Moving on to the next crossroads

It’s been a while since I wrote, and last time I was feeling fed up because I just couldn’t get back into things. I knew I needed something to help me move forwards, but I hadn’t found it. In the end it’s been a combination of things that has made me feel more positive.

I did the journaling course, and it was just what I needed to ease myself into things, decorating my notebooks with colour and getting inspiration for a few new ways to journal. I listened to the wisdom of others – a few people I follow or chat to on social media wrote about similar feelings, and pointed out that it’s the time of year, the greyness of winter, the desire to hibernate. And they were right – as time moved on eventually things became clearer.

So I’ve taken some action.

I’ve signed up for a six month mentoring and group coaching programme, which I am very excited about. I know I have all the pieces there from my explorations over the last 14 (!) years, and I feel like now is the time to finish working out how they all fit together. This feels like my natural next step, it just felt like the right way to get the coaching, help, accountability and community that I have been looking for.

I’ve decided to channel my creative energies into a new mini project. I have a million photos of the sea, and I’ve started sorting through them to pick out my favourites. I’m going to print some out on canvasses and as A4 prints to display in my house. I’m going to write some descriptions to go with them. And I’m going to post one a day on social media and share some seaside views with those who need to see them. I have other ideas floating around as the next stage of this, but to start with I’m going to get the sea photos out into the world.

My freelance work is what it is. I sense that my ongoing project is changing as we go into a new phase of the work we’re doing for the client, and that’s fine. It’ll probably mean less of my time spent there, and this evolution does come with mixed feelings. Pleased that I will be able to honour my need to move on over the coming months, but sad that in doing so I may lose touch with someone at the end of that time.

I was reading back over these posts earlier to see whether they’d be helpful to share with the two people running the programme I’m joining, and I was grateful that I’ve created this space for myself. I’m not saying anything controversial or secret on here, but unlike other blogs I’ve created I’ve chosen not to share this one with anyone I know. So I suspect that nobody reads these posts. Blogging doesn’t seem to be the same as it was when I first started writing 10 years ago – I don’t think many of the people that ‘like’ blog posts actually read them, for example. I do make an occasional connection like this but not as many as I once did.

But that’s fine with me – I have this space to write, and I can share it if I choose to. And in writing for an external audience (ie not my own journal), I have to explain bits of me to put things into context. In doing so I think this helps me take a step back and get an overview of my thoughts. So I’ll carry on popping in here every now and then to comment on how I’m getting on with things, as I work out where I’m going to go at my next crossroads……..

I’ve totally lost my mojo

I haven’t written anything on this blog for ages, or on my other blog. I just haven’t felt like it.

I was hoping I’d bounce back into the new year with lots of ideas and be able to start on a new side project to go alongside my current freelance one. But that just hasn’t happened.

I got very little time to do anything with my ideas over Christmas, as I have a 3.5 year old and we were under Tier 4 restrictions in England (no restaurants, pubs or cafes open to sit in, only essential shops open, only able to meet 1:1 outside with people not in our household).

I’ve tried to read a few articles and bits of books recently for inspiration on a way forward, but everything points towards me needing to be clear on who my audience are, and what problem I solve for them. And I can’t progress with any business project ideas without knowing these things. But these two things are the hardest for me to figure out – I’ve been experimenting for years and never quite got there.

So all I’m doing right now is working on one ongoing freelance project and getting frustrated with myself the rest of the time. Frustrated because I feel like I’m no closer to breaking away from the industry I freelance in now than I was back at the end of 2008 when I swore I wanted to do “something different”.

I’ve learned a lot, but I’m still relying on that one type of work for an income, when my heart really isn’t in it anymore. I’ve got a nice cv now and some good wording on LinkedIn. But it just doesn’t feel right. I don’t want to get any more projects in that area doing the type of stuff that’s needed.

I’ve dabbled in so many ideas – freelance writing, setting up blogs, wondering what I could do with my photos, helping solo business owners with various project planning and marketing things. But nothing has worked for me.

I don’t know what the answer is.

I suspect I need to gather a group of like-minded people around me to cheer me on. That’s one thing. In the current situation (UK in national lockdown, only allowed to exercise once a day, daughter still able to go to nursery) I’m feeling isolated.

My husband has a busy job and regardless has no real interest in my random creative projects and business ideas, as he’s just not that sort of person. Right now a lot of people I know are supervising their children’s schoolwork as well as doing their own work, so their time is limited. And I can’t get out to networking events to chat to people in real life. I’ve met some interesting people at virtual networking events but by their nature the events can sometimes be limited in the opportunities they offer to chat to people one to one.

