Celebrating 15 years of freelancing…with a sabbatical!

15 years of freelancing

This month marks the 15 year anniversary of when I set out on my own as a freelancer, building websites for small businesses. I’ve met extraordinary people along the way, produced volumes of work that (most days) I’m quite proud of, confronted numerous challenges and found myself doing and learning things I never would have imagined as a young woman setting foot in France for the first time all those years ago.

I’ve had some really really good times, and some really really bad times. Both kinds have helped me grow immensely.

The three year plan

Some time around my 42nd birthday, I decided I needed to start planning for change in my professional life. Where I’d been thriving in my work and my working relationships, I just couldn’t see myself still writing code at 45. The techniques are changing so fast, and whereas I’ve loved pushing myself and honing my skills since orienting myself more toward web development in recent years, I’ve always said that my work was never about the code, but about the people.

And so I devised a three-year plan to work toward change. What kind of change I had no idea, but it gave me a solid timeline to start exploring my options.

At a little more than a year into this plan, I’ve had some great conversations with people—industry people, friends and family—helping me to verbalize what kind of change I was after. If I no longer wanted to build websites, what did I want to do?

The first thing I learned through these conversations was that I wasn’t looking for a job. What I was interested in was new experiences.

The second thing that emerged was my growing frustration at the reality of freelancing in the service industry: you have to do and to be all of the things all of the time, constantly dividing your attention and energy between projects and people and tasks. Besides being physically and mentally exhausting, this has increasingly made me feel like I could never realize my full potential at a given skill. I’ve become good at lots of things, but not really great at any of them.

I decided what I want is to do less at a given time so that I can give more of myself to a given project at a time.

Burn out

My initial plan was to start phasing out my freelance work progressively over the next two years, by taking on fewer, more selective projects, allowing me time to find what I was looking for.

Then, immediately after WordCamp Europe earlier this year in Seville, I got pretty sick. Ever since, my health has been fragile, and while my commitments piled up and I barely had the energy to keep up, depression and a deep fatigue crept in and took over.

It hit me: in an attempt to move away from doing it all at once, I was still trying to do it all at once! Trying to create change while neck deep in responsibility, and at the risk of my health, clearly wasn’t working out for me.

A year long sabbatical

So, just like when I quit smoking, I’m going cold turkey!* It was an agonizing decision, but one made easier with the love and support of friends and family, and today I know it’s the right way for me to go. I will be taking the whole of 2016 off. I’m calling it “My Sabbatical Year”, and I couldn’t be more simultaneously terrified and thrilled.

Terrified because I’m stepping into the unknown (I’m actually pretty used to that), into financial insecurity (that’s not really new either), and away from an activity that has defined me for most of my adult life (holy shit that’s scary!).

Thrilled because I will have the space and time to reflect on what I’ve learned, and on how I might put that experience to good use in new ways. Because I will be able to rediscover what it is I really care about, and live my life accordingly.

The writing is on the wall

It will not be idle time. The third thing that emerged over this past year is a deep desire to write. You can expect this blog to be much more active in the coming months, and I will be contributing to other blogs as well on a variety of subjects.

I also have a series of book projects in the works, and I can’t wait to tell you about them in the very near future smile

I need to give a quick shout out to Tom Nowell, and point you to this marvellous and touching piece he wrote recently about mental health in the work place. Thank you again for sharing my friend heart

*I just happen to also be celebrating 13 years smoke-free on this very day and I feel pretty awesome about it.