On Being A Working Woman

September 17, 2017

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?

A Different Type Of Tired

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”.

The World Doesn’t Want Us Awake

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?

12 responses to “On Being A Working Woman”

  1. I’ve been discussing this with my friends lately and we all came to a similar conclusion. Everyone is constantly on the edge of a breakdown, trying to balance career and social life, be super successful and enjoy life stress free, but that doesn’t really go hand in hand, does it? I hope you achieve what you want and that you recover soon. x

  2. Audrey says:

    I feel like Imposter Syndrome is a part of it. We sometimes think that we are not enough, that we are not as competent or as successful as other people. But we totally are enough. I think being able to tune into your body and know what you need, to know when to push yourself and to know when to let yourself rest, is really valuable. It’s not easy though! When you freelance, you’re your own boss and you have to make these decisions for yourself, but you’re blessed that you have these decisions to make! Whereas with people who take a traditional job, though it might be easier having someone tell you what to do and not have to think for yourself, you don’t have as many options. Everything has tradeoffs and everything is about finding that balance. // Wishing you the best with you recovery <3 Take care of yourself! You're enough <3 -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey’s

  3. effcaa says:

    Helle dear Laila,

    7 years as a freelancer? Oh, my. Take this comment as a giant celebration, a song I turn on for you! Seriously, this is incredible. And I get what you mean when you’ve been in the late working situations. Yes, that sounds a bit crazy. But I guess, it shows your determination. Not entirely sure how you earn your living, but what I can say is that the corporate world is indeed white and male dominated, and I don’t know how it is to look into it with brown skin (I’d always like to think that the mindset can conquer sooo so much), but what I’ve learned is that what matters most is to listen to your voice within. Like when you do meditation and you notice your deepest essence, I can hear the howling throughout my working days. Yes, it’s sweaty and brings me to the limit but I’ve come to accept life as consisting of black and white to same degrees, or still working on it. All that pain, sweat and hardniss is there to let us climb the mountain…. and for me personally astrology has truly helped to understand all this further.

    Finja | http://www.effcaa.com

  4. ramblingmads says:

    I live in London and the ridiculously high living costs mean you are constantly saying yes to overtime, doing jobs you hate but that pay the bills (just) and not taking sick leave or holiday in case anyone thinks less of you. I try to cram a social life in there somewhere but I’m just too tired to do things like yoga classes, or French lessons, it’s all I can do to eat dinner without falling asleep face down.
    I would love to write full-time and not have to go to an office and squeeze into a packed tube train every day. Maybe then I would feel more awake.

    Hope you feel better soon. Take it easy,

  5. I feel it as well, as a freelancer. I’ve pretty much given up on socialising in favour of chilling & early bed on the weekends to stop burnout, except for rare occasions.

  6. Caitlin says:

    Excellent post, and I’m right there with your 30 year old friend. Glad to know we aren’t alone and are all just figuring it out!

  7. Well, as you know this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, as my mental health demands a better balance. I’m absolutely no guru – in fact, all the big plans I made for myself when I cut my hours have kind of come to nothing and I’ve worked until 2am the last two Sunday nights, rather than treat my Monday as a “typical” workday. But I’m refusing to beat myself up about it. Scheduling, scheduling, scheduling. And that includes breaks. Please treat yourself well, my lovely. Working for yourself means nobody else is around to notice – so I’m afraid you just have to add “monitoring and guarding against the signs of potential burnout” to that long list of business duties.

    Rest up, and I hope you feel better soon.

    Lis / last year’s girl x

  8. Nadine says:

    This is so insightful to me, I’ve been somewhat drawn to freelancing since I was at school and as I’m nearing the end of education it’s invaluable to me to understand other people’s genuine experience of freelancing – no frills. We live in a culture that completely glamorises working yourself into exhaustion – no wonder mental (and physical, of course) illnesses are so widespread. I hope you find a way to bring peace and balance into your working life, and really you are an inspiration. x

  9. Sade says:

    Ah Laila! Firstly, please have a good rest and feel better soon, secondly I found myself nodding along to everything you’ve written. Serious hats off to you because working freelance is so incredibly stressful, and it pleases me no end to see you killing it! Imposter syndrome is such a big part of our lives esp if like myself and yourself one is a WOC, it’s hard for us to ever feel like we’re doing enough as we’ve always been taught that we have to work ten times harder to get to where we want to be in life, thus burning ourselves out completely in the process. I’m currently still applying for arch jobs whilst freelancing and I can honestly say it’s been one of the worst seasons I’ve ever been in, with comparison being a theme I just can’t shake…

    Let’s work hard, but love ourselves harder eh.


  10. Oh man I really resonate with the part where you and your friend discuss your admiration for each other with mutual shock. What is it with women? If that was a couple of dudes they’d presume admiration and envy from the other! Also, I did a year of freelance a couple years back and couldn’t hack it, so full respect to you.

  11. […] On Being A Working Woman. […]

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