“I can’t have this job kill me…whether slowly or quickly”
A detailed walk through Yasmin’s work in organizing after finishing seminary, her current work schedule vs. her time in non-profits, and her overall journey to finding life instead of just “work-life balance”.
“Trauma is not a sustainable energy source.”
We talk about the role freelancing has played in her journey to heal from the toll of racism in the workplace and the workaholic nature of mainstream culture, her experience coming from a Black immigrant Muslim refugee background, and the shift away from wanting to write for elite publications to where she is now.
“It’s ok to take a step down in terms of social capital and prestige in order to take a step up in terms of quality of life in terms of happiness.”
To learn more about network weaving and collaborative work, visit Networkweaver.com.
To hire Yasmin as a network or organizational consultant, facilitator or trainer of virtual facilitators, or speaker, contact her at YasminYonis@gmail.com
Welcome to the Black Freelance Podcast, your home base for community, content and strategy that will help you take control of your lifestyle design and build freedom into your professional career.
Hi and welcome to episode two of the Black Freelance Podcast. I’m Megan and I keep things running around here at Black Freelance. Today I’m talking with one of my Twitter buddies from the early days, Yasmin Yonis. We cover a lot in this episode and that’s from Yamin’s education in journalism and journey through seminary to working in the nonprofit world, depression and anxiety, to her background coming from a black immigrant Muslim refugee family. Yamin’s story is really unique in the freelance world and definitely worth sitting down with, especially if you’re interested in freelancing as a tool of life improvement. So, I’m not going to keep you waiting, here is the conversation with Yasmin.
Yasmin, how are you doing?
I’m good, Megan, how are you?
I’m fine. It’s a little bit different since the last time we spoke, a lot has happened in the world. So business is good and everything, but I’m figuring things out one day at a time. For everybody out there, we are recording this at the time where coronavirus is just starting to pick up, specifically in the US, so a lot of adjustments are going on right now.
How’s everything going with you?
It’s a wild, wild time. I think that folks are finally realizing what’s really happening, not just outside our borders, but that it’s really here in the US and so it’s affecting my work and it’s affecting my life and it’s really amazing how things can change in just a split second and so I’m just trying to take all that in.
Yeah, definitely the same. So let’s get started with just letting everybody know a little bit about you and about your business and what your freelance life looks like.
I laugh whenever you say ‘my business’ because I really need to think about myself as a business owner. Because that’s what I am, I call myself a consultant, a freelancer, but it is a business. I always start with, ‘I’m a movement chaplain’, which means that I am a chaplain for activists and organizers and community members who are doing the movement work that we really need in our communities before I was a chaplain for folks coming out of prison and jails. And so, that’s really where my heart is and to make my living, I am a network consultant, which really just means, I work with networks of people who care about social change and I facilitate and coach and support folks in organizing and trying to shift systems. Almost all my work is online, on zoom.
What kind of entities are you working with? Are you working with individuals, organizations? How does that work?
Yeah, so I’m working with collectives of people who are either funded by foundations or self-funded or maybe not even funded at all. And they’re all, whether they’re small or very large… So it’s, it may be a group of 12 folks or it might be hundreds, they’re all coming together because they care about one thing. Whether it’s a culture of health or whether they care about social movement, whether they care about housing and poverty issues and they want to come together, build relationships, figure out how can we learn and do projects and experiment and organize together. And a lot of times when we think about organizing, we’re thinking about knocking on doors, talking to our neighbours, which is a really important part in basic one-on-one organizing. But, the kind of networks that I’m talking about, span as small as counties, but as large as the US and the globe. So I’m working with people in San Francisco, I’m located right outside Washington, D.C, working with people in Texas and Florida, Minnesota and every day we’re talking and building together.
How long have you been doing it so far? From a freelance perspective.
I started in my last year of seminary, in 2018. So almost two years now that I’ve been doing it full time. I graduated in May 2019, so almost a year ago I started full-time. When I first initially started, I had funding from grad school to support me. So the work that I was doing was just extra money, which was great in a kind of a low-key way, low-risk way of starting to work and seeing if it was viable and I realized it was and that the risk of going back into employment was higher than going into freelance full-time, I decided to go full time into freelance.
