For anyone working in a freelance capacity, it can be a huge challenge to remain positive and motivated while battling the tide of emails, social media, and projects. Colin Kersley, otherwise known as Alternative Aesthetics, is an illustrator based in Cardiff who shares his thoughts on staying motivated during busier times.
Freelancing can be challenging. Not surprisingly, an increasing number of people are overwhelmed, burnt out, or developing mental health issues from stress. So how can you change your mindset to fend off the feeling that you’re drowning?
Working as a freelance illustrator from my home studio and balancing childcare, I have survived a few incredibly tricky years dealing with monumental changes in my personal life as well as professional. To keep my mind buoyant, I decided to try something different this year.
Since the end of January, I have had the honour of presenting myself with Employee of the Month, every month. There are rumours in the studio that I’m in for a shot next month too! Each award hangs proudly on my studio wall next to my desk.
It might seem a bit weird or ridiculous but doing something as simple as this has given me that much-needed boost on so many occasions. I wanted to share how it’s shifted my focus and highlight how doing something similar could help you stay motivated, dissolve any self-doubt, and reaffirm the good bits of working for yourself.
Celebrate the small stuff
One of my favourite pieces of advice given to me was to "Do at least one thing, no matter how small, every day and things will change". It can be all too easy to overlook the small victories when you’re always looking forward to the next big task, project, or commitment.
In reality, it’s the succession of little things you do every day that help you reach your goals. By reflecting on how far you’ve come as a result of all the great (and hard) work you’ve done, you’ll realise that the next goal isn’t at the end of an impossible obstacle course.
With each Employee of the Month award, the focus is on one particular area, task, or achievement that I feel has helped me make progress or even complete tedious tasks that could have easily been put off. These have ranged from surviving 'Adminuary' to talking to strangers (aka networking). For me, they serve as reminders that it can all be done with some persistence and without overthinking things too much.
Laugh a little
Business can be so serious and tedious at times, so it’s essential to make space for some fun.
One of the main reasons I started awarding myself Employee of the Month was because the idea of it made me laugh. Before becoming a full-time illustrator, I worked in many different soul-destroying jobs where praise wasn’t part of the company culture.
With this in mind, I’d take being my boss to a whole new level. So after Colin in HR approved it, and Colin in accounts signed off the printing and framing expenses, it was time to see who would be the first recipient – spoiler alert, it was Colin.
Now, I can look at my wall and laugh at the ridiculousness of these fake framed awards. And they remind me to keep making fun stuff. It is so important to find the aspects of your work that bring you joy to ensure you stay invested in what you’re trying to achieve.
Dial M for motivation
If you’re still in need of that jolt to get you feeling good about all the fantastic progress you make each day, then look to other things that get the blood pumping, or your brain fired up. It could be exercise, a good book, a favourite film, music that makes you smile, learning something entirely new. Whatever it is, own it. Dive in with everything you have. Doing this will boost your mood, renew your drive, and fuel that hunger to achieve more.
Freelancing is typically a solitary endeavour and can feel very isolating at times, so another great thing to do for motivation is to talk to other people doing something creative. Sharing experiences, ideas, feedback, advice or merely talking about seemingly random topics can be that note you needed to get you back in the groove.
Come up for air
Since I started reflecting on my progress throughout the year, I realised there was still one thing I was neglecting – the person doing the work. Sure, I’m more positive and motivated than I have been, but I needed to make sure that it’s sustainable. Between everything that I do for my work, looking after my daughter, being in a relationship, and everything else in life I was feeling the need to be more aware of my limits physically and mentally. I came up for some of that sweet, sweet fresh air.
Yep, that’s right…step away from the computer! Close that sketchbook. Ignore those notifications on your phone. Remove the chair from your butt. Put some comfy shoes on and go for a walk. The destination isn’t necessary – the fresh air, however, is! Feel your lungs expand, your muscles stretch, your back and shoulders unfurl. Let your mind wander as you walk wherever the path takes you.
After all, you can’t be wealthy if you’re not healthy. Breaks from your desk and exercise will benefit you more than you realise. Your mind and body need to escape the pressures of working relentlessly so never feel guilty about taking time off if you’re struggling.
Be kind to yourself
I think this has been one of the most significant benefits of awarding myself Employee of the Month as it forces me to appreciate how much I do. It stops me from being as harsh on myself when I feel like I’m not getting enough done or when I need a break.
When you work for yourself, it’s all on you, and the weight of that can feel crushing at times, but it’s in these moments that we need to let go, step back, and reflect.
If you’re not great at self-praise, a good tip is to make daily to-do lists and once you’ve crossed off all of the tasks, keep that list in a safe place with all the others that you make. When you feel overwhelmed, you can take a look at that huge stack of completed to-do’s and be assured that you’re doing more than enough.
Freelancing comes with so many challenges, but it can also be full of rewards with a little self-reflection.