This post originally appeared on Girlboss.
One night in July several years ago, I lost both my boyfriend and my full-time job. Not my best moment. But as Nora Ephron once told us: “Embrace the mess.” I could’ve used an Ephron pep talk in that moment. And her mashed potatoes.
Now I’m here to tell you my sad-but-true story so you can learn from it. I was your typical young and eager twenty-something, trying to do all of the “right” things. I worked hard in school, stayed late at the office to meet deadlines, and brought work home at night.
On the weekends, while my BF and I were out at the baseball game or at drinks with friends, I was still trying to appease the agency’s overlords and their ever-growing demands by answering emails or taking work calls – only to arrive, exhausted, to more of the same on Monday morning.
It was a toxic situation in a dismal economy, and I felt like I was drowning with no way out. I didn’t really know what to do to stand up for myself (or for my colleagues – who also got the boot shortly afterwards) to protect my job and my sanity.
It took me years to fully recover. And some scars still remain, but I know now that had I taken just a few different steps at the time, I could’ve saved myself, and perhaps even my job, and my relationship.
The pain of the break-up and the job loss stuck with me for a while, but it’s also what drove me to break out on my own as a successful freelancer, proving to myself how valuable I could be as a contributor at work, and as a woman in a relationship. Neither would have happened if I had stayed put.
Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Seek help
On the other side, it’s easy to see that some professional help or intervention would have been really useful during those dark days. A therapist for myself, and maybe even for the relationship, could have helped bring clarity to the situation and a name for what I was experiencing so that we could come up with solutions to cope.
There’s no shame in having a profesh partner to help us during and after life’s transitions. The best and most successful people all do it. There’s also a tonne of research supporting mindfulness meditation – and the neuroscience behind it – in terms of improving cognition, creativity, stress-reduction, and overall wellness.
Practise on your own, or learn from a healer or friend already practising it. The results can be astounding and can seep into nearly every part of your life, from how you eat, to how you think, to how you sleep.
2. Take the time
When you’re in the middle of the shitstorm, and your work life and home life are both seemingly spiralling out of control, things get hazy and confusing. The associated stress and anxiety from these things = decision-making that’s more difficult, creating a vicious cycle.
If you feel like you’re stuck in a rut, letting your mind wander on a regular basis can help reveal more about yourself and restore balance: Learn what’s holding you back, what drives you, and what’s really keeping you up at night.
“The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “It is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
The average person checks their phone nearly 50 times a day. That’s not cool for you or for your romantic partner/best friend/pet. One of the most important things you can do is cut yourself off from your smartphone in a serious way, multiple times a day.
Do it now. Seriously. (Well, after reading this article.)
3. Go it alone
Going freelance or independent is scary. Let’s just put that out there. But it’s also a reality many of us face whether we like it or not as the economy changes. The American workforce is now 35 per cent independent, and it’s expected to grow further in the next decade.
There’s no reason why creative freedom can’t be the best thing ever – if it’s what you truly want, and you put in the work to create a solid schedule and client list that privileges your sanity, your personal life, and your pocketbook equally. And, sure, that can be a challenge when you’re first starting out. But it could be worth it, no?
I literally started my freelance copywriting business on Craigslist and later on LinkedIn, and grew my list of referrals and clients from there. I try to tell myself each day: Be humble, be bold, be grateful. Today, there are a number of emerging platforms to market yourself and your skills.
Seek out mentors who have been doing this for much longer than you have for tips, to avoid early burnout. I’ve found many women (and men) who are more than willing to help a sister out (myself included) as you embark on the scary, but rewarding, path that is the freelance life. You’ll pay it forward to the next gal once you’re well on your way.