I also need accountability. A person or a group of people who will ask me whether I’ve done the things I’d planned to. Maybe even a coach to sanity check whether I’m really doing things that will take me in the right direction. I’ve worked with a few coaches over the last couple of years on various different aspects of my business and life. All of them helped to hone my ideas in some way.

I think a break (even just a day off to explore somewhere new, a change of scenery) would do me good. But that’s not an option right now. If I took time out of my freelance work I’d just be sitting around the house trying to find something to do with myself!

I was contemplating doing a month-long journalling course which runs once a year. But I’m not sure I’ll have the time to devote to it. And is it really what I need? More time spent writing things that only I’ll ever read and that might just serve to confuse me even further. I don’t know. I haven’t ruled it out yet, but it starts next week so I do need to make a decision.

I’ve been looking at Simon Sinek’s “Start with why” workbook. It takes you through a process of finding your “why” in the stories you tell about your past. I wonder whether that’s something worth journalling about?

I also wondered about doing another “play project”, a term that John Williams uses in his book “F*** work, let’s play”. Setting myself a small project that I can do for a month or so, and see where it takes me. The trouble is, I’ve done loads of those and they’re always the same types of projects. And none of them so far have really got me anywhere (or have they?) They’re often blogs with lots of nice photos on. Or ideas for setting up a group for like-minded people I want to connect with.

The good thing about having done so much personal development work over the last however many years is that I do know my habits, and I know what works for me. I’m aware that thinking will only get me so far, but that it’s my natural tendency. I know that taking action will make something happen – but right now I’m not sure what to take action on.

I wonder whether I just need to arrange to chat to some people I already know, and maybe seek out a few people I don’t usually talk to. With no agenda, no sales pitch, no ideas in mind – just have some conversations and see what happens. Maybe that’s a good next step.

Breathing space – needing it and taking it

Hello again. I haven’t written anything here for a while as I’ve been busy working. Busy doing two contracts, one of which I had agreed to work specific hours on specific days. Which I don’t like doing as it takes away my freedom. So I won’t be doing that again if I can help it!

But that contract finishes tomorrow, and I can taste the freedom, feel the weight lifting from my shoulders and the space re-emerging and stretching out in front of me. I’ll still have things to do, but I’ll be able to use my days how I want to a certain extent. Which after all is the reason I became a freelancer again!

During this busy time I’ve still managed to grab some space for myself. It generally involves leaving the house, as my husband works from home and has a lot of phone and video calls. So I go for what I call a run-walk, or just for a walk. Or sometimes I just sit upstairs on the bed with a cup of tea, a snack and maybe some music through headphones.

I do that on a weekend morning if I don’t have other commitments, I did a run-walk on Monday at 7.30am this week, and I try to keep my Thursday mornings free for a walk too.

And I need that time and space. Time for my brain to decompress, to have its own thoughts and not be influenced by social media. Time to solve problems, time to have ideas, time to reflect, and time to just be.

I often take photos as well, it’s part of me concentrating on my surroundings. The fact I end up with a collection of images is not the point for me, it’s a nice side effect of being mindful, snapping photos on my phone, trying different angles and shapes and views. It’s a bit like meditation for me.

I love to go somewhere new and do that, even half an hour of wandering by myself taking photos and looking at a view restores my brain and connects with my soul again. I may not have totally figured out my work life yet, but these things I know about my life balance, things I need for myself to recharge and relax.

So after my ramblings here, I’m off back to my desk to do some work. A couple of things I’ll enjoy, a few bits not so much. But I’ve had a bit of quiet, even if I didn’t get to go outside today because of the rain. Maybe I’ll pop out later if it stops raining and I have time.

A view from my Monday morning run-walk

When the path in front feels right yet also wrong

I have been on this journey for what seems like forever. Starting from the little thoughts in my head as I worked in various jobs, the little niggling thoughts that said “surely this isn’t it, is it?” Continuing through all sorts of events, big and small, too numerous to name here without boring you. I wondered why “everyone else” seemed to have what they wanted, and “everyone else” seemed happy with what they were doing.

Until I did some courses and went to a few events, inspired by various books and magazine articles. And then I met other people who were also wondering the same thing about their own working lives. And realised I definitely wasn’t alone.

