle because it sounds like I’m talking about a kid. I always say that starting a business has been the most challenging and utterly rewarding experience of my life. I’ve allowed it to consume me, but I’m slowly learning how to make space for me. I don’t sleep, and I’ve noticed slender creases in my face where there used to be none, I’ve sprouted a few grey hairs. Often, I wake up in the middle of the night feeding the internal wheels that just don’t quit turning, and sometimes, they feel cholic-y. I pour my heart and soul into nurturing something that I believe in. Perhaps this is my baby, I’m not a mom, so only time will tell.
Overall, despite the challenges of what I’m going through, I truly can’t imagine my life any other way. I’ve got a long way to go until I feel like I’ve “made it.” But perhaps I’m already there. The growth that this profession offers is astounding. If you’re considering a leap of faith, consider this: Success is on the other side of fear.