Currently, I am ill, with a viral infection that has ended up in my lungs. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while then you’ll know that I get ill a lot. At least once a year, I get an infection that persists for a month until it turns into something more serious. Chest infection, throat infection, last year’s kidney infection, today: lung. I’m sure the problem is that I don’t rest properly. You don’t really learn to rest, do you? As a child, I remember running around from activity to activity, full of beans, constantly on the go. In university, this pattern continued. I crammed my timetable full; an average day would consist of 5-7 different things, a point of pride at the time. At the end of the day, I’d meet my friends and go out until 3 in the morning. Sleep was for the weak. Days off were hypothetical. These days I am tired. Unless I am abroad and on holiday, I am “working”. I get tired around 9 or 10, I have to go to bed far earlier than even my current self would like to admit. Rarely do I allow myself to sleep in or take naps; I find it disorientating.
Recently, I’ve been thinking that it’s not just the physical exhaustion. I have been freelance for around seven years now. That’s an age. When I first described myself as a freelancer, it was seen as a kind of joke. Some kind of millennial nightmare term that translated to “I’m living off my parent’s money and faffing around with social media and notepads”. Sure, there are those people, but the vast majority are not like that. It didn’t matter that I earned enough money, by myself, to pay my rent. I was still some kind of joke. A lot more people are freelance now; my Bloglovin feed is full of what people have learned in their first month, six months, year of being freelance. What of us old-timers, us career gals?
Thing is, it’s been exhausting trying to succeed. I have been on trips and holidays with friends where I alone am up for 2-3 hours after everybody else sleeps, working late into the night. We go for a drink, chat, get in, everyone goes to sleep and I turn my laptop on for hours of work. Being freelance requires next level work ethics anyway; you are every member of your own board wrapped into one. Accountant, HR, Management, Assistant, Secretary. Learning all these new skills is tiring. There is so much I can do to a workable level without excelling at it or even really caring. Nonsense I’ve had to learn because there is nobody else in my corner to do it. I am grateful for these skills, for my seemingly limitless capabilities, but of course, I cannot voice that aloud.
Also, I am a female, and a brown person, in a white and male industry. Almost everyone I have ever worked alongside has been a white straight male. In some ways, I suppose I am lucky to have cracked into this elite space, but in other ways, it has been tiring. You can’t go into work and voice your frustrations. Can’t air your little piece about sexual assault on the bus on the way in. You just go to work and get the job done: come home and console yourself, alone. Read this, having never lived through that, and think to yourself, “it’s not that bad”.
All around me, the women I know are reaching a point of exhaustion. I have a friend who was just told by a succession of doctors that she needed to change her career or face mental collapse. Another friend who was told by her own boss to resign and go live out of the city. A close friend with a really high-powered job recently turned 30. I told her that I’m so inspired by her, and she looked at me like I was completely nuts. Later, she broke down in tears and told me she felt like she was failing. She said she found me inspiring, that she envies the balance and the joy I have in my life. I was shocked; that anyone might look up to me seems bonkers, let alone somebody I respect as much as her. Why is it so hard for us to respect ourselves, and to believe others might do the same?
I have no conclusion to this post really, just that it’s something I’ve noticed recently and it worries me. Even my female friends who are not in freelance work seem to be pushing themselves to exhaustion. Staying late in the office day in and day out; lunch breaks are a luxury. Or, accepting tiny crappy roles far beneath them, applying for jobs they barely want on the weekly. I’ve been thinking recently that I may just stop. I will create what I want, when I want, and just share that. Go only after things that I desperately want to do. Working does not mean being on the brink of collapse at all times; we can do less than that, and it is still enough. If we aren’t enough now, will we ever be?