We’re going to have to come back to what you mean by that risk because you know what I think about that, we want to talk about that. What does your life look like right now? How many hours are you working per week?
This is the best part for me. When I worked in nonprofits, I was working 40, 50, 60, 70 hours a week, weekends, evenings and was completely burned out and that’s the reason I decided to go into freelancing. I now work, usually average about 20 hours a week.
That’s a huge difference.
I work 20 hours a week and make at least double, if not triple what I was making.
I talk about this online because what you just said, the numbers was one of my big freelance goals. Making twice as much money as I was making in my previous job and while doing half the work. And I feel like that goal is so important for people as opposed to saying, “Oh, I’m going to be a six-figure freelancer or a seven-figure freelancer”, especially if you’re trying to work in a field where you have experience or education because it’s easier to translate as opposed to a dollar goal and you’re working within the reality of your field.
Yeah and I wanted to make it very clear, one of my biggest reasons was the toll of the racism and the workaholic nature of our culture and how abusive it is and also because I’m someone who lives with a disability and I struggle with depression and anxiety and other issues. And I was like, “I can’t have this job kill me, whether slowly or quickly” and so that for me was a huge motivator of the reason for me to go into freelance.
How quickly did you notice a difference from the change from before to, basically designing your lifestyle? How long do you think that transition took to get from there to where you are now?
I had grad school as a bridge and that allowed me to think deeply about what kind of life did I want to live. But honestly, it’s taken me a few years, about three, four years to make that switch, it wasn’t overnight. But I was on a deep healing journey and I was, you know, I had a therapist and a chaplain, a psychiatrist. I was changing my lifestyle and realizing bit by bit what I needed to be well and to be whole and I knew that I didn’t want a lifetime of waiting for Fridays [inaudible 08:17] nights. I didn’t want to lose life on the evenings and the weekends, I didn’t want to feel guilty constantly and have work hanging over my head. I wanted a healthy bountiful, joyful life with nourishing work weaved in. I didn’t want work-life balance because work is part of life, I wanted life. I wanted to be living it constantly and to be well.
I feel like what you just mentioned is so important because, I talked to a lot of freelancers who have gotten into this work and they’re more stressed out than they were when they were employed, which is very likely if you don’t go into it with intention. If you’re stepping into freelancing or any business and you don’t have an idea of the kind of life you want to build and you aren’t purposely making your business decisions and your freelancing decisions based on where you want to end up, it’s really easy to end up in the same place, if not worse, just because you’re still working with people, you’re still doing work. I know I’ve seen a lot of people end up burned out in freelancing and going back to employment, which isn’t where they wanted to end up, but it’s just because they weren’t intentional from the beginning.
I think you need to have something more that is larger than the money that [inaudible 09:37] you otherwise, you’ll just get ‘lost in the sauce’ as they say.
Megan: (09: 41)
Often, we think we leave employment, but employment does not leave us. Probably for the ‘woo’. We talk about intergenerational trauma and you talk about this, Megan, about how your parents and their parents, we can’t talk about this without talking about race and class and cultural expectations also but, I realized that just because I didn’t have a boss and I was my own boss didn’t mean that I was stepping outside of this capitalistic hierarchy of, “why are you being lazy?” and “you have to work a 9-5”, “this is work hours and this is workdays”, and what does it look like to work.
I realized that honestly, I want to work between the hours of 11 and 3. I will be flexible if needed, sometimes it’s 9 and 2, it just depends on what the need is. I realized that I want to have Fridays off, I’m Muslim. I want to be able to go to Friday prayer. I want to have a three day weekend, right now it’s really four days for the most part. I realize that I can please my work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then if there are other things that have to happen Monday, Friday, I can do that, each week is different. But, I really had to practice and it was a process and it’s taken years; the process of stepping away from; there is only one way to be a worker and to work well and it’s been really interesting to see how much of that’s internalized.
