Whenever someone asks me, “So what made you start freelancing?”, one of the answers I always give is that I wanted a schedule that was more compatible with my kids’ needs. After my divorce I realized that single parenting with a regular 9-5 job was more than I could handle. (Man, my hat is off to anyone who manages that. I’m apparently just not that organized.) I wanted to be there in the morning and again when they got home from school in the afternoon, and I wanted the freedom to be able to work late at night so that during the day I could volunteer in class or take a kid to a doctor’s appointment without having to turn my schedule inside-out to manage it. I wanted the flexibility, because my family comes first. I’ve always said my family comes first.
Well, my family still comes first. But after having that premise tested quite a bit over the last couple of months, I realize that I accidentally became very attached to this career of convenience of mine. Oops!
My daughter has spent 20 of the last 40 days in the hospital. Half. Of the remaining days, she had doctors’ appointments on most of them, or was home needing care, or was at school and called for an early pick-up, or otherwise needed a lot more from me than she otherwise would.
Clearly my schedule would have to adjust. In the beginning, I simply stopped writing on my personal blog—that’s not “work,” not really, and as I was 1) not ready to talk about what was going on and 2) needing to cut out anything non-essential to save time. For my clients where I take periodic assignments, I asked not to be assigned anything until further notice. And then I somehow managed to keep up with everything else, for a while.
But as time passed, and it became clear this wasn’t a blip on the radar, it got harder to keep up. I started scaling back at Want Not, and I missed a couple of client deadlines, much to my embarrassment. The pressure of keeping all of the balls in the air was overwhelming me; when I wasn’t actively caring for my daughter, or trying to make it up to my son, I felt like I couldn’t concentrate on anything, or like maybe I should buy groceries for the first time in a month.
My clients are generally awesome, and because—prior to this—I’ve been reliable, they’ve been very understanding about my current situation. I’m trying to get back on track as best I can, even if that includes saying “I need to do less work now.” I’m trying to find a new work normal.
But. I’ve discovered a couple of things. First, although I knew in the theoretical that less work means less income (duh), I don’t think I’d fully grokked what would happen on my own websites when I didn’t post as often as usual. Interestingly, the traffic on my personal website—not a main revenue source—has remained nearly steady. It drops some on days when I don’t post, but is much higher than usual on the days when I do. But I’ve spent years building up the audience at Want Not, and my recent weeks of doing the bare minimum has caused a dramatic drop in traffic, and in turn, a huge drop in affiliate revenue. This makes sense; I’m posting fewer deals, so of course I’m making less money. But to go over my February revenue and really see what a huge income hit I took was sobering. And only time will tell if I can regain that lost audience or not.
Second, the truth is that I will do whatever my kids need, and my career comes second, yes, but oh—my sense of self is smarting. I miss being able to devote my day to writing. I miss feeling like I have a strong and thriving career. I lay awake at night worrying that this has set my career progress back in a way that will defy recovery. I worry that my floundering during this crisis has been met with patience… for now, but that eventually goodwill from clients will expire and I will be labeled, tacitly or directly, as unreliable. I worry that—given that we’re dealing with a chronic condition, at this point—that I will never be able to return to work as I knew it, and my identity-separate-from-my-kids will suffer, and our finances will suffer, and I will always wonder if I could’ve managed it all better.
What if, what if. There’s nothing I can do about it right now, except remember that part of the reason I ended up here was so that I could take care of my family. I’ll keep doing that, and deal with the rest when I can, I guess.