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This month's note from Matthew, our Chief Freelance Officer.

It might be the algorithms, it might that I click on more of these articles, but I’m seeing increasing numbers of posts and blogs and headlines which you could summarise as simply “put your mental health before everything else”.

Whilst the sentiment of this idea, that taking care of yourself is essential in order to do everything else happening in your life, the idea of simply prioritising you over all else is … unrealistic.

“Just walk away from that toxic job”

“No contract is worth damaging your mental health”

“Burnout? Just take a break!”

They’re such easy statements to make, yet the practicality of “just” walking away from a contract which affects your wellbeing, “just” taking time off, “just” reducing how many hours you’re working - for the self-employed, there’s nothing as simple as “just”. Reducing how much work you’re doing when feeling overwhelmed is just as likely to create more stress, worrying about where the next invoice payment is coming from. Taking some time off is stressful for 67% of freelancers.

In lots of ways these glib statements of “Put yourself first” feel just as bad as saying “Cheer up!”, and at times, it can make us feel like we’re even failing at looking after ourselves, as well as everything else that’s going on. Not a positive feeling at all. It’s a sort of toxic positivity that ignores reality. 

There’s too much complexity and nuance when you’re self-employed to just put things on hold - you’re running a business, and taking on a huge amount of responsibility for the sustainability of that business. It can feel like chicken and egg at times. I need a break, but I need the income. I need to choose more meaningful work, but I can’t turn down work if I need to eat. 

The idea of prioritising “you” over all else is too extreme. Looking after yourself includes being able to pay the bills, includes doing meaningful work, includes rest and productivity, includes trying to balance the on and off. 

The answer needs to be more nuanced, and I think, slower and subtler.

For me, it’s about taking small incremental steps towards designing how I work that integrates my needs and supports my mental health. It’s about looking at the things which affect how I feel, and tackling them conscientiously and actively, rather than just walking away or turning them off. It’s about recognising that some things I just have to do, and other things I can choose whether to do.

This isn’t an overnight fix. This doesn’t solve for today. But rather a steady improvement over time towards designing a more sustainable way of working. It takes time. It takes effort and investment. A little bit here, a little bit there, all working towards something more sustainable and supportive over your self-employed career.

I guess that’s our approach at Leapers - there’s no right or wrong way, there aren’t any ’shoulds’ or ‘musts’, but rather lots of small suggestions, provocations, techniques and tools which we can all pick and choose from to build up our own individual and sustainable way of working well.

Work well.