This is my story of how I went from corporate office worker to a 5 hour working day (or less) happy freelancer. I have written about this a little bit but not in so much depth.
Why bother sharing? Well I feel like I’ve truly ended this cycle of growth and am about to go on a new growth spurt so want to summarise my learning’s from the last one first — maybe it can spark some ideas or learning’s for others.
Before we begin, I want to state it is totally possible to arrange your freelancing life in a new way which suits you and gives you energy & passion and fulfils you.
But the journey, as you will read here may not be straight forward or what you expected.
It certainly wasn’t for me.
It ended and began in an office on Tottenham Court Road
Back in London, working in a corporate office in Tottenham court road, commuting in every day from zone 2 and then from outside of London, I found myself getting tired. Really tired. Like every 20 minutes I’d have to get up and go for a walk around the office, or go and splash some cold water on my face tired. I just couldn’t keep my eyes open in that office.
For just over a year I’d had this feeling like I was meant to be doing something more. Like there was adventure out there waiting to be had. Like there had to be more to my life than coming in every day and dedicating all my time, my precious life to these companies.
Every now and then I’d have a flash in my mind of what I’d be like in 20 or 30 years time. Even more tired, probably overweight and highly stressed and unfulfilled, and for what? A steady, okay salary?
The feeling of giving my entire life over to another company vs the money I was getting out the other end just didn’t seem worth it. I was also feeling very frustrated with the rigid rules of office life. I never understood why we had to come in and work a set number of hours per day no matter how much work we had.
We had to come into the office and sit at our desk like a complicit prisoner. Every day I sat in that chair bored I was effectively saying yes, please take more of my life away so I can waste it in this chair. I absolutely hated that.
I do like working, I like learning new things, I like being challenged and contributing. What I found though was half the time I was either falling asleep or very bored. I longed for a way I could work, learn new things, contribute, have high levels of energy and vibrancy and never be bored.
I guess what I wanted was a life that was more fluid, that kept me motivated and engaged, excited to wake up in the morning for a higher reason than a cup of coffee. (to be fair I still do enjoy waking up for coffee now!)
I’m not going to go into the whole bit about resigning etc etc, I’ve written about that before. I guess I want to touch on a few key moments in my journey after resigning and share what I learned about myself + how that has shaped how I do things now.
Becoming a Happy Freelancer
It took me 4 years as a remote worker / freelancer to actually become “A Happy Freelancer”. I’ve had moments during those years but I feel now I have finally come to a full understanding of what it takes me to feeling fulfilled, energised and enjoying my life and work. (p.s. Just to caveat this, no-one is 100% happy all of the time and I am not saying I am either.)
A shorter working day is a big part of the story (but not all of it). Ever since reading Tim Ferris’ 4 hour work week I somehow knew that cutting down my working hours was the key. But, when I first started working for myself the mindset of a corporate worker very much followed me.
Freelancing but as a worker bee
My day pretty much looked like the days I had in the office, working a set number of hours per day, in fact probably more. I had definitely removed the boredom, but replaced boredom with stress and anxiety. Starting your own business is not an easy thing, there is a lot to learn.
So I spent my time learning about running a business which involved a fair amount of failing & spinning my wheels not getting very far. I certainly wasn’t a Happy Freelancer! I began to think maybe it was the work, maybe this isn’t the type of work for me and I’d never be happy doing it.
Helping others (but not myself) find balance
So I started working towards creating a different business, City Calm. The purpose of this business was not exactly known to me. I just knew that somehow I wanted to help people to balance their lives and become happier whilst living in the city, which ironically was exactly what I needed for myself in my own life.
That business did give me a lot of energy and drive and excitement. For a time all my drive came back, and I felt that my life had meaning and purpose, I felt truly, truly fulfilled. I ran small mindfulness classes and taught meditation & organised talks and outdoor activities. Anything I could think of to help people connect with the present moment and practice mindfulness.
The demise of that business was a combination of factors. Firstly, I wasn’t making enough of an income from it, I wasn’t charging much for the activities, somehow that just didn’t seem right to me. To charge people a lot of money for wellness, for feeling good, that should be a basic right in my opinion.
Second, my partner at the time decided he was fed up with his job and wanted to move city (and convinced me to do it too).
Third, I was slowly burning out and giving too much energy out to the business and not enough to myself. (p.s. You can also read more about that business failure here if you so wish!)
