The future self test
Help with self-employment decision paralysis (and patisserie)
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Oh god it's mid-August, meaning this newsletter is so late that it's embarrassing. (Also I am sending it on a Tuesday, what even IS this?) Consider me shamed. And there are some new subscribers here - hello! - wondering: 'who is this awful flaky woman who promised me the world and is now scrabbling around in the dusty earth of a parched August, trying to make amends?'
You know the old cliche that self-employment work is feast/famine? Well, I've been firmly in the feast era - but tbh I think we should rename this, because everyone loves a good old feast (they're always Medieval in my head - 'ooh, a lovely stuffed swan's neck and some mead, don't mind if I do!') but no one loves working insane hours and trying not to cry in Zoom meetings.
Anyway, as plum-thieves are known to say: forgive me. My time off wasn't exactly delicious but it IS delicious to be back and writing about the weirdness of self-employment again.
This month I wanted to share a decision-making tool that should be considered fool-proof (although, based on the aforementioned 'feasting', can trip up fools now and again.) It's the concept of the future self.
Start by imagining you, but in a week or month's time. For best effect, she needs to be recognisably you, but maybe a 2.0 version. She might have slightly better hair, or a streamlined wardrobe, she might order patisserie in a full French accent without feeling self-conscious (none of this 'pain aux... chocolate' half-arsing), but ostensibly she's just next week's you. And, crucially, she's the one left to deal with present you's crap decisions.
Often, when a work offer comes into me, it feels purely theoretical. "Ooh, you'd like to give me some money? Well, lovely, yes please." It's easy to ignore the 10 other commitments I've already made for the week ahead, or the fact that I don't really understand/have the skills for the job I've been offered. In fairness, it might also be that it's a company/title I've always wanted to work with, or I'm dealing with a 'famine-hangover' that makes it feel like I should be taking any opportunity that comes my way. Whatever it is, it's easy for me to say yes, only to repent when the times comes to do the work.
Now, whenever you are faced with a decision, imagine how your glam-but-pragmatic future self will feel. Will she be delighted to have an interesting project to sink her teeth into? Will she understand that the money counterbalances the tedium of a task (I call this 'boredom tax' - sticking up my rates for work that I'm not interested in)? Or will she rue the day you were born as she wakes up at 6am to 'get a jump' on the day, and eats a lump of cheese for lunch as there's no time to go and buy bread? Will there be a knock-on effect, that means the weekend plans she's been looking forward to are no longer enjoyable because she's so wiped out?
And now for a paragraph called: do what I say, not what I do.
I've had a month or two of not really paying attention to my future self, with mixed results. I felt a bit panicky about money having had a quiet period (also being owed several thousand pounds by publishers who are just bloody slow to pay me, which is just eye-punchingly irritating), and I had also been putting feelers out for extra work - it's just that rule that everything gets offered to you at once. Therefore two interviews I really wanted to do (Geena Davis! Sporty Spice!) came through, as did some very random but quite fun last minute work for a TV company, as well as some extra work I'd agreed to do for a magazine... All during a period of not feeling very well. I knew in my gut that I should have turned some things down, but I overrode it.
I basically included that blast of honesty because, truthfully, self-employed life is a funny one. We often know exactly the right thing to do, but ignore it for a whole host of reasons. The future self test is only one method of deciding things, and sometimes you will choose to go against her best interests. But at least, in considering your future self, you can sometimes acknowledge ‘yes, this will be painful, but it’s still the right decision for now.’
Don't get me wrong though - I did HATE my past self as I ploughed through all the extra work and ate lumps of cheese. So for August, my personal challenge is to put my future self first more. She came through when I needed her, but she's bloody knackered and hates me, so she gets to have more of a say over what else I commit to. (Is this all getting too meta or are you - and all your versions of you - still with me?)
If you have to take on more work than you know you should, find other ways to be kind to your future self as you can. Book a massage, cancel that thing that you *think* you'll want to do when it comes around (you won't), order something delightful to come in the post during a week that looks challenging.
Do you consider your future self when you take on work, or have I lost it?
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Great newsletter! So true about the future self thing. I turned down some work last week which I nearly jumped at, just because I wanted to be helpful and nice. But I knew the work would be bloody tedious - and I couldn't even apply boredom tax (great term!) to it, as they don't have the budget. I feel really pleased now that I didn't say yes. I find trying not to respond the same day to an offer of work helps - often overnight I will come to the conclusion that a gig isn't taking me to where I want to be. Have a great week! X
Thanks for this! I’m forever trying to people please and try and compromise with weddings that come in and I hate to turn down work so early in my career but I just know it’s not going to work for me later down the line. I’ve had two instances now where I said yes when I really should have said no and lost so many nights sleep over worrying about it etc. Maybe losing one nights sleep about having to say no is better than weeks of no sleep being obliged to continue! X