Being self-employed is a great feeling. You’re in control of the direction of your career, you’re directly responsible for your own income and you can (in many cases) choose your working hours to suit you.
However, running your own business (especially a creative one) is not without its difficulties.
First of all, it requires extreme motivation, you don’t get paid for sick days and being creative for money can sometimes lead to you sitting there tearing your hair out well past any deadline you’ve set yourself.
It’s precisely because of the hard work and commitment required to keep a business going that we put an inordinate amount of pressure on ourselves to be productive all of the time. In an office job, it’s easier to skate by with an off day, to do the bare minimum and know the wheels of the business will still be turning when you feel refreshed the next day. When your livelihood (and sense of accomplishment) rests on how hard you work, it’s a different story.
This is the reason that many business mistakes are made – because the one thing we are bad at is taking a step back.
So when is the right time to take a step back from your business?
When you’re ill or feeling rubbish
At the moment I’m in bed feeling lousy – and I’m totally not taking my own advice. But the minute this post is finished, the laptop is going off and I’m going straight back to sleep. There’s just no question about it. If I don’t, then I won’t feel better tomorrow.
If you were in a full-time job and you were ill, you’d take a day off. Not only does working too hard when you’re not well delay your recovery, but it can leave you vulnerable to mistakes and oversights. In fact, when I look at this post tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll find dozens of out-of-character typos.
It’s also hard to keep your perspective when you’re ill. If something upsets you, it will feel a whole lot worse if you’re not feeling 100% – and you may just forget to put a bit of distance between yourself and the situation and react in a professional way.
I’d like to note that this is not limited to physical illnesses. Trying to work through an episode of depression can be very distracting and helpful – but make sure you know when to stop if everything’s piling on top of you.
When you’re feeling overly sensitive
Let me tell you a little story. Just over a month ago, I put a post up in a rush. I’m the first to admit, while I’d done a couple of hours’ research, it wasn’t the investigative story of the year – it was about photographers and copyright and it was really just intended to get people thinking. For anyone who doesn’t follow this blog, this was right around the time my dad was really deteriorating and I was spending all day, every day in a hospice. Now, while I’d intended to stir up debate, what I hadn’t counted on was just how strongly people felt about the topic.
To me, it was a harmless piece (I even consulted with a lawyer before I put it up to make sure I’d got all the points of law right) that was only meant to get people agreeing or disagreeing with one another. I’ll never forget how I felt when I saw the comments starting to come in. Comment after comment by photographers feeling that I hadn’t done the topic justice, some saying it shouldn’t have been addressed at all – some going so far as to say that I shouldn’t be trusted with people’s submissions ever again, some (that were never published) calling me a joke writer, swearing, abusive and worse.
On a good day, anyone’s reaction to this (no matter how much professional distance you put there) wouldn’t be great. The article was poorly written. I’d rushed it (I’ll get on to that) I’d written something for the sake of writing it (I’ll get on to that too) and there were other ways I could have put the question out there, if at all.
On this particularly bad day, however, I didn’t just crumble, I fell spectacularly apart. The (then) five solid months of watching someone I love so dearly deteriorate in front of my eyes, somehow holding it together because I had to, all came unravelled in that moment. I removed the post – then I just sat in the family room at the hospice and wept like a child.
I’m not telling you this so you’ll feel sorry for me – I’m telling you this because it’s SO important to know your limits. I thought I could run full steam ahead with my business no matter how I felt. I was wrong. On a stronger day, I could have handled the fallout – but at a time like that I should have cut myself some slack and known it was OK to play it safe.
So if you’re feeling very sensitive or have personal stuff going on, it’s alright to back off. It’s OK to save a difficult conversation, a controversial piece of writing or art or a stressful encounter for another day. Don’t push yourself so hard that you crack under the pressure.
In the spirit of this post, I have to admit I couldn’t think of an appropriate picture. So here’s a pretty picture of some grapes and gloves. Pretend I came up with a clever metaphor to link it to the post please. Image © Satureyes
When you’re not feeling it or you’re just trying to keep up with the competition
How many times have I sat at the computer to start writing and found I had nothing to say? And how many times have I tried to write something anyway? Let me tell you, when I’m not feeling it, it never ends well. The above anecdote is a testament to that – when I started writing that piece, I really was scraping the bottom of the barrel for something to write.
And guess what happens when you’re not feeling it? Someone else out there does something you wish you’d thought of. The pressure to compete leads to panic – the panic leads to rushed and bad decisions and the bad decisions have repercussions.
You don’t have to be 100% ON your game all of the time. If you’re not feeling it, step away from your desk and go and do something else. Or nothing. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure or not productive – it just means you’re saving your productivity for a better moment.
And if inspiration strikes you at an unexpected time, just go for it – don’t hold back. Keep a notepad with you at all times, even by your bed if you must, so that if you get a good idea, you don’t lose it. My best ideas seem to happen at around 4am and unless I get them out I can’t get back to sleep (or I fall asleep and forget).
And as for the competition? Well, I’m sure they have their off days too. Just because another blogger has done something great doesn’t mean I have to do something even better right away! It’s a natural instinct to feel envious when someone’s seemingly doing better than you. It’s also natural to feel like right now is the only way to measure your success.
So first of all let me tell you that your success or failure is not measured by comparison. If I compared myself to other writers every day, I’d never want to pick up a pen again. It’s also not measured by your ability to perform all the time. Others having a great day doesn’t make your success any less real – and if you act graciously and kindly towards those who have done well, and allow them to have their moment to shine, they will support you just as fervently when it comes to your big moments too.
Staying away can be the hardest thing to do – especially when you’re desperately trying to make something into a success. But time and space are also important parts of the creative process – allow yourself distance when you need it, push yourself when you’re up to it and don’t beat yourself up if you have an off day, week, even month. It happens. And if you’re like me and you’re a creative type in doubt, refer to this wonderful strip (bad language warning) on theoatmeal.com about creating stuff for the Internet! And please, do post your experiences with overworking in the comment box below – taking my own advice, I’m off back to bed!