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It’s been a few months since a Self-Care For Writers newsletter, and for that, I apologize. But the truth is that, between a new job and some health issues, I’ve been prioritizing my own self-care and not focusing on writing this newsletter. The good news, though, is that this means I have a ton of ideas that I will be bringing you monthly… Starting with today.
It’s currently just past lunchtime on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend in the U.S. (where I am based). Back when I was a full-time staff member working in digital media, this meant a Summer Friday — a day when we would all get to go home early. Sometimes, the company I worked for would give us 4 full days when employees could take off on a Friday. Other times, it meant early dismissal on most or all of the Fridays between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Hence the name, “Summer Friday.”
Typically, on these Fridays, my bosses, coworkers, and I would be putting in the bare minimum at work before we all scurried out the door at 1 pm on the dot (or whatever the time it was that we had our “early dismissal”). What this most taught me is that, as an editor, I was allowed — really, encouraged — to take time off.
As a freelancer though, “time off” is a whole different story.
I can give you countless examples of myself or writer friends complaining because they feel as if they are never “off the clock.” We work hard, we work nights, we work weekends, we work through holidays and, yes, many of us even work through vacations. I honestly cannot tell you the number of times I’ve heard someone mention that their family is annoyed at them because they brought their laptop on a trip. But, hey, we’re freelancers and we need to work!
Here’s the issue, though: Constantly working is NOT good.
In today’s “hustle culture,” it seems normal for anyone who is a creative, freelancer, or entrepreneur to be all about the hustle. When that word first came into our general consciousness, it was people bragging about how they have a full-time job and multiple side-hustles. This meant that they were a hard worker since they were someone who was able to hold down a job and also devote time to their passion projects. Some people I know had two or three or even more side-projects going at the same time, oftentimes hoping that they would eventually become profitable but they weren’t (yet).
I admire some of that hustle drive, sure, but… There’s a big part of me that also thinks it can be a very dangerous mindset. In my last newsletter, I wrote about the importance of good sleep because it is crucial to creativity and general survival. Well, guess what the #1 reason is for NOT getting good sleep, as a freelancer? Probably because you are up working late on an assignment.
Sure, some of us have to work crazy long hours because of our financial situations. But I know more writers who work almost every waking hour of every day not because they have to financially but because they… want to?
Maybe some of you do, and that’s totally cool, but I would bet that the majority of us who work nights and weekends are doing it not so much because we enjoy ignoring our families and not having a social life, but because we are told today that we have to constantly hustle, that the competition is fierce, that if we slow down, we will lose. But that’s a dangerous way of thinking and, deep down, I think you know that it’s really bad for your health.
In fact, The Atlantic reported that the culture of hustle is dark and empty. And I, for one, am not surprised.
In my journey of self-care during the past few months, there is something I learned which has helped me to tremendously understand why this hustle mentality is so dangerous and why breaks — and especially breaks to connect with other humans — are so necessary. And that is this: We are social creatures. We need, literally need, other people to survive and thrive.
And thriving is the whole point I’m getting at here. Sure, you can continue to hustle and keep on surviving as you kill yourself to get one more byline, but are your relationships suffering in the meantime? Is your sleep lacking? Is your health on the decline? Is your mental health… okay? Likely, it is not. In fact, journalist and author Johann Hari writes that the lack of real human connections in our world is in large part responsible for the increased levels of depression and anxiety today. (If you don’t know his work, I highly recommend his book, Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions.)
As someone who suffers from a generalized anxiety disorder that led to substance abuse, I can tell you that my darkest moments were those spent in loneliness and isolation. Sure, because of my alcoholism, that isolation was self-imposed… but, today, I know better. Which is why socializing has recently become one of the primary markers of my self-care (more on that in another newsletter!) and why I believe that it is SO IMPORTANT to take breaks and set boundaries surrounding work as a freelancer.
Now, those breaks and boundaries can mean whatever you want, of course.
For me, boundaries mean that I work roughly 9 am – 6 pm, and that is IT. Occasionally, I will work late one evening or even sign onto my computer on the weekends but those days are few and far between. In fact, I can probably count on one hand how many times I worked past 6 pm or was working on a weekend in the past 12 months. That’s really, really important to me.
Meanwhile, a break that I have set as a freelancer is that I take off on holidays and take vacation time. Yes, that means I don’t bring my computer on vacation — EVER, under any circumstances, not even if you paid me the big bucks — and I will usually take off from working on a holiday weekend since I know, from my editor days, that ain’t nobody working anyway. (Please read that as if I said it in my absolute sassiest voice.)
So, what does this all come to?
Well, when it comes to self-care, you cannot ignore the fact that hustling is NOT it. What you need for true self-care as a writer is to make sure that you are not working every hour of every day. Although it’s tempting (trust me, I know!), remember that your editors take breaks, too. They take vacations where they don’t check their work email and they sign off early on Fridays during the summer and they rarely work after dinner.
So stop a moment, take a breath, and relax. Stop writing that pitch email (please!) because nobody will be reading it until after the holiday weekend. Stop whatever you’re working on right this minute, so long as it’s not super urgent (and I mean ACTUALLY urgent, and not “I’m a freelancer so everything I do all the time feels like it’s urgent”), and sign off for the day. If you need it, I give you permission.
But really, I hope that you will give yourself permission to do this. Because I would bet that you need it.
Who knows? You might even come back from this holiday weekend feeling even more energized than before and ready to tackle those freelance deadlines and pitches in no time. In fact, I am pretty sure that is exactly what will happen. When I was on vacation (sans computer!) last month, even while going through something very painful and difficult, it felt great to take a break. Unsurprisingly, I came back with an idea which gave me one of my biggest bylines to date.
So that’s what I hope will happen this weekend for you and for me. A much-deserved break and a chance to feel invigorated in our work once more. That’s some true self-care.