Let’s start by throwing away the trigger phrases "finding balance" and "we can have it all."
Perhaps you can do these things, but honestly, that needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. When it comes to your self-employed hustle in Asheville, the same answer does not hold true for everyone. That being said, I would love to share some of my experience and tips with you on how to make your small business your full-time livelihood (if you want that!) and stay sane as a creative, maker, or artist in a town that we all love ...but that certainly has its own unique set of challenges.
1. Protect yourself from the “working 24/7” burnout.
I put my phone away after dinner 90% of the time to allow my brain to clear. Since my phone connects me to Instagram, Facebook, and email, the lines are blurred between work and play/relaxation.
Accepting that Instagram (for example) is equal parts work and play for me, I decide to stay away from it altogether when I need a work break, because the boundary is too blurry (because, for instance, I could be scrolling for fun and then get 2 DMs about potential sessions).
Personally, I’ve tried to accept only 2 shoots per week. As a self-employed photographer, I have found that understanding my working capacity affects everything else in my life in a positive way. It also gives me structure and familiarity.
By giving myself this work rhythm, I know there are days every week when I can focus on admin tasks or editing or having a full day off. It’s when I overcommit myself and agree to 3, 4 or 5 shoots in a week that everything else starts to fall behind, and I feel really overwhelmed. What boundaries can you create that will have a positive domino effect elsewhere?
3. Earning money, supporting yourself and feeling secure financially is important.
Don’t be ashamed of that, and don’t force yourself to let go of part time work before you or your business is ready. Release yourself from judgment about working on your art OR having a side gig. Both are important, and both are fueling your future. Accept the situation you’re in, and embrace it for all it is. I worked a second job up until 2 years ago, and I firmly believe it’s the only reason I got to where I am today.
4. Being discerning and knowing your bandwidth.
Unfortunately, sometimes you have to say no to some things in order to say yes to others. Are you talented and wanted, but refuse to turn down offers for fear of missing out or disappointing? In saying yes too much, do you overextend or sabotage yourself? If this sounds like you, my best recommendation is to read Essentialism by Greg McKeown - a recent fave business-yet-lifestyle book.
Here’s an example of mitigating your self-employed hustle: There’s a high expectation for you to make homemade cookies for your daughter‘s elementary school bake sale, and you would love to do it. It sounds fun and you wish you had a free afternoon to really enjoy that activity... but the only afternoon you have available this week really needed to be devoted to your work on a commissioned piece of art. So, maybe you decide to focus on the commissioned work, because you have a deadline and someone is paying you. Then, you can buy premade cookies from Whole Foods, Short Street, or Ingles. It’s about making that decision and letting yourself be OK with whatever decision you make.
5. Know your rhythms.
I know a few people who light up right around 9 PM and start having all kinds of inspirational ideas and energy to really work on their side gig/art/whatever. Some of us feel that jolt in the morning. Understand how your rhythms and natural energy works, then do your best to build around that. Of course, that’s not always possible and we have to be flexible, so that we can tend to other responsibilities as professionals, parents, or community members. Simply start by observing your natural tendencies and trying to make yourself available to them.
There’s no secret to becoming a self-employed hustler, but giving yourself the routines and habits to induce creative productivity will go a long way. And once you’re productive, it’ll show up in your experience. You’ll build a portfolio and/or track record of success. Then, with a little focused effort in self care and setting boundaries, you’ll build a sustainable foundation and hopefully, you’ll avoid the dreaded “burn out,” too. Eventually, you will find yourself in a place where you are doing the thing that is so close to your heart, and getting paid to do it, with only yourself as your boss. And that, my friends, is fulfillment.