Why you need to set boundaries before you can do the work

Continuing with my guest post series, meet Lauren Caselli, the freelance writer and blogger behind Living Life Barefoot. Lauren gives some insightful advice about what it really takes to get your career moving forward.

guest post series

So you’re a college student. Or a writer. Or a designer. Or a stand-up comedian. Or someone who is an independent thinker that wants to make a big change in your career. You want to work for yourself. Or someone else. But not the someone else that you’re currently working for.

When I began entertaining the idea of making a big change (working for myself as a writer), I already had a full-time job. Like so many of you who also have dreamt of middle-finger-ing the Man (that sounds weird, but I’m going with it), I was stifled creatively at my day job and I thought I had the writing skills, dedication, and savvy to make an online business happen.

I scoured the internet, followed heaps of successfully professional bloggers, and read more “How To Work For Yourself” posts than are good for any one person to read. This research led me to believe that my startup life would be this seamlessly flowing current, 40-hour-a-week corporate job melding effortlessly into 40-hour-a-week freelance writing job. I’d switch from pantsuits to leggings, French braid to messy side ponytail, coffee to herbal tea.

But you know what no one tells you? That it can be really, really hard to get started. And no matter how many “10 Steps to Your Dream Life” posts your read? You still have a responsibility to yourself to set yourself up for success so that you can do. the. damn. work.

Freelance Reality
I think one of the harshest realities that I realized when I decided to work for myself was that my social life was going to have to suffer.

When I moved to Manhattan after college at 22, my life went something like this:

• Wake up. Make breakfast. Shower. Read the internet.
• Commute 30-45 minutes to work carrying gym clothes, change of shoes, rain gear.
• Work somewhere in the neighborhood of 8-12 hours.
• Leave work. Commute 20 minutes to the gym.
• Workout for 60 – 90 minutes.
• Shower (#2 of the day).
• Go to a lecture/meet a friend for dinner/get drinks at the bar/go see a show/attend a charity event/run a volunteer meeting.
• Go home.
• Eat something/pass out in bed. Maybe blog, but more often, not.

My weekends were filled with running clubs, brunch dates, outdoor adventures or weekend getaways. Sometimes, I’d fly to San Francisco for the weekend. I traveled to Aruba 4 times in 2009. I added 8 new stamps to my passport in 2010.

And this is how my life was, consistently, for five. solid. years.

Why am I telling you this? Certainly not to make you jealous, or to say “Look at all the things I’ve done! Look how great my life was with a corporate job and lots of free time and so much money!”

The point is, instead of finding a way out of the “meh” job that I held, I filled my life with other things that made me happier. It probably wouldn’t have been a bad way to continue except I was still feeling stifled and creatively shackled. So I made the decision to leave for good, to travel for a bit, to explore a new career path, and finally, to settle in Montana, a place free of distraction (save the occasional ski day) where I felt like I could focus. It was my very own Walden Pond. And it was the first step in setting myself up.

Except after five years of building a social life so full and vibrant, I didn’t know how to…well, not have that. I moved to Montana and went back to my old social habits. I went out with friends four nights a week, I attended potlucks and free cultural events. I went to yoga a few times a day so that I could simply be around people instead of alone in my house, facing a mountain of networking challenges and business building hurdles. In fairness, I was likely subconsciously clinging to something that felt safe in a new place where very little was familiar.

Boundary Setting
The truth was, I didn’t actually know how to work hard anymore. From my corporate job, I knew how to work until my job was done, and then I could turn my brain off and enjoy my life again.

But that’s not really how it is when you work for yourself or if you’re trying to find a new job. Your brain is always on, scrolling your To Do list, reminding you what still has to get done before bedtime. And more often than not, at least in the beginning, your brain isn’t reminding you to go to trivia on a Wednesday. It is reminding you to blog, pitch, rewrite your resume, create, design, brainstorm, email, follow up. It’s reminding you that you are the only one that’s going to get any of this done. It’s reminding you that you really need to try.

I needed to set myself up with boundaries and guidelines and sacrifices I was okay with so that I could get my work done. I had to quit the social scene. Not forever, but for a little while. Sometimes, just setting those boundaries is half the battle.

If you’re struggling to get started, or to find a job that you love, or make some real-deal progress in your career, here are some situations you may need to identify and work on eliminating:

• A negative relationship, whether with a significant other, or a parent or someone else who’s holding you back
• A negative job in favor of another (maybe not perfect but less emotionally draining) one
• Trolling the internet for validation, a “quick and easy way,” or “10 Ways to…”
• Making another huge life change because it seems “safer” (getting married, moving, finding a boyfriend/girlfriend)
• Feeling like you really want something else (like a relationship or living closer to your family)
• Feeling like you need to cultivate your town’s social scene every night or else you will devolve into a pit of anonymity and despair

You want to work for yourself, or actually find work that you love? Set yourself up so that you can. Eliminate (or at least minimize) whatever is distracting you so that you can single-task. So that you can organize and get some shit done. I’m not going to sit here and tell you to take a break for your sanity because, well, sometimes you need to be a little insane to do this self-employment thing, to live a life of which you are truly proud. And besides, you know when you need to take a break. You don’t need me to tell you.

What distractions do you find yourself keep you from doing your work? Have any of you imposed boundaries so that you can get your work done? If so, what are they?

Lauren CaselliLauren Caselli is a copywriter + content marketer. A Manhattan desk-jockey-turned-outdoor-junkie, she left her NYC apartment for the wide open valleys of Montana. A former fancy-pants party planner, she now works with small businesses to create sexy web copy, teaches yoga to + spends entirely too much time reading the internet. You can find her at her blog, Living Life Barefoot, or her website.