It is. I know I started making that change probably when I was still employed. Stepping out of the idea of feeling guilty for being lazy or feeling that I always needed to be productive and having that tied to my identity. By the time I got out into freelancing, I think I’d handle a lot of it, but not all of it. Because, for years, I still felt like there was something wrong with me taking a day off and not that I wasn’t doing it because I was doing it, but I didn’t feel good about it, which you should. You should be able to enjoy the fact that I’m not working even five days a week or there’s nothing wrong with me waking up and saying, “you know what, I’m a little tired, I don’t want to work today”. That should be a good thing and something you should be able to enjoy, especially if you stepped out on your own. And you carry over so much from employment and like you said, specifically from the perspective of race, because I know like looking back, there was so much that I was doing to meet a certain standard and meet what I felt I needed to be as a black woman in a certain field and being able to step back from that, took a long time.
I think for a lot of us, you might have been the good student or the good child, daughter, son, there are all these ideas, you may or may not [inaudible 12:42], but there are all these ideas of social [inaudible 12:45] of who we are. And for me, I realized that I had gone into freelance because I… if I’m in a depressive episode, it doesn’t call you up and tell you, “Hey, I’m on my way”. But there are some days that I just can’t concentrate on work and what does my body need and what do I need? And then you’re really dealing with hundreds of years of these anti-black ideas of; black people being lazy and having to work even if you’re sick and not having that reprieve.
There’s this group on Instagram called Nap Ministry that really talks about black people and rests and I want to give them a shoutout. They’ve been very helpful for me to learn how to let go and what do we do. I know we’re going to talk about the coronavirus pandemic, but I hear people talking about, this is a time to get all those passion projects and I’m like, no. The chaplain in me says no, it said, time to grieve, this is the time to connect, this is the time to rest, this is the time to meet your neighbours and think about what is happening and to allow our… Sometimes it feels like we’re not doing anything, but that allows our bodies to do the work and our spirits to do the work of acknowledging what is happening.
You have to make space for that because I looked back last week because I’m in healthcare, so we’re always a little bit ahead of stuff on when this kind of thing happens and I just had a massive mass conference get cancelled. And last week it was like, “Oh, this could get pretty bad. It would be bad if all the doctors and nurses went back to the hospitals and somebody actually had coronavirus and took it back”. But between last week and today, which is Monday the 16th, I’m in a completely different place, just even emotionally and internally. Where last week, it felt like business as usual, right now, today, I’ve been taking a very light day. Monday is when I usually do some really heavy marketing and I dialled that down because I can tell that I need space. Over time, I am planning to do more, but I’m giving myself a couple of days to adjust because, there’s a lot going on, I am stressed out. Even though my life really hasn’t been changed a lot, which we probably need to talk about that really quickly, but, I still need to take that time. And I feel like it’s like what you said, we don’t have to use every single free moment to be productive, we just don’t.
No! And productivity its a white supremacy cultural trait and especially extracting as much productivity out of black people and human beings and that being our value. But we also acknowledge that we live in a world of severe precarity and there are people who their livelihoods and their family’s safety are being wiped out because of everything coming to a standstill. And so I think that this is why I wanted us to keep this appointment today. How do we, especially as black folks, reflect on… How do we keep ourselves safe and how do we prepare for the future that’s already here?
Yeah. I come from the land of hurricanes, so we have to prep and then there’s a big disaster and then you figure out what’s going on. That’s not how this is going to unfold, it’s going to get a lot worse and the impact is going to be long term, this is not just a few days and everything goes back to normal. You don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think our normal is gonna look really different after this.
Yeah, I think so too.
Yeah. Just, based on what’s happened, because I know for me because my job is intentionally very remote, I knew that when I built out my freelance business I wanted to be location independent, not just so I could travel and work from anywhere, but I also wanted to be able to handle something like this that came about so that I wasn’t stuck with the decisions of an employer or even a freelance client when something like this did happen, because, I’ve been through quite a few hurricanes and I was very fortunate because I’ve always worked with companies that were just like, “you know what, do what you have to do”. But you’re still waiting on someone to give you the space to protect your family, to protect yourself, to prepare.
