The best thing about the home office is how you can easily move from work to other activities, and between them at will.
The worst thing about the home office is how you can easily move from work to other activities, and between them at will.
(Both of the previous statements are true, by the way.)
I’ve been grappling with the advantages and pitfalls of working from home for years, now. Some parts of it I’ve totally figured out—at least for me—and I can say without reservation, for example, that I’ve pretty much got the whole science of getting dinner into the crock pot in the morning down to a science. I’m also pretty good at fitting a couple of loads of laundry into my day, and it not only gets the laundry done, it means I have to get up from my computer and stretch and walk around a bit. Win-win.
What I think I didn’t start really considering until recently was how it’s not just having the physical office here at home that makes things kind of blurry. I mean, yes, I’m working here and not somewhere else, but I’m also writing about my life, my family, my kids… it feels like everything that matters to me is kind of all knotted up together. That’s nice, sometimes, but it can also be confusing. And a little scary.
I’ve been fortunate in that freelancing has allowed me the flexibility to tend to my family in ways that conventional jobs either couldn’t have or wouldn’t have. If I’d been working in a cubicle when it became clear that public school was no longer working for my son, I wouldn’t have been able to make the decision to homeschool him. Well, I couldn’t have done it and kept my job, anyway.
When my daughter was hospitalized, everything else got put on hold, and when I was able to work, I did, and when I couldn’t, I didn’t. Again, I’m pretty sure I would’ve been fired from any “conventional” job given a similar situation.
In the months since my non-work life has more or less returned to normal [hang on, I have to go knock on all the wood in the world...], I’ve been trying to figure out how to get my career back up to speed, and it’s been hard. Harder than I expected. Stepping off the big hamster wheel presents its own challenges when you try to jump back on, of course, but there’s a lot of things making it even harder that I hadn’t considered.
I feel different, now. I am different now. As someone who makes a fair chunk of my living off of writing personal memoir, I was wholly unprepared for how the big events in my personal life might change my perspective on what I’m willing to write about on a daily basis. And it’s not even so straightforward as “these issues are no longer fair game” or “now I’ll talk about what I didn’t before now.” It’s much more subtle, and sometimes I’m not even sure what my new boundaries are, or should be. It’s like starting over, in some ways. It’s deeply uncomfortable, this not being sure of myself, anymore.
My carefully erected rules and boundaries about managing home life vs. work life have all been obliterated. I’m starting over, there, too. Some of this is good; I struggled for years with letting work bleed over into my entire life, and now I do things like really take the weekends off. That’s healthy. But it also means that sometimes I need to be doing more work, pushing harder on certain things, and I’m unaccustomed to that now.
Some of my “crunchy shell” (as I like to call it) has been worn away, and I need to toughen up again. Because I feel unsure of myself in a way I haven’t for years, I’m second-guessing my choices, analyzing every correspondence (particularly those related to gigs I don’t land) for clues as to what I’m doing wrong, and generally becoming neurotic. Okay, fine: more neurotic than usual. It’s not healthy, it’s not helpful, and it puts me in a place where progress is hard to come by.
Here’s the point: the solution, in that weird space where everything feels like it’s not going quite right and career is taking a backseat to home which is still, somehow, making accommodations for your career, is to get some outside perspective. That can be hard to come by as a freelancer unless you’ve heeded the advice I’ve been giving here for years to view your fellow freelancers as colleagues rather than competition. This is the place where you reach out to someone you trust and admire and say, “Hey. I don’t know what I’m doing. Help?”
I did this today, and thank God I’ve always tried to surround myself with people smarter than me. (Just to be clear, I think I’m pretty smart. But some people prefer to be the smartest one in the room. Not me! I’d rather have folks I can keep learning from, so there you go.) I reached out to someone I trust, and they took the time to advise me, and I’m grateful for that. I still need to figure out a bunch of stuff, but I think I’m on the right track.
Just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you’re an island. Surround yourself with good people, and if you lose your way, ask them for directions.