Permission to work the way we want

While I was preparing for a group coaching programme last year, I had a great conversation with a fellow freelancer that stuck with me. We talked about how much we need to unlearn or let go of when we go freelance. The rules of work, enforced through schooling and employment systems, condition us to feel that if we take a different approach we’re doing something wrong.

You’d think some things might have changed following the big shift towards remote work as a result of the pandemic, but it seems like we’ve just found a whole new rule book to beat ourselves with.

A large part of this unlearning is giving ourselves permission to work the way we want. The question is, how do we create a freelance life that focuses on what’s important to us and allows us to let go of that invisible set of rules we feel constrained by?

Finding inspiration

Behind my desk, I have a poster of the art department rules at Immaculate Heart College. These rules are the output of a prompt given by Corita Kent to her students, asking them to reimagine what a learning environment could be.

I see the purpose of this list of rules as a guide, intended to promote experimentation and help students shake off old habits or limiting beliefs that stifle their creativity.

Orange poster in a wooden frame with a white mount. The poster lists the ten rules of the Immaculate Heart College Art Department.
Poster of the Immaculate Heart College Art Department rules from an exhibition of Corita Kent’s prints at the Quentin Blake Centre for Illustration.

There are a few rules that I can apply to my own work…

Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while

The second part of this is the key for me. I’m a bit of a magpie and I have a lot of ideas. Often that means I flit from one to another without fully exploring the potential. What I take from this rule is to embrace what might happen if I put more trust in my ideas, pick one and stick with it to see where it takes goes.

Consider everything an experiment

I have a long-standing fear of failure and sometimes that prevents me from trying new things. There’s something about reframing this as experimentation that helps to take the pressure off. Experimentation is about learning. Trying something, observing what happens, and then improving on it the next time.

Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They’re different processes.

I’ve often found myself getting frustrated when I try to write and edit at the same time. Or evaluate the work I’m doing while I’m still in the process of creating. There’s a tension between the two things. And here we are back at the idea of permission again. Seeing this written down in front of me gives me permission to separate these two processes. To write first and edit after, not simultaneously.

Learning from experience

As we work, we’re always learning about ourselves and the way we want to do things. Experiences and encounters we have resonate with us and in the moment we think, “Of course, that’s what I need to do!”

If we’re lucky, we’ll record what we felt and learned in that moment of realisation. But too often, an hour, a day, a week passes and the lesson is forgotten.

Here are some examples of valuable lessons I know I’ve lost through inaction:

  • the details of situations where I’ve said “I never want to be in this position again”
  • what I need to do to reset when I’m feeling stuck, frustrated or unmotivated
  • how I articulate what is important to me

So this leads us to more questions; how do we capture all this and make it useful for our future selves?

Creating a manifesto

We can start by gathering all the notes and reminders we have made into a single list. Much like what Corita Kent did with the feedback she gathered from her students. With that, we create a list of rules for ourselves, to act as a guide for how we act and make decision about the work we do and how we do it. A manifesto, if you will.

A manifesto is something you can pin on your wall, revisit and revise often. It is vital that we see it as something to aim for and to return to when we’re feeling overwhelmed or stuck, not another thing to punish ourselves with.

A manifesto can help us to:

  • capture learning
  • stay focused on what’s important
  • make decisions when the way is not clear
  • give ourselves permission to do things our way

What would appear in your manifesto?

If the ideas in this post have made you curious, I’m running the first of this year’s create your freelance manifesto workshops in May. At this 2-hour session, we will explore:

  • what’s most important to you about the way you work
  • when you do your best work
  • what lessons you’ve learned from challenges you’ve faced
  • what habits you want to break or reinforce

Then you’ll put all that together into your personal manifesto.

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about emma

I am a coach and facilitator helping people to pause, reflect and make conscious choices about what comes next. In my writing I explore themes of personal development, reflective practice and what it means to live well.