Goldilocks Was Wrong

Freelancers know this best: most weeks feel either a little too hot or a little too cold.

When work is too light, when you’re in a dry spell, it can feel like the next right client may never come around. Fear starts to creep in.

“Maybe no one will ever hire me again. Ever.”

The worries (and the bills) pile up.

Then comes the deluge. When it rains, it pours, and there’s only one of you! You can’t keep up with all the work, you’re pulling late nights, scheduling clients two months out, handing them off to other folks because you can’t meet their timelines.

Non-freelancers, people with “regular jobs” with a weekly paycheck, have echoes of this experience. We often bemoan the heavy periods, when the work is piled up too high: we get frustrated at the extra hours, we over-experience the stress of looming deadlines. We long for our workload to be “just right,” but that feels perpetually out of reach given all the demands on our time.

Then, all of a sudden, things lighten up. A contract falls through, a program gets suspended, our calendars free up and our Inbox empties a bit.

This should feel great, but it causes its own struggle. We can’t seem to shift gears and find it hard to take advantage of newfound time to reflect and gain perspective. Instead of letting our soil rest and get replenished, we get restless and antsy. We long for the intensity, the thrill, the daily affirmation of being on the hook. All of this white space is, frankly, uncomfortable, as are the nagging questions that bubble up: why aren’t I on that big project, leading that important team, at the center of the action?

Goldilocks is a nice story, but there’s no “just right” bowl of porridge waiting for us.

Life, and our responsibilities, come in waves. Our job is float with the waves, instead of getting knocked around by them.

We do that, in part, through strategies—time management, good prioritization, the 80/20 rule, delegation—that smooth out the waves.

But most the answer is a mindset with psychological resilience built in. I’m reminded of a yoga teacher who would remind us that we couldn’t wait for everything to be just right in our lives before we made time to step on our mats—out job was to step on them every day. In the same way, our job isn’t to “cope” with this particular period (whether it’s an up or a down), our job is to see that this moment is every moment.

As important, it helps to remember that part of the problem is the very the idea that there’s a perfectly balanced day or week waiting just around the corner. This fable contributes to the gnawing discomfort and dissatisfaction we say we so desperately want to overcome.

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