Thursday, August 6

The Most Important Things I Learned About Myself, I Learned Through Freelancing

I never expected to become a freelance writer.

Yet, 14 years, an MSc, two kids, and a failed marriage later, here I am. I have built a successful freelance writing business that has allowed me to have the freedom to structure my work schedule the way I want, work from where I want, and be there for my kids as they grew up. I was home for them before and after school. I went on all their field trips. I volunteered at their school all the time.

Now, they’re in high school, my oldest set to graduate this year, and I am turning my focus more and more on myself and what I want the second half of my life to be. I don’t like the term “midlife crisis.” That makes this time in life sound horrifying, a time when I have so much to look forward to and so many ambitions.

But first, let’s go back.

I never liked the 9-5 grind. And I honestly don’t think I ever actually did it. The closest I came was working for the Geological Survey of Canada (I was studying geology) as a summer student. Even that job was fairly laid back. As long as you put your hours in, they didn’t care if you came in at 7 am and left at 3 pm or if you worked through your breaks and lunch and left an hour early.

I loved that flexibility. So much so, I chose not to have a career with them. Instead, I tried many different things, nearly always working for myself. I got into beading and jewelry-making and ran a stand in the ByWard Market in Ottawa for a summer. Then I opened a bead store in our local shopping center. Then I sold Mary Kay cosmetics for a couple of years, before becoming a Kumon instructor and running the only corporate center in Ottawa – again a job without regular 9-5 hours and a lot of flexibility.

By then I was married, had two daughters, and made a move that took me to a new city. We settled into our new house and we needed extra money. After nearly starting up a home daycare, I discovered online freelancing. It was the very early days of freelancing online, but Elance was a platform where I could find jobs and clients from all over the world. I would write articles from the comfort of my own home and they would pay me.

I had found the perfect job.

I could work from home, be with my children, and earn some extra money that would help us. Little did I know how important freelancing would become in my life. The following year, my husband and I split up (we’re still good friends to this day) and I suddenly had to support myself and my children. Thank goodness I had already established my freelance career. But I’ll tell you right now that it wasn’t always easy.

It’s now 14 years after I first discovered online freelancing, and I have been through a lot of ups and downs. I had a year where I made less than $10,000. It was tough. I nearly burnt out when I was working and homeschooling my children, so I put them into school when they were in grades 1 and 3.

Then a gang moved into our neighborhood, right across the street from their school. The second morning after the Christmas break, as I walked my girls to school, we found the entire block in front of their school cordoned off. That yellow caution tape, fluttering in the wind, was my first sign. There had been a shooting in front of the school overnight.

My children weren’t safe.

Later that day, I pulled my kids from that school. Two days later, they started at a new school in a better neighborhood. Then the second month in our new, rented house, I was late with my rent. I was scared.

Only two years earlier I had had a rough year. We had moved three times and one of those times I had been evicted because I got behind with my rent. And now, my kids were depending on me and I knew that if I didn’t make more money quickly, we wouldn’t be able to stay in our new, safe neighborhood.

But here’s the thing…

I didn’t know my worth or the worth of the service I offered. Even worse, I didn’t see myself as worthy of success. I didn’t value myself enough to be confident. Yet, I had to change all that if I was going to give my girls a stable life in a safe neighborhood.

So, I upped my fees. I waited one day, two days. Three or four days in, I got a new gig. Then another, then another. I had been worried I would have a harder time getting work, but that never happened. Eight years later and I still live in that neighborhood.

And I have never been out of work as a freelancer.

These days, I make a good income, and with my kids nearly grown, I am looking toward my future. And over the years, I have learned some very valuable lessons. Not lessons about running my freelance business; lessons about myself.

I’m Worthy

It’s at least in part because of my upbringing in a low-income, dysfunctional family, I have struggled with the feeling I’m worthy of success. That I am worthy of making a good income, rather than barely scraping by. That I am worthy of getting and keeping good clients, of getting repeat business, of those clients expressing their gratitude at my work.

It has taken many years of working on myself and continuing to succeed, for me to start believing I am worthy.

I deserve to be successful. I deserve to be happy. I deserve to live the life I want.

I Can Be Confidence

Perhaps along with a growing feeling of self-worth came a growing feeling of self-confidence. It has taken a long time for me to believe at my core that I am good at what I do, good enough to have the confidence to charge the fees I believe my skills and experience are worth.

Now, if a client doesn’t pay well enough and offers me less than my going rate, I am confident enough to say, “No, thank you. My time is worth more than that. My skills and years of experience are worth more than that.”

I can say this with confidence and know that other work will come.

I Value Myself

Early on, I don’t think I knew how to honor myself. As a single mother with two young children, my focus was on them, and too little of it was on me. And that’s okay. I treasure the time I had with them.

But now that I am firmly in my mid-40s and my kids are in high school, my focus is shifting. I’m putting it increasingly on myself. And I’ve discovered my future holds so much more than just freelancing.

Now, I love freelancing. Don’t get me wrong. And I’ll do it for a while yet.

But a couple of years ago, I realized I need to get out more. The years of isolation freelancing had thrust upon me had become too much. So, last year, I took a part-time job at a local bookstore. I call this my fun job, my get out and talk to people’s job, and I love it.

But there is something even more profound, a great love that has been stirred within me. I have discovered screenwriting. Screenwriting is where my future lies. I don’t know-how, and I don’t know exactly when, but I am learning and writing and loving every minute of it.

I recently went to our local film festival, the Forest City Film Festival. I was able to attend industry sessions, make some industry contacts, and I was a finalist in the PitchFest. One industry professional is interested in one of my ideas and wants to see a script when I get one fleshed out.

It’s an exciting time.

Yet, I couldn’t have done any of it without the self-worth and confidence I’ve gained as a self-employed woman with a successful freelance career. I wouldn’t have even tried screenwriting if I hadn’t learned to value myself and learn more about who I am.

I honestly don’t know if I’m alone in any of this, but I sincerely doubt it. And if any of you out there don’t feel worthy, know that you are. If you don’t feel confident, know that you can build it. If you don’t value yourself, know that now is a great time to start.

Because life is not just your business, your work, and your family – it’s also your aspirations, your interests, and all the big and little things you don’t even know about yourself yet.

I hope you’ll stop by my blog at and check out my thoughts and advice to women in freelancing. This is another passion of mine that I am beginning to embrace, helping other women in freelancing and business succeed. It’s truly wonderful to make connections and to make a difference. Thanks so much for reading.

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