Getting into the Somerset countryside gives me work-life balance
It strikes me that the phrase “work-life balance” was a lot more fashionable just a few years ago. Maybe it’s just my perception that it’s not used so much now, but I also wonder if it was more popular pre-recession, when it was thought the economic wonder would never end and people could carve themselves a bit more leisure time, be more flexible about the work hours they kept and spend more time with family, simultaneously expecting income to remain on an upward curve.
Then The Crash came and everything changed. You work longer to earn less. You work longer to keep your job and seem more indispensable than your colleagues and hope to avoid the chop when jobs are cut. Competition for jobs becomes fiercer and this is much the same for the self-employed.
Being a freelance photographer tends to mean my hours are set by my clients. Of course to a certain extent my hours are dictated by the effort I put into promoting myself which has an impact on how many clients I have. After that, it comes down to when my clients need me.
It’s sometimes quite difficult to explain to people, especially those in salaried positions, the reality of being a freelance, that although I’m self-employed I have very little direct control of my diary.
If I have no bookings I can do what I like; promote myself, go networking, meet new or existing contacts for coffee or go for a long bike ride. But this isn’t an ideal scenario. Networking and bike rides can be done flexibly, but aren’t paid activities. Naturally I hope having coffee with a contact will lead to paid activity, but networking is a long slog and not guaranteed to result in work. Cycling almost never ends in paid activity.
Anyone who works as a freelance, and I think especially photographers and writers, will understand that as far as work-life balance goes, you work when work is offered. And when work isn’t on offer, you work on finding it. Both involve work, neither activity involves the “life” part of work-life balance.
This is no sob-story though. I thoroughly enjoy my work, even if it can seem precarious at times. I chose early on in my career not to sell myself cheap, so my diary rarely bulges with commissions from clients wanting bargain prices over quality. I work with clients who appreciate what I do and are willing to pay fair rates for my work. This means I can earn a living without grinding myself into the dust. It may not give me a luxurious lifestyle, or money for many fripperies and “things” but it does give me occasional leisure time at times when in a salaried position I’d be stuck in an office.
I think I’d call that work-life balance. It has to be. It’s all I have.