Life balance (and unbalanced) as an independent worker

When I quit my last so-called “regular job” to become a full-time independent worker eight years ago, it felt like someone handed me a heavy ball of fear covered in a thin veneer of freedom. I was elated. And terrified. And I never looked back.

In some ways, I have successfully subverted a 9-to-5 lifestyle that didn’t fulfill me, and flexibility is woven throughout my professional life as an independent writer, radio producer and documentary filmmaker. But don’t get me wrong, flexibility is not synonymous with all-day movie marathons on the couch. The freedom I have is a privilege and challenge, and this dynamic means I have to work extra hard at navigating a balanced life.  

Since bosses aren’t lurking around every corner, working from home affords me opportunities to sneak out for energizing moments when I need to. Because I’m my own scheduler (not to mention janitor and bookkeeper), I can shove off to meet a friend’s newborn, help someone in need, throw in a load of laundry or otherwise rearrange my schedule without anyone questioning it. On the flipside, there’s often an expectation that I manage not only mundane household duties, but also deal with the unexpected (like a broken sink) during my workdays simply because I’m the person home. While I genuinely enjoy lending a hand for my household, it can feel like a burden when I have particularly busy week or have multiple deadlines. Even though I’m able to greet the plumber when she shows up, I’m still accountable to my clients and my clients’ needs.

So how do independents like me get comfort, downtime and relaxation? Sometimes I adjust my schedule to work weekends or nights so I can have a full day off midweek. I take breaks from texting, social media and emails from friends. And this year, I’ve been experimenting with waiting a day before responding to important professional emails whenever possible, and that has reduced my stress. It’s critical that I organize my time—even my down time.

Since it’s possible for me to write, research, edit and file my work from my computer and phone, it’s a bit like my entire home is my office. The kitchen table, couch and deck are all potential “workspaces.”  But devoting one space for my work increases my focus and keeps me from being distracted by household things.  

In the big picture, I know that a perfect life-work balance is unattainable—possibly even undesirable. So I try not to beat myself up in the pursuit of non-existent perfection. Maybe all of us independent workers would be better off embracing a little of the unbalance that probably led us to independent careers in the first place.

Caroline Losneck is a Maine-based documentarian, radio producer, and experimental installation artist. Her work is featured on Maine Public Radio, NPR, Marketplace and WMPG Community Radio. Her documentary film work has appeared in the New York Times and at film festivals around the country.

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