The Trouble with Self-Competition (And Doting on Monthly Income)

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I talked about freelancing and loneliness?
Well, there’s something else I’ve been wrestling with, too.
It’s competition.
Not competition with my peers—competition with myself.
The Ever Out-Doer
See, when you start freelancing, you take on a certain amount of risk. You don’t have a guaranteed salary. Your income and workload fluctuates from month to month.
But the upside of that is you have this incredible potential to earn. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can increase your rates and monthly income on a month over month basis (until you max out, because, well, you’re just one person.)
And because you don’t see an annual salary that reflects how you’re performing, you look for another metric to indicate success.  Maybe it’s the number of clients you have. The tier of clients you’re attracting. For me, it’s the amount of monthly income I make. That’s been my benchmark for success.
But this is a verrrrrry sticky place to be.
You see this opportunity to increase your earnings as a challenge. And as a competitive person, you constantly want to out-do yourself. But in order to do that, you have to say yes to more jobs. You have to work a little more (or be smart about raising your rates on a regular basis.)
Tie too much of your heart and mind and energy to this metric, and that’s where the trouble comes in.
Forgetting Your Freedoms
One of the beautiful, attractive things about freelance writing is the flexibility it provides. You can work whenever and wherever you want. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
If you’re working all the time and constantly trying to do more work and outpace your previous earnings—you’re not taking advantage of that wonderful flexibility.
You’re being a workaholic.
You’re constantly thinking about work. You lay down at night at your mind spins with your to do list for tomorrow. Your health suffers. I know this because it happened to me.
In the first four months of this year, I took on a TON of work. I earned a lot. But I also had some of the highest medical bills and doctor visits I’ve ever had, too. My stress management was basically nonexistent. And aside from my well-being, it started to impact my personal relationships, too.
Thankfully, I have an incredible partner who helps keep me in check and says, “Slow down. You need to take care of yourself—and to make it a priority.”
And so I have. I’ve started to say no to more things. To take half days on Fridays and spend time with my younger brother. To take some non-working vacations. To go swimming in the middle of the day and to enjoy the warm weather while I can.
And am I earning less because of it? A little bit, yeah. But am I feeling better? Absolutely.
Address the Stress
For me, the battle with self-competition is hard-wired. I fight hard against it every single day, and am still trying to figure out how to strike the right balance. But I’m making a conscious effort.
Maybe this battle looks different for you. Maybe you’re stressed because you want more work, but can’t find it yet. Maybe you’re constantly anxious about deadlines.
Whatever your battle is, know this: You have to worry about it less. It’s not helping anything—it’s wasted energy. Start doing yoga. Go for some runs. Read a good book. Enjoy the warm temperatures if you live in a place that turns into tundra in a few short months like I do.
Stress, I think, is part of what you take on when you say yes to freelance. So you have to find a way to deal with it.
If you don’t, you’ll burn out.

This article originally appeared in my newsletter, A Cup of Copy. Sign up and get these free tips sent right to your inbox every other Wednesday.