The Born Freelancer’s guide to fighting FOMO

This series of posts by The Born Freelancer will share personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.

I discovered a new 21st century word this year. FOMO. Go look it up. It means the Fear of Missing Out. What freelancer doesn’t occasionally suffer from this modern curse of the social media age? Unconnected by the traditional 9 to 5ers’ water cooler, the freelancer has to create his or her own online community in an attempt to stay current and generally stave off the dreaded FOMO. All well and good but there are more insidious versions of it – including the fear of being disconnected from the online world because if you do your life will never be as good. It’s fostered by the idea that constant exposure to raw information no matter its value is better than occasionally shutting it all off.

Freelancers, I argue, are more prone to extreme FOMO than 9 to 5ers. Not only do we lack friendly office banter to keep us sane, but many of us rely on the online world for our next gig or story idea. But fear not. We also have ready access to an antidote to FOMO that 9 to 5ers may not.

It is an innovative system that will allow you to be endlessly creative. It is guaranteed to recharge your frazzled nerves, replenish your depleted stock of great ideas and generally improve the lifestyle of the average freelancer exponentially. It is easily learned, ready to go out of the box and requires no further training, purchases or memberships.

Sound good? Well it is. And it won’t cost you a dime. I call it WALC or Walk Away and Live Courageously. It has two distinct but connected elements to it. (1) Go for a walk. (2) Do it unplugged. Let me explain…

When I am suffering writer’s block, I stop. I turn off my computer. I get up. And I go out for a walk. And no, I don’t take my cell phone with me. I go out and connect with real life. I go shopping. I go to the bank. I enjoy the summer sunshine and watch the beautiful and not so beautiful people go by. And no, this is not idle time wasting. Blood is flowing. (And when that stops, trust me, it ain’t good.) Brain cells are recharging. Ideas are being generated. (OK, so I do take a pad of paper with me to write them down.) Problems are being solved. Blocks are being unblocked. I have yet to return to my home office from an “unplugged” walk without the solution to whatever creative problem I was facing. I also feel a thousand times better than when I left.

Read that again. It may be the most helpful practical advice you will ever read about how to survive the freelancing game.

I’m a summer person so this getting out and about routine works best for me this time of year. But I go out in the deepest, coldest days of winter, too. The kind of days it seems to make more sense to stay inside. But I’ve never regretted maintaining my routine and staying with the system.

Okay, so the health benefits of getting out and walking are obvious. Big deal, Born Freelancer, you say.

But not all the benefits are so obvious. And it is a big deal for freelance writers. I know some who insist that such activity wastes time and that all they need to do is hunker down and by sheer brute force fight their way through their writing blocks. Good luck to you and I hope your medical coverage is up to date. Taking time to get out and walk is not a luxury, it is an absolute necessity built into my own work day structure. It’s as essential as logging on for e-mails or making time for meals no matter how tight my deadlines.

Perhaps you live in a grotty urban jungle. What’s pleasant about walking about in that? Everywhere has somewhere to walk. Look for a public park, a less grotty route to the store or maybe a huge super mall nearby. It’s not about necessarily enjoying the scenery, it’s about letting your inner world recharge. It’s about being open to absorbing ideas and energy from real life all around you while taking the time to listen to your own thoughts undiminished by competition with the online world. I’m always amazed how the answers to my creative problems are either in me already or outside all around me if only I can cut through the clutter and listen.

But I can’t afford to be unconnected for even a moment, you say. I might miss out on something big. Or, I’ll go for a walk, but I’m taking my smart phone with me.

Do you hear how crazy that sounds?

Being constantly and relentlessly plugged in can do more harm than good. As a writer much more profound than I once said, 90% of anything is garbage. And if you expose yourself repeatedly to garbage information you will eventually start responding as if it actually has value. I’ve never felt more sane since I unplugged my TV a year ago. I still get the news I need when I want it but in bite-size pieces that allow me to digest and formulate my own considered viewpoints.

Sure, spending an hour or two a day getting out and about unwired from the online world at first will feel like kicking any bad habit. You’ll feel withdrawal symptoms. Panic and fear will be your closest friends. But soon a sense of inner calm that you had forgotten ever existed will replace them and with this inner calm will come a greater strength to attack your work and live your daily life. I know this for a fact.

FOMO? Cower in its malignant shadows if you wish. Most 9 to 5ers have no choice. But this is one area where we freelancers have complete and immediate control. And no, it doesn’t mean missing deadlines or job opportunities or slacking off. That’s missing the point entirely. It’s about being more selective about the information to which you choose to be exposed and when and how. It’s also about incorporating the simplest yet most profoundly healthful form of exercise into the essential daily routine of your life. Putting it off until a vacation is not good enough. It has to be a part of everyday life.

Sure, it’s ironic that I’m saying all this in an online blog. But, hey, a writer’s got to write. It’s up to you to decide if this post is part of the 90% garbage to avoid or the 10% that makes your life better. You know where I stand.

I’d write more but I’m going for a walk.

Posted on August 10, 2011 at 8:30 am by editor · · Tagged with: , , ,

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