How Bruce Lee and freelancing helped me stay sane during the COVID-19 crisis

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Here we are. Day 38.

The days all look alike but they are also very peaceful. You could say I’m beginning to like this new, different reality. A bold statement that could probably sound very grotesque a month ago.

In Belgium, just like in many other countries worldwide, we have been in a full lockdown for over a month. This past 30 days, I went through every possible mood and emotion. It shook every bone and nerve inside me. I went from extreme behaviour where I was reading every possible article on COVID-19 and continuously worry about friends and family. I was anxious about the future, and I was stressing about losing my freelancing gigs.

Then slowly I switched to another, very much more chilled vibe.

I call it the “Bruce Lee state of mind”.

Somewhere along the way in these 30 days, I learned how to stop stressing about things I can’t control. To just be like the water, be flexible. Bruce Lee’s wise words keep echoing in my mind since the first time I ever heard them:

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water, my friend.”

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A freelancer’s manifesto

These 30 days might have been difficult, but damn, they are rewarding beyond any words. My focus was shifting fast and then slow, to finally end up realising what matters.

I saw it clearly: what is weak and rigid breaks under pressure, what is strong and flexible will persevere.

Funny enough, it has been almost a year since I started freelancing. Already then, I realised how being self-employed changed how I see the world; it intensified my tenacity, and it taught me how to accept uncertainty. All the things that matter immensely, especially when the crisis hits.

Here are a couple of freelancing tools that proved to be crucial in helping me overcome small and big fears during this crisis:

1. It made me highly adaptable and flexible

As a freelancer, you never have the certainty of what will happen in the next 6 months. The best thing, you don’t actually mind the “not knowing”. Instead, you focus on the “now”. You are working now, doing your stuff now and giving the best work you can to your clients now. During this crisis, I reminded myself countless times how only NOW matters.

As some clients stopped the collaboration, I needed to move in the direction where there is still a need, meaning testing different directions and adapting my offer.

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2. It helped me be more creative

Freelancing taught me how, even in the worst-case scenarios, there is a silver lining, you just need to shift and change your perspective until you see it. If these days you feel confused, lonely, isolated, angry, step outside your stagnant routine and search for new ways to express yourself creatively. Write, draw, dance, make music, hell make a musical instrument! Let your brain have fun and do something that makes your inner child happy.

And to be honest, I don’t know a freelancer out there that is bored! It’s like a superpower, we are always curious, and keep trying everything that will keep our minds busy.

3. It taught me discipline and self-motivation

Being a freelancer means it’s up to your own efforts how much work will you get. Your gigs depend on how much you work for them and how persistent you are. The only currency you have is your energy, so the more energy you invest, the more you get in return. Instead of procrastinating and dwelling on how things are tough, get your s*** together and use this time to be productive. This is a perfect opportunity to improve your skills, learn new stuff, so sign up for online courses and watch interesting webinars. Most of the online resources are free, and you can watch and do them at your own pace.

Show up for yourself. No excuses!

4. It made me appreciate more human connections

This one hits hard. One thing I miss the most since I became a freelancer is interaction with people. Working from home is great, but there are days when I feel very lonely and isolated.

Sounds very much like your current coronavirus mood, right?

However, precisely because of that feeling, I learned to be more attentive to every detail when I’m interacting face to face with my clients. Human interaction is at the core of our DNA and the feeling of belonging is something that cannot be replaced. Video calls and online interaction is a great alternative that undoubtedly makes this crisis more bearable, so let’s be thankful for that.

5. It trained me to listen to the needs of my clients

When it comes to business, let’s be real, nobody, I repeat nobody, is interested in your lead generation e-book or your “how-to-hack the coronavirus sales” video.

If you are focused on thinking in short – term solutions, just thinking about your profit and revenue, your customers will not appreciate that. Even more, they will get angry because they will see how their feelings are irrelevant to you.

Being a freelancer means you have to develop a very close relationship with your clients and always ask about their needs and expectations first. Considering this crisis will have grave consequences on the economy, you have to understand how feeling the pulse of your clients and your customers if what you have to do now.

Show that you care, listen to their needs and help them feel better during this period. It will be an important differentiator once the crisis is over, because the customers will demand transparency and respect, so think about how you can put their experience on the top of your priority list.

A lesson in slowing down

Yes, it was difficult to realise how my freelancing gigs will definitely decrease. But I was still thankful I had a precious few clients that continued the collaboration.

It was heartbreaking to realise I won’t be able to go and see my family for Easter, but I’m thankful they are all healthy.

It was confronting to realise how I lost my freedom to move, travel, meet friends and do whatever I wanted. But I’m determined to do my part in this equation the best as I can without complaining.

And undoubtedly, we are all experiencing this crisis in our own ways, depending on our circumstances. From doctors and nurses to scientists, from people working in the grocery shops to politicians and entrepreneurs, each and every one of is going through a completely unique yet very similar experience. We are all a part of one perfect system that adapts so fast and fuels itself on the power of our will, knowledge and collaboration. And the only way out is if we do it together. Only together we change our interactions, value system and behaviours.

I’m confident this will be a good lesson in slowing down. In becoming more attentive and kind to our planet first, then other people and ultimately, to ourselves.

Yes, change is messy. Change is precarious. Things might never go back to “normal”, but instead of being overwhelmed by it, let’s take a deep breath, slow down and become just like water.