What I’ve learned from becoming a freelancer during a pandemic

By Beatrice Fossati, Head of Social @ Work for Impact 

In this new series, Inside WFI, we’re taking you behind the scenes to bring you insights from our awesome team. This month, our Head of Social, Beatrice, tells us what she’s learned switching to freelancing in the middle of a pandemic.

Becoming a freelancer is a huge step into the void especially for those who have been used to working in companies or had a secure job for many years. In Italy where I’m based, we have the (outdated and now unrealistic) myth of long-term contracts or as we say ‘posto fisso’. For many, this is something that is still considered valuable, it’s a cultural thing.

It was in December 2019, at the age of 39 with a loan, living with my boyfriend in one of the most expensive cities in Italy, that I decided to take that step into the void. The glass half full version would have said that in front of me I had all the opportunities, the half empty version would have warned ‘Nobody expects the Spanish inquisition’ or maybe more appropriately  ‘the Spanish flu 2.0’.

By the end of February,  as I was managing my first projects, COVID-19 exploded in the northern part of Italy and two weeks later we were all in lockdown.

Confused and lost about what the future would hold for everyone, I was safely at home making bread and homemade pasta hoping that a solution sooner or later will arrive.

I thought that I wouldn’t ever have the chance of a time quality like this one: “you can write the book you always wanted to write, study and read all the books that are lying there unread since ages”. None of this happened, but this experience until now, as I’m writing, has become a great learning process. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

No fear

Once you’re facing a huge change like this, it’s normal and human to feel afraid and have thoughts like: “I won’t be able to make enough for a living, there are too many good competitors”, or “I’m trapped in the imposter syndrome etc”. I’ve checked all the boxes above, and this has been especially frightening in a time when the world goes completely upside down. But here’s the thing, if you take enough distance from your thoughts and even from the overwhelming anxiety, you’ll start being more calm, able to accept things you wouldn’t normally and see things from a different perspective. No fear means taking a deep breath and focusing on the present. Two great books I would recommend that can help in this sense is How to stop worrying and start living by Dale Carnegie and Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield.

The Dalai Lama once said:

“If there is no solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it. If there is a solution to the problem then don’t waste time worrying about it.”

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

This was a recommendation I received from a coach a few years ago, but as all the tips you get from others, you really get it as you bump your head first. The anxiety of not having enough work or the will to make yourself perceived as the greatest freelancer, will lead you to take more jobs than you can handle and this will lead you sooner or later to the path of exhaustion. Be always mindful of the time you have available and the time you’ll need to complete active assignments. Even if you feel you’re a multitasking hero, don’t take your time for granted because hours slip away faster than you think. There’s no pomodoro technique or any other productivity rules that can hold a day full of unforeseen events, calls etc. Be human versus yourself, you are your own boss, and if there’s something you cannot handle, recommend a freelancer pal or schedule it for later, if the client can wait.

Respect work-life balance

During the lockdown I’ve heard many people saying that they have been working more than ever and I’ve been there too. With the “excuse”: there’s nothing else to do, we’ve spent 10 to 13 hrs in front of computer screens. But the work-life balance issue is something that is affecting many freelancers. Being your own boss means also being able to realise when your energy is low. We shouldn’t forget that time to recharge batteries is as important as working: studies have shown that working more than 50 hrs per week can undermine productivity and become dangerous for health. Always consider time to disconnect, take a stroll, do a yoga session, spend time with your family and friends or do whatever makes you feel happy. On this topic I’ve been very much inspired by our CEO Geoff Hucker who always recommends the importance of taking time for ourselves.

It’s a learning process and you’ll learn more and faster

As you become a freelancer, learning new things becomes your own responsibility. And if you like to stay updated and ahead of the curve in your field, you have to make the time for it. With the lockdown we’ve become more aware of remote learning tools and platforms, a market that’s projected to grow at an annual rate of 32.09% until 2025 . So you’ll have the chance to connect to that webinar with new updates on the tool you regularly use, or either join that one-year master program you’ve always wished to attend. In addition every little experience becomes a learning process: from fixing errors you didn’t see, dealing with clients in a customized manner, to learning the existence of new tools and how to use them on the go with the team you’re collaborating with.

Dealing with the Unknown

This year more than ever, is teaching us that we cannot have control on unforeseen events. But we have to be mindful of  how we react to them. After a moment of shock and disorientation, we have the chance to get back to ourselves and check the opportunities we have in front of us. The horizon is wider than we imagine and in some cases this could be good or it could potentially create panic. Try to keep a flexible approach, be kind to yourself and be careful of your thought process. Observe when your mind starts twisting in negative loops and, as a game, try to revert the loop into a positive conversation. Be the explorer and let yourself be surprised by what your mind can create.

Work from everywhere

Before the pandemic we were used to listening or reading beautiful stories from those who have decided to be “Digital Nomads”. Now it is becoming an opportunity for a wider range of workers. Companies are becoming  more used to hiring freelancers and integrating remote work into their daily practices and processes and this is definitely giving birth to a new way of working and new possibilities for anyone who has skills and an internet connection. Your workplace can now be everywhere even if traveling to different countries might be more difficult now,  from your lovely town, a place by the sea, close to your family… I personally find this amazing.

And Work for Impact allows for all of this: work on the things that you care about, have access to rewarding jobs you couldn’t imagine from anywhere and ultimately making the world a better place.

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