Freelance (adjective): Self-employed and hired to work for different companies on particular assignments.
Fear (noun): An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm.
Freelance Fear: Post-tour dread that the phone will never ring again (despite the fact this has not come to pass in your long career…. and you have it on good authority from some tough customers that you’re pretty good at what you do…. and you’ve only been home for a week for god’s sake…)
Does this sound familiar? I’ll lay heavy bets that if you’re a freelance touring professional, it does. You’ve had a great jaunt, there’s money in the bank, everyone went home satisfied, it’s brilliant to see your loved ones and sleep in your own bed and generally do as you like….
And then… what? The freelance life is a potent reminder of uncertainty and impermanence. After 15 years of being self-employed I’m used to it, but even now it can catch me and shake me when things fall through and I’m left with white space in the diary. When my regular clients are having a break or heading back into the studio. When I literally have no idea what I’ll be doing a month from now.
But certainty, about anything – work, circumstances, plans – is an illusion. In a perverse way I can welcome the groundlessness of being freelance, because I never get to feel too secure or comfortable in the way that I might with a full-time employer. I’m keenly aware that the rug can be pulled from under my feet at any time; that life can chuck one of its ‘Hey, surprise! Catch!’ curveballs out of nowhere, just as I’m starting to get cosy. And whilst that can still slam-dunk me occasionally, most of the time it just keeps me on my toes. Most of the time.
It doesn’t help that so much of our identity gets caught up with what we do. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of defining ourselves by our job title; even gaining much of our sense of self-worth by how ‘big’ the current employer’s name is. And it’s such a load of hooey. But I know I do it, and if you’re a roadie, I bet you’ve done it too. Oh sure, I know better – I know deep down that ‘monitor engineer’ is just a skill I trade for money and not who I am. But if it’s true that the root of all suffering is ignorance of our true identity, ‘freelance fear’ serves as a great example!
Of course there’s the money. A big part of this fear centres around income, and it obviously makes sense to have a nest-egg for when times get tight and there are bills to be paid. But it can help to recognise that wealth comes in many forms, and money is simply a tool. It is possible to conserve funds when there’s not much work on the horizon without feeling deprived – you just need to look around you. Really look. As we all know, most things that make life joyous come free. If your basic material needs of food, clothing and shelter are met, then you’re already doing pretty well. Appreciate that. If you can also recognise the wealth all around us: the beauty of nature, music, laughter, loved ones, a working body, the skills you’ve learnt…. it’s a great reminder that life is a lot more than a bank balance.
Often the root of ‘freelance fear’ is simply the uncertainty. Humans generally don’t like it, we want to be in the driving seat! Our innate discomfort with uncertainty comes from wanting to control the future. We all know we can’t do that, but it doesn’t stop us from trying! Getting comfortable with uncertainty takes time, but it’s worth the effort because constant change is the true state of our lives. I’m not there yet – um, I believe that’s called enlightenment! – but over the years I’ve found a couple of ideas which help me when life feels like it’s sliding all over the place and won’t stay still. I hope they’ll help you too.
1 – Acknowledge the fear, and then ask yourself: ‘am I ok, where I am, right now?’ More often than not, if you ask yourself this question, the answer is ‘yes, I’m ok’. And given that you can only ever be where you are, right now….. this can be a very comforting thing to come back to!
2 – Having found that, actually, you’re ok…. can you see the uncertainty for the double-sided coin that it is? You have no idea what’s going to happen next. It’s like you’re in your very own action movie!! YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT! How exciting is that?! Anything could happen!
(Oh, and all those times when you thought you had it under control and you knew what was going to happen? Yeah, illusion. Sorry about that.)
It’s all about keeping your mind from going off on wild scare stories, and accepting life’s crazy uncertain rollercoaster ride as it is. Is it easy? No. It takes practice. Is it helpful? I really find that it is. Every time you head off down that road of ‘arrrggh I’m never going to work again, nobody loves me and probably everybody hates me and…. is there any vodka left…?’, try and catch yourself. Repeat number 1.
You are OK. Right now, in this moment, YOU ARE OK. We’re going to see each other on a sleeper bus real soon. And we can talk about how great it’s going to be to get home, just as soon as this tour’s over…..