The Self-Employment Death Spiral: Stress and Ambition

In the past few months I’ve felt a huge jump in my stress levels.

The cause of my anxiety? I’ve “ratcheted up” my ambitions. This happens about twice a year, and has been happening since I started freelancing. Every six months or so, I start itching for more out of my career: more money, more free time, more passive income.

Is your story like mine?

When I started freelancing, my goal was to make enough to cover the bills. I was living in a barn, my costs were low, and I spent free time outdoors with my kids. I set a reasonable hourly rate, I was able to pay the bills, and I was happy.

Then I read about passive income.

Suddenly what I had wasn’t enough: I needed money coming in without work. I started working on a software product.

Then I read about high-value consulting.

Suddenly my hourly rate was too low: I needed to make enough in 2 weeks to pay for 6 months. I started searching for more work, more clients, more money.

When I say “suddenly”, I mean it literally: After I read an article or book, my life was turned upside-down. I needed to grow my business – and fast.

My latest ambitious endeavor is writing a book. I have dreams of passive income flowing in. I spend late nights writing, pushing to get it done. I sleep less. I get stressed.

Maybe you go through the same cycle:

  • Step 1: You’re happy, enjoying work. You spend evenings & weekends disconnected from work, doing things you love.
  • Step 2: You read an article about $marketing_guy making $XX,000 per month using $some_tactic.
  • Step 3: You spend 3 months obsessing over $some_tactic, spending evenings & weekends thinking about work. Work becomes more pain, less pleasure.
  • Step 4: You get burned out, and are forced to refocus. Your income is up or down – but you don’t care.
  • Step 5: Repeat.

It’s time to break the cycle. Freelancers have an wonderful situation: We work from home, on our own time, doing something we enjoy, and we can pay the bills.

Yes, there are people making more money than me, doing less work. I have a lot to learn from them. But I’m not going to let their (incredible, rare) stories make me feel my job is inadequate anymore. I’m not going to think about work after I leave the office.

I’m going to keep working on my book, but my motivation isn’t going to be money. If it’s not enjoyable, I won’t write.

I’m going to keep trying to grow my business, but I will stop overbooking myself. I’ll raise my rates gradually, and stop trying so hard to catch up with the $XX,000/week guys.

I’m going to get back to enjoying my clients, enjoying programming and enjoying work. I want to wake up and *desire* to work. I know I can, if I just put ambition in the proper place.

A tool for knowledge workers!

I recommend Focus@Will for freelancers & software developers looking to stay productive during the workday. It has been a huge help since I became self-employed.

It helps you block out focused chunks of time and has a library of music that won't distract you, but helps keep you in the "zone".

One comment

  1. Simon says:

    Thanks Andy. I know exactly what you are talking about!
    Enjoy life… enjoy your work! Keep smiling! 😀

    Keep rocking and rolling!

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