I have since done lots of personality profile questionnaires, had a number of coaches, explored all sorts of different options. And I’m getting ever closer to pinning “it” down – the type of work and the business model – but I’m not there yet. Every time I think I’ve got it, something else comes up, something leads me to question my new thought – or in the case of what’s going on right now, something just doesn’t feel right about the direction I’m going in.

Going further down this path in front of me feels right as well as wrong, if that makes any kind of sense. It feels wrong because I can’t figure out how it relates to what I love doing, although there are some bits I quite like. But it feels right because it’s a continuation of something I started a number of years ago, something that I keep being called back to. A misguided loyalty to helping someone else perhaps, some unfinished business.

So on the one hand I follow my heart and want to walk and write and take photos and explore and see where that takes me. And it makes no sense, and I can’t see how I can live by it. Everytime I’ve tried I’ve come to a dead end.

On the other hand I am led down a different path by the past, by nostalgia, by someone else’s dreams.

And strangely right there, that sentence I hurriedly wrote before stopping and doing something else for half an hour, that’s the “why”. That’s why it feels so incongruous – because my freelance work is all about other people’s dreams. Both of the types of businesses I’ve worked with in the last couple of years.

The other choice of course is to follow my own dreams. But maybe I’m not yet there on figuring them out – the “what” and then the “what to do to next”.

It seems that I’ve been far too bound up in other people’s dreams to really notice mine.

There’s never enough time

There’s not enough time to do everything I want or need to do.

This isn’t a new realisation to me of course. I remember having a conversation about it back in 2014, before I became a mum. I can’t recall how the conversation started, but at some point I said something about wanting to have more than one life so I could do everything I wanted to do. Because I knew I wanted to be a mum, and I knew that would change my life options and timelines. But I also didn’t know when that might happen, so couldn’t really plan any further.

The other person didn’t have any children and wasn’t going to have any in future, so saw life in a different way. A more certain way perhaps. They saw life as a sequence, doing one thing, then doing another after that. I knew that if I had children I wouldn’t get to concentrate 100% on anything for another 18 years or so. So I would have to do more than one thing at once.

And that’s how it is. Life with a small person. It means I achieve a little bit here and a little bit there. Making progress but slowly. And having to choose constantly what to do with my child-free time and my shared parenting time.

When my daughter is at nursery, I need to do paid work, but I also need time for myself (eg walks and writing), I have household chores to do, life admin, business admin and marketing as I’m self-employed, making social plans etc etc.

And when my husband and I are both around at the weekend we each get a break at some point, so what do I choose to with that time? A walk? Hide upstairs and listen to music? Work on one of my photo books or ebook projects? Phone a friend?

In all of this, I feel guilty whatever I choose. If I choose to work on my business I worry that I should be doing paid work, if I do paid work I start feeling like I need “me” time, if I have “me” time I feel bad that I’m not making enough effort to keep up with friends (mum friends or other friends).

Of course just as I recognise all of this, I also realise there is no answer, no way I can do all the stuff I want or need to do with my time. the best I can do is choose and be happy with that choice.

Accept that I can’t do it all. But that I can do plenty of things – enough things.

All the things I’m not

In the last 10 years I have played around with all sorts of different ideas, trying to work out “what to do with my life”. My job was made redundant at the end of 2008, which turned out to be a great opportunity to try some new things.

In that time I’ve contracted full-time and part-time, been a project-based freelancer, had a job for 2 years, volunteered for a charity, helped start a new Rotary club, taken part in 3 big fundraising initiatives, helped organise a 2 day music festival, written many many blog posts and guest blog posts, published several of my own e-books for the Kindle, taken what seems like a million photos, used social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram) to promote charity/community events and my own freelance work, networked locally and online, and had a year’s maternity leave with my baby (who is now 3).

I’ve also done lots of online courses and got involved with groups of creative entrepreneurs – meeting and connecting with many fascinating and inspirational people. But within that, and indeed on social media in general, lies a basis for comparison, which I don’t think serves me very well at all.

When people who did the same course or challenge as me gain success doing something they are passionate about, that makes me envious. When I see people I know online writing eloquent social media posts or email newsletters about their businesses and their ideal clients, that makes me envious. When I see people setting up a blog similar to something I had tried but failed at, but they have instant success with it, that makes me envious.

