Minimalism for freelancers: letting go to live a life you love
By the time this post is published, I’ll be at a monastery in the European countryside. There will be no Facebook photos, no Snapchats, no tweets. I haven’t announced my trip on my blog, broadcasted it on my YouTube channel, nor even told most of my friends. I’m leaving my MacBook behind and putting my freelance work on hold.
That’s because I go in search of one thing: quiet.
The case for quiet
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” — Blaise Pascal
The world is a noisy place. In 2013, researchers estimated 104 million Americans were at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. The World Health Organization estimates that, in the western part of Europe, one million healthy life years are lost each year to conditions such as heart disease, cognitive impairment, and tinnitus tied to traffic-related noise.
But noise goes beyond the audible. A cacophony of to-dos, deadlines, and worries clamors in the head of every entrepreneur. Whether significant or trivial, these intrusions disturb us all the same. How many nights have I jolted up in bed because I realized I’d forgotten to reply to an email? Noise, to me, is anything that distracts us from what is essential.
If you’re a digital entrepreneur, you know this: we are always “on.” The average American checks their phone 46 times a day, according to Deloitte research. I’d venture to say that number is higher for entrepreneurs. Every day we are bombarded with shiny new tools and strategies we “must” use for our business. We hoard online courses and software subscriptions. We constantly check our inboxes for new clients, recent sales, urgent requests. Case in point: As I type this article on my laptop, I am chugging coffee from a mug, checking Twitter in another tab, and refreshing the inbox on my iPhone.
Having a thriving business requires doing more—or does it? Do we really need to be on every social media network? Is that phone call really worth interrupting dinner with your family? Is success measured by the number of clients you have at any given time? Many of us have escaped the rat race only to find we’ve entered one of a different kind.
The best way to silence the noise and reduce the overwhelm? Cut the clutter. Claim the quiet.
Cutting back means having more
Before heading to Europe this month, I parted ways with my highest-paying client and reduced everything I own in this world to what could fit inside of three boxes, two pieces of luggage, a couple of bags, and a guitar case. It made me nervous to willingly reduce my income and possessions, but I thought the outcome (more time and energy to focus on my writing, among other things) would be worth the risk.
In the weeks leading up to the culling of my belongings, I felt sick to my stomach. Sorting through so much junk and grappling with questions over why I held onto things depleted my energy. I had frequent bouts of nausea and struggled to get even six hours of fitful sleep each night. But as I let go of my baggage (quite literally) I was amazed at how relieved I felt. The panic and stress were replaced with calm and joy. I felt like I could breathe again.
And isn’t that the fear at the root of it all? Cutting back, we assume, means missing out. Last year people told me I had to be on Instagram if I wanted to grow my business. So I took an online course from a woman who built a million-dollar business thanks to the platform, and then I proceeded to spend an embarrassing amount of time snapping, cropping, and over-processing photos on my iPhone. By February I was exhausted, so I pulled the plug on my Instagram account. Since then, I’ve been able to increase traffic to my blog by 64% and nearly double my blog’s revenue. The truth is, cutting back means having more—more of what you actually want.
Learning to love a quiet life
“Our souls are not hungry for fame, comfort, wealth, or power. Our souls are hungry for meaning, for the sense that we have figured out how to live so that our lives matter.” — Harold Kushner
Last month I saw an old friend from college who, upon learning I run a freelance business, had all sorts of questions. “So you’re able to make money?” he asked me. “Like, full-time income?” This was followed by, “So what clients have you had? Anyone I’ve heard of?”
It’s natural for us to want to compete and impress, but I’m ready to retire from this entrepreneur dog-and-pony show. After all, I didn’t start my business so I could be the most interesting person at a dinner party.
We are constantly talking about launching, growing, and scaling—yet I have always been happiest when I was living simply. What I’ve learned as I attempt to live a quiet life as an entrepreneur is that I don’t want a $100K launch, a million-dollar business, a team of employees across the world, or my face plastered on blogs across the Web. I want to write words that have value, even if they don’t make me monetarily wealthy; I want to fade into the background and let my work speak for itself; and I want to quietly serve clients who matter to me—even if no one knows their names.
How to cultivate quiet in your own life
“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
Maybe you can’t hop on a plane to a foreign country or seek solitude among nuns (though if you’re interested, you could try monasterystays.com. It’s open to anyone, regardless of background), but you can cultivate quiet in your own life, no matter where you are. Try starting with one of these tips:
- Begin your mornings slowly and peacefully.
This is my favorite way of cultivating a quiet life. I try to begin my day without my phone or my computer, and take my time cooking breakfast and brewing coffee before starting on work.
- Don’t check your phone while you’re working or eating.
I still struggle with this one! I’ve noticed I’m not able to concentrate for long periods of time like I used to, and I think constantly checking for notifications is partly to blame. Take the time to do one thing well, whether that’s crafting web copy or savoring a home-cooked meal.
- Deactivate one social media network that takes up the most of your time.
Getting rid of Facebook last year drastically increased my quality of life. The first few months were the toughest, when I felt like I was missing out on all the fun happening in everyone’s lives, but now I don’t miss it and I’m less likely to fall into the trap of comparing myself to others.
- Sit in silence with someone.
When there’s a lull in the conversation, we tend to feel the need to fill that space with meaningless chatter. Next time you’re talking to someone and there’s a pause—don’t fill it. Just sit in silence and see what happens.
- Pause the music.
Do you listen to music while working or driving? Try turning it off. If this is hard for you, try it in small increments. Also, think about why it’s so difficult for you to be comfortable with silence. Are you using the music to distract you from a problem you’re avoiding? It might be time to face it.
- Unsubscribe from email lists.
I recently went through and had a good clearing out of my inbox. Most of the emails I was getting I never even opened! It was a relief to reduce the clutter in my life by opting out of yet another email.
How do you introduce quiet and simplicity into your own life as an entrepreneur? Share your tips in the comments below!
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