Several years into my entrepreneurial journey I was back to square one. I found myself in a new city with all of the work & effort that I’d put into my business gone. Quite literally because it was a local business so all of the customers & contacts that I’d made where not going to help me in my new location. It was tough. Very tough.
Returning to the stability of an online business
This was when I made the decision to go back to an online business. Online for me is not 100% ideal, because I don’t really like being behind a computer screen, I’d much prefer to talk to people.
However, in terms of a business that can grow no matter where you are, I saw the benefits of having an online business. In some ways it is more secure, you are not subject to local economy or contacts.
Right now I have clients in several different countries, my business flex’s with the world economy.
I don’t have to worry that marketing spend is going to stop where I live because I can advertise my service somewhere else. In terms of security and longevity I think an online business is a really solid investment.
That’s not to say that I won’t start a local business again. I will do that at some point. I loved building up City Calm and I will be going back to it in some form when the timing is right, but this time I’ll be doing it with a more solid foundation and an online business which is stable & secure.
Once I moved from Lisbon to Milan, I found myself starting from scratch with no friends or network, there was quite a long period of grieving for City Calm, in fact I don’t even think I am entirely over it now, my heart & soul was in that business.
But, I had to face facts that is what had happened. I was in Milan with zero network and had to make some money, so I turned my attention to my freelancing business & started to take it more seriously.
I also recognised at this point that one of the reasons my last business had failed was overworking and burnout. I began to identify at this point that over-giving was an issue.
And I don’t mean that in a martyr kind of way — you know, I’m just too goddam nice . Not in that way… Because over giving is not always about being nice. Sometimes its a deflection because you feel it is easier to give to others than to give to yourself (oh gosh this is getting deep! … will leave that and move on)..
Around this time I started listening to Tim Ferris again and remembered the four hour work week. So, I made a decision to cut down my working hours. At this point I cut my work hours down to 4 hours per day.
The balancing begins…
I started to prioritise myself more, to give myself more, set better boundaries, and to reflect on my life and circumstance.
The time not working gave me a lot more time to really slow down and see my life for what it was. It wasn’t until many months later that I decided to end my long term relationship realising that the person I was with was taking without giving much in return (and had been for almost 5 years). Just as I was giving so much to my businesses and not to myself, I was doing it in my relationship too.
Without cutting down my working hours, without slowing down, I never would have come to this realisation. Despite all the yoga and meditation and reflection I’d been doing over several years, despite teaching people how to remain present and to create more balance in their lives. Somehow my own life was completely imbalanced.
The relationship ended and I flew back to the UK, for the next 4 months or so I was working part time, 4 hours (or less) on my freelancing business whilst healing from this relationship.
It took me a long time just to get back to relatively normal, I honestly had not realised how much it had taken out of me. I was very lucky that my parents allowed me to stay with them during this time.
So, there I was in my 30’s with a failed business and a failed relationship living in my parents back garden in a tiny little shed / summer house (I decided I’d rather be outside in the forest than in the house) trying to heal and come to terms with everything.
I can’t really say this was a low point to be honest.
It could have easily been, but I actually really enjoyed being with my family, re-connecting again with my parents and my little brother and sister. I loved being in the forest, going for walks every day, meditating and just having a much simpler life.
There were of course low points in amongst the high points, but on balance it was a great period. It was always my dream to live closer to nature, of course ideally not in my parent back garden but I saw it as an opportunity to test out my dream. The test was successful, this is still on my ideal list!
Searching for my roots
The new year came around and I knew that I had to move on. I needed to make a decision about where to go next because I simply couldn’t stay where I was.
This was when I made the decision to move to Edinburgh. I could give you a big spiel here about why I chose Edinburgh, I had a lot of logical reasons to do it. My mum is Glaswegian and my dad grew up very near to Edinburgh so we visited a lot as children.
I also love the culture of the city and that it is so close to such stunning nature etc etc etc etc. But really, it was an intuitive, heart based decision. I felt drawn and connected to the city (and have since found out both my brother and I were actually christened in Edinburgh!). It was a small risk which paid off.
With my part time freelancing hours I figured I could get a volunteer job with Workaway. Work 5 hours for the workaway people and 4 hours on my business. That’s something else which is really great about cutting down your hours, you have more flexibility with decisions like this.
I found a job with a family in Edinburgh helping with childcare. This to me sounded perfect. Instead of moving to a city alone, I could join a family and maintain the homey life I was enjoying at my parents & also make some new friends in the city.
