As many veteran freelancers will tell you, freelancing and personal relationships don’t always mesh well. It’s no secret that all relationships take work, but those that incorporate the freelance lifestyle can require some extra effort.
The self-help relationship books that line your shelves claim to have all the right tools to help you manage the happy and successful relationships in your life. However, it’s tempting for freelancers with entrepreneurial mindsets to conceptualize their relationships as management challenges akin to those that they face with their businesses. Approaching your relationships as you would with your work is a recipe for disaster.
Relationship Challenges for Freelancers
The biggest challenges facing freelancer relationship success are caused by two factors: unpredictability and the “just one more thing” syndrome. Freelancers deal with unpredictability with both time and finances. The boom and bust cycle of work can make it difficult for short and long-term financial planning, especially when you have dependents. As much as we would love to know how much we’ll be working and when we can take time off in advance, we also feel required to take advantage of last minute opportunities — which means that we face huge fluctuations in workloads and scheduling. If only we could just get one more thing done, then we would be much better off. The problem is that there’s always one more task to complete.
Even as I write this, I’m up at the cottage with a beer and a bag of chips, typing away at the kitchen table while the rest of the gang is outside building a fire. It’s all too easy to have your freelance work creep into other aspects of your life.
Why It’s Important to Prioritize Your Relationships
The hallmark of strong relationships is being there for your loved ones when they need and want you. Remember that your spouse gets stressed and overworked too — you’re not the only one who has a challenging career.
I will always remember that, no matter how hard he worked (and it was quite hard), my dad would read me poetry every night before bed. As a result, I developed a passion for words and language that blossomed into my career as a writer. I sometimes wonder if my dad wishes he had read me math problems instead.
Our relationships comprise the social support networks that we rely on to be successful in our own life endeavors. Think about how hard your freelance career would be without someone to cheer you up if you lose a contract, or struggle to grow your fledgling business. As freelancers, we may think of ourselves as independent trailblazers, but we actually rely on others more than we realize. When we have strong personal relationships, we can weather the challenges of freelancing — and celebrate our big wins.
How to Build Strong Personal Relationships as a Freelancer
The most important and difficult thing for freelancers to do is learn how to say “no” to more work. You need to set boundaries for yourself and recognize when you’re pushing things too far. I think of it this way: do I want to look back on my life and vision myself working nights and weekends, missing engagements with friends and family and straining relationships? Isn’t it more important to live a balanced life and make some work-related sacrifices for your loved ones? Take a step back from your work and be critical about how your time is spent and how your career as a freelancer is affecting those around you.
What I’ve learned throughout my freelance career is that the little things really count. If you’re stopping by the store on your way home, call your partner to find out if there’s anything he/she needs or wants. Be the first one to get up in the morning and make coffee for everyone. Take a break during your day to share an interesting article that you read, or suggest hiking trails that you could explore when the weekend rolls around. Carve out 15 minutes before bed to read with your kids. These small gestures are what characterize the kind of relationships you will have. These are things that don’t take too much time or effort, and signal that you’re always thinking of your personal relationships.
Don’t let unpredictability, a voracious appetite for your work and the growth of your business get in the way of the most important relationships in your life. Once you find a way to make freelancing and personal relationships coexist, you’ll be much better off in the long run.