be a graceful bear

This week marks my two-year anniversary as a freelancer. It’s been an interesting journey, one on which I got to know myself better and constantly had to readjust my values and goals. Naturally, setting out on one’s own journey leads to you developing your personality and consequently, your career choices.

Over the past two years, what I work on has shifted a bit from when I first started out. One of my main goals starting out was simply to work as my own boss. Of course the obvious choice was to work on things I enjoyed while I was employed, i.e. layout and editing of books in English and German. But that’s not really what I’ve come to work on now.
The underlying components of my work have always been letters and language. I’ve stayed true to this, and yet constantly refine my fields of work. After I started out, I focused on typography and layout, even taking a two-year course to refine my design skills. (You can read about it here.) This led me to find my passion, hand lettering. Yet it turns out the bulk of my work is not in this field; rather, I refine letters and language through editing and translation, as well as by teaching language – most notably literacy (which is basically teaching letterforms of the Latin alphabet) – to adult learners.

I have completed three further education courses to further myself and my career: the first, as mentioned, refined my typography skills and helped me get over my creative ego. The other two courses helped me further my career as a teacher of adult education, one focusing on language acquisition, the other on basic education.
If you had told me two years ago that I’d be teaching adults alongside my ‘regular’ freelancing tasks – and that these would mainly be editing and translating – I don’t think I would have believed it. For a long time, teaching seemed like a “plan b” to me; now I know that it’s not a fall-back career at all, because it takes skill, knowledge, patience, and people skills (two of which not every freelancer has, be they ever so good at what they do).

The search for my personal dream career, from the outset, always had to do with making the world a more beautiful place, or at least helping someone… somehow. However, I studied a language, and I never thought I was cut out for a “social” career, so finding the outlet for this refinement of society proved to be quite difficult. One of the biggest struggles I’ve had to overcome as a freelancer is answering the question where I fit in in society, which “system” I want to be a part of. I realized that even if I try to avoid taking part in society (working from home, working via e-mail or telephone and not with other actual human beings, not going out on the weekends because I ‘have to work’, etc.) – I’m still part of society. Even being absent from society results in you playing a part: you’re the absent freelancer, the hermit. Getting through this time was the toughest part of my freelancing career. But I like to think I came out the other side a better person – or at least, a person who (in her humble opinion) makes the world a more beautiful, tolerant, and “social” place.

For quite some time after I started out, I associated the thought of going freelance with the freedom of being an artist. And since I’m a creative person (or so some say) I was drawn to an artistic vocation. The idea formed in my head to make money with art, in my case: hand lettering. That was the other big struggle I’ve gone through in the past two years: the realization that making money with art is not for everyone. More precisely, it’s not for me. Money, to me, has always been something negative, something I need but don’t want to need. Putting a price tag on anything creative kills my creativity. Yes, I’m grateful to have the occasional client in this field, but it’s equally important to me that I be the one who makes the artistic decisions. I consider myself very lucky to be able to have the freedom to work like this.

creative block
My most recent struggle has been experiencing a creative block that simply kept me from working on anything creative… for about two months. Of course, there are a number of reasons for this, some of which I’ve written about in past blog posts (procrastination, office situation, etc.). I recently moved, and of course there’s the new career focus on teaching my own classes (alongside the two further education courses), all of which kept me ‘otherwise engaged’. I guess I was simply ‘too busy’ to be creative. I discovered that creative block isn’t really something you can ‘overcome’ – you just have to ride it out. Finding the patience to simply sit something out has also been a new experience for me.

So, after two years, I’m done struggling about “who I want to be”, or “what I want to do”. I know these things… for now, at least. I’m glad I’m a freelancer, because it gives me the freedom to decide who I want to work with and what I want to work on. And it gives me the opportunity and financial security to work in the field of adult education, one of the most underpaid and under-appreciated fields there are when it comes to education.
I enjoy the balance of working alone in my office on publishing products, linguistically making the world a more beautiful (or grammatically correct) place on the one hand, and then, on the other hand, having my classes, where I get instant feedback on my work through my students’ performance and their response to me as a teacher and a person.

So, yeah – for a while, I was a bit disappointed my destiny isn’t to become the next young brilliant type designer. But that’s just not who I’m meant to be. At the end of the day, the balance I have in my freelance life is the balance I need. I get to touch people through my work: sometimes the touch is invisible (editing), sometimes it’s a bit more intense (teaching). Plus, I don’t work 60-hour weeks and I don’t have an unpleasant boss – or even unpleasant clients. I’m lucky. Through all the ups and downs and personal development it has taken me to get to where I am today, and all the constant ‘firsts’, I wouldn’t trade this freelance thing for any other work-life in the world.