I figured I could join an office space and work x amount of hours at the office and then spend the rest of the time with the family. All my money from the freelancing business could be saved because I would be getting free food and board from the volunteer job.
So, this is what I did. At the same time I made this decision my business started to grow. Over the next few months it doubled & tripled in size as I started to get some really big clients who were putting down huge content orders.
I was still sticking to mandate of 4 hours per day which was possible because I already had a small team of people I’d been working with for some time so I was just using them a lot more.
I also took on a paid intern at this point who I met in perfect timing and was very, very helpful in helping me to process these orders and keep organised.
Stress started to come up again though because there was additional pressure from the freelancing business & also the workaway job.
The children I was working with were quite demanding and I was struggling to do both jobs. So, after several months at the Workaway job I moved on and rented a flat in Edinburgh.
I’m still friends with the family I stayed with and so happy to have met them and spent that time with them but I had to move on. Around this time I started looking for flats to buy. I wanted my own place, my own home, to get on the property ladder, something I had been dreaming of for many, many years.
Establishing my roots
It wasn’t long before I found my flat in Linlithgow where I now live. I’d saved some money from my business & my parents also helped toward a deposit and I moved in June 2019 (6 months after moving to Edinburgh).
Finally I had my own stability, my own security. No-one was taking from me anymore. My business was stable, I had savings and I was still working 4 hours per day.
You’d think that everything would be perfect at this point. My dreams had come true! Almost, but not quite. In terms of my situation, of having somewhere to call home, of being safe and feeling truly connected to the place I was living and of being comfortable in the community everything was (and is) perfect. I fell deeply in love with this area and this flat and am grateful every single day for it.
BUT! Then came the burn out
In terms of health, and in terms of my work something wasn’t right. My business went through its worst period since I started the business after buying this flat.
If you see my business graphs (professional term don’t ya know! ha) they are almost a perfect line increasing in terms of revenue + profit YoY, even through all of this turmoil you’ve read about here. And then you see the point when I move into my flat, the growth takes a huge dive.
I went from making 10k per month to making just over 2k per month. And the costs from the big orders had to be paid back. Luckily I had savings, I wouldn’t of felt so confident to take a risk without some savings in the bank and my savings, well saved me!
Not only did my business revenue take a huge dive, so did my health. It was kind of like I moved into that flat and suddenly my body relaxed and I started to feel safe and then released how tired I still was. It wasn’t a mindset thing, it was a body thing.
In my mind I was excited, there was so much to explore in Scotland, so much I wanted to do in the business, and I felt so grateful for the position I was in. But my body just forced me to slow down. 4 hour working days turned into 2 hour working days and sometimes less.
Discovering what it takes to keep me balanced & energised
This moment here is the moment where I finally found the right balance. And I am forever grateful my business & health took that dive because without that happening I never would have found the key.
The missing link for me all this time has been creativity. Allowing myself to create and express. You see cutting down your hours isn’t the end it’s the beginning. You cut down your hours, but then what do you do with the extra time?? Do you watch netflix? Or youtube? Or go for walks in nature? Or take long baths? Etc etc.
All of the above I’d been doing. But during my burnout I started trying something else, painting, writing & playing the drum. I gave myself permission to wake up and create. Whether it was art, music, short story’s, long story’s, poetry I just started creating.
I slowed right down and just worked only a few hours per day giving myself as much rest as my body needed but with the other time I’d allow myself to be creative.
I guess you could call it playing really. Playing for the pure joy of just playing. Not because I want to sell my paintings or become a famous author. Just simply having fun.
This was the missing link for me. I now have a routine where I wake up and start writing straight away. Then I go for a walk run or do some yoga. Then I come back and do something creative like painting.
Then I cook something wonderful which excites my soul! And somewhere in there I do my chores and clean my space which also really helps me to feel good. I start work at 2 or 3 depending on my energy and work until 7, then rinse & repeat.
Finding a routine which works
With this routine my energy is coming back in bounds. Some days I wake up naturally at 6am, which is unheard of for me. I still have moments where my energy leaves me, if I’m pushing too much, or I get overexcited by all the amazing things I want to do and try but in general my energy levels are improving and with it my enthusiasm for my work.
Those 4 / 5 hours of work are way more inspired now, I am way more driven and inspired to do my best during those hours and am able to give in those hours.
