AUTUMN PAYNE | CAREER & LIFE BALANCE
Creating an ideal work/life balance just got a whole lot more complicated since I left my job at The Sacramento Bee and entered freelance work. I had assumed that when I became self-employed and in control of my own schedule and destiny that I would have more time for my growing family. I was wrong.
I have discovered I have the capability of being the most tyrannical boss I’ve ever had. Freelance work isn’t for everyone. Some are not self-motivated enough. I knew I didn’t fall into that category, but I’m now realizing that I fall into an opposite category that I never knew existed: someone who is overly motivated.
Since becoming a freelance video journalist, I have been working much more than when I worked two days a week at The Bee. I quickly learned that when one is starting a business, the work of laying out the infrastructure, purchasing gear, managing one’s accounting and creating and executing a plan of operation are all unpaid. It takes a lot of time, and I must say I grossly underestimated the amount of time it would take. I also teach photography twice a week at Sacramento City College, which requires extensive preparation.
Part of my reason for going freelance was to have more time with my family, but so far I’ve committed many family offenses. I have stayed home working while my husband took my daughter on one of our summer camping trips. I have canceled a planned volunteer day at my daughter’s school to do a job, and I worked over half the day I had set aside to spend with my husband for our anniversary.
What’s worse than these obvious infractions is that when I am spending time with my daughter, I often find myself preoccupied with work instead of being fully present with her. I can’t say I’m proud of those things, but I can say that I am in the middle of a learning curve that I am determined to sort out.
I am also pushing myself much harder during the final trimester of my pregnancy than I did during my first pregnancy. The last time I stopped doing photographic assignments at the beginning of my third trimester, I worked a desk job as a photo editor. Five weeks prior to my daughter’s birth, I took leave to focus on my family and relax during those last painful weeks of pregnancy. This time I had intended to do something similar, but the third trimester started in August, and it’s mid-October, and I’m still going full steam ahead. My last video assignment is scheduled only three weeks before my due date. I plan to file for disability starting two days after my due date. I’m hoping that our son arrives late, so I can teach at the college on my due date.
Yes, I know that the ideal feminist view of pregnancy is that a woman can and should work up until her due date. Women post photos of themselves shooting with a big belly well into the third trimester, and they are applauded for it, as they should be. And, yes, this is now what I’m doing, but honestly, it is not ideal for me. I’m waddling, in pain and exhausted 24/7. I’m getting the job done, but I also need to give myself the mental and emotional space to prepare for the arrival of a new family member. It is a very important and delicate balance and one I am fully responsible for.
All of these things are rough and were unexpected, but I’m still very happy I made the leap. I’m doing work I love to do, and opportunities are revealing themselves. I’ve got a great personal project going and have people interested in funding it. I have some great clients already, and I haven’t yet advertised. I’m beginning to figure out what I need to do to better manage my time and balance my personal life. I am becoming ultra-organized with my calendar and meticulously scheduling my work time so I can give myself enough days off. I am setting boundaries, such as no working at night because I need to sleep. I set up a separate work email that I only check when I’m working. I’ve promised myself not to take another video shoot until after the baby is born. I’ve put my personal work on hold, and my clients/subjects are aware that I will return to their stories in the new year.
I’m slowly figuring it out. Once I do, I’ll let you all know my secrets. At the same time, I’m very interested to know how seasoned freelancers have created a work/life balance that works. Please send me an email if you have wisdom to share! I would love to share those insights in a future column. ■
Autumn Payne is an independent visual journalist based in Sacramento, Calif. She can be reached at autumnpayne.com. She would like to hear your stories about work/life balance.