October marks my third anniversary of going out on my own as a freelancer. Last year, I wrote a post to celebrate my second anniversary and wanted to do something similar this year.
But as we all know, 2020 has been one kick in the teeth after the other. There’s the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shelter in place orders and economic downturn. There’s the growing awareness of and calls to action around systemic racism. And here in California (and up and down the West Coast), there was an early start to the wildfire season and weeks on end of unhealthy or hazardous air quality levels.
If you’ve already stopped reading by this point, I don’t blame you.
But my goal in writing this post is not to mope about everything bad that’s happened. I just want to provide a little context around why this year doesn’t feel as celebratory as last.
Now that we got that part out of the way, here’s the good news: I’m still here! My business has survived. I’m still making my living as a freelancer.
So while I don’t feel quite much in the mood for celebrating as I did last year, there’s still something to be proud of.
And so what I’d like to do for the remainder of this post is reflect on a few of the things that have helped me through this year. I hope that it might provide some ideas and inspiration to you, too.
Leaning on my communities
I have been social distancing since the shelter in place order went into effect here in California in mid-March. This means I haven’t been able to hang out with friends, go to Zumba or yoga, attend in-person meetups or conferences, or even go to a local coffee shop to work for a bit (one of my small but frequent pre-pandemic pleasures).
But just because I haven’t been able to be a part of my communities in person doesn’t mean they’ve gone away.
My amazing Zumba instructors Andreina Febres and Adriana Oyarzun quickly started offering their classes via Zoom and eventually created an entirely online studio, Making Waves Studios. I get to see and dance with them nearly every day, which motivates me to get moving and helps me feel connected.
Plus, I know we’ve been making a positive impact on the world because they donate a portion of their proceeds to various groups such as food banks, schools, the local small business association, and even individual families who were struggling to put food on the table. Through their efforts, we’ve raised over $19,000 to help these very worthy causes.
There were at least a few days this year when I felt really down, like there was so much going wrong in the world. But then I’d go to a virtual class and be reminded how just by showing up and paying for classes, I was helping another person or organization that could, in turn, help others. My small action could ripple out to someone else, and their action would ripple out to someone else, and slowly but surely we could make a difference. (It’s no accident Andreina and Adriana chose the name “Making Waves” for their studio.)
Similarly, the CreativeMornings Oakland community has been another source of strength and support during this time. We had to stop holding our in-person events, but we’ve switched to hosting virtual events on Zoom. Not only do I still get the chance to learn from and be inspired by amazing members of Oakland’s creative community, but I can connect with fellow volunteers on a regular basis as we plan and coordinate events and just generally stay in touch.
One of our favorite discoveries is an app called Cappuccino, which allows you and a small group (up to 15 people) to record audio snippets or “beans.” It will take everyone’s beans and put them together into a single track with music—kind of like a podcast. We’ve been recording our beans for several months now and it’s been such a fun way to share thoughts, questions, and little moments from our lives. We’ve gotten to know each other so much better and it’s also been a quick no-pressure creative outlet.
Challenging myself to be creative without pressure
Speaking of creative outlets, I’ve been experimenting with different ways of inviting more creativity into my life. In April, I did my first month-long challenge. My friend Heather, an accomplished graphic designer and hand letterer (is that the official term?) designed a hand-lettering challenge. She provided a prompt for each day of the month—generally a positive message like “Keep going” or “Bloom from within”—and encouraged people to share their work via Instagram.
I was nervous about committing to something like this (even though I told no one I was doing it, so the commitment was only to myself!), but I stuck with it. I found that I actually really enjoyed taking a little time each day to work creatively like this.
In fact, this was such a success that I designed my own version in August. I wanted to try to be more present, so each day I chose a different message that brought me into that frame of mind and spent time hand lettering it.
I had listened to a podcast where the guest talked about how morning pages had been such an essential part of his life and helped him get through a lot of tough times, so I spent a little bit of time trying to do the morning pages thing. (The idea is to spend about 15 minutes writing as one of the first things you do every day.) But I’d say this wasn’t as successful for me. Maybe because I basically write all day for work already. Or maybe I didn’t stick with it for long enough. But I just didn’t feel the benefit of it, so I released myself from the obligation. And that was totally fine! Again, the whole idea is for this to be a way of relieving stress from my life, not adding more.
Buoyed by my earlier successes, in October, I decided to do Inktober (with a little prompting from Skillshare since they offered a special Inktober workshop). This was also a lot of fun. I took two Skillshare classes that provided daily prompts for illustrating and writing messages to myself.
Finding ways to escape
One of the things that’s been the hardest about this year has been the fact that I couldn’t travel. I had to cancel several trips I was really looking forward to and haven’t felt comfortable planning any for the future yet.
While I like working from home, I suddenly found that the contrast between work and free time was not nearly as clear as it used to be.
So one of my biggest lessons this year was to try to create ways to escape, even when I could only physically get to places where my own two feet could take me.
There are a couple of tactics that have helped me out immensely, which include:
- Watching lots of travel shows and vlogs—I rediscovered old favorites like The Amazing Race and new ones like Basic Versus Baller and Taste the Nation.
- Reading books set in other countries (or worlds)—this included memoirs and novels set in other countries and YA fantasy like Harry Potter and Akata Witch.
- Making sure to get out of my apartment and go for a walk around my neighborhood. Sometimes just a small escape is enough to press the reset button and help me tackle whatever’s next on my to-do list.
So 2020 didn’t turn out anything like I expected. At least I’ve developed some skills that have made it easier to cope—and that is definitely something to celebrate.