Free Yourself. A Day at The Do Lectures' Freelance Workshop.

Free Yourself. A Day at The Do Lectures' Freelance Workshop.

It’s an autumnal Friday morning in north London. In a large white room at Cecil Sharp House workshop attendees are taking their seats to the sound of the Chemical Brothers' ‘Free Yourself.’ It’s probably not a tune that’s played much at this iconic Grade II listed building, being home to The English Folk Dance and Song Society. The song was spot-on however for the 25 people who had booked onto the Do Lectures workshop ‘How To Design Your Freelance Life So You Win.’ Because at the heart of a freelance life is freedom. And with Ian at the helm, it was always going to be a spirited, energetic day full of passion.

When you work for an organisation there is usually an induction process or a handbook, a homogeneous way of doing things. When you’re freelance, however, you have to figure things out yourself. The opportunity is to design a working life around how you want it to be. And that’s what today’s workshop was all about: standing back from the day-to-day, pressing pause, getting ideas and support from peers, and inspiration and energy from someone who’s been ahead of you on the journey. 

Ian had spent the last few weeks packaging up his twenty-year experience and today he delivered it as a guide to better freelance working lives. People were at different stages in their career, some had been freelance for a while but had lost their mojo, others were just starting out. Attendees had travelled from across the UK to be there, and further afield too with one person coming from Oslo and another flying in from NYC.  

Practical and emotional

With everyone settled into their spot in the horseshoe-shaped row of chairs, Ian launched into the lessons he’s learnt over 20 years. And yes, two decades’ worth of experience crammed into eight hours was going to be one hell of an action-packed day.

First up everyone was asked to think about and write down their hopes and fears for their freelance lives. Then followed a discussion into the different kinds of challenges people experience in their work lives. From highly practical considerations such as how to get a handle on the figures, to more nuanced conundrums: how to manage the delicate relationships with clients.

Exploring what it means to live a life true to you

Ian talked about the trade-off between freedom and stability and explained how he used to chase both. But he realised attaining them at the same time wasn’t possible.  As freelancers, we can have buckets of freedom but rarely does stability go hand-in-hand with it. That seemed to spark a moment of realisation in the room - that surviving and thriving as a freelancer necessitates getting comfortable with the duality of freedom vs stability. As a result life might always feel a little precarious, but accepting that is freeing in itself.

We’re all different and we all have varying versions of what success looks like. The same with what fuels our best work. Some of us thrive in buzzy coffee shops and are energised by a morning run around the park; others by a quiet space and an afternoon nap. Or a mixture of the two. We might decide not to work with people who drain us, or who are less passionate than us. As we answer emails on a Sunday, we might choose to go to the cinema on a Tuesday. Getting in touch with what’s important to us helps us shape how we want our lives to look, and what kind of success we want. To keep these values front of mind, Ian explained how having a personal manifesto can capture and articulate what really matters to us. A manifesto acts as a touchstone; a compass to navigate our lives. The group then split into pairs to spend 30 minutes creating their own manifestos.

Learning from each other

In addition to what they learned from Ian at the front of the room, what was a vital part of the day was the learning shared and received between attendees. Peer-to-peer support was in abundance from all those present; different views were shared; ideas were thrown into the mix. It was a day of group camaraderie: the spirit that “we’re all in the same boat” that powered the day. 

And we had fun too. Ian asked the room for a show of hands who worked at home and had young kids. Then he played that video clip - the one where the toddler runs into the room where her dad is giving an interview live on BBC News, closely followed by the baby in a walker and then by the frantic mother. I loved watching the video (I never tire of it) and hearing laughter ping round the room.

Do one thing differently

As 5pm approached Ian went asked the group the one thing each would now do differently. One woman explained she would get away from her computer more and leave her studio. Another attendee said he would now set time aside for creative inspiration; one said she would get more comfortable with uncertainty and treat her career as an adventure, and enjoy that journey with its inevitable twists and turns.

It had been a long day but people were still buzzing. There was such an energy in that room. If we'd stayed any longer our workshop would have segued into the ceilidh which was scheduled at the venue that evening. But seeing it was a Friday one of the attendees had a better idea: let’s head to the pub. And that’s where ideas and stories continued to be shared and relationships built over pints and wine glasses.

It was a full-on day. So much had been covered: eyes opened to different ways of doing things; new friends made; a refreshed version of the future envisioned. But the end only really signalled the beginning of a new chapter in everyone’s freelance lives. 

‘How To Design Your Freelance Life So You Win’ will be running again in 2020. If you want to be notified about when it’s happening email

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