Recharging the Batteries

Originally written for ArtsProfessional

Working in a freelance capacity brings about its own set of challenges much different to those faced when in full-time/permanent employment. As someone who is frequently engaged in more than one project at any one time, I’m familiar with such challenges – but when trying to strike the balance between the work undertaken and the more basic motive of paying one’s rent, it’s often a challenge to stay motivated and focused.

Recently I’ve found myself feeling creative burn-out; being constantly busy over the past few years took its toll and left me feeling in dire need of a rest. Although going straight from one project to the next is a good position to be in as a freelancer, it can also deprive you of the opportunity to really evaluate what you’ve done on the last project, for the benefit of future work; instead you often find yourself getting into the habit of approaching things in a certain way without analysing whether or not it’s the best way to do so. As with anything in life, once you develop a routine it feels much easier to stick to it rather than trying something different – even if it might lead to you discovering a more successful approach.

I’m someone who always feels they’re not reaching their full potential, being overly self-critical when working and finding myself increasingly frustrated when things don’t go perfectly. Recently I reached a watershed, where I realised that going through this cycle of emotions was beginning to affect my enjoyment of the work I have been engaging with – so I made the decision to have a break, to evaluate my working practices and to approach my next project with fresh eyes and a renewed sense of optimism and excitement. For the past few weeks I’ve been really thinking about what it is that I enjoy about working in the arts, and the areas in which I perceive myself to be strongest and weakest – allowing me to focus on developing skills which I believe need sharpening, and to place greater emphasis on those where I feel I excel.

As with many freelancers, there is always the challenge of choosing the right project – something which perhaps comes easier with time. From my initial days freelancing where I felt obligated to say yes to every project and opportunity which came my way, I now feel much more comfortable in choosing my work more carefully; having established myself in my chosen field, I now find myself being approached much more frequently to work on projects, which in turn gives me a greater opportunity to pick and choose those which appeal to me the most. It’s always difficult to say no to someone when they come to you with a project, and it’s flattering to be asked – but there’s a responsibility to them and yourself to be honest and admit if you wouldn’t be completely passionate about and engaged with the work. There’s no benefit to anyone if you’re only going to work at 60% of your optimum level, and it can be damaging to both your career and the reputation of a company or artist if their work isn’t supported in the best possible way; instead, advocating for someone else you feel may be a good fit for the project is much more beneficial – also allowing you to help a contemporary further develop their career.

Bills still need to be paid, but it has been liberating to undertake work which I feel much less emotionally invested in; having undertaken much work for free as I have been genuinely excited by it, I feel there is no huge issue in going to the other end of the spectrum – provided my approach to the work is professional and I am meeting the expectations required of me. Being able to take paid work which doesn’t demand as much intellectual and emotional engagement also means I am able to think more creatively in my spare time – which feeds into the intention to approach my next project feeling revitalised.

Having benefitted from having such a break, I’m now at the point of starting to engage once more with projects and ideas – and feel much better for it. To all freelancers out there – don’t be afraid to take a break if you need it, and trust your instincts if you’re worried of burning out!

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