I’ve been a freelancer, self-employed artist and small business owner for my entire adult life. In honor of Independence Day (here in the United States), I want to share how my experience as a freelancer has led me down a path of freedom, chaos, and resilience.
From an early age, I’ve always been someone who carves their own path. Whether it was expressing myself through colorful, quirky clothing in high school, or creating a self-designed major in college and then embarking on a journey of forming a performance company in my early 20’s.
Choosing a freelancer lifestyle comes with some undeniable perks…. the freedom to create your own schedule and pursue your dreams and passions. But anyone who has tried it knows, there’s a lot of challenges that come with those freedoms. It requires a ton of self-motivation. It can also be extremely difficult to create boundaries and create a healthy work/life balance.
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is the unpredictability and instability that comes with this lifestyle; including financial insecurity, which is why so many of us artists constantly find ourselves in survival mode.
Spinning plates is perhaps the most accurate metaphor I’ve heard for being a freelancer. (and appropriately circus themed) It can feel like all the different projects I have carefully balanced could come tumbling down at any given moment.
I’ve had periods where my schedule is volatile and unpredictable. One minute I’m feeling the lack of job opportunities and then the next minute I have TOO many options, most of which conflict with one another. One client needs a commitment from me, while the other needs me to have a flexible schedule.
The very nature of being an artist demands us to continually dive into the deep unknown with no reassurance that anything fruitful or productive will come from our efforts. It requires embracing the vulnerability of the creative process so that we can make our art. Sometimes, I’ve dived in head first, sometimes I’ve tiptoed in, dragging my heels and protesting “but what if this fails?” Just the same, there’s no way through but forward and every artist knows this firsthand.
So how has this experience of running my own show prepared me for the pandemic (if you read the title, you might be asking)? When the covid19 pandemic hit, after we all realized this situation would be sticking around longer than just a couple weeks (remember that?), it really started to sink in. I have no control over anything, and the future is anyone’s guess. Making plans was futile, because we were all on the edge of our seats waiting for some clarity, or guidance, or ANYthing to help us make sense of what to do next.
And when I was in the thick of it, grasping for answers, I remembered….. I already know how to navigate the chaos of uncertainty, I’ve been practicing my entire life. I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I can meet unexpected curveballs with resourcefulness and grit. These are the skills you are forced to build when you carve your own way. Didn’t get that residency? OK, I’ll figure out a way to create my own DIY residency. Bank account running low? Better create a new workshop offering, promote it, and reach out to all my contacts.
I’ve learned to trust in my own resilience. Because that’s what you have to do when you’re your own boss. There’s no one “above” to turn to for the answers. Of course, I have been extremely lucky to have Sarah along for the ride right next to me. A business partner and collaborator, so we can do our girl-bossing together.
For many of us control-freaks (self-proclaimed) the Pandemic was an exercise in forced surrender. No matter how much I wanted to plan, and come up with solutions, it was clear that the entire world could turn on a dime. And do you know what, I’m really grateful for that. I think it woke me up just a little bit. Helped me to not take everything for granted. Because the truth is, after 20 years as a freelancer and/or small business owner my life has gotten more stable and even more predictable. That is, until March of 2020. So I guess I should thank covid19 for reminding me of my own resilience and the impermanence of everything.
Written by Rain Anya – Co-artistic Director | Paper Doll Militia
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