Editing: Freelancer Guilt

When you’re a freelancer, it’s hard to justify going on vacation, having a day off, or even taking a break.

Like most people, one of the first things I do to start my day is check Facebook. I like staying updated with my family and friends, and the world in general. I see my cousins started their first day of school, the latest local news, and also that J.K. Rowling relinquished another tiny tidbit of information regarding the Harry Potter world.

An article I read recently (not Harry Potter related) was a Guardian interview with Michael Palin, who is one of my biggest inspirations. He discussed his published diaries, his family, and Monty Python, among other things. But he also said this in reply to the interviewer asking him why he felt guilty about taking the time to just sit and read a book:

“Because that’s what comes with being freelance. Every hour of the day I feel like I should I be making what I’ve just done better, or preparing for something I’m going to do to make it better, or writing something new – all these things are on my mind. It’s rare that I feel I’ve done everything and feel like I’ve bought some time.”

How true is that, right? If you’re a freelancer or anybody who does commissioned-based work, you know that guilt. That feeling you get when you’re out with friends or catching up on Netflix, and even though your work is technically done for the day, you feel like you’re doing something wrong. (Note: this guilt doesn’t count if you’re actually just procrastinating!)

When your entire profession revolves around doing work at home, it’s hard to escape that feeling. Like Palin said, every hour you’re not working is an hour “wasted.”

On one hand, this is good news. If you’re constantly feeling guilty about not doing work, it probably means you’re highly passionate and committed to your craft. You enjoy what you do and relish any opportunity to keep doing it. In résumé terms, you have excellent work ethic and a strong drive for success!

On the other hand, the guilt is a constant burden. You can’t really enjoy yourself when doing anything else, even if you feel you’ve earned a non-work related reward. And if you’re in the middle of a financial crunch, any time you’re not working means lost income.

It’s part of a freelancer, and there’s really not much you can do about it, except try to achieve a balance between feeling guilty and feeling satisfied. Of course, you should always strive to be better, to create new goals to aim for, and to further your vocation in any way possible. But remember that all work and no play makes for a dull life. Taking a break lets you clear your head. Having a day off prevents you from getting burnt out. Even a vacation can give you a reset of sorts, allowing you to relax and rearrange your priorities, so when you’re back home to work, you’re be energized and full of ideas for the future.

When freelancer guilt comes on strong, take a look at the work you’ve already accomplished, not what you plan to. Keep your focus on the here and now; let tomorrow be tomorrow, come what may. Figure out what’s truly important at this very moment, and make sure you do that. Family, friends, personal time, etc. are all things that keep you healthy – so you can work longer, better, and with more satisfaction.

Also, let the guilt work for you. Use its persuasive powers to get you to do non-work things maybe you wouldn’t’ve done before, like starting a blog or learning how to garden. You’re still being productive, but away from your job.

Remember, the point here is to be balanced. Not to have debilitating guilt, but to keep that drive; not to slack off, but to be aware of your social, mental, and physical needs outside of work.

How do you deal with freelancer guilt? Share your tips in the comments below!

“Computer Keyboard” by Marcie Casas is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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