The thing with all those successes of all those other people? It may not be the first time they’d tried something new, so it might not be the instant success it seems. They may have other challenges in their lives that I don’t have (especially right now in our coronavirus world) and for that I should be grateful. Success of course is relative – and just because they look successful online, it doesn’t mean they actually have enough clients or feel it’s going well – they may just be better at putting on a positive spin and making it seem successful.

And actually, their success is down to their individual personality, combined with the ideal attributes needed for the business they’ve decided to start. Perhaps they just got it right.

So coming back to me, I need to remind myself that I have tried things on for size and realised they’re not for me. So if I see others doing them and enjoying them, that’s great for them! Maybe I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I’m making progress with everything I eliminate as an idea, and with everything I observe and acknowledge is not my personality or preferred way of spending my time.

I’m not an extrovert. I’m not a natural networker or leader or guru. I’m not a freelance travel writer, or a freelance writer or copywriter. I’m not a money-earning lifestyle or parenting blogger. I’m not a professional landscape photographer. I’m not a marketing consultant. I’m not a social media manager. I’m not a charity fundraiser. I’m not an Etsy seller. I’m not a salesperson of anything (books or greetings cards for example). I’m not a coach. I’m not a Facebook group owner. I’m not a virtual assistant. I’m not a creative and amazingly active super-mum. I don’t want to live my life posting on social media to find clients who stick around for a month and then don’t need my services any more.

I am an introvert. I enjoy writing, I enjoy taking photos. I enjoy creating things out of words and images. I enjoy thinking about life. I enjoy chatting to new people, preferably one-to-one. I enjoy listening to people who are passionate about what they do, and I enjoy helping them if I can. I enjoy reading books about self-development and learning about personality profiles. I enjoy creating new activities for my daughter, and showing her new things – and I enjoy documenting our time together through photos. I enjoy travelling to new places, both home and abroad, and wandering around exploring and noticing little details. I enjoy being out in nature, walking by a river, lake or the sea. I enjoy listening to music. I enjoy peace and quiet.

So I’ve got a pretty good grasp of who I’m not – I need to take a step back every now and then and remember that!

And I need to keep doing the things I enjoy, and see where they lead me.

A new blog

I’ve been a blogger for many years, publishing my first one back in 2010. I’ve got one that I still write on every now and then, but it felt like time for a new blog as I delve into a familiar subject in a new way.

I’m a freelance mum, trying to figure out the best balance of work, creativity and home life. How to earn “enough” money, but making sure that’s not at the expense of me or my life as a mum.

I had some coaching earlier this year, before Covid-19 hit and changed all our lives so drastically. My coach worked with me to get me to carve out time for myself before I jump into my work or my to do list for the day. I got a bit of practice at that until I had to put normality on hold for a while.

Now my daughter is back at nursery, and I’ve got work in progress and other possibilities floating around, I can get back to that “me time”.

This morning I’ve chosen to walk by the river before I go home and get on with the endless stuff I need to do. I’ve sat down, I’m watching the water drift by, listening to birds and to a family swimming nearby.

And I decided to start a new blog. I feel restricted by my ongoing one. It’s read by friends and family as well as strangers. It posts automatically to Facebook and Twitter. And I need something fresh. To explain my world from scratch, as if perhaps to help me figure some stuff out.

I don’t love my freelance work. Doing it as a freelancer rather than an employee is my best compromise right now.

My heart is elsewhere. It’s in writing, pondering, wandering, exploring, observing, photographing. All those quiet pastimes that just are, that I just need, that I can’t fully articulate why I must have them. But that I also can’t justify doing without me having something else which pays me.

In my work life I did have a brilliant working partnership for a while. We were two very different souls with opposite personalities, but the work flowed between us well and I enjoyed my role of taking all the ideas and turning them into plans and making them happen. But I went on maternity leave, things changed there in that year and so I didn’t go back to the job. I can’t have that partnership back now, and I don’t want to try to recreate it with anyone else.

Since coming back from maternity leave 2 years ago, I’ve been freelance (my seocnd time around), and I’ve dabbled with a few new ideas in that time. Nothing’s really felt right as a new direction or a new slant on my current work. But that needs to change. For me to get the balance right between my creative “me” time and my work, I need to figure out what’s next.

Spending time by myself like this, writing, that’s a good start. Maybe it’s what I do next. Maybe I stop focusing my efforts on promoting my freelance work, take longer paid projects but make sure I leave space in my weeks for the things I do want to do – walk, ponder and write. See how that works out for me.

And this is the first post. The first step.

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