I remember after one particularly bad one down here in South Florida, driving 13 miles across territory, that’s been impacted by a hurricane and you never know where you’re going to run across a live wire, you don’t know what’s going on with the traffic lights. Actually, you do, there are four-way stops everywhere, even on major intersections. And I contrast that with now, where my day to day life has only minimally been impacted. We talked about this briefly, but, what does that look like for you? What is the difference between, before people really started preparing, you started… changed your perspective on coronavirus and what it’s doing versus now.
First, I’ve been that person in my family and in my circles, that’s like, they see as the tinfoil hat-wearing person. It’s coming in our infrastructure and every part of the society which has been used to oppress black folks and indigenous folks, other people of colour and poor folks, is really going to affect everyone and so I’m not happy that the reason that people are realizing, but I am grateful that there is some action happening. But for me, almost all of my work is on zoom, it’s online. All my collaborations, my trainings that I do, almost everything that I do is online and so I am not worried thankfully, unlike a lot of people it’s outside their control, what is happening.
I have had some in-person facilitation contracts be suspended or the events themselves are cancelled, which is the right call. But, what we’re doing is moving those things online and this is when my specific skill set helped to facilitate online large groups. I don’t just facilitate small groups, it can be 50, a 100+ on a zoom call and folks are learning, getting to know each other, learning new things, collaborating. And so how do you do what you usually would do in person online? Obviously [inaudible 19:52] can’t transfer, but this is a specific skill set that I have because of my work and now it’s going to be in more demand. But there’s been a lot of cancellations of in-person and as my work, as a chaplain is being heightened, I’m moving my community, Heal Circles that I do in DC, online so that folks could still be in community and connect and still say safe. Did I answer your question? I feel like maybe…
Oh no! You completely did. And I think it touches on just a difference because I talk about niches all the time and every niche is different so certain downturns in the economy and when one industry takes a blow, another industry often is doing more. For instance, in my field healthcare, there is good reason to suspect that there is going to be an uptick in the kind of work that I do because we can’t have as many conferences. So, there has to be more energy put into digital media and that kind of [inaudible 20:55] those conversations. And that’s just on the business side, it doesn’t even touch on the fact that the industry itself is now having to do more work, period because they’re more sick people. It’s one of those things that I think is very important for people to think about as they’re planning their freelance business because, everything’s different and while some of us are having a more difficult time right now and others of us aren’t, it all depends on where you’re working and what niche you’re focused on.
I found it interesting because I chose to leave employment, but I also felt like I was pushed out and that it was unlivable and unsustainable and it forced me to reckon with what is a sustainable way of living and [inaudible 21:42] and as much as I’d love in-person facilitation and there’s nothing quite like it, I also realized that because of my own disabilities and the kind of life that I want to live, I’m not able to be one of those folks. And I know some of these folks and they do great where they’re traveling constantly and they’re doing in-person facilitations and they’re making really great money. I’ve been thinking, what does this mean for them if they are not able to transfer that skill set online. It makes me think about my father who I have felt like has always been very wise and ahead of his time. He’s always been telling me, since I was young, like 12 he’s like, “you always have to be constantly aware of how your field and fields around you are evolving and you need to evolve with them, otherwise, you’ll be left behind”. Which I don’t agree with, I wish it wasn’t like that. To be constantly running away from layoffs, constantly trying to evolve away from layoffs has left for me… He’s an engineer with a telecommunications company and just to see constantly his need to learn so that he’s not pushed out, especially as an older worker has really left an impression on me.
I think that people get intimidated by that or a lot of people get intimidated by the idea that, if you’re a freelancer and running your freelance business, you always have to be ready to pivot and pick up a new skill. But people have to do that in employment too. Me personally, first, I felt globalization of healthcare, which used to be a very domestic kind of market that was coming for my job and now AI is coming for what I previously did. I honestly can’t say I feel any different on the freelance side than I did on the employed side, because you’re not safe just because a business is taking on some of the responsibilities for marketing and payroll versus yourself, you’re still basing a lot on the same risks.
