I began working for myself two and a half years ago, by chance. I had aimed to get a full-time job in a new city and was eager to begin collecting income, so I asked for a contract from this potential employer to prove my worth. While working for this advertising agency, I continued to receive part-time project work from other companies and before I knew it, I was a full-on freelance machine.
The immediate rewards of the no-pants, no-need to dress up lifestyle were so rewarding that I stopped the resume updating and discontinued my job search altogether. I felt like I finally had more time to relax, connect with myself and do some much needed professional development and relaxation.
That was all fine and progressive, until a few years later when the cycle of depression kicked in. In hindsight, there were a lot of boundaries I should have put into place to avoid the cycle of sadness and isolation that often comes from the work-from-home lifestyle, but first, let’s dive deep into the problems that come from sitting behind your laptop and eating cheez-its all day in your yoga pants.
Working from home, or the local coffee shop means most communication comes laptops and cell-phones, not from the boss down the hallway, which can be a lovely break at first and an eventual strain on your social capacities, especially if the barista is the only person you see all day. Even silly things like, break time gossip becomes technology-driven when you work from home. Your ‘I can’t wait for 5 pm!’ conversation likely from another freelancer a few states away via frantic text streams, not from Susan in the cubicle next to you.
When you finally send your freelance buddies the final what’s app message of the day, you likely use your same work phone for scrolling Instagram and texting your friends, making it harder to know when work is really over. Most of the freelancers I know, including myself, ‘switch gears’ by turning to a sedative, like marijuana or wine. It makes sense to have a buffer between work and home life, which is a difficult transition when everything from meetings to sleep happens under the same roof.
Personally, I recently began worrying about myself when I would overthink about the joy of the glasse(s) of wine I could start drinking at the socially appropriate hour of 5 pm, or whenever my boyfriend got back from work. It was like the highlight of a dreary antisocial day for me.
Imagine a busy freelancer sitting on their patio, after a day full of technology, including articles, video meetings and scheduling social posts. This person now ‘relaxing’ by texting their friends, maybe sipping a glass of wine, while simultaneously ignoring their mom’s phone call and updating their social platforms as more work emails trickle in. This is the moment where their work and social worlds collide and overwhelm kicks in. Ok, this person were envisioning is me, of course, and this was my reality nearly every single day for a year. I would hop away from my laptop, only to pick up a smaller one (my phone), and keep working in a new way.
After two and a half years in the cycle of having a third limb, or an evil-walkie-talkie super glued to my hand, my overwhelm reached its peak, the troubling cycles caused by the overstimulation of technology became apparent, and I started operation outdoor exposure. The need to get dressed and feel involved in a community was no longer able to be falsely syndicated through social media groups, online coaching and zoom phone calls for me.
So, what are the boundaries I put in place to stay sane? What is “Operation Outdoor Exposure”?
First, I’ll share what didn’t work: turning the phone off for hours and hours. If you’re already isolated at home, making yourself go deeper into your thoughts doesn’t help…
Try limiting your phone by taking real breaks whether you’re in an office, or working at home – use your 15-minute free time to meditate, eat a snack or go on a walk.
Next, refrain from canceling your plans! Make sure you schedule 3-4 things to do out of the house every week. Whether it’s a grocery store run, a yoga class, or dinner with a friend: make sure you have a life that excites you beyond just finishing your excel sheets.
Of course, keeping your sleep schedules, exercise routines and mindfulness practices are key. This is difficult when deadlines seem more important than health, but practice makes strides towards progress, not perfection.
The true solution to my Outdoor Exposure plan for me is simple: I’m going to reupdate that resume and go outside for a bit.
Though the decision was hard, I was able to come to the conclusion will always be entrepreneurial and better educated for a company with the skill set of running my own. I will always make time to write and I hope to publish many, many books to enrich this world. But for now, I just want to put on a cute outfit and get back to the real world and there is no shame in that game.