When I started working for myself, I hit the social media ground hard. I had a schedule around it that I did not break. And, it yielded some great interest quickly. I was booking speaking engagements sooner than I anticipated, and more of them than I had accounted for in my business plan. I was getting requests for trainings I did not yet have listed on my site, and I was contracted to make them for clients specifically. I was teaching a lot of yoga, at random one-off community events, subbing for teacher friends as needed, and secured two regular teaching jobs, one at a university and one at my home studio. It felt good, and I shared that highlight reel via seek&summon's social media channels. But during the autumn of 2018, I realized a few things about my work process, and how it made me feel, and how it impacted my health, and I'm here to share it in my first blog post back in a while.
Much digital ink has been spilled across the Internet about the impact social media is having on our social connections, our mental health, and our perception of the world at large. I won't attempt to recreate that dialogue here, but suffice to say, if you ever find yourself scrolling listlessly through Instagram and believing everyone else has it figured out besides you, everyone else is doing the same scroll. Even those people who project their unbelievable having-it-all-togetherness. You are seeing the greatest hits version. And while I know this to be true, I found myself as I was trying to prove myself and make connections, doing the same thing.
The Highlight Reel
I got to travel a lot this year. I even wrote it into a couple consulting contracts that part of the work would be done remotely while I was away. I negotiated a training contract from my father-in-law's childhood bedroom, grateful for the ability to work while also visiting with my partner's 94 year old grandmother. I took one of the best dang calls I've ever taken from an Airbnb in New Jersey, the night before an epic reconnection with my father's side of the family. I finished building a training module in the evening hours after sampling coffee all day in Seattle (and to be fair, I had a lot of sleepless hours to fill after drinking caffeine for ten hours straight. No regrets, coffee in the city known for coffee ruled). Many days, I worked in short bursts then went to run an errand or start dinner, and a big part of my self-care became trying new recipes. I was able to create the exact work I wanted to create, without a boss or a grant funding my salary dictating it. I found myself in the best shape of my life, having the time to devote to my yoga practice like never before. I engaged with important changemakers to address issues I experienced for years in my non-profit career.
As improvisational actors say:
"Yes, and..." Yes, all of those highlight reel moments are real. And, this has been an incredibly challenging endeavor. Yes, I traveled a lot, and most of that travel I did was booked when I still had a full-time, salaried job so it was already paid for, and not by what I was making the first few months out on my own. Because I wasn't making anything, when you factor in the costs of starting a business. Yes, I worked all over, and the ability to work from anywhere also means you end up working everywhere and most of the time, turning vacation into work and feeling guilty about it, because the trip is costing money that you are not technically making yet. Yes, I had extreme flexibility, and the ability to dictate my schedule most days was almost overwhelmingly challenging for someone with major depressive disorder, and I had to put a lot of practices in place, and even enlist friends, to help ensure I stuck to a schedule at all. Yes, I cooked and ate a lot, and the delicious and beautiful recipes I tried and posted to my Instagram were also made because we cut our restaurant and bar budget to almost nothing. Yes, I had almost unfettered creative license, and a lot of my work never saw the light of day because you have to have products to offer, but you cannot guarantee that people will pay you for them. Yes, I feel better physically, and the physical shape I am in came because my chronic back injury returned with gusto, and I put a lot of physical therapy sessions on my credit card because while I pay the most I ever have for health insurance, it is the worst coverage I've ever had too. Yes, I got to speak freely about the problematic patterns in non-profit work, and I lost friends over my insistent to speak the truth about the ethics in my field, and I was disappointed by people calling themselves advocates while also willing to look the other way.
So, what's next?
As my partner will tell you, much to his dismay, I have never liked fantasy stories. He's hunkered down with Harry Potter and I'm re-reading Angela's Ashes. I like reality, in all of it's mess and muck. In fact, to look at my bookshelf, the messier the better. I have made seek&summon scarce on social media these last few months because I became aware that it was not telling the full story of self-employment, or at least my lived experience of it. When I thought about making a post, I would ask myself “Will this post actually garner you more work, or are you doing it to prove to someone, even if that someone is yourself, that you are succeeding?” It became clear that the time I was spending sharing online was not necessarily yielding more work, even if it was yielding likes. And, worse, I realized it may be yielding the false narrative that so bothers me. And because one of my flagship trainings and consultation topics is self-care, I stopped taking speaking and training engagements for a couple of months to focus on healing my injury. Without paid sick leave, I had to refigure my financial life again, but I am glad now that I put my (lack of) money where my mouth is.
I spent the time and energy that had gone to managing my online presence and doing the actual work further honing my skills, taking more coffee meetings with people who may hire me or help me learn, and investing in continuing education. Most importantly, I have taken the space to really sit with what I want this work to be, when it isn't reinforced by likes and follows. I've filled pages and conversations with friends and colleagues about the difference between “social work” and social change, and “human services” and being of service to humans. I've worked on my branding, my mission statement, and values to align closer with this work, and continue to refine as time moves forward.
2019 has some big things in store for me, Mary-Margaret, separate from and alongside seek&summon. I intend to return to blogging, at least, and look forward to sharing with you via this medium as it serves the work, and I look forward to cultivating even more awareness in myself to that end.