I think there will always be jobs that no matter how vast the computers are, they won’t be able to do. And thinking about what are those jobs is really important and what you talk about Meghan on Twitter a lot and I appreciate is this idea of really acknowledging the reality of employment because it’s only when you hide from the fact that they could come for your job at any minute, that freelancing feels extra scary [inaudible 24:33]. I’m not trying to dismiss the risks of freelancing. But when we acknowledge the risk of employment I think it makes freelancing feel more doable.
Yeah. More manageable and I think a lot of us look at it as a kind of binary and it’s not. I worked, employed for a while and I was freelancing on the side for a while and now I’m full-time freelance and it’s one of those things that…I think it’s important to be able to do both, to be able to work independent of an employer, even if it’s only something that you have to do for like three months after a layoff. I think even just the perspective of thinking, “where do I fit in this picture without the protection of a business?” gives you advantages, even as an employee. Because everyone says now, you’re a company of one and your employer is your one contract, that’s how we basically all should be living now.
Yeah. I just think about how glad I am to not be I still running after trying to be a writer in a [inaudible 25:40] way and if you could just pivot that, I just was thinking about how so many folks… that the writing area…My background is in journalism and that probably is one of my strongest skill sets, I really think of myself as a writer, but writing in a traditional way is not how I make my money, but it’s still central or foundational to the way I do my business. I used to think that I wanted to write for all of these large…I want to write for The New York Times or write for other publications that you see and everyone knows. And now we’re seeing the gig economy how it has come for writing which used to be seen as a very… at least writing for those kinds of places used to be seen as very secure and now so many of those people who write for those publications are actually freelancers, but they’re running after jobs that pay $100, $200, $300, or maybe $500 here and there and are not able to really make a living.
No. And it’s intense work. It’s like you’re getting paid $500 per piece for a consumer piece that requires a ton of emotional labour and research and time is very different than me getting paid because I’m a writer but I’m a brand writer for businesses, is very different than me getting paid $500 for blog posts, it takes me like two hours in the morning and I go about my day. It’s not the same thing over time. I feel like writing is such a diverse skill that I really think there’s tons more opportunity out there, but it’s in a different place now.
It is! I think that there’s an underestimation of the things that I learned; understanding your audience, how to communicate a complicated idea in a clear, concise way. How to make it engaging, how to be a storyteller. All those skills actually can make you a really great business owner and actually, blogs are an area in writing that I still make really good money in, but it’s just in a different way. I actually like being a blog editor for some contracts that I have, some clients that are just doing some really interesting work and it feels overwhelming for them to handle their blog and I get to be an editor for it and I get to have other people write and I get to really still fulfil that writer/editor niche that I really love, while still being in a place that makes good money and it doesn’t take that much energy.
Right and then you don’t have to worry necessarily as much about trying to do all your work in that space and make a full-time income in that space.
No. I think that you should diversify. I do facilitating, online, I do coaching, I edit blogs, I do some cool stuff like facilitate writer’s rooms especially for black writers and editors. I had such a diverse portfolio of contracts and no matter what happens, I feel secure in my work.
I want to clarify something, because I have a feeling what you have going on is kind of what I have going on and I think it’s something that people get confused about. So you have a broad diversity of contracts and you’re using a large range of skill sets. Are they generally in the same space, as far as topics?
Because I feel like, not I feel like, I know this from just being on Twitter, but a lot of people step into freelancing and they would say what you just said, “I want to facilitate, and I want to write and I want to edit”, but you didn’t step into it like that, what I’m understanding is that you stepped into the space and you had your expertise and you built relationships and then branched out from there.
Yes. Everything is underlined by my area, my expertise and it’s all social movements, people care about social change. So, whether it’s like networks facilitating or it’s about blogs or it’s about story circles or it’s about helping create, helping teach and create products, all of that are folks or organizations or networks that care about social justice issues. And that’s my expertise, tthat’s really why they’re hiring me.
