One of the most valuable messages I’ve taken away from financial gurus like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey is the importance of honesty about our finances. It’s easy to get into debt if we delude ourselves about what we can afford to buy–or buy things we know we can’t afford, because we’re hesitant to tell others in our lives that something is beyond our means.
But no one seems to talk about another type of debt that can easily engulf freelancers if we’re not candid with ourselves and the others in our lives. It’s easy to treat our time like it’s infinite–and find ourselves so overbooked with commitments that we can never dig out.
I’m good at estimating the amount of time work-related projects take, because I’ve been a writer and editor for a long time. Where I’ve tended to get into trouble is in my personal life.
One of the reasons I went freelance is to have more time with my family and friends. I’d like to be the type of mom who throws out the welcome mat to all of the kids in the neighborhood after school and always helps friends in a jam, day or night. But last summer I had a serious health scare that made me realize that, between work and family responsibilities, I was not leaving enough breathing room in my life for things like getting regular checkups or even to give myself an hour or two a week to relax and recharge.
Since then, I’ve been tougher on myself about accepting the realities of my life: I already get up at 5 am to squeeze in a full-time work day and still be present for my four children, ages three to nine. I’m maxed out. I can’t delude myself into thinking I have the same freedom to plan a play date on a Wednesday afternoon as my friends who are full-time, stay-at-home moms or to invite long-overdue house guests for an extended stay–unless I carve out the time in my schedule well ahead of time.
Recently, I’ve forced myself to say no to some favors and invitations from friends that my fantasy self–the one with all of the extra time and no need to earn a living–would have loved to say yes to. I had to acknowledge that, despite my flexible schedule, squeezing them in would have made it hard to meet other commitments, to my family and my clients–and that it’s okay to say no. I never get upset if friends tell me they can’t accept an invitation or aren’t free to help me out if they’re tied up with other demands, so I have to assume that they cut me the same slack.
It was not easy to say no, but since I started forcing myself to take a more honest look at what I can and can’t realistically “afford” to spend my time on, there are a lot fewer nights when I wake up at 2 am wondering how I’m going to get everything done. I actually have time to do most of it.