How to Human and Freelance

Illustration by Christine Luiten

Illustration by Christine Luiten

I have been a freelance illustrator and designer for a little while now and although I don't pretend to be an expert (far from it) I would like to share with you all a few things that have kept me sane, healthy and happy. In short, remembering how to 'human.'

In all career choices one should attempt to maintain a balanced lifestyle, however this becomes more difficult if you work as a freelancer from a home studio. All the things people that work in offices and agencies take for granted (their daily commute, social interaction and regular pay) as a freelancer, are a different story. This can make being a ‘human’ even harder. Let us begin with the most basic of ‘human’ work necessities, health.

Move! Everyday. It is good for your mind as well as you body. You don't have to spend hours at the gym, or run a marathon, just move. Go for a walk. Play a sport. I recently embarked on a mission to rekindle my love of soccer, but that ended in a broken limb (another story for another day). I also recently joined a gym in order to get stronger, and address my feelings of weakness after breaking said limb. I am enjoying it, which is ridiculous considering my previous views of gym goers. Whatever you do... move!

Humans can eat anything really, just like rats and cockroaches can, but some things are better for us than others. In cutting back on eating packaged goods, I am far mellower (and I was pretty mellow to start with). I am better able to deal with problems in my life without the mood swings that result from foods laden with things I can’t pronounce or seem better suited for a chemistry lab. Grief, pain and disappointment are far easier to cope with when your body isn't trying to digest foreign elements.

Having an appropriate workspace and environment is a great idea. It is super hard to work from home if you are working in the same space as your bed. Seriously that place is for sleep, among other things, but not work. If you can, find another space within your home to do your work and essentially trick your brain into thinking you have had a daily commute and your work is separate from your home. If that isn't applicable find someone else's house to work at, or a shared studio with other creatives. If worst comes to worst, put a divider up in your room, between your desk and your bed. That way you can't see your desk at night judging you for all the work you didn't do that day and all the buzzfeed quizzes you took instead. Have set times for working and stick to them, to give some structure and separation to your life.

One thing I have really gotten into is standing desks. Although I have noticed benefits to my health as well, a standing desk helps with procrastination. Wouldn't you rather sit down to watch that youtube clip and scroll through facebook? Yes? Well do you work when you are standing at your desk then! You will get sore feet initially, but it won't last.

Which brings me to my next point: SLEEP, go to bed at a similar time every night and get up at a similar time every morning. Sleep for at least 7 hours. It is easier to 'human' when you have had enough sleep. If you don't, your body actually starts shutting down. If you have a laptop, avoid using it in bed. All that bright light is not going to help when you sleep, neither do phones. Technology is not a beneficial sleep aid. Darkness, warmth and quiet are.

Work itself can be tricky. A feast or a famine generally, you have to learn to have a break in your work famine periods. I have been lucky enough to have a fairly steady workload recently but there are still those days where all comes to a grinding halt. Take that as a breather and relax! I am terrible at relaxing. For me relaxing and laziness are the same thing. But I'm learning!

Don't worry too much about money in terms of taxes and accounts. IRD want you to pay tax, they sure aren't going to make it too hard to fill out your IR3 form and pay them. If you studied design, you probably didn't learn to do accounts, they figured you were going to end up working for someone that was going to deal with that for you. But if you are self employed it is all on you, so ask someone that does know about it. They will be most willing to help I am sure.

Don't do jobs you are not happy with. If something doesn't seem right, or it clashes with your sense of self or your morals, you should probably trust that feeling of unease and give it a miss. Don't just take it for the money. You won’t enjoy it and it may, in extreme cases, affect your future job opportunities.

Working at home means you miss out on those valuable social interactions that you would get in a bigger workplace. Regardless of whether you are an extrovert or not, you should probably make an effort to see people; clients, friends and family. Have face to face meetings with clients if they are in your area, rather than email. Invite other freelancers to work in your space, they are good for feedback sessions and just general banter. Hang out with your friends, they are helpful, inspiring and will make you feel better. Talk to your family, they are invaluable at making everything seem not nearly as important as you think it is. Especially if they aren't involved in design at all, they will say “oh, that sounds (insert meaningless adjective), dear” and make you feel like you have totally blown everything out of proportion. It is beautiful and humbling.

Go to events, exhibits and museums (my favorite) just to be among people. I am a terrible networker, I don't have the gift that some have of endless small talk. I am overly conscious of my own awkwardness and others, to be able to deal with people I don't know on a regular basis. If the man at the petrol station asks what I am up to for the weekend, I will often mouth wordlessly for a while until I realise that I don't need to explain my entire weekend plan.

I have found as a freelancer I have a tendency to judge and compare myself to others far too readily. Stomp that out right now. It is good to see what others are doing, if it is inspiring, but if you have a defeatist attitude it can become unhelpful if that inspiration turns to jealousy and then bewilderment.

So forget the negative because you are awesome. You are doing something that you probably did as a child without prompting, and now you are getting paid for it. This is an achievement, regardless of how much money you are actually making. Don't aim for excellence (despite what NCEA use to enforce). Don't aim for perfection. Aim to get out of bed, eat, have fun and do some work that you get paid for. You are not a machine. You are a human. Sometimes it is hard to 'human'. In fact sometimes it takes a whole lot of willpower and self discipline just to get up in the morning, let alone do your job. But you can.

Addressing the other areas of your life with the same care and dedication you have for kerning and photoshop and your paper stock, can make all those things even easier and more enjoyable than they already are.

Christine Luiten
Freelance illustrator, designer and human