Honestly, if I sat down and told you what I do, I’m a writer. For some reason, people have me do web design, they shouldn’t trust me to but they want me to. I’m doing case studies and blogs and consulting, but they’re all very specific to like my professional background in healthcare. It wasn’t something that I stepped into with all those different skill sets. I established myself as an expert and really specialized in the space and from there, I have a broad range of skills that I can bring to help clients achieve specific goals.
Thank you for articulating that, because the advice I would give is to really understand what your area is and what you bring to the table and then people will start offering you interesting and maybe new ways to be in that work. And you could try it out and if you like it, keep doing more of it, if you don’t, keep moving on. But you don’t want to be so scattered that no one feels like your authority on something.
Yeah. And it’s hard for them to trust you because they don’t really know what you do.
Well, I’ve talked to people and I’m trying to help them plug into some of the work that I do and they just sound confused. They sound like they’re not rooted.
Right. That’s a nice way to put it.
Yeah. They are not rooted and so it makes me feel like maybe I can’t trust them to execute or they don’t have the depth [inaudible 32:21] and so, you want to be clear about what you bring to the table and what your skill sets are.
It’s like that whole specialized generalist thing that, the conversation that people say that’s, what’s important now. It’s not, you need to be a generalist but, within a very specialized field. What did you do? You don’t have to give away exactly who you work with, but, when you say that you deliberately looked for where that intersection was, what were you keeping an eye out for? Especially in the not-for-profit space because, I feel like it’s a popular space that people have a hard time navigating it with earning, optimizing their earning in mind.
Oh, it’s a whole mess. It’s a whole mess, to be honest about it. It’s actually, unfortunately, whether it’s grassroots or huge national organic nonprofit organizations, they actually often are the places where there’s the most exploitation and including places that are for black folks or about poor folks. They’ll hire you to work on workers’ rights while violating your rights as a worker. I just want to put people on, especially if there’s some young folks who haven’t experienced that yet, I hope you don’t and maybe this will help. But for me, my question was really, “where are the spaces in which people are actually embodying and practising the values that they’re trying to set for things or things that they’re trying to push?” And number one, two, and three, for how I got to where I got was about relationships. And that’s how I think about it. I know you call it marketing and I call it relationships but when I say consultant, I’m really a relationship consultant. This is about how do we work together, whether we’re trying to fight for good wages and healthcare, or it’s about how do I find my next contract? It’s really about the quality of relationships that you have with people, and so I was reaching out to folks and letting them know that… Actually, the first consulting contract I got was, someone reached out to me. So often you don’t realize who’s in your networks and what they need and you showing up authentically who you are, there will be sometimes that people see that and reach out. The first time was someone reaching out to me, but because of the way I did my work, they reached out for another contract and each contract, and I was still in grad school, each contract allowed me to build relationships with other people and then I was collaborating with them and then they were asking me to work on another contract with them. And so, each contract was a snowball effect and it just grew and grew and grew that way.
What I’m hearing is also that you are not… and I think these two things tie in, these are not high-profile or publicly… You’re not getting a lot of like a lot of… You don’t have the by-lines, you might’ve been aiming for in journalism, the general public is not going to know that you’re doing this work.
Absolutely not. And it’s such a lovely life this way. The big names often don’t pay well. I used to actually work at the biggest name organizations that everyone knows and are impressed with. But I was not impressed with that cheque I got every two weeks or nor how was I treated every day. These are not places that a lot of people know. Even my family doesn’t understand what I do and that’s okay. But, what’s really important is that I was doing a certain quality of work, and as I was doing that work, I was thinking about what you call marketing, about building the relationships, about learning new skills, about stretching in each contract. So not only did I get that cheque from that contract, but I also got some new skills. And when I also graduated, I wanted to go from part-time to more full-time. What I did was, reach out to some of the folks that I had met, maybe I hadn’t worked with them just yet and I was like, “Hey, I’m ready now to go more full time, please keep me in mind for any contracts that are coming. And that’s how I got my biggest contract, which this one contract, which is about 5, 10 hours a week, pays me more than I was working full time, my last employed job.
