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What I’ve Learned In 15 Years As A Freelancer – 6 Self-Care Suggestions

Alice Sullivan is an award-winning ghostwriter, collaborator, and 11-time New York Times bestselling editor. A natural-born storyteller, she’s written 60 books and edited over 1,300 titles

 
Executive Contributor Alice Sullivan

To survive as a freelancer or a consultant for many years, there’s a lot of knowledge to be gained around running a business, money management, systems, and networking. But to truly thrive in your role and not experience “burn-out” episodes as often, you must make yourself a priority, including your sleep, nutrition, movement, mental health, and your personal interests. 


Flat lay photography of leaves with cup of coffee and three macarons

I made work a priority over my own health and well-being for far too many years, with predictable results. By the time I was 29, I was experiencing major burnout and needed a drastic change. I knew I couldn’t force my way into happiness by working even more hours. So, I quit my corporate job to become a contractor. And I slowly began to incorporate new activities into my routine. I scheduled time into my weeks for my hobbies, to spend time with friends and family, and to do absolutely nothing if I wanted.

 

Today, my life is far more balanced than a decade ago. I prioritize myself before my work. That might sound incredibly selfish and backwards. But I believe that if I am happy, healthy, and well-rested, I’m going to create excellent work for my clients. They’re not getting my leftover energy and ideas. They’re getting the super-charged version.


So, here are some helpful tips for self-care


1. Get lots of sleep and go easy on your morning routines

 

It’s not indulgent. As James Clear says, “Everything is downstream from how your body is functioning.” Back in the day, I designed an hours-long morning routine that included stretching, writing my morning pages, and reading several chapters from an inspirational book or two. But one day I couldn’t tug my body out of bed at 4:30 in the morning, and I felt guilty the rest of the week until I realized that I was serving the routine rather than the other way around. Forcing myself to maintain such a rigid routine in the morning was exhausting. I needed a few hours more sleep a night than what I’d been allowing myself to have. 


Now I have a much more chill routine that involves getting to bed by 9:30 to give my body what it needs–plenty of rest. I wake up around 6 a.m. instead of 4:30, and I still get all my work done.


2. Regular maintenance is necessary

 

Small pleasures aren’t indulgent or silly. They’re regular maintenance for your body, mind, and spirit. I used to feel guilty anytime I made an appointment for a massage or to get my nails done, even though they both made me feel nice. I’d hustle to get back to work as soon as I could. And then I heard someone compare the human body to a high-performance vehicle. Sounds silly, I realize. But it did make a lot of sense. 


He said if you’d spent a large amount of money on your dream sports car, surely you wouldn’t opt for the cheap fuel, right? That could ruin the engine. You’d schedule regular oil changes and maintenance, and you’d most definitely make sure it was always clean and shiny because you respected the car and saw it as valuable. So, if we’d do all that for a car, why won’t we do the same things for ourselves when we are far more valuable?


Today I believe that regular self-care in any form better equips me to serve my clients. If I enjoy it, there’s genuine value in it. And that’s enough reason to include it in my schedule. 


3. Take vacations

 

I know a lot of people who don't take vacations because they’re saving up all their time and money to travel during retirement. But that time isn’t guaranteed! We don’t know if we’ll age like Dolly Parton or if we’ll die when we’re 52. 


So, I encourage you to travel more and travel now. Live your life now. You can get creative and travel less expensively. And if you can work remotely, you can complete your projects while you see the world. 

 

4. No means no

 

Whether you’re saying no to a client who asks for a discount or your neighbor who wants a couple hours of your time–if the request doesn’t work for you currently, just say no. You don’t need to justify your decision. I’m all for giving back and being gracious when you genuinely feel called to do so. But don't let yourself be taken advantage of or persuaded into agreeing to things you’ll resent later.


Plus, saying “no” is a wonderful way to set a boundary, reminding yourself that you, your time, and your expertise are valuable.


5. Move your body regularly

 

It’s just as essential as sleep but easy to forget when you sit at a desk all day. Movement brings joy and flexibility and helps you feel energized. My personal favorites now are golf, walking, and tennis. 


Find something enjoyable that gets you out of your swivel chair. I’m not saying you need to sign up for a triathlon (although a great place to begin is by walking a fun 5k). Even doing a few squats and stretches between tasks can energize you for the rest of the day. 


6. Set personal goals and seek out hobbies

 

What do you love to do when you’re not working? Do you have interests and passions and hobbies you’d like to pursue? Maybe there’s a class you’ve always wanted to take, a group you’ve wanted to join, or a cause close to your heart that needs volunteers. 


There were several years when all I did was work. Not only was I grumpy a lot, but I also missed spending time with my family and friends. So, I began researching fun classes to take around town. I took a gemstone faceting class. And then I took ceramics. I signed up for cooking classes, painting classes, stained glass classes, golf lessons, and dance classes. And the more things I tried, the more I realized how much fun it is to try new things!


Even if you begin with one new class or hobby, it really can make a big difference in your weekly routine. Not only will you learn a new hobby or skill, but you’ll also make a new group of friends!

 

Self-care isn’t a dirty word, and it shouldn’t cause you any feelings of guilt. If anything, I hope you understand how crucial it is to take care of yourself, and to make time to learn new skills outside of work. The hustle lifestyle will always be waiting for you. But with some intentionality, you can thrive on your own terms and create a successful and exciting life.


 

Alice Sullivan, Ghostwriter

Alice Sullivan is an award-winning ghostwriter, collaborator, and 11-time New York Times bestselling editor. A natural-born storyteller, she’s written 60 books and edited over 1,300 titles. She specializes in nonfiction—specifically memoir, self-help, and personal growth. She helps clients identify their goals and messages while creating engaging content to connect with their target markets. Her favorite projects are those that challenge her point of view and expand her knowledge.

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