I got lucky early in my freelance journey. My vision of what was possible wasn’t shaped by hustlers, or grinders, or people who saw struggle as synonymous with freelancing.
The people I was following saw employer-independence as a path to less stressful, fuller lives — lives that didn’t center work. They were giving to their communities, investing more deeply in their relationships, traveling, cooking, and exploring the arts and sciences. They enjoyed their work, were progressing in their fields, but their work wasn’t in the driver’s seat.
Coming from a pretty traditional corporate background, my early ideas of freedom looked a bit more tame — mostly location independence, shorter days, and not being attached to my inbox. But I’ve always known that was just the start.
For years I’ve heard about high-earning freelancers who work 4-day weeks, and some even 3 but I’ve always kind of just put that off for my future. Since work only takes up about 6 hours of my day at a maximum, I didn’t think I “needed” that much time off.
But I’m at a point where I’m moving beyond necessity.
I’ve spent most of my freelance years running and healing from the trauma of employment, largely because I didn’t feel comfortable or free until I hit my “big” income goal. Well I did that in 2019, so this was supposed to be the year I started living a bigger vision of my life — regular trips to Japan, diving back into jiu jitsu after a couple years off…spending more time at local museums and nature preserves.
And the pandemic tossed most of that out the window…which I was ok with. Afterall, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” — it’s one of my mother’s favorite sayings and something I’ve taken to heart since I was little. Plan all you want, but life goes the way it wants.
So I settled into quarantine and found new ways to live bigger where I could. I dove into mobility and bodyweight training to prep for grappling life again. I took time to restructure and rethink my business. I restarted studying Mandarin and got deeper into gardening. The result? Was realizing that I was in a pandemic. I needed to chill.
…which was hard. I don’t do “still” well.
If you’ve met me in person, you know I’m generally laid-back, but anyone who knows me well, knows I’m always doing something. Always studying something, starting something, or refining something else. Part of that is my nature. Another part of it comes from a deep fear of losing myself that cropped up once I finished undergrad and started working full-time. I might have left employment, but if I’m being honest, the habits I developed in response to that fear are still alive and kicking.
That’s why, even in the middle of an aggressively mismanaged pandemic that’s kept me out of gyms and thrown off my beloved 4-day a week grocery store/market habit, I’ve had to slow down even more…and I couldn’t just do it casually. I’ve to make if official.
Talking with Yasmin on the podcast was a big inspiration to push forward into something I knew needed to happen a while back — I don’t need higher income. I need to stop trying so hard.
It’s been more difficult than I expected, and I knew it’d be an uphill battle. After literal decades living a 5/2 split life in school and work, anything more balanced feels disruptive and uncomfortable. The conditioning runs deep…but I’m getting there. Having supportive friends and family has been a huge help, but a few deliberate choices have been critical.
Getting (Next Level) Control of My Income
If you’ve been around here a while, you know I come from the perspective that a money is at the root (or at least the base) of most freelance problems.
Not taking vacation? Health insurance? Retirement? Working too many hours? Those are money problems. Most are solvable by getting ourselves to a certain income floor that covers the expenses of being a one-person business.
I did that part a while ago, so this go-round, it’s been about continuing a focus on my highest-yield, lowest- friction work, but with a focus on structure. I put myself on payroll, which has freed my mind of the money/stability question that so often comes with freelancing.
All this has been foundational to moving to an actual 4-day work week, and not one where I’m just cramming 5-days’ worth of work into less time.
Setting Client Boundaries
I’m still working this one out since I’m not sure of the best way to let existing clients know (or if I should at all). I’m in healthcare, an essential industry that, out of necessity, doesn’t stop. Even being a few levels removed from the clinical side, availability is an expectation, meaning a lot of my clients work weekends. I’m careful to not set the expectation of same-day responses (for example, my clients know not to call because I don’t answer), but I think I’ll need to set up a more public don’t-expect-anything-from-Megan Friday policy.
So I’m about a month into this. The first week was great. The second wasn’t.
I’ve gotten better about retraining myself to relax by reading more and watching anything that requires subtitles…and it’s helped. I’m getting better at resting (actual resting…not just skipping things that formally qualify as work).
I’m learning…or rather re-learning how to use free time that’s not about recovery or accomplishing. I’m learning how to just explore or think or just…be. That’s meant being intentional about my activities and not just letting myself float through the days thinking about what I “should” be doing. It’s not where I want to land, but baby steps.
The best part is that the changes are taking root and flowing over into my weekdays — my mornings, breaks, and evenings are more fluid and calm…which has been invaluable lately.
So…if you’ve been working on something similar, have no idea where to start, or just want to ask some questions, come on over to the community.