That little outreach that you did is so powerful. Just letting someone you have a relationship or who you’re already working with, know that I’m available to do more and I’m interested in doing more, it goes so far. There are so many times where I’ve reached out to an existing client and just said, “Hey, I’m available for ABC or I’m thinking about ABC, and they’re willing to have that conversation.
Yes! And then also, be open to having conversations that maybe not exactly align with what you’re thinking about, but if they’re looking for someone, just to be open to talking. Now you’ve got 30 minutes to an hour in front of someone who does the hiring and they get to know you, and even if it’s not the job that you wanted, you could say no and they have you in mind for other things.
Yes. And that’s it. Framing it as relationship building is exactly it because every interaction you have is not going to lead to work the next day, that’s like Upwork [inaudible 38:06]. But, the long-term connections that you build, that’s what builds sustainability across time.
It is, and I was doing this without… to me it’s so second nature [inaudible 38:18] matter because even without the money, relationships are what sustain [inaudible 38:23] and it was about having conversations that make my eyes light up and things I’m really interested in and I want to work on. And so, at one point, actually this whole point I have the good problem of having too many offers and me having to turn them down. Constantly marketing, essentially, I’m constantly…And then, you don’t say no for every…you say, “can we touch base in the fall? I would love to work with you right now and beyond, I don’t have the capacity”. People respect that, and I think sometimes people are afraid of saying, no. It’s better to say no, not right now instead of saying yes, and not doing a great job at it because sometimes, all you have is your reputation and so there are people I’ve worked with that acted in ways that they shouldn’t have, or did quality of work that they shouldn’t have and I’m never going to work with them again and now that I’m in a position to be helping hire and things like that, I’m not working with those people again.
Nope. I’ve done the same thing. Recently, two people that I’ve worked with and I’ve decided that I can’t work with them anymore, just because they weren’t able to say, I can’t handle this right now, or this is, or isn’t something I can do or it’s not something I do well. And the thing is, I feel like a lot of people think that it’s going to be a bad thing if they say no, but people understand if you’re busy. People don’t give clients enough credit. Honestly, most are understanding about that kind of thing, because they have the same issues.
Yeah and I say this as someone who is terrified to say no, who for a year and a half carried a book about boundaries in my purse because it’s a totally foreign concept for me. How do I say, “I cannot do this?”, “I don’t have the capacity” or “I don’t know how to do this, someone else might be better”, how do you say that? And it was really a question of self-worth. It was a question of scarcity, this idea that if I say no, there’s never going to be anything else coming. So when I switched to an idea of abundance and really thinking, just because I say no now doesn’t mean that I won’t get it later.
It doesn’t shut the entire world down to you because you say no to one project.
No. And you want to be saying, no. If you’re not saying no, you’re going to have an issue. It means either that you don’t have enough marketing happening or clients coming to you or demand. Or, it means that you are not balancing your capacity in an appropriate way that’s [inaudible 41:03]. And so, either way, you’re hurting your long-term gains.
Let’s talk about just some general lessons and things you’ve learned and experienced. What’s the biggest challenge you’d say you’ve faced across your freelance career so far?
I would say… really, that question of how to say no. Saying, “I’m overwhelmed” because again, I started also part-time because I was full-time in grad school along with doing chaplaincy training. So, I was also working as a chaplain and then I was consulting and I really was coming from a place in which I’ve never been paid, what I was supposed to be paid. And off the bat, I started getting paid $75 an hour and so to me it was like, “Oh my God, this is the biggest [inaudible 41:59] life you know. And I think that nonprofit workers, you’re really getting 20 something dollars an hour.
[inaudible 17:05] That’s painful.
$75 an hour for work that felt less exhausting was just… So how do you say no? How do I…And so learning one, that I could say no, that also, it was really an issue of good ethics and capacity management to say no and that people won’t leave me and abandon me. I would say that often we don’t realize how much of our personal issues come into our work.
Oh yeah. [inaudible 42:41]
And so, a therapy session might be a really good business investment.
