Connecting with my creativity: what I learnt about myself when I stopped earning

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At the end of the year, a work contract came to an end, and I decided to focus on connecting with myself creatively for three months, rather than desperately seeking other work.

Work will come
Work has started to come to me more easily as a contractor and freelancer. I put this down to the huge amount of groundwork I did over the summer and autumn last year, and the fact that service design is becoming more popular as a sensible way of developing services. It helps that I have unusual work experiences – not all that many people have been involved in implementing design strategies for cultural change in government.

Just before Christmas I got a couple of contract offers which would start in the spring (one of which I have now taken up). I decided to not look for any work until then, and focus on developing myself creatively. I turned down all work offers except for a couple of small enjoyable freelance projects.

Creatively unblock
I started The Artist’s Way – it was recommended to me by a Hollywood actress who I happened to sit next to in Tooting Caffe Nero. It’s a 12-week course that you do from a book, with exercises designed to help unblock you creatively. I didn’t feel creatively blocked at the start, but now I certainly feel more liberated, grounded and sure of myself. I hope that I will be able to use versions of the exercises from the book in helping people feel more creative at work.

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Learn about yourself
My exclusive connecting-with-myself time helped me learn about myself and reassess what living well means. I was writing every day. I went on adventures across the UK with travel journals. I made friends in local cafes, and discovered that I just can’t get into a creative headspace in some tech co-working spaces, no matter how nice the people are. I rediscovered gouache and bookbinding techniques. I was getting enough sleep, eating food I love, and supporting and being supported by friends.

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Enjoy freedom now
It felt a bit like what retirement must feel like. Given that I’ll probably have to work til I’m 90 anyway, it feels justified to have three months off in my mid-twenties for myself. Blissful freedom – I was not held accountable to anyone. It’s been brilliant. One day I might even publish what I was writing about during this period. I certainly wasn’t idle – I was flowing through all sorts of creative channels.

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Freelancers need to practice self-validation
My experience of freelancing and contracting before this time period was full of networking and emails and worry. Would I earn enough? Am I doing ok? Am I good enough for this contract? Should I take this job or that job? Should I get another part time job to take the pressure off? Will I ever get a mortgage? Etcetera. Taking this time ‘off’ – time not focused on earning, but focused on creativity – has helped me find healthier ways of validating myself. I believe that taking this time has made me a more resilient, confident person, and more sure of how I want to play my own version of Life.

It’s a terrible shame that we are in a culture where not working is pretty much always frowned upon, even when the reasons are very good. I wasn’t claiming benefits – I was living on savings. I believe that finding ways of self-validating is particularly important for creative freelancers, and if taking time out is the way to make that happen, then do it. If your lifestyle isn’t healthy, if you are overworked and burnt out because of how you work, if you can only see your client’s needs and not your needs, then you can’t afford to NOT take some time to consider the big picture. It will help you make better future business decisions.

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