I give to myself first for a good part of the day which allows me to then give to my clients the very best of me during the last half.
I’m excited to see what this routine and new mindset does for me over the next 12 months or so. I’m sure I will make improvements and adjustments to it but overall it seems to get the balance just right. At the end of the day it’s not the number of hours we are working, it’s the attitude that we bring to our work that’s important.
It is impossible to give from an empty cup so if you want to be a happy freelancer it is your duty to make sure that you give to yourself first !
I’m already finding that I am attracting larger and more interesting clients and also ensuring that with those clients I have greater security. My mindset is shifting and with that shift the decisions I am making are improving.
Was following my heart worth it?
What I have described here has been the last 4 or 5 years of my life. I guess the question is, would it have been better to stay in that corporate job and work my way up the ladder to a managerial position and get a nice flat in London (Shared ownership of course!).
I can’t answer the question for everyone reading this. But for me, the answer is definitely NO. I wanted adventure & something more from my life, and that’s what I got.
Would I rather have spent the last 4 / 5 years of my life chained to an office desk, bored half the time, falling asleep with only moments of joy? Compare that to the adventures and life experience I’ve had over the last 5 years in my opinion there is no contest.
Following your heart may not be an easy ride but it will certainly take you where you need and want to go. The life I am living right now is more wonderful and perfect for me than I could ever have imagined (and no, that’s not me being a millionaire!!!
I’ve discovered there is more to life & am much happier for it) and I am so excited by the prospect of what is to come. The next challenge will be to see if this knew way of doing things continues to support me as I grow my business up again.
What is the real risk?
I ‘ve never seen life as a place to just hunker down and chill out, for me life is for living. It’s about about growth, overcoming challenge and expanding, that comes with stepping outside your comfort zone. That comes with making difficult decisions.
It comes with having faith.
And the more you do that the better your life gets. The only way to change who you are and grow as a person is to make different decisions. People worry that making new decisions is risky, in my opinion not making new decisions is even more risky.
Through not making new decisions, taking small risks and believing in yourself you are wasting your only precious life. To me, that is far more risky than trying for something you truly want.
Because in the end, if you fail trying for something you really want you don’t really fail, you just learn and improve until the next time you try again. To me failing is not trying, not taking risks and always choosing the safe but dull option.
How I’ve changed
I began this journey as someone who portrayed a lot of external confidence but didn’t really have true self esteem. I was blindly living my life, going to work every day unfulfilled with the only solution being to quit, I had no idea what would make me happy. Zero. Just that I felt stressed and passionless and new there was something more out there for me.
Now, I might appear to have less confidence, I am certainly quieter and can be more emotional. But I am much stronger, truly strong. I have much higher self esteem and I genuinely care, respect, trust and love myself.
I allow myself to enjoy my life every single day. Not just at the weekends or once or twice a year on holidays. Yes, I still get sad!!! I still have moments of fear or stress! But honestly, much, much less of it and I am much better at dealing with those emotions now.
I’m approaching my 33rd birthday and have a number of years of business experience under my belt, a wonderful flat and a renewed attitude to myself, my life and work. I have never felt more grateful for everything I have in my life (sorry if it sounds cheesy, but it’s the honest truth!)
Cutting down my hours was a big part of the puzzle, because without it I wouldn’t have had the space to heal, to make new choices to learn, make mistakes and come out the other side a different and more whole person.
My journey is an example of how an idea can change the course of a life.
Without Tim Ferris’ concept of a 4 hour working week I doubt I would have even had the spark of intuition to cut my hours down. And without cutting my hours I would never of had the flexibility to make the shifts I needed to make in my life.
And now, through this story I hope I’ve expanded your frame of reference in terms of what cutting down your hours truly means and can mean in your life by this example.
If you are in a job and feel like their is something else out there for you but don’t quite no what that is. Why not give yourself permission to go and find out.
Or if you are in a job and are feeling like part time hours would give you the freedom and balance you crave in your life, then why not try it. Make a different choice and see where that leads you.
It will be a completely different journey & adventure for you. And only you can make the decision about whether to follow your heart and to give yourself permission to go against the grain and live your life according to your own rules. But I say, take your freedom back!
If you have enjoyed this post then please stick around and read some more. I’m going to be covering my freelancing & life journey and also helping others into freelancing too. With tips and advice about setting up a freelancing business, both the practical + the mindset!