_SocialStarters Graduate Louise shares wisdoms on Self-Employment

Being busy is a form of laziness…

Written by Lousie Thomson

The teachings of the 4-Hour Work Week sounded so promising when I was lying on the icing-sugar sands of a Brazilian beach, contemplating the opportunities that a new life of ruthless efficiency as a freelancer would hold for me back in London.

Six weeks later: all available surfaces in my house are covered in piles of lists, meta-lists and experimental graphic representations of these lists. I have three notebooks of different sizes and styles — plus my Filofax — to organize my thoughts and manage my time, and once a week I carefully rearrange the colour and layout of my personal Trello board.

All this is in the interest of balancing new passion projects with making sure I can pay my rent – feeding off the momentum of my summer of self-discovery but also living in fear that the meeting or event I turn down might be the one that could have led me to the Next Big Thing. Everyone is so friendly and helpful that I’ve found myself in some kind of medusa network — every conversation I have seems to generate at least three new leads, and I find myself saying yes to everything.

It’s becoming impossible to juggle the balls and spin the plates when my fingers are already in so many pies. And to top it all off — I’m not even sure what’s actually happening. What am I doing? What have I actually done recently? If I ever manage to cross off the last item on one of my lists, or someone cancels something, and I suddenly find myself with ten minutes of nothing, I panic. Why am I at home on a Tuesday? Why don’t I have a real job?

Don’t get me wrong — it’s very exciting. But exhilarating freedom and crippling self-doubt are two sides of the same coin and an email, a conversation or even a song can flip it in one moment. Some days I’m convinced that the rest of the world is mad — others, I worry that I’m the crazy one.

But today, I was given some excellent advice. I had an informal meeting, a follow-up from a chance encounter, an opportunity to find out a bit more about each other etc. etc. etc. that, in that respect, was no different from the dozens of other conversations of that genre which I seem to have had recently.

And, like in other conversations, I did my best to reply to “what are you doing at the moment?” by summarising it all in a way that projected ‘Renaissance Woman inspires others through career change’ rather than ‘spoilt millennial has unrealistic expectations of job market and own abilities’.

But instead of the medusa effect that this kind of response usually elicits, I got a metaphor instead. Listening to me, I was told, was like walking into an overgrown garden — I need to get the gloves and shears out. I need to pull out what doesn’t fit into the overall scheme. There are lots of plants that have value, but they don’t have to be at the forefront of the garden right now — move them to the back. Having everything growing together in the same place means that plants are competing for light and water; they’re not growing as tall as they should and they’re getting all tangled up.

I need to sort out this garden: decide which plants have the most potential, which ones look best together, and move others to the back where I can always retrieve them if I need to. And there are quite a few plants that I was holding on to — I admit it, throwing out plants makes me anxious — even though I don’t even like the look of them that much.

But how do you know which plants are promising and which can be moved back or thrown out altogether? I was tempted to create a ranking system, awarding different projects points based on which ones are most aligned with my long-term vision, which ones pay enough, which ones develop the skills I’m looking for… but ultimately that’s just another form of distraction.

We agreed there and then: you have to go with your gut. How do I feel about these projects or, more importantly, how do I feel about the people who are running them? For want of a better word — actually, I think this is the right word — it’s energy. Your instinct picks up on things, and that’s what makes you feel like something’s clicked. Whether it’s the ‘me too!’ moment, or just not having to explain something that you usually struggle to get across, sometimes you just have a feeling. If a plant doesn’t have the right energy, it shouldn’t be taking up space in your prime flowerbed.

After half an hour at home this afternoon, my Trello board — my ‘virtual garden’, if you will — looks so much happier. I was able to eliminate a few things straight away, most have been put on the back-burner, and there is now plenty of breathing space for the priority projects to thrive. Being totally honest and realistic, there are only three things I need to work on at the moment. The rest of the things that I want to be focusing on soon but aren’t ‘live’ right now can sit right next to them in a bed that is still visible but out of the spotlight, waiting for their time to shine.

Originally published here.

#JoinUs on a programme and volunteer with grassroots social entrepreneurs.

India – 30th January (6 weeks) & 2nd April (6 weeks) || Sri Lanka –13th February (6 Weeks) & 16th April (6 weeks) || Brazil – 19th March (6 weeks) & 4th June (6 weeks) || Rio Inspiration Programme – July 2016 (3 weeks) .

To apply, send your email with a cover note to info@socialstarters.org and clearly state in the subject heading which programme and what date you are applying for. If successful, you will invited to a Skype interview with one of the team!

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