When talks of a lockdown first began in March, 2020, I felt surprisingly relieved. It felt like I was being forced to take a long overdue summer vacation.
At the time, I was working a variety of odd jobs to make ends meet, none of which were personally fulfilling or helpful to my desired career. In hindsight, I can see now that I was overworking myself. I felt convinced that working so strenuously was part of the hustle that every new grad and beginner freelancer went through as a rite of passage before officially entering the work force.
That grind of overworking myself and juggling multiple responsibilities had been going on for two years before the pandemic interrupted it.
The lockdown that followed the first wave of COVID-19 ended up becoming a very peaceful time for me. I didn’t have to worry about going in to work or scheduling plans in the future. It was the first time in years that I didn’t have a pending deadline.
Like many other Canadians, I threw myself into the hobbies I had always put off, like baking bread and pastries, learning how to brew kombucha, trying out film photography and roller skating. One of the most amazing parts of being able to spend time on my hobbies was seeing my friends and family do the same. It was a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, even if just virtually.
Significantly, I was also able to step back and realize that I wasn’t making progress on my career because I had been too focused on picking up as many shifts as I could at my various part-time jobs. I had been so focused on the hustle that I forgot what I actually wanted to work toward.
Recognizing that was a huge step for me. I needed to stop needing to prove to others that I was working constantly. Instead, I’ve used this past year to buff up my résumé, apply for careers in my field, work on writing and photography passion projects, and pursue work leads by networking in freelancer communities.
If you’re in a similar boat, here are three lessons that may help you as well:
Don’t be afraid of rejection
It was a slow start to get my freelance career as a writer and photographer going because it was hard to compete with other freelancers who had more experience than me. Building up my portfolio took time and mentorship, and finding clients was a constant process of writing cold e-mails and pitches, only to be simply ignored. Learning to not take rejection personally was hard to accept, but no matter how far you are in your career, it will probably continue to be a familiar experience. Just remember to take it one day at a time and stay resilient until you find the right client who will open the door for you.
I found that what worked best for me was setting goals and blocking off time in my schedule to work toward them. For a few hours a day, I would look for potential clients by cold-pitching to them if I thought we would be a good fit. After those hours were up, I moved on to a different task like updating my website portfolio. It can be extremely draining to work on your goals for months without seeing anything come to fruition. Blocking off time in my schedule also meant setting aside time to enjoy my hobbies. Whether it was planning an extravagant home-cooked dinner for a special night or sitting down to work on job hunting, I would set those goals weekly and didn’t put a time limit on when I needed to achieve them by, which helped so I wouldn’t feel too burned out.
Give yourself a break
Overworking is not a competition. Don’t compare your own career with your acquaintances and peers and think you’re doing better or worse than them. Don’t look down on someone if they are working too much or not enough. Check in with your friends and colleagues to see how they’re doing and build a community that supports everyone. And, take time to enjoy your interests outside of work.
Karen K. Tran is a writer, photographer, and various odd-job freelancer based in Guelph, Ont. She graduated from the University of Guelph in 2018. She is the leadership lab columnist for May, 2021.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.
Stay ahead in your career. We have a weekly Careers newsletter to give you guidance and tips on career management, leadership, business education and more. Sign up today or follow us at @Globe_Careers.