And they’re actually therapists who deal specifically with entrepreneurs for that reason, that business is intensely personal. You learn things about yourself, especially working for yourself that you probably didn’t know before. And personally, I’ve had to prioritize my mental health more now, even though I’m in a healthier place, as far as work is concerned, I’ve still had to prioritize it more because it impacts what I’m doing more.
Yes. I had so many conversations with my therapist about it and I think anyone would describe me and I would have described myself as a very confident person. But just because you’re a confident person, you’re a successful et cetera, does not mean that there’s not certain rooms or certain core beliefs that you have about yourself that originated when you were younger or from your employment history and so it was really important for me to do that therapy work in order to keep going. And also, I work with extraordinary people and I work with some good… I did not have a good history of working with white folks, that was one of my…I was like, “I want to get out, so I don’t have to ever deal with this kind of racism”. It’s to be able to work with people who are also white, black, whatever. But I work with actually a much more diverse coalition of folks than I did before, but I get to choose who I work with and if it’s not a good experience I get to leave. That has been amazing. What kind of power that is.
Oh yeah. I know for me, one microaggression, There’s no reason for me to stay around. And I say that and I’ve probably experienced maybe one in six years of freelancing versus daily, but it’s still amazing to be able to say, “I’m not going to deal with this”.
I had a job where I dealt with such overt sexism and it was unfortunate because it was from black men and I really thought like, Oh. But it was such overt sexism and I was like, absolutely not. And I got to leave and then when they reached out again about working, I was like, no and that’s really important. But learning how to say no was my biggest learning curve and it’s also my most important one.
Definitely. What would you want other freelancers to know, either about your field specifically or about lifestyle design, anything in those lines?
I am living an extraordinary life that I think is available to a lot more people than they realize.
That you get to design your own life. And again, it does not have to be a life in which work comes first and having control over that work, allows you to be so full and healthy and happier everywhere else. And so, I would say, I made some key decisions earlier in my life, and I think it’s not too late for folks, but I just made some key decisions that made people look at me weird that were outside of the norms, that allowed me to have the kind of flexibility that I have in my life now. And so it’s really okay if no one in your family understands, it’s really okay. It’s really okay if professional circles are looking at you weird.
It’s okay to take a step down in terms of social capital and prestige in order to take a step up in terms of quality of life and happiness and money. I do not have what people consider a prestigious career like I did before, but when I did have a so-called prestigious career and I was in Washington D.C and my mom used to tell people I worked for Obama, which I did not. You know how parents are.
Oh, I know exactly what you are talking about.
When I had a prestigious career, I was miserable, and prestige is really about how other people view it. Right now, I have what internally feels like the most prestigious career. I get to do work that’s ethical, that helps people, that supports me in a way of abundance. I get to say, “you know what, I want to bake in the middle of the day at 12” and I get to see people and visit my grandma who lives back home, just make a last-minute decision to go and see her. I get to live a life in which I’m in the front seat. And I think that for a lot of folks, especially thinking about mental health, this lack of control over our lives, this feeling of being dominated by others and having to ask for permission for things that really should be within worker’s rights in employment and outside of employment, really takes a toll that we don’t realize. Often you can see me dancing in the middle of the day or taking a nap with my cat or going on walks with my friend who’s my neighbour. I get to have a quality of life that exceeds my wildest imagination [inaudible 48:20]
And that’s what matters.
And that’s what matters, not what other people think. And I’m fine with people thinking I make no money. That’s great.
That’s actually a good thing. That’s something that is criminally underrated.
Especially in black families you know everybody is calling you. I have some folks that listen to this. But it’s okay, it’s really okay to live your life on your terms.
Yasmin, thank you so much. This has been an awesome conversation.
Thank you, Megan. Thank you for this platform. I just want to shout out that you are a huge reason why I felt comfortable going to freelance. Reading your work and checking out your workbook and it was really just every day, reading your Twitter [inaudible 49:10] changed my mind. It really changed my mind about what is possible, and it made me think about freelancing in a completely different way, so I really appreciate you and your work.
That’s awesome to hear. Thank you so much for letting me know.
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