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The month of May brings a LOT of things to think about across a high/low spectrum: the first whisper of Summer weather, Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, a new meme opportunity, and Mental Health Awareness month.

While we’re celebrating all that May has in store, mental health is a front-and-center topic around the ol’ Slack watercooler as we are slowly emerging from more than a year of pandemic-induced lockdown. Companies are starting to formalize “back to the office” plans while talent are assessing how they *really* feel about the possibility of returning to an office after a year of remote work.

2020 forced workers of all types to assess their relationship to work – was it meaningful, Profitable? Healthy? We saw a huge influx of skilled freelancers enter the market in 2020 as workers sought out better opportunities for themselves, and it’s no surprise that people are choosing to double-down on #freelancelife now that they’ve had a taste of the freedom, flexibility, and autonomy that it provides.

One of our freelance copywriters, Raegan Daley, recently shared her story of making the leap to freelance after realizing her 9-5 job wasn’t worth the stress and anxiety it was routinely creating in her life. By creating her own rules, she has reclaimed both her mental health and career path. We hope that her story can help inspire anyone who’s on the fence about making brave decisions in search of better work/life balance! Take it from here, Raegan!

I have a vivid memory of the day that I decided to go freelance. I was working at my second ad agency – it was one of those classically casual, “we’re a family here” shops that motivates its team by creating a sense of familial camaraderie – and while I was generally enjoying the work, I was struggling to navigate the lack of structure and process that was central to the agency’s sense of “playfulness”. As I was sitting in an “all hands” meeting where a laundry list of new deadlines, rush requests, and change orders were being shared out to our team, I felt a familiar wave of anxiety crash over me. Anyone who’s spent time in an agency knows that these types of scrums are normal, but on that particular day, I decided it wasn’t going to be MY normal anymore.

After the meeting – still sitting around the conference table – I pulled my boss aside and shared that the lack of structure was triggering panic attacks. We sat there wide-eyed together – I had never said those words out loud. He graciously said he wished he would have known how bad I felt sooner, but in a flash I had made up my mind that the frantic pace of agency life wasn’t for me.

I hadn’t fully explored what that meant for my relationship to work – I had simply made a gut decision to put the wheels in motion of leaving my full-time job. And then – as if the Universe knew I needed deep-thinking time – the pandemic struck.

Covid-19 did more than shock the world – it forced us to sit with ourselves. For me, it forced me to embrace my anxiety, my triggers, and ultimately led me to choose the world of freelance. Although I’ve never heard of someone dying from an anxiety attack, if you’ve had one, you know it feels like it could happen to you. Now, I can happily say that the freelance lifestyle saved my life just as much as it changed my life. 2020 – the year where I saw everything for what it was – showed me that presence is more important than pure productivity.

Lack of presence = lack of focus = lack of energy = poor work.

Working in an environment where you’re constantly pulled in different directions makes it next to impossible to feel fully “present” on any given project. It defeats the purpose, really, when we’re just churning out “deliverables” and frantically switching from project to project to keep up with the pace of #agencylife.

So I made the decision that, instead of arbitrarily forcing myself to commit to a schedule and demands that I didn’t have a say in designing, I would strike out on my own. Going freelance allows me to build my own schedule – one that works with my natural rhythms of energy and focus – and helps me feel a true sense of ownership over my work.

A year into this new way of working, I’ve realized that some of the nitty-gritties of my personality are a huge asset: I tend to be structured, organized and an avid planner. Now, I’m able to put all of these traits to use in the world of freelance – , I am able to gracefully plan my days, knowing that I have full control of my schedule, and I can choose my level of busyness based on how I feel week to week.

Since making the move to freelance, I’ve learned how to harness my anxious tendencies and create specific boundaries for how I work that have helped me find the clarity and balance I needed to find when I left my 9-5. I’ve learned little things along the way – like how tight deadlines affect my mental state – that inform what types of projects I choose to take on. I’ve noticed that my “flow state” is between 9am and 3pm, so I optimize my schedule to keep that time open for writing and creating.

The biggest realization that I’ve had is that there’s MORE to life than work. I want to see it all, live through it all and experience it all.

I’m a combination of all my experiences, especially the ones that teach me more about myself and how I can grow daily. And now that I’m a year and a half into being a freelance entrepreneur, I can say that while no day is perfect (or free of anxious moments) I am better equipped to manage the ups and downs. They say the first step to changing anything is to accept it. Looking back, that day around the conference table was my “acceptance moment”, and ultimately was the catalyst to my freelance lifestyle now. I can only be happy for that moment of vulnerability that led me here, andI’m looking forward to what’s to come.