Despite it being part of working in the media, the feelings of being between jobs are rarely talked about. But it’s inevitable in the freelance world so let’s embrace it! Here are a few tips after being staff for 4.5 years on how to make the most of it.
So it’s January and it seems that most of the TV world (and now half of Buzzfeed) is ‘between jobs’ and ‘available’, which is a fancy way of saying unemployed. Having been a staff member for the last four and a half years, this introduction to freelancing was initially a shock to the system. Nine-thirty comes and goes and yet there is nowhere expecting you, no-one to see and the refreshing of my emails quickly turned into an obsessive occupation.
But far from being alone, there are many that are experiencing the highs and lows of working (or not) in the gig economy. My personal favourite activity at the moment is agreeing times to meet for interviews. ‘I can do 10am,’ I say creating the image of my busy packed schedule with only one hour left in which to meet. ‘You can’t do that? Well, when can you do?’ – which is when I start picking at random one of the other of eight hours I could feasibly do.
One series producer I met saw right through it. ‘You’re between jobs? Yeah, it’s kind of like boom and bust. For people who are used to working hard and whose identity is bound up in their work, it’s tough. A trip to Tesco can be the moment of the day.’ Quite.
Having had this rather disorientating experience for the first time in years, I’m sure others can add to this but these are the five main things that I have done to thrive being between jobs in January.
1. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE
This is easier said than done when your house may be heated and the kitchen can provide all the sustenance you need. But after three days of searching/working, sending out emails and being distracted by the TV, I started to get serious cabin fever and the isolation kicked in. There is a big change between having multiple conversations in the office and the free-flowing silent schedule of working from home. I’m sure some are far more disciplined that me, but when confronted with hours of which I have to motivate myself to hit deadlines, it takes the strength that you don’t need as much when you are employed. So while I may go to the gym an hour later than before, I get out to a cafe during the working hours. There is the hubbub of other people, the company of many others also typing furiously away and getting out of the house to a separate place focusses the mind. Even better, work with other friends between jobs so you are in it together and you can stop for a decent lunch.
2. CREATE DEADLINES
When I was working, I always thought that if only I had a bit of time off, I could do so much more – start writing, maybe experiment with a podcast, work up some projects before casually nipping to the National Gallery. These things are all possible, but faced with lots of time, it is surprisingly hard if you have been employed for a while to have that much motivation straight off. It’s like writer’s block but for entire projects. Sending emails that could take a couple of hours can take up the whole day. So before any fun or rewards, I make sure that I get a minimal level of work done. Whether it’s getting a load of emails out or writing a programme treatment, I do that first. Then I can have a couple of hours to relax. Without this, I feel I’ve wasted the day and not had anything to show for it. Then the panic sets in, except it feels like it’s my fault. It may just be brainstorming ideas but it’s about keeping a level of thought and pro-activeness that reminds you that you are indeed between jobs and will be returning soon.
3. SEE FRIENDS
The biggest hit about not going to work was realising that I might not see anyone all day. At work, there are colleagues, meetings and then maybe a drink with a friend after work. During the first couple of weeks I felt no wish to meet old friends. It was like I had lost my identity a little bit and I didn’t really have much to update them with. Even going to the cafe, I felt like I had a big sign around my neck saying ‘unemployed.’ I didn’t want to tell anyone. It was like exposing a vulnerability and many people not in the industry don’t know how to respond to this when you tell them. Even writing this feels like a risk – it’s hard to admit that you feel vulnerable and lonely when you are pitching for work. But at the same time, with the vast majority of people in the media freelancing, this is an inevitability for most people at some point and yet it stays a secret and remains barely talked about- increasing the isolation. It took me two weeks to realise that I was not alone before and I am not alone now. Everyone is still on the end of the phone. I therefore took the opportunity to set up as many meetings as I could with amazing companies, inspirational documentary-makers and friends. This was a brilliant space to discuss new ideas, contribute while forging new relationships and with friends, to connect with people who are there no matter whether you are in work or not. My biggest source of continuity and stability came from Krav Maga, which I have been doing for four years. There, no one knows or cares what you do, if you work or not. It is about sparring and fitness and nothing there changes. By the end of of third week, I feel a strength that is unrelated to my work as I spread myself further with both new people and hobbies.
4. BE AWARE AND CONTROL THOSE THOUGHTS
When I was younger, I found time between work very stressful. I don’t have the financial background where I can just wait for months for a job. I had to get something within days or else I would have to leave my house. I am in a luckier position now because I have saved over the years – because I wanted to make sure that I was never in that precarious and stressful position again. I know I am privileged and lucky to even be able to do that as for many (me included a few years ago) there wasn’t any money left over to save. I also know in my particular field, there are some great projects and opportunities that I’m really excited about if they work out. This aside, it does not erase the tension of being between jobs. Another friend of mine, who is incredibly successful and also freelance, summed it up very well. “You forget it once you are back on a project but at the time it feels like you will never get another job again.” I think it is very easy to experience these dramatic thoughts. Talking to others may help but I found that the internet is pretty good on this. When I started to get a little overwhelmed, I googled it and it turns out that it is really common and normal to feel that way when there is a big change of routine. The best antidote I have found is to challenge the logic of those thoughts and to keep busy.
5. REMEMBER TO TAKE TIME OFF
Personally I wouldn’t have chosen January for my month off. It’s cold and dark – it’s hardly a read-book-in-the-park territory. However it is a break and there are only so many emails you can write and chats you can have. I have always made sure that I have a couple of hours of free time and development a day. For me, that is the gym at a more relaxed hour, watching documentaries, exploring music, meeting family and having the odd long lunch. I have been thinking about making curries from scratch for months- I did that on Tuesday. There are many advantages from having the time and looking back in a month’s time, it would be a shame to have not made the most of it.
Being a master of my own time – it’s been a new experience but I am relaxing into it and feel far more independent as the days go by. My new goal? To strengthen my resilience that I didn’t need as much when I was employed. I am now excited for what the future – and my next project- has to hold!
Have more suggestions on how to thrive while between jobs? Join the conversation below or on Twitter.