Lockdown for a Freelancer
A lot of your already know that I gave up the 9-5 a year ago in order to figure out what it was I really wanted to do. I was miserable, I was creative and I still am dyslexic. It took me a long time, and a lot of mentoring to realise that I had something special and I had a skill that people really enjoyed, and enough behind me to create a business that was unique and exciting.
The past year, I have been working relentlessly to get the #business off the ground; make a website, get a logo, write content, learn about marketing, learn about SEO, learn about Instagram, learn about finance… learn, learn, learn. I’m always learning. And that’s great. I’m so lucky to have the time to be able to learn. But as well as learning, I need to be earning too. I need to survive, I need to pay my rent, pay for a designer, pay for a domain name, pay for an inbox, supplies, paints, paintbrushes, pay pay pay pay pay. It is relentless. It is draining, financially, emotionally, and physically. It is much harder than I ever imagined.
But, after a long day of meetings, lessons, and whatever freelance work I could get, I would come home feeling satisfied and full. Full of life, excitement and a to-do list that only gets bigger and bigger. Some days I would huff and think, why am I doing this? There is no security, I get no sick pay, and I have no frigging idea when the next paycheck is going to come in. I am using my savings; I can’t afford to live like I used to.
Other days I am able to count my blessings. I would be able to go to the gym when it wasn’t busy, I could go and see my friends on their lunch breaks, I could get cheaper deals because I could do them during the day. My time was mine, and I could benefit and survive because I was smart about what I did, where I went and who I saw. I could find free lectures, and meet amazing new people and not one day was different.
I was shown how much my friends and family cared about me. Not that they didn’t before but when you really are stuck and lost, everyone will do whatever they can to pick you up and support you. I found it very overwhelming having everyone try to help but I was so very grateful. My Grandad proofreads my essays, my brother takes on my Twitter, my friends share groups with me that I can be a part of, some take the time out of their lives to meet for a coffee and ask me ‘How’s it going, how can I help?’, they buy dog #drawings off me as gifts for their family just because they want me to continue. The ideas and inspiration I receive from THEM, ALL OF THEM is just incredible. I would not have been able to last a year without all of these amazing people around and even if I took a job tomorrow, I would never forget what they have done for me and the achievements WE have made together.
Last week, was definitely one of the toughest weeks in a while. I had a flow of work. I was a crew member at the LSO & Barbican, I was a technician for galleries and interior design studios, I was an animal portrait artist and a drawing teacher. Not one month was stable, but at least my contacts knew that if they needed me, I would pretty much be free. And I loved that, I would happily drop everything for them and put my side hustles aside to make sure I could maintain a good relationship and also get a little bit of pocket money too.
But that’s not why I am writing this blog. I am writing this because of the #coronavirus and the effect it has had on# freelancers. A #freelancer like me. A freelancer that decided to take the gamble and leave the comforts behind, and now has an unclear future and a temporary new way of life.
It seemed like everything changed overnight. First, my future shifts were all cancelled, and gone. My teaching #classes had to stop, and it meant that no one needed my help because everywhere was closing. I could no longer see a misty but bright future. Unsure of sustainable outcomes but hopeful I could live month by month. I used to have a great job, and a good wage, and so getting used to the hand-to-mouth lifestyle has taken some time, but I finally accepted that was only temporary, hard, but necessary. And now, I have no income to look forward to, no goals set and no motivation. The misty future had turned into an empty dark one.
I decided last week was just a write-off. I allowed myself a few days to wallow as the government dealt with the priority people first and I am very glad that they did. Freelancers have a tough time as it is, so another small blow to the neck was nothing. I knew the government would recognise us at some point, and with the push of the amazing #BECTU representatives, I knew our voices would be heard.
But, in my time of wallowing, I felt lost again. I felt like I had just lost my job, but it’s not like there were any jobs out there for me to get. The country was at a halt and I was hovering in it, not knowing which way to go. I reached out to my friends and family who had once held me before and again, they cradled me as I cried and moaned and they brainstormed ideas for me. Which was great, but also nearly impossible to hear them when you have no motivation and you just want a big hug, but then you can’t leave your house to see any of them.
I was getting a little irritated with those who were moaning about working from home. AT LEAST YOU HAVE WORK I thought. At least you have money coming in, at least you have sick pay, at least you have colleagues, and work computers, and mobiles. I have my own equipment and if that breaks, I’m f*****. I would have no money to buy a replacement. I have no financial backup (except savings, which no one wants to eat away at). Our individual circumstances show their fragility in times of crisis and mine was more fragile than I had realised.
That was the first few days anyway. Everyone kept saying I should teach online but it’s difficult. How can you #teach when you can’t see what they are doing? I like to show people their mistakes and show them how to improve it. It just isn’t possible if you want to teach properly. That seemed like a dead end. But then, a friend of mine gently suggested I should do a little #class. An hour before I put it online, I cried to my mum and told her about how rubbish I felt. I really wasn’t in the mood for it. She tried to comfort me, and gave me some ideas which I wasn’t able to process and I finally thought, China, just get on with it.
I prepped a couple of exercises and winged it as we went along. It was great! Everyone was such a good participant and listened, had a laugh, and came out with some fun drawings. We had a mixed group of people, and afterwards, they were all full of compliments and suddenly, I felt like me again. I had taken away the pressure that I put on myself and thought, let’s have a laugh drawing you aren’t the only miserable fucker out there, but you can try to be the happy one. And so with a flip of the mental switch, I was back on track and full of energy and excitement. Connecting with people again, drawing again, having fun again.
After just one session, my friends were feeding me ideas, lifting me up and helping me get back on track. It was such a relief, such a feeling and just what I needed. Life as a freelancer is difficult, but life with my support network, and my tribe, is incredible. Now I can see the future again, even though there is nothing out there yet. I can see the light mist ahead of me instead of darkness. I can set new goals for myself. I can collaborate with others and find new ways to cope until this dreaded virus has left us. I am so grateful for those around me and my #environment that life as a freelancer is still the best thing I have ever done and I